As the 2015 NFL Draft draws near, many teams are weary of wasting higher draft picks on quarterbacks who might not be able to make it in the league. Plenty of attention has been paid to front runners, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, but few people know more about the other prospective signal callers who enter this year’s draft. Although the race for selecting a franchise quarterback in the first round seems to be dominated by the two former Heisman Trophy winners, there are some talented quarterbacks who likely will be available later in the draft.
Quarterbacks have notoriously been overrated when draft day finally comes, and this draft has some quarterbacks who might not last until the later rounds. Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty could have their names called in the second or third rounds, while the lesser-known Garrett Grayson could also cap off his meteoric rise by joining them at this same time. There are others, like the prolific passer from the Pacific Northwest, Connor Halliday, and the gunslinger from the South, Taylor Heinicke, who might climb just a bit when the draft starts to unfold. With so many NFL teams still in dire need of a franchise quarterback, the draft is full of candidates worth taking at least a modest amount of risk.
The following 10 quarterbacks seem to offer the most potential if they get matched to the right NFL team. There are many smart quarterbacks who can make their share of NFL throws, but the speed of the game and the adjustment to taking snaps from under center are both often hard to overcome. If there are any dramatic stretches to acquire a quarterback earlier in the draft, the chances are that one of these signal callers will likely answer the call. In a draft that seems to be all about Winston and Mariota, the race is on to find out who might be the next Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick or even Tom Brady.
10. Shane Carden, East Carolina
Although he is not that physically imposing in regards to size or arm strength, Shane Carden has many of the intangibles that could prove to be valuable if he were to secure a backup role in the NFL. He has been a terrific leader on and off the field at East Carolina University, communicating well with his receivers, other players, and even his coaching staff. Carden has passed for 11,991 yards in college, improving his yardage production in each of his three years. He has thrown 86 touchdown passes with only 30 interceptions in his 1,579 career passing attempts. He is consistent and has experience moving the chains without giving up the ball.
Carden’s statistics are likely inflated due to playing in the American Atlantic Conference for ECU and a spread offense, but he has proven he can make the right reads and exploit defensive weaknesses. He lacks elite arm strength and has to step into throws, but he has the confidence to test defenders anywhere he sees an opening on the field. Carden is not that mobile but can move around in the pocket and get to the outside when the pocket breaks down. He does not have impressive NFL size but his intangibles alone could be worth taking a chance with a 6th or 7th round pick.
9. Taylor Heinicke, Old Dominion University
Taylor Heinicke was the top high school player in the state of Georgia in 2010, yet the big FBS schools like Georgia were less than enamored with his overall size and arm strength. Heinicke went on to have a stellar four-year career at Old Dominion University, winning the Walter Payton Award and Dudley Award in 2012. Heinicke finished his ODU career with 14,959 yards of passing, 1,320 yards of rushing, 132 touchdown passes and 39 interceptions. Heinicke also has good speed (4.63 second 40-yard dash) and is very comfortable in the pocket, scanning the field and going through his progressions with confidence. Heinicke is smart, can throw with touch and accuracy and knows where to attack a particular defense.
Heinicke’s biggest problem might be his lack of arm strength and lack of accuracy on deep balls, especially on the sidelines. Heinicke is not accustomed to taking the ball under center and will likely struggle to feel comfortable doing so in the pros. His intelligence, elusiveness and overachieving mentality should all make it worth a chance drafting him in the later rounds.
8. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
Sean Mannion has a prototypical NFL body and stands tall in the pocket with plenty of strength to make all the NFL throws. Mannion is able to put touch on balls to drop them over linebackers as well as into a receiver’s outstretched hands. He is used to operating under center and plays in a pro-style offense, doing almost all of his damage from the comfort of the pocket. Mannion has put up some impressive numbers at Oregon State, passing for 13,600 yards and 86 touchdowns. He also completed just under 65% of his passes, while establishing PAC-12 marks for completions and attempts in a college career..
