NFL draft season is an exciting time filled with DraftBreakdown cut-ups, egocentric Twitter wars, and ridiculous anonymous “scout” quotes. There are very few things I love more.
It is difficult at times, however, to wade through the oceans of scouting reports to find the pearls of useful fantasy information. To that end, I have created this NFL Draft Cheat Sheet to answer every important question about the quarterbacks that will hear their names called this May.
Who is the best?
The most common answer is Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater, and that is my opinion as well.
The knocks against Bridgewater all center around his physical limitations: He has a small frame, he does not have a huge arm, he is not particularly athletic, and he has undersized hands. While these are concerns, the level of attention his supposed physical deficiencies have received point to severe misunderstanding of how to evaluate the quarterback position.
There are certainly physical benchmarks a quarterback has to meet to be a quality NFL starter. Once a quarterback passes these benchmarks, however, it really does not matter how far past them they go. Teddy does not have a strong arm, but he can make all the throws. Teddy is not particularly athletic, but he can move well in the pocket and has shown an ability to escape pressure. Teddy does have small hands which, when paired with his arm strength, make him struggle in poor weather, but he seems to be much better at controlling the ball when wearing gloves and should continue to wear them in the NFL.
Much more important that the physical attributes that get the most play is the ability to consistently make sound decisions in pressure situations, and Bridgewater displayed this ability time and time again in college. He also played in a pro-style offense where he was asked to make full field reads -- something not seen as often in college -- and operated it superbly. Finally, he understands ball placement and demonstrated the short and intermediate accuracy necessary as the windows start getting smaller at the next level.
In short, Bridgewater has all the important mental attributes and enough of the physical attributes to be a top-level quarterback in the NFL, and he is easily my favorite one in this draft.
Who will contribute most as a fantasy player in year one?
It is always a difficult question to answer before the draft because so much relies on opportunity, but the likeliest candidate right now is Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel.
Manziel is by far the most polarizing quarterback available, even among highly respected evaluators. ESPN’s Ron Jaworski famously said he would not take Manziel until the third round of the draft, while NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said if he had to take one quarterback in the top ten, Manziel would be the guy.
This polarization may mean Manziel slips a bit in the draft, which could be a problem for his fantasy value if he takes a Rodgerian-like fall to a team with a solid, entrenched starter.
That scenario seems unlikely, however. Very few teams would be willing to take on a player with the fanfare of Manziel without the intention of starting him immediately, and any team with the organizational fortitude and security to take Johnny Football and not start him probably has a good enough quarterback already on the roster.
Also, aside from the near-zero possibility Manziel rides the pine this season, his playing style also lends itself to early fantasy success.
While Manziel is too often misidentified as a one-read-and-take-off quarterback in the mold of Michael Vick or a young Cam Newton, it is undeniable he has physical tools to be a factor in the rushing game. We have seen that ability allow players like Vick, Robert Griffin III, and Newton to be huge fantasy successes early in their careers without gaudy passing numbers.
Though Manziel is more in the mold of Russell Wilson in that he uses his escapability to extend plays and runs only when no other option exists, even a Wilson-esque 500-5 rushing line would set up a solid fantasy base on which to build.
When you put his style of play and likely playing time together with his penchant for the big play, it becomes very clear Manziel has as high a fantasy ceiling as any quarterback in this draft. He should display that potential from the first snap of the 2014 season.
Who has the most upside?
Without question the answer is UCF QB Blake Bortles.
It does not require too tight a squint to see Andrew Luck in Bortles. He is a big, strong quarterback with plus athleticism and rushing ability. He plays with a confidence and poise that is noticeable on tape. Bortles led UCF to a comeback victory over Bridgewater’s Louisville, and two high-profile upset wins over Penn State and Baylor last season.
While is it not hard to see Luck in Bortles game, it is also not difficult to see Jake Locker at times. He occasionally displays accuracy issues brought about by inconsistent footwork and mechanics. He too often throws off-balance and too often makes throws that will result in interceptions against better competition.
