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2014 NFL Draft Report; Quarterback landscape has changed significantly in last few weeks

Eric Edholm
Shutdown Corner

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Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater (USA Today Sports Images)

You can scrap a lot of the mock drafts you've seen up until this point. (Or read them for sheer enjoyment only.)

A lot has happened recently to alter the landscape for the 2014, namely at quarterback, in recent days and weeks.

The biggest news in regard to players who might be available came with the news that Oregon's Marcus Mariota — a popular top-five projection — would be returning to school for the 2014 season. Good for Oregon, and probably for Mariota. Bad news for the teams picking high, perhaps.

That includes the Houston Texans, whose Thursday night loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars puts them squarely in the running for the top overall pick. Other teams who could land it, including St. Louis Rams (who currently own the Washington Redskins' top pick) and the Jaguars, also will be thinking quarterback prominently.

Another top prospect, UCLA's Brett Hundley, could follow suit and return to school as well, now that Jim Mora has given the school a firm assurance that he'll be back with a six-year extension. Baylor's Bryce Petty also announced that he'd be returning to school, a great development for the Bears and college football.

That said, we've heard that Kevin Sumlin's six-year extension at Texas A&M might have little or no bearing on the status of Johnny Manziel, whom many scouts still believe will turn pro despite a few less-than-stellar performances of late. Expect an announcement from Manziel shortly before or after the Aggies' bowl game.

Meanwhile, two top senior prospects — LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Georgia's Aaron Murray — both have suffered ACL injuries and no doubt have seen their stocks hurt because of it. Mettenberger has the better shot of the two to land in Round 1 still, but it would require some convincing to NFL team officials that he can be physically ready for some early portion of the 2014 season. A tough blow for both quarterbacks, no doubt, happening so late in the season.

The fastest riser among the senior prospects has been Fresno State's Derek Carr. I tweeted a few weeks ago how a talent evaluator I spoke to feels that Carr will land in the top 10 when it's all said and done, and it would stun few at this point if Carr actually goes top five given the value of the position, Carr's strong season and the remainder of the QB landscape.

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Central Florida QB Blake Bortles (USA Today Sports Images)

Another riser has been Central Florida's Blake Bortles, who has shown some really intriguing skills in leading the Knights to a 10-1 mark, and on the verge of a BCS bowl bid. Bortles has the size, arm and athleticism for the position, he has shown more grit this season, and huge road wins against Penn State and Louisville (and Teddy Bridgewater) have proven his clutch gene and boosted his stock to where Bortles is expected to ask the draft advisory board to analyze the junior's stock before deciding whether or not to declare. Another fine performance in, say, the Sugar Bowl, could make that decision a lot easier.

Other developments include Chicago Bears GM Phil Emery hinting that they might not apply the franchise tag to Jay Cutler, which could make him available in the free-agent market prior to the draft. There also could be some low starting-grade veterans available for trade given all the backups who have turned starters this season. Some available veterans quarterbacks this offseason include (but are not restricted to): Michael Vick, Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, Sam Bradford, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Brandon Weeden, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman.

And are we sure Bridgewater will be the first overall pick? Even the first quarterback taken? There has been an assumption that he's the top dog for most of the year, and he has turned in a solid season with some flash moments, including this incredible play against Cincinnati.

His skill is quite obvious. But Bridgewater is not a completely polished product, and there might be more doubt in NFL war rooms about him than there is among more optimistic fans and media. Still, he's the favorite, but far from locked in. Plus, he has yet to declare for the draft, too.

So that talk about the 2014 QB class being a banner one? It's way too soon to tell. And right now, some of the juice has been squeezed out of it for the time being.

MORE DRAFT TIDBITS

• Conference title games are always a fascinating time for draft analysts because, in most cases, it pits top talents against each other, and in a charged environment. There will be a ton of talent on display in Ohio State-Michigan State, battling for the Big Ten title, including rapidly rising talents — Buckeyes RB Carlos Hyde and Spartans CB Darqueze Dennard, among them. But don't forget about OSU DT Michael Bennett. He could make a push for being the top defensive tackle taken in May, coming off a big performance in Ohio State's thrilling win over Michigan. Bennett is a gap-splitting 4-3 tackle who makes up for his lack of girth with excellent quickness and instincts.

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Oregon State DE Scott Crichton (USA Today Sports Images)

• There are some who feel that the reason Oregon State DE Scott Crichton looked like he left everything on the field in the Beavers' one-point loss to Oregon in the Civil War game is that it could be his final game. Crichton has inched his way up the charts with a nice junior season and is the type of high-motor, versatile defender who could endear himself to almost any scheme. He did not record a sack against the Ducks but was the most disruptive player on the field, routinely penetrating the backfield and wreaking havoc. Although it's no guarantee he'll go pro, there's a good chance he'd be a top-60 pick if he did declare.

• One player who will be highly scrutinized at the Senior Bowl will be Clemson QB Tajh Boyd, who has some definite skill but also carries some legitimate questions heading into the draft process. At the beginning of the season, Boyd was considered a possible first-round pick and had earned some comparisons to Donovan McNabb (for all the right reasons) in the pros. But a sub-par finish and some poor performances against Florida State and South Carolina, plus worries about Boyd's size and overall skill set, have soured some scouts on him. Mobile is not the end-all-be-all for quarterbacks — after all, Russell Wilson didn't have the best week there — to prove themselves, but others have used the process to convince scouts they have the right combination of abilities to make it.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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