Mannion has put up some big numbers in the PAC-12, but has had his struggles against some of the league’s best defenses. As a senior in 2014, he completed less than 50% of his passes against USC, Stanford, and Oregon, with only one touchdown pass in those three games. He is not exactly mobile and has a tendency to step back in the pocket when his primary target is not in the clear. Mannion also has 54 interceptions in his college career, doing his best to cut his interception total down to just 8 last year. He could be the next Drew Bledsoe or Blaine Gabbert, but he is smart and comes prepared which will ensure he doesn’t become the next Ryan Leaf.
7. Connor Halliday, Washington State
There is little doubt that Connor Halliday can throw the football. He had 714 passing attempts as a junior in 2013, producing 4,597 yards and 34 touchdowns. He is a pocket passer who is very confident that he can make just about any throw, down the sidelines or in the middle of the field. Halliday finished his career at Washington State with 11,308 yards of passing and 90 touchdowns in 1,634 attempts. He has better than average arm strength, good football smarts and knows how to have proper timing as well as lead his receivers with his throws. Although he is not particularly elusive or fleet of foot, he was only sacked 19 times last year.
Like many quarterbacks in this draft, Halliday suffers from “spreaditis”, having played in the spread formation under two different coaches at Washington State. He has to learn to take snaps under center, make faster reads while dropping back into the pocket and plant his feet sooner in order to step into his throws. He has a live arm, despite lacking ideal NFL size, but must add some weight and strength to ensure a successful transition to the NFL. He also has to prove he can come back from a devastating ankle injury, but even through questions remain, he does have the tools to warrant a late round pick.
6. Brandon Bridge, South Alabama
Brandon Bridge has no problem making all the NFL throws and also has enough athleticism to escape the pocket when plays break down. His arm is his greatest asset, and although unproven, he can throw his share of frozen ropes. He is full of raw potential, but needs to be able to throw with more touch and accuracy at the next level. Bridge passed for only 2,325 yards in just 373 attempts while at South Alabama, but he does have the prototypical NFL size, great arm strength, and enough speed to position him as a solid prospect in this draft that is not very deep at quarterback.
Bridge is far from the most adept or experienced passer in this draft. He has only had experience playing college football at Alcorn State and South Alabama, lacking sufficient experience reading defenses and facing elite college defenders. In high school, Bridge was a little-known recruit out of Canada, which hasn’t really helped him gain experience or add to his resume. The speed and disguised coverages will take time for him to adjust to, but his physical tools are impressive. Bridge is still a compelling prospect who has all the tools to become an NFL star. With enough patience, the right team, and some veteran tutelage, he could be well worth a mid to late-round pick.
5. Bryce Petty, Baylor
Bryce Petty comes out of Baylor on the heels of RGIII’s illustrious career highlighted by the winning of the coveted Heisman Trophy. Petty is hoping that he can somehow make a smoother transition to the NFL. Petty is more of a prototypical NFL quarterback with good size and the ability to extend plays with his legs by looking for receivers further down the field, in much the same manner as Russell Wilson. Petty can make all the NFL throws, has good timing with his receivers and doesn’t make many mistakes. He has passed for over 8,000 yards his last two seasons at Baylor, adding 61 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions in two years of time. In 2013, Petty had a stellar season and ended up being the Big-12 Offensive Player of the Year.
Petty has all the talent and characteristics to be a starter in the NFL, but will have to adjust from playing in the shotgun offensive sets at Baylor. Petty has not been at his best when he has had to go through his reads or throw when his feet are still in motion. He will also need to make sure he doesn’t lock onto targets as much. All in all, Bryce Petty is a talented quarterback who is certainly worth a 3rd or 4th round pick.
4. Brett Hundley, UCLA
Brett Hundley has been a great leader who, along with coach Jim Mora, has helped bring a winning tradition back to a school (UCLA) that used to do more than just win in Pauley Pavilion. He has the athleticism (4.63 second 40-yard dash), size, arm strength, and leadership qualities to make a strong case for being able to make the transition to become an effective signal caller at the next level. Hundley passed for 9,966 yards and 75 touchdowns in three seasons while also rushing for 1,747 yards with 30 touchdowns. As a passer, Hundley averaged 8.0 yards per attempt and completed 67.6% of his passes, while throwing only 25 picks. Hundley has great vision, good pocket presence, the arm to reach all areas of the field, and the legs to turn any potential loss into a big play.
