This is how I see the 2014 quarterback class — no truly elite or obvious number one talent, lots of guys who could potentially start in the NFL.
The media has latched onto Marcus Mariota and Teddy Bridgewater. I’m not sure that’s a great idea.
Last year they similarly attached themselves to Geno Smith, Tyler Wilson and Ryan Nassib. Matt Barkley, in fairness, had fierce critics from the start. But the other three were highly regarded at various points during the 2012 college season.
Funnily enough, Barkley’s biggest critics (eg people like Greg Cosell) rallied behind players like Nassib or Wilson. Nobody came out of the 2013 quarterback class looking good.
That doesn’t mean Mariota and Bridgewater are going to sink quite as badly. But it goes to show what hype can do at this time of the year.
Mariota is a thoroughly modern day signal caller who moves around, can run the read-option and improvise. In many ways he looks like Colin Kaepernick. Yet Kaepernick has struggled this year in part because he’s unable to sit tight and go through his progressions. It’s the kind of thing Mariota isn’t asked to do at Oregon — he usually (from what I’ve seen) has a couple of reads at best and frequently has a run-pass option.
It’s argued the 49ers shouldn’t try to force Kaepernick to be something he’s not — but there’s a reason why they aren’t telling him to become a running quarterback. Sooner rather than later, he’d take a beating too many.
That’d be exactly the same for Mariota, especially as a potential top-10 pick. He too would probably have to become a little more traditional, even within the most creative offense.
Heck — even Chip Kelly has reverted to a conventional quarterback. And it’s working. You need some balance.
Mariota hasn’t got Kaepernick’s arm strength either. So while there’s definitely a lot of upside, there’s also a lot of unknown.
Bridgewater is much more orthodox. He’s at his best sitting in the pocket working within a pretty rigid structure. He distributes the ball nicely (although not always perfectly) and has the physical skills to drive the ball downfield when needed.
But unlike Mariota, he’s unlikely to avoid a heavy blitz with his legs, get out of the pocket with eyes locked downfield and make a fantastic, improvised play. His upside might always be limited — peaking at ‘pretty good’ instead of ‘outstanding’.
The great thing about Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and with hindsight — Russell Wilson — was their ability to combine the unorthodox with the traditional. All three players are athletic, have the big arm and make plays when things break down. And yet all three have shown at various times they can also be fairly conventional too when given time in the pocket.
I can see a situation where a team like Jacksonville, or Houston, or whoever, sits down at the end of the season and discusses Mariota and Bridgewater. And the conclusion they come to is they don’t know what to do with one and the other hasn’t got a big enough ceiling.
And then they see a guy like Jadeveon Clowney sitting there — or one of those many offensive tackles — and they decide to pass.
Because at the end of the day, the difference between Mariota/Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel/Derek Carr is minimal. Extremely minimal.
In fact you could make a case that Manziel and Carr are superior. Seriously.
Manziel makes more mistakes than Mariota, but he can also be a pure magician. That Alabama game earlier this year was the definitive Manziel performance. He kept his team alive to the very last second. He made plays that only he could make. And he had a couple of rancid and costly turnovers.
If I’m a coach willing to dabble with the unorthodox — I’d be so much more excited about the Manziel challenge than the Mariota version.
It really would be a privilege to take on Manziel — try to limit the negatives and bring out the unmatched creativity.
Of course character comes into it and teams will see soap opera headlines with one guy and quiet modesty with the other. But then you watch the Alabama game again…
Carr is much less hyped than Bridgewater, but why? Having watched both players, I think there’s a cigarette paper between the two on most of the key skills — accuracy, arm strength, mobility. I actually think Carr is better at going through his progressions. He’s also a much more engaging character, who will blow teams away during interviews.
The failure of his brother David in the NFL might linger in a few minds — but the younger Carr isn’t launching an expansion franchise. Well, not if he avoids Jacksonville (sorry, Gus…).
It’s still way too early to decipher where these prospects will fall on draft day, but I maintain a Clowney/Carr combo (if possible) is more appealing at this stage than Mariota and whoever else you can get at the top of round two.
In terms of the other quarterbacks — A.J. McCarron has a shot to make it but might only ever be another Andy Dalton at best. Zach Mettenberger’s play has really regressed in the last few weeks and it’s hard to see him being anything more than a mid-to-late rounder. And Tajh Boyd is another who’s falling — he just misses on accuracy a little too often.
Tight end trending upwards
I’m starting to really like Eric Ebron.
