Let's face it: The 2013 draft wasn't the sexiest quarterback pool from a talent standpoint. (From a looks standpoint, who knows? Ladies?)
But 2014 has a chance to be a fascinating pool at the position. We have heard plenty about Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, the way-too-early odds-on favorite for the first pick, and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, the highly debated bad boy who might or might not make himself available. And we'll have plenty of time to debate where exactly Mr. Football should be drafted, if and when he declares.
That said, the remainder of the class holds quite a bit of intrigue and ability, too.
Clemson's Tajh Boyd is in the Heisman race and fits the mold of the athletic, strong-armed quarterback the NFL is opening its arms to more often. Alabama's A.J. McCarron is a two-time national champion who matched Manziel throw for throw in College Station and whose leadership and charisma carry big weight with NFL people.
Georgia's Aaron Murray is back on the upswing after some have poked holes in his game; he, too, could be firmly in the first-round picture in six months. Oregon's Marcus Mariota is only a redshirt sophomore, but he is a running demon and throwing standout whose talents will be appreciated more now than they would have been even five years ago.
What about Ohio State's Braxton Miller? He's returning to the fold now, back from a knee injury, and has the traits to rise quickly if he plays well again. Anyone watching Fresno State's victory over Boise State had to come away impressed with Derek Carr — and feeling that he's more gifted than older brother, David. Who was, you know, the first pick in the draft at one point. Just saying ...
UCLA's Brett Hundley is another redshirt sophomore who might remain in school another year, but nonetheless must be in the discussion. So counting everyone we've mentioned to date, that's nine quarterbacks who might be top-50 possibilities, if they all declare. That's unlikely, but it shows you the possible rare depth at the position.
There have been 17 quarterbacks drafted in the top three rounds the past three years combined. With so much talent at the position upcoming, two things are likely to happen: One, teams that drafted quarterbacks high in recent years could dip back in 2014, and two, some lesser-hyped quarterback talents — San Jose State's David Fales, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Michigan junior Devin Gardner come to mind — could slide to a lucky team in the middle rounds.
Quarterback intrigue is almost certain to return to the draft next year.
The premature 2014 mock draft (order based on inverse of current power rankings)
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater
Going back to Blaine Gabbert likely means that he's going into his final shot to impress as a starter. Don't bank on it. Until further notice, Bridgewater appears to be the top option on the board for Gus Bradley's rebuilding Jags.
2. Arizona Cardinals
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
Hey, we realize this is not a perfect fit based on scheme and Clowney's talents. But unless the Cardinals go quarterback here — and they will need to address the position for the long term at some point — there isn't a natural fit. For now: Clowney it is.
3. Oakland Raiders
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd
We admit that Terrelle Pryor has looked darned intriguing and that the Raiders easily could decide to go in another direction — either one of the top-ranked offensive tackles, or an elite defender. Clowney would be a great fit if available. But we'll stick with Boyd for now, unless there's a change of coach coming down the line.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
For years now, the Steelers have failed to adequately protect Ben Roethlisberger, and even with chatter heating up that Big Ben might not be locked in as the starter for the long haul, the team must fill a gaping hole. Kevin Colbert traditionally has built his teams from the inside out in recent drafts, and this fits that mode.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews
Mock drafts often don't make a lot of sense this time of year because so much is unsettled. Could we see the Bucs wanting to upgrade at left tackle? Sure. Is it more likely they'd be interested in finding their franchise quarterback? Oh yeah. Let's see how the Mike Glennon situation pans out before pegging them to that position, though.
6. Minnesota Vikings
Notre Dame DT Louis Nix III
A Nix-Sharrif Floyd duo inside would make up for the fact that Kevin Williams is in the twilight of his career and that Jared Allen might be approaching that realm soon as well. Of course, landing a quarterback might be highest priority, but they also could seek one of the many veterans who could be available at that position this coming offseason.
7. St. Louis Rams (pick traded from Washington Redskins to Rams)
Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio
Jake Long has disappointed to date, and right tackle remains an area of need. Really, the offensive line needs depth supplied at a few different spots, but the intriguing Kouandjio appears to be the best talent available for that need.
8. New York Giants
Ohio State CB Bradley Roby
Really, you could see them go a number of directions, but they likely will need a corner with Corey Webster's contract up after this season. They could use a playmaker with an attitude such as Roby to upgrade the back portion of the defense.
9. Cleveland Browns
Georgia QB Aaron Murray
We just couldn't pull the trigger on Johnny Manziel to Cleveland. Oh, it would be intriguing — no doubt. But Murray might better fit the vertical offense that Rob Chudzinski favors. Then again, will the brain trust there listen?
