The Buccaneers and Jets are in desperate need for a new quarterback of the future. The Titans, Redskins and Rams wouldn’t mind having an option in the top-10 build their franchises around. And the Saints, Texans, Bills and Broncos all could be looking for a quarterback to groom with an eye towards the future.
But for all of those teams, it may be the worst year to draft a quarterback based on college film evaluation in the last ten years, regardless of which round they choose to look to.
Mariota or Bust
The Heisman trophy has received the bulk of the NFL Draft attention this year thanks to his already-reached stardom, production in the Oregon offense, and being the clear quarterback every draft fan and non-fan already knows.
But even Mariota isn’t without concerns. His character won’t be an issue in the draft process, but the offense he played in might be. A short-area, quick-based offense lead to his production, but doesn’t show top-level quarterback prospect upside. And while his size and arm strength allows him to stretch the field, his downfield placement and accuracy leaves much to be desired.
That being said, he’s the only passer in this class, regardless of who declares, that will likely carry a first-round grade from Optimum Scouting and most NFL teams throughout the process. While juniors are likely to enter the fold that could merit second or even first-round consideration, Mariota is likely to be the only one that will have truly earned where he lands on draft day.
Jameis Winston, Brett Hundley, Dak Prescott?
The former Heisman trophy winning-Winston leads the quarterback class as the “next man up”, but he’s quickly emerged as this year’s hotly debated quarterback. And like Cam Newton, Geno Smith and Johnny Manziel before him, Winston’s draft value come draft day can range anywhere from first overall to second-round.
If Winston is included in the class, he’ll be likely viewed as either the second-best passer in the class and a debated (but far from sure-thing on and off the field) in the first-round, or off teams’ radars completely.
After the polarizing Winston, Brett Hundley is the next man up, and despite his struggles over the last season and a half, his athleticism, arm strength and flashes inside and outside the pocket could make him the drafts “reach quarterback”: the passer a team knows isn’t worth a first-rounder, but over-drafts with the hope that he can develop into it in the right situation. As of now, he’s valued in the 2nd-3rd round, but could be viewed more favorably if he chose to attend the Senior Bowl.
Finally, and least likely to enter the 2015 draft, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott could view himself as a worthwhile declaree due to the weakness of the class and his likely minimal draft value gained by staying another season. If he chose to declare, I’ve been told he has a standing invite to the Senior Bowl. And if he can maximize his opportunity there, he could make a case to be a top-100 “project passer”, but still not a quarterback you’d like to build around.
Senior Class Shaky, Backup-Filled Likely
After the juniors, the 2015 quarterback class is as weak as there’s been in NFL draft history. More well-known names like Bryce Petty of Baylor, Sean Mannion of Oregon State and Shane Carden of East Carolina don’t meet what NFL teams are looking for in the top-100 picks, and it wouldn’t be surprising if many teams have a few or all three of those as late-round/undrafted graded quarterbacks.
Petty’s offensive system concerns, struggles against top-talent and lackluster placement/decision-making on secondary and downfield reads are what he’ll have to show improvement in during the Senior Bowl. Mannion’s size and pocket passing upside will intrigue, but he’s been far too inconsistent to be viewed as more than a late-round development type. And Carden’s production, quick release and short-to-mid area placement is a plus, his lack of arm strength and struggles to adjust under pressure in the pocket may limit which teams want him.
After those main three, Garrett Grayson (Colorado State), Chris Conner (Colorado State-Pueblo) and Brandon Bridge (South Alabama) are all intriguing options as developmental or surprise options for teams, but none have the value to be more than late round options.
Overall, team’s needing a first-round quarterback may need to either secure Mariota (hard for any team not from the Tampa Bay area) or reach for Winston or Hundley and hope for the best. And team’s looking for developmental options have slim pickings, even in the later rounds.
With that being said, the free agent quarterback class (which doesn’t boast significant options either) may force quarterback-needy teams to give their current options a chance in 2015 and hope that the following year’s class is much better.
Needing a quarterback is never a good situation to be in for a franchise. But needing a quarterback in the 2015 off-season and forcing yourself into one of the reach options in the 2015 class could lead to GMs and head coaches fired, or quickly looking for a quarterback in the very near future.