Questions continue with 2013 quarterback class

December 1st, 2013 | Written by Rob Staton

A.J. McCarron -- better than some people think, but how good can he be?

This is going to be one of the toughest groups to work out.

At various points this season all of the ‘big names’ have looked the part. They’ve also shown worrying trends and suffered dips in form.

And really, I’m not sure there’s anyone I’d want to hang my hat on.

Not as a franchise-changer, anyway.

Teddy Bridgewater is going to be the first taken, I’m pretty sure about that. But I’m not overwhelmed with his potential. He’s an extremely competent college quarterback, and very traditional in his approach.

Is he a special player? I’m not sure.

What’s his upside? What can he become?

He doesn’t have great mobility, but he has enough to avoid pressure and extend the odd play. He won’t be particularly elusive or much of a runner.

He’s accurate, but not flawless in that regard. He can hit receivers in stride, he’ll make plays downfield. His timing can be inconsistent though and he will miss in frustrating fashion on occasions.

Arm strength, size, personality — all above average, yet not mind-blowing.

I think overall he’ll be considered a safe option for a team that has seriously underachieved in 2013. It’s quite fortunate for Bridgewater that there are some candidates in that regard, rather than the usual bevy of useless teams that usually fill up the early picks in a draft.

He’s unlikely to transform a franchise on his own. With a decent supporting cast he should be able to move the ball around and be productive.

So really it depends on the team he gets saddled with. For me there’s little point Jacksonville going down that road because they have a paper thin roster. He’s not going to galvanise that team single handed and he might suffer long term damage by starting early for the Jags (a thankless task).

Houston, Minnesota and Cleveland make a lot more sense. The Texans should be able to plug him in quite quickly, the Vikings have Adrian Peterson and the Browns are a talented group just lacking a consistently healthy signal caller.

Bridgewater should find a home within the top five picks. He is the best available, even if he’s not quite as good as some will have you believe.

After that it’s a much cloudier picture.

Oregon’s Marcus Mariota worries me.

I hate comparing prospects and basing judgements on that kind of approach because no two unrelated players will be the same. Yet it’s watching Colin Kaepernick this year that has me wondering what type of player Mariota will be at the next level.

For starters any team that drafts him has to let the guy move around and run the ball. Reigning in Kaepernick early this year took away a lot of his effectiveness. He isn’t a brilliant pocket passer and he never was at Nevada. He’s a rangy, athletic runner with the ability to make some plays and improvise.

Restrict him to the pocket and you see a guy who struggles to go through his progressions (well documented) and looks permanently flustered under duress.

Asking Mariota to sit tight and read a defense would be pretty similar. He just looks so effective on the move. Yet if you’re drafting a guy in the top ten, you’re also going to want to protect that investment. So while a running Mariota will give you the best chance of success, it’s also your best way to guarantee he gets hurt.

San Francisco, I’m guessing, at least tried to limit how often Kaepernick ran the ball. And it has had an adverse effect. But they had to try it.

This is almost exclusively down to the Oregon offense, but I haven’t seen any evidence of Mariota going 1-2-3 with his reads and then checking down. It’s not what the Ducks do. So you have to project a quarterback’s ability without any core evidence that he can do the basics well. And that’s where my concern lies.

I have seen evidence where he’s tried to force the ball to his favoured receiver or original target. It took him an age to throw his first pick, but there were a few close calls long before the Arizona game.

And the one area Kaepernick is evidently superior is arm strength. Mariota doesn’t have a weak arm, but he doesn’t have a rifle like Kaepernick. And it’s such a huge weapon for the San Fran quarterback, I’m not sure what he’d be without it.

If Mariota declares — and that’s up in the air — I think a GM or coach somewhere will convince themselves that he’s worth a high pick. But I’m not totally convinced. Not yet.

Zach Mettenberger at LSU started the season showing major improvement from last year and the potential to be an early pick.

Those days are long gone.

In the last few weeks Mettenberger has looked lethargic. He’s started to force way too many passes.

A great example was a pick against Arkansas on Friday. Having lost Odell Beckham (back injury), he was zoning in on the equally talented Jarvis Landry. It was too obvious. And eventually his opponent made him pay, put a blanket over Landry and forced an ugly high pass for a turnover.