But then there’s a little voice somewhere offering words of caution.
Too often we get a tight end who flashes a few big plays. We assume that any player in the 250lbs+ bracket who can move is a fantastic athlete destined for greatness.
And it never really happens.
Then a guy like Jimmy Graham or Jordan Cameron comes along in the mid or late rounds. No real background or hype. Just freaks of nature. And they play as well as any tight end in the league (or in Graham’s case, as well as any receiver period).
The Cincinnati Bengals have been bitten by the curse a couple of times recently.
Jermaine Gresham looked like a superstar in the making in 2010. Big (6-5), strong, fast (4.66). He’d been really dynamic in college with Sam Bradford at Oklahoma.
In the NFL he’s been average.
He has only two career plays of 40+ yards and he’s averaging just over four touchdowns per season.
That’s not what was expected of the former #21 overall pick.
This year they went shopping in the same market and selected Tyler Eifert with yet another #21 overall pick.
Same speed (4.66), slightly less size (250 vs 265lbs) but pretty much the same height (6-6 vs 6-5). Eifert was the only tight end from the 2013 class who looked like a top athlete.
It’s unfair to judge a player during his rookie season, but so far Eifert has one touchdown and just 377 yards.
Not great to be fair.
What we perceive as unique athletes with amazing physical skills might actually just be pretty ordinary tight ends. There’s been some speculative and unconfirmed talk that the Seahawks liked Michael Egnew in 2012 — a tight end drafted in round three by Miami.
He ran a 4.62 at 6-5 and 255lbs. Looks interesting, right?
He has 39 total career yards in two seasons. He has zero touchdowns.
So while watching Eric Ebron sprint through the Pitt defense for 58 yards on Saturday, I start to imagine what a difference maker he could be at the next level. I start to wonder if he can match the high standards of a Graham or Gronkowski.
And then I think back to the numerous TE flops. The countless average pro’s. I look at the stat charts and see that only the following names are listed among the forty most productive receivers in the NFL: Jimmy Graham (#9), Antonio Gates (#20), Jordan Cameron (#25), Julius Thomas (#32), Tony Gonzalez (#36) and Vernon Davis (#38).
Six players. One hall of famer. Five genuine freaks of nature.
If I’m spending a first round pick or even an early second rounder on a tight end, they better have the potential to join that list.
So for now it’s a case of sitting and waiting to see just how well Ebron (and Jace Amaro, Austin Seferian-Jenkins) perform at the combine. Are they truly going to offer something unique?
Or will they just be another overblown, over-hyped big man who can run a bit.
A view on a cornerback I just haven’t seen
More than one person has asked for a comment on Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. Unfortunately, I’ve had no access to any of their games this year.
That kind of makes it hard to form an opinion.
Judging cornerbacks without all-22 tape is notoriously difficult anyway. It’s why I don’t rely on the otherwise fantastic Draft Breakdown videos. They currently have five Gilbert videos available. But what can you learn when the corner is nearly always off-screen?
Very few corners play up at the line like Jimmy Smith did at Colorado. He was very easy to judge — physical, tall, fast. He was nearly always on the screen. For others it’s much harder.
So in this instance I’ll bow to the views of Tony Pauline, who had this to say about Gilbert on his blog today:
Gilbert is a player we’ve been high on for a while and a cornerback we graded as a second round pick before the season began. Sized well, he possesses next level ball skills and instincts. Gilbert shuts down opponents in man coverage but also affords potential in zone. During the Cowboys route over Texas the senior picked off two passes, one which he brought back 43 yards for a score. It was the second time this season he returned an interception for a score. Gilbert also adds the ability to impact games as a return specialist to his resume. The senior has all the makings to be a second day pick next May and eventually start in the NFL.
This is based on what I’ve seen so far with a slight Seahawks bias. As with Gilbert, I can’t comment on players I’ve not had a chance to study properly. I’ve not included quarterbacks in the list.
This isn’t in any strict order either, although it’s fair to say the top three (Clowney, Robinson and Kouandjio) are my top three players viewed so far.
I would’ve included Dominique Easley (DT, Florida) but two serious knee injuries have almost certainly impacted his stock.
#1 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
#2 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
#3 Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama)
#4 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
#5 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
#6 Re’Shede Hageman (DE, Minnesota)
#7 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
#8 Antonio Richardson (T, Tennessee)
#9 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
#10 Zack Martin (T, Notre Dame)
#11 Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
#12 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
#13 Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
#14 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
#15 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)