10. Buffalo Bills
UCLA OLB-DE Anthony Barr
In a perfect world — and by now, we all know that mock drafts steer clear of that world — Barr would be going much higher. Then again, at this point last year, Georgia's Jarvis Jones was seen as a sure-fire top-10er, and he ended up going 17th overall. Barr and Jones have some similarities, as they both seem to fill the stat sheet every week.
11. New York Jets
Oregon RB-WR De'Anthony Thomas
This is quite the projection here, and Thomas' draft status could be tied to how well Tavon Austin eventually does in St. Louis. Thomas' versatility and explosiveness might be exactly what Geno Smith — who, remember, meshed so well with Austin at West Virginia — needs in this offense.
12. St. Louis Rams
Texas A&M WR Mike Evans
You can justify drafting a receiver for a second straight year in the first round if you're getting two different types of player, and Evans and Austin are nothing alike. Who knows? Come April, the Rams might have decided that the receivers are talented enough and that Sam Bradford needs to be replaced. But for now, we'll insert the bulldog-like Evans, who is rocketing up draft boards following his torching of Alabama.
13. Philadelphia Eagles
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
Oh no, we didn't. By now you likely know that Manziel was committed to Oregon (coached then by Chip Kelly) out of high school but chose the Aggies because it was closer to home. Philly is nowhere near Texas, of course, and the potentially volatile mix of Manziel and this city has our blood boiling just thinking about the possibilities. But if toughness and playmaking are valued, this could be a match spun in gold.
14. San Diego Chargers
Florida CB Loucheiz Purifoy
The secondary is made up of spare parts, and the athletic Purifoy — who also can impact on special teams, and even offense — would be a worthy addition. Another name to keep in mind: TCU corner Jason Verrett, who is smaller but talented.
15. Carolina Panthers
North Carolina OT James Hurst
This year's draft was top-heavy on defense, and they haven't taken a true tackle high since Jeff Otah in 2008. Byron Bell has been a failed experiment at right tackle, and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson always has endorsed drafting local kids. A double fit.
16. Tennessee Titans
Notre Dame DL Stephon Tuitt
Tuitt very likely could go higher than this, but if he's available, the Titans might have to jump on him. The defensive front has a few holes that could use patching. Tuitt and Jurrell Casey could make a nice tandem inside.
Buffalo LB Khalil Mack
It has been a bit of a see-saw season for the ultra-talented Mack, who opened the season with a banner game against Ohio State (nine tackles, 2.5 sacks, INT return for a touchdown) and then was muted by Baylor's explosive offense the following week. But he has shown enough last season and the early part of this one to receive strong notice.
Former NFL assistant Paul Pasqualoni, now the head coach at Syracuse (whom the Bulls play Saturday), heaped praise on Mack this week — of course, so did Art Briles before his Bears dissected Mack and the Bulls. Still, it doesn't sound like Pasqualoni was blowing smoke.
"This guy, Khalil Mack, he's as good an outsider linebacker as there is in college football. Period," Pasqualoni said. "If this guy doesn't go in the first round I'd be surprised. I'd take him in the first round. He's really, really good. Everyone struggles to block him."
Mack might not fit the mold of the typical, first-round linebacker, but he's a gifted player who can do a lot of things and should translate to a three-down performer on the next level.
Tennessee OT Antonio Richardson
"Tiny," as he's known, is anything but. That said, he was pushed around a little by Florida pass rusher Dante Fowler and will need a bounce-back effort here to maintain his status as a future first-round pick.
Richardson goes 6-6, 327 pounds but could stand to anchor better. With SEC play cranking up, he'll see his share of quick and powerful rushers to better display that against.
SOME MORE DRAFT TIDBITS
The Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns are armed with additional draft picks following the Percy Harvin and Trent Richardson trades. Both teams will be considering their quarterback options strongly this offseason. But could either team favor a veteran QB over a draft prospect? That might be more likely in Minnesota than in Cleveland. ... Washington's Austin Sefarian-Jenkins started the season as the top tight end available for 2014, but he served a suspension for a DUI and was a total non-factor as a receiver against Illinois. Sefarian-Jenkins bounced back with a better game against Idaho State. Still, others — such as North Carolina's Eric Ebron Oregon's Colt Lyerla and Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz — are starting to make a push at the position. ... The idea of taking a guard high in the draft is far less frowned upon in the past than now, and Stanford's David Yankey and Baylor's Cyril Richardson are firmly planted in the first-round discussion now, with others on the cusp. ... Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard, a mid-round prospect, could see his stock really rise with a good battle against Notre Dame's Louis Nix III. Nix got the better of Ikard last year in Norman, and Saturday's game is in South Bend. Tough test.