He has an arm, he can spread it around. But he’s also a statue in the pocket and when the going’s got tough over the last few weeks, he’s regressed back into something akin to his 2012 form.

Mettenberger left the Arkansas game with a knee injury and that could have even more impact on his stock. Right now he looks like a mid-round pick. He looks like a poor man’s Ryan Mallett.

Derek Carr leads the nation for yardage and in his last two games has 13 touchdowns.

The hype button has well and truly been activated.

I like Carr and argued his case when he wasn’t getting much attention earlier in the year. But suddenly I’m seeing him ranked as a top ten pick.

Really?

It’s a classic example of internet hype. He’s productive, he’s been winning (until this week) and people look at the arm strength and the mechanics and feel comfortable.

Let’s take a step back here. He features in an ultimate spread offense that accentuates the passing game. He’s throwing endless swing passes and WR screens and using YAC.

He isn’t being asked to negotiate through reads, break down a defense, fit the ball into tight spots. Throwing over the middle at the intermediate level has been a struggle at times.

The competition he’s facing most weeks is derisory. It’s a shame Fresno State couldn’t keep winning — it would’ve been very interesting to see him go up against a big school in a BCS game.

For now I think he deserves a solid round 2-3 grade with the potential to keep moving up. Putting him among the top ten picks seems a bit reactionary. I like Carr — but nobody can tell me this is the performance of a top-ten quarterback.

Johnny Manziel had another difficult day yesterday against Missouri. It followed up a tough outing at LSU.

When he’s at his creative best — scrambling away from pressure, having the time to set and throw out of the pocket — there isn’t a more exciting player in college football. When teams are able to contain his receivers and stay organised — he looks frustratingly average.

Last night he couldn’t get anything going. Not really. And when the game was on the line his accuracy deserted him. On one play he attempted a simple screen pass to Mike Evans on a crucial third down, trailing by seven. He managed to throw it high and wide of the 6-5 receiver and the play was buried before it ever had a chance to succeed.

Texas A&M never got the ball back on offense after that.

The magic he displayed against Alabama and Auburn was nowhere to be seen.

It’s really difficult to work out what he’s going to be at the next level. He’s a player of extremes. The thing about Russell Wilson (who he gets compared with far too often) is when the game is going against him, he finds ways to have an impact.

Essentially, an average Russell Wilson performance can still be a winning display. He’ll take what’s on offer, be patient. Keep battling and staying in the game.

When Johnny Manziel is having an off day, Texas A&M can forget about it. Contain Manziel, win the day. When he’s not feeling it, he drifts into struggling. He gets agitated, he starts to force things. You can see in his body language a level of irritation developing that for me, engulfs his ability to stay ice cool the way Wilson does.

At the next level it’s hard to imagine what he could be. Can he still produce the same magic as a scrambling phenomena? Has he got the arm strength and accuracy to make it count against better defensive backs and schemes that will confuse the heck out of him? On a day when the magic isn’t there, can he sit in the pocket and make simple throws faced with complex looks at the LOS?

And aside from all that, how will teams grade his mental make-up?

Wilson is a student of the game, a tireless worker. And he needs to be to succeed. I just can’t see Manziel emulating that work ethic. He’ll need to.

I want to cling to the cliche ‘it only takes one team’. I do suspect somebody will give him his shot. I just wonder whether that shot will come in round two where the risk is less severe.

Alabama’s A.J McCarron is very intriguing. I think he’s improved in pretty much every area he needed to improve — including arm strength. He’s more mobile than people imagine and he can avoid pressure and scramble when required. He’s vastly superior to his predecessors Greg McElroy and John Parker Wilson.

He’s not a great improviser and for that reason he’ll be fairly limited. He’ll take a call and execute it in the NFL, but when things go south I doubt he’s going to be able to adapt and still make a chain-moving play.

McCarron will also make errors — he’ll undersell a pass trying to thread it in behind two DB’s, he’ll miss on a crossing route by throwing slightly behind.

