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Top 5 quarterback prospects
Teddy Bridgewater leads a deeper group for 2014
Originally Published: May 15, 2013
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Teddy Bridgewater is already an accomplished passer for Louisville.
The 2013 NFL draft class wasn't just a bad one for quarterbacks because of a lack of talent. There also was just a lack of need. That's not to say if Andrew Luck was in the class he wouldn't have gone No. 1 overall, but quarterbacks routinely move up when teams get desperate, and there simply wasn't a lot of desperation. The success of rookie quarterbacks coming out of the 2012 draft diminished need for a number of teams, others still have young quarterbacks on the roster and want to see things work out and a number of others were smart about finding quarterbacks via free agency and through trades.
The 2014 NFL draft could be different. I don't expect to see only a single quarterback taken in the first round again next season. The draft won't just feature a lot of talent at the position, but the experience level will be significant as well. Even among the 2013 juniors and draft-eligible sophomores, there's a ton of experience.
Here's an early look at the top five on my board as of now, as well as some others I expect to be in the conversation all season.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Junior, Louisville
If you really want to see where it starts with Bridgewater, watch his feet. I say that because his feet show you why he has such natural gifts and instincts for the position. He doesn't just extend plays, he extends them within the pocket. He doesn't panic, and nimbly avoids the sources of pressure, all while keeping his eyes down the field. Bridgewater is still growing as a progression passer, but that sixth sense is the kind of thing that makes a player like Tom Brady special. It's an effortless command.
As a thrower, Bridgewater made great strides in 2012. In taking apart Florida in January, he showed the ability to not merely hit tight windows, but to throw his receivers open into those windows. He has very good ball placement, protects his receivers with his eyes by holding safeties, and knows how to calibrate trajectory so he's not overthrowing his fastball. He's got plenty of athleticism, but he doesn't rely on it. He's an exciting prospect.
2. Tajh Boyd, Senior, Clemson
People who would question Boyd because he was throwing to a great arsenal of pass-catchers last year should watch what he did against LSU in the Chik-fil-A Bowl. Boyd might as well have gone 12 rounds with Rocky in that game. Not only did he take hits on a lot of designed runs, the LSU defense battered him. But he played through it. The kid is tough.
He's also got a big arm, can make the deep throws both inside the numbers and to the sidelines and shows good awareness, the ability to scan the whole field and check it down. What Boyd needs are good passing lanes because he's not tall. And he needs to cut down on the occasional terrible decision. Sometimes, he'll trust his arm too much. He loses DeAndre Hopkins to the NFL, but I expect another big year.
3. Johnny Manziel, RS-Sophomore, Texas A&M
Let's be clear from the start: Johnny Football isn't just a product of a great offense or great blocking. He has very good instincts and vision, and flat out makes plays. He doesn't have a big arm, but he anticipates well, and uses his legs not to just to run, but to extend the passing game.
He did have extraordinary blocking last year, and figures to have it again, so how he reacts to pressure matters. And while we keep getting further away from the notion of a prototype at QB, his size is a concern. He's not Russell Wilson, because remember Wilson has a big-time arm by any standard -- he was guy being questioned on height alone. I'm not a Manziel doubter, but evaluators will want to see him be great in every area so size is less of a trade-off.
4. Marcus Mariota, RS-Sophomore, Oregon
You watch the Oregon offense and you're not just seeing Mariota play pitch and catch on short routes, or simply flinging it across the line of scrimmage as the Ducks stretch out tired defenses and force them to tackle. They take their shots, and they can because Mariota sees the whole field, and has the arm to deliver strikes.
He completed almost 70 percent of his throws last year, and they went for 8.0 yards per attempt. I also like the way he mixes up his targets, using wideouts, tight ends and his backs as the situation demands. His athleticism and ability to make reads as a runner are pluses, but Mariota can also get it done with his arm.
5. AJ McCarron, Senior, Alabama
He may have had the quietest 30-touchdown, three-interception season ever in 2012, but that can happen at Bama, where the ability to run and defend can make any quarterback look like a mere "game manager."
But give McCarron credit, because he really can stretch defenses with his arm, and the fact that he doesn't make costly mistakes shouldn't just be labeled as a case where he's not allowed to take his shots. He'll still have a great surrounding cast in 2013, but McCarron is better than some recent Bama QBs, and will be a better prospect as well.
David Fales, Senior, San Jose St.
A one-time backup to Colin Kaepernick, Fales put together a huge year in 2012, and thrives on very good anticipation and accuracy. It's not an effortless delivery at all, but he has decent arm strength.
Braxton Miller, Junior, Ohio St.
Ugly NFL transitions for highly rated Alex Smith and not highly rated Tim Tebow out of Urban Meyer's system could cause some questions, but Miller is an incredible athlete who has plenty of time to mature as a passer.
Logan Thomas, Senior, Virginia Tech
A disappointing junior season puts some pressure on Thomas, but it's hard to look past his size, arm and -- not mentioned enough -- a very good work ethic. A must-watch prospect in 2013.
Bo Wallace, Junior, Ole Miss
How far can he take the young Rebels? It'll be tough given their schedule. But Wallace can play.
Derek Carr, Senior, Fresno St.
He could have come out in the 2013 draft, but Carr, armed with a lightning-quick release, is back for more seasoning and, almost assuredly, more ridiculously good numbers.
More I like
Aaron Murray, Georgia; Bryn Renner, North Carolina; Stephen Morris, Miami (Fl.); Keith Price, Washington; Pete Thomas, North Carolina St.; Taylor Kelly, Arizona St.
*Brett Hundley (UCLA) and Kevin Hogan (Stanford) could both also be in the mix here if they indicated a lean toward the NFL. But I'll wait on that.
The year's upcoming draft and the college game can be discussed here.
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