Hundley still needs to be able to drop passes over front line defenders and lead receivers to the ball. He often relies on arm strength to get the ball downfield, but does a good job at throwing in tight windows when he finally pulls the trigger. Hundley will be tested in making his reads, working on timing, and getting comfortable working under center. He does, however, have a strong sense of self, talent, and great work ethic to make him a worthy 2nd or 3rd round pick.
3. Garrett Grayson, Colorado State
Garrett Grayson could very well become the Blake Bortles of this year’s quarterback class. Grayson has emerged from playing in relative obscurity at Colorado State to become one of the most intriguing quarterbacks of the 2015 NFL Draft. He has done most his his damage the past two seasons, passing for 7,702 yards and 55 touchdowns. As a senior, in 2014, Grayson had 32 touchdown passes, averaged 9.5 yards per attempt and completed 64.3% of his passes, with only 7 interceptions. Grayson has good touch on his passes, great accuracy and enough arm strength to get the ball to any part of the field. He might not have ideal size or elite arm strength, but Grayson does have all the intangibles for the next level.
Grayson has seen his draft stock rise as the lack of depth at QB is evident. He is more polished than most in this draft, with good awareness, a good competitive streak and the ability to make all the NFL throws, but has blossomed and earned all this attention while playing at the less than powerful, Colorado State. The speed of the NFL game will challenge Grayson to make quicker reads, throw into tighter windows and get rid of the ball before receivers make their breaks. He might not be the most glamorous quarterback on this list, but he might be the one who mentally could be ready to play first.
2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Marcus Mariota has the perfect NFL size, poise and intelligence to go along with ridiculous athleticism that could help him extend plays at the next level. Many people question Mariota’s ability to play outside the no-huddle spread offense of Oregon, but much of this doubt can be dispelled by his natural ability to throw the ball. Mariota has outstanding speed (4.52 second 40-yard dash) to move the chains with his legs, but his presence in the pocket, arm strength and ability to make proper reads, should help with his transition to the pros. He also has touch and the ability to drop the ball over a receiver’s shoulder when leading him down the field. In 2014, Mariota passed for 4,454 yards with 42 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. He also gained 770 yards with 15 touchdowns on the ground. Mariota has certainly proven himself at Oregon, finishing with over 10,000 yards passing (10,796) and over 2,000 yards rushing (2,237) as well.
The major concern with Mariota is with his ability to take snaps over center and make more complex reads. The game will all be sped up and he will need to adapt. It remains to be seen how he will do when throwing to his second or third option on the field or when throwing long balls on the run with linemen nipping at his feet. He still has all the tools to make an impact in the NFL as well as the good guy image that Russell Wilson has brought to the NFL. If he gets on the right team, Mariota could make an impact right away but it would be even better if he has a whole season to adapt and learn.
1. Jameis Winston, Florida State
Jameis Winston is the prototypical quarterback of this whole draft class, with great size, a strong arm, and incredible vision to read and adjust to whatever a defense wants to do on the field. Winston is also a typical NFL pocket passer who has a strong arm, but also has nice timing and touch. He is best equipped to handle the transition to the NFL, with the mental toughness and clutch play that could make him a star at the next level. At Florida State, Winston passed for 7,964 yards with 65 touchdowns in two seasons of work. He completed 66% of his passes and averaged 9.4 yards per pass attempt, but did surprise many with his total of 18 interceptions. Despite any mistakes, Winston is still considered to be the most NFL ready quarterback.
Winston has had many questions about his character and leadership qualities that don’t exactly send his draft stock soaring. His football smarts are often overshadowed by his poor judgement off the field. Winston also tries to force the issue on occasion and has the confidence in his arm that sometimes makes him take chances when he should just give up on the play. Despite any reservations, Winston still has the potential to make a big impact in the NFL. Many expect the Buccaneers to make him the first overall pick.
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