There’s no reason why he can’t be an Andy Dalton-level quarterback. That means completely frustrating at times and bordering on holding back his team. Then on other occasions he’ll be very productive and give the impression he’s a legit franchise starter.

Like Dalton he’s also quite an emotional character — this also leads to some erraticism.

I could see him going in the early part of the second round to a team that wants solid rather than spectacular. But he’s a decent player who has too many unfair critics. As I said, his greatest issue is a lack of improvisation. But he’ll still enter the league a much better player than guys like Christian Ponder and Geno Smith.

Of the others I think Brett Hundley should return to UCLA (debatable whether he will), Tajh Boyd has proven just a little too inaccurate and inconsistent, Logan Thomas hasn’t done enough to repair his stock (but will still go earlier than some think — round 2-3 I suspect) and Aaron Murray’s ACL injury might secure his position as an UDFA candidate.

I’ve flip-flopped on this group all year and I’m still searching for a clarity.

Thank goodness for Russell Wilson.

15 Responses to “Questions continue with 2013 quarterback class”

  1. CHawk Talker Eric says:

    “This is almost exclusively down to the Oregon offense, but I haven’t seen any evidence of Mariota going 1-2-3 with his reads and then checking down. It’s not what the Ducks do. So you have to project a quarterback’s ability without any core evidence that he can do the basics well. And that’s where my concern lies.”

    Bingo

    Overall, an excellent analysis of this year’s QB class.

  2. CC says:

    Great analysis – I haven’t been overly excited about any of these guys. I am happy we have Russell. Metz seemed like he could maybe be a guy, but agree he has checked out. Mariota is overrated – Johnny, well, he is going to be a bad version of … Tim Tebow. Tebow, to his credit worked hard, but couldn’t throw the ball. Johnny can make some throws, but is not a student. Michael Vick talked about how he just came in and didn’t study – and I could see that happening with Johnny. Some short time gains, but in the end, he won’t be a starting QB.

  3. Stuart says:

    Russell Wilson. The first man to practice and the last man to leave, 5:45 am-7:00 pm. Remember last year when the talk was about finding the next Russell Wilson? The reality is instead of being just a 3rd round player, Russell Wilson would have been the 2nd overall draft choice behind only Andrew Luck IMHO.

    I just finished reading a lot about Drew Brees. It wasn’t until his 3rd season where the Drew Brees of today finally came out. Then I asked myself, would I trade Russell Wilson for Drew Brees at age 27? Brees is a 7 time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl MVP.

    My answer was easy, never! Remember the dark days of dreaming about our QB of the future? JS said he wasn’t going to panic, that feels like yesterday. He wanted a QB who was going to tilt the field…

    Russell Wilson turned 25 last Friday, Drew Brees is 34, do the math. The Seahawks are in for a long ride!

  4. AlaskaHawk says:

    Sure glad we found Russell Wilson, All the QBs listed seem like a dice roll for success. Watched Manziel yesterday, the running attack was the only productive part of their game.

    • zh93 says:

      I didn’t watch the whole game,but from what I’ve seen from Manziel this year his presence helps create those holes for his backs. When you attempt to contain him, it opens things up the middle. Just my opinion. Not saying I would take him with a first though. Has a huge ceiling for sure.

  5. williambryan says:

    What about Lynch from NIU?

  6. Y2k2000 says:

    Out of all the QBs, Derek Carr and Johnny Manziel have the most direct impact at the pro level. Both qbs will deliver as advertised…consistency wise I would go with Carr. AJ Mccarron might need a couple of yrs to fill out, but could blossom later…good development pick. I agree Mariota and Bridgwater are both questionable in durability or potential upside.

  7. Elijah says:

    I’ve never really understood why AJ McCarron doesn’t stand out more as a pro prospect; possibly it has to do with the fact that he has so much talent around him. I can see why people would believe he’s a product of his environment.

    Personally, I think he has what you want in an NFL starting quarterback. He has size, composure in the pocket, the mentality and competitive nature of a leader, he is accurate, and he is more mobile than he gets credit for. He doesn’t have mind blowing arm strength, but he isn’t sitting back there with a noodle arm either. In video segments I’ve seen about him, his teammates seem like they would literally take a bullet for him. I think he deserves a bit more credit as a pro prospect

  8. Jianfu says:

    Even though he’s really fallen off the map, I still like Stephen Morris as a mid round developmental pick with a little upside to boot. He has a long way to go. But, he’s a senior who, despite a perceived bad year, has improved his passer rating every year. And at least according to football outsiders metrics, the Canes passing game is actually one of the most efficient in the country.

    Also, while Morris can be ugly sometimes, he’s also capable of making some spectacular throws, too.

    Not saying Id bang the table for him anything, but I think he’s still interesting.

    Anyway, you mentioned teams like Cleveland, Houston, and Minnesota as decent landing spots for a merely competent qb. Just curious, if you were gm of one of those teams and draft-pick-needy Washington offered you Kirk Cousins for a non-first round pick, how would that appeal compared to some of the prospects who might available in round 2 or 3? The mccarrons , Boyd’s, thomases, etc?

    • Rob Staton says:

      I think in Cleveland it’d be a hard sell. They’ve fudged the QB position for far too long and with two first rounders next year, I think they will be able to identify a guy and go after him in this class. In Houston, it’s not a bad shout. Everything is in place for an efficient QB to move the ball. But then how many times are Houston going to maybe own the #1 overall pick? If they love Bridgewater, they almost have to take their opportunity. But if they love Clowney and can accept Cousins (or Keenum) that’s a fearsome looking defensive front. In Minnesota — I think their GM and staff might be in last chance saloon. Is Cousins the guy to save them? That’s a big risk.

      I actually think Cousins would be a nice place-holder in Jacksonville. But he might be the most important backup QB in the NFL. RGIII is brittle, he has an injury history and Washington really isn’t doing enough to protect their guy. They almost have to keep KC unless they get a fantastic offer.

  9. Barry says:

    Rob, you are on fire in this post.
    Mettenberger looked exactly as you said, lethargic.
    I’ve never seen what made Johnny Football so hyped. He runs a open offense that works good for him and is surrounded by big time talent all over on the offense. He’s arm is underwhelming on strength and accuracy and I really doubt he’d run anything south of a high 4.6 at the combine.

    I’ve talked before on here how I like McCarron and I really believe his stalk is hurt by the talent around him. Its hard to say where I’d draft him though, I think it would be as far back as I could while maximizing my picks, that being said it still could be in the first two rounds. Maturity does play a factor with him though.

    The same goes for Carr number 2. Good release, good velocity, accurate, not a board standing back there. Does he have the mentality and maturity to lead a team? I’ve heard he does, so where does he go? I think if you like him you take him. Ask yourself how would he do in Cleveland or Houston right now?

    When looking at the Chiefs last year you could see they were solid QB play from competing. Reid went the veteran rout and its turned out at a solid move.

    Mariota is a Kap clone in ability to run and speed but not the arm. Kap has a top 3 arm, Mariota’s might be top 28 when it comes to arm strength and velocity. One thing thats hurt Kap this year and made me feel great when watching him play the Packers before the Hawks game was his touch. Kap has no idea what touch is, he constantly tries to solve every problem by throwing the rock as hard as he can with little to no touch on intermediate routes. This is were Mariota is a much better passer. his sort game is very solid showing good placement and touch even on the move, especially on the move.

    Where would I take Mariota? If he comes out, I don’t know, possibly to 15 maybe higher. The intangibles are there. But you have to understand what you are getting. He looks like a pure west cost passer. Maybe a faster version of Alex Smith.

    Last note, I believe Logan Thomas with destroy the combine and possibly the senior games causing his stalk to rocket. How high is the question. Still doesn’t mean he hasn’t vastly disappointed these last two years.

  10. dave crockett says:

    When you get to late round/FA types, consider Mizzou’s James Franklin. His game is almost a dead-ringer for Tarvaris Jackson. Franklin’s a big kid, nice arm, mobile (but not extremely). He’s got some holes in his game. He’s just adequate, not great, at reading coverage. He is naturally conservative with the ball. He’ll pull it and run or take a sack when teams drop eight in coverage. When he throws picks it is generally from misreading coverage rather than forcing throws.

    I think if he can get into camp and the coaches will like him a lot.

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