With that said, all of the weaknesses Bortles has shown are coachable. He can fix his mechanics and can learn how to make better decisions. In fact, reports from his Pro Day indicate he has already begun to address these deficiencies.
No one can coach the physical attributes and poise Bortles has consistently displayed, and those traits give him a great shot to develop into a franchise quarterback.
Who is the most overrated?
Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo, and I don't even think it's close.
Garoppolo is the kind of quarterback that shines in all-star games. That is exactly what he did this spring, earning a late invitation to the Senior Bowl based on his stellar performance at the East-West Shrine Game.
In shorts and shells, there is little not to like about Garoppolo. He has a decent arm, a decent build, and a lightning-quick release. He displays excellent footwork and could write the book on a marrying quarterback’s feet to their eyes.
On a script or in practice, all of these attributes are wonderful to watch. The problem with Garoppolo, however, shows up against live competition in two disturbing tendencies.
The first is Garoppolo’s almost inability to stand up to a pass rush. Time and time again Garoppolo had a chance to stand tall in the pocket and make a play, and time and time again his eyes dropped to the rush searching for an escape plan. More disturbingly, Garoppolo would display this fear of the pass rush when none actually existed, choosing to escape a fairly clean pocket instead of finding an open receiver.
Secondly, Garoppolo almost seemed scared when his first read was covered. So much of his production in college came on one-read plays that were usually open against inferior competition. When the primary read was covered, however, Garoppolo struggled to locate a secondary receiver, and even when he did find a secondary receiver or a check-down option, he looked jittery doing it.
It is not like Garoppolo was dealing with these issues against NFL competition, either. If he is struggling to stand up in the face of an Ohio Valley Conference pass rush, what will he do against professional pass rushers?
The answer is most likely nothing. No matter the physical attributes, a slow processor is the main ingredient for failure in the NFL, and that is exactly what I expect Garoppolo to do.
Who is the most underrated?
LSU QB Zach Mettenberger.
At 6’5’, 230 pounds, Mettenberger looks like he was genetically engineered by the same Russian team responsible for Ivan Drago, except instead of being asked to win the cold war, Mettenberger was tasked with playing quarterback in the NFL.
If having prototypical size was all that mattered, though, Ryan Leaf would be a Hall of Famer. Fortunately, Mettenberger has displayed several other traits that should translate well to the NFL.
First and foremost, he has one of the biggest arms in this draft and throws the prettiest deep ball I have seen. There is not a single throw Mettenberger cannot make, and he can drive the ball through the tightest of windows. He also has shown the ability to throw with a bit more touch, but it is something he still needs to develop.
Secondly, Mettenberger operated a pro-style offense under former NFL offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. He progresses through reads quickly and makes the correct decisions on most occasions. He also understands pre-snap reads, checking to the correct plays more often than not.
Finally, Mettenberger stands tall and delivers strikes in the face of pressure as well as any other quarterback in this class. He is always willing to take the big hit to make a play and seems unfazed by players around his feet. Better pocket awareness could take the need to take the big hit away, however, and that brings us to Mettenberger’s biggest issue.
The real weakness holding Mettenberger back is his lack of pocket awareness and mobility, an issue magnified by the ACL injury suffered last December that sidelined him until Wednesday's LSU Pro Day. Not every quarterback has to be a great athlete, as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning can attest, but both Manning and Brady have a great sense of what is going on around them, and an outstanding ability to move around in the pocket to buy more time. Mettenberger has not shown that trait, and as a result he often takes unwarranted sacks and negative plays.
That lack of mobility certainly limits his potential, but if he lands in a vertical passing offense like the ones employed by Bruce Arians in Arizona or Norv Turner in Minnesota, Mettenberger has a chance to be a solid contributor at the next level.
What small school prospect has big potential?
There are several possible answers to this question.
Wyoming QB Brett Smith is a draftnik favorite, San Jose State QB David Fales is among the most accurate quarterbacks in the draft, and Ball State QB Keith Wenning is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the class.
If we are talking about potential, though, the highest ceiling may belong to SMU QB Garrett Gilbert.
Gilbert went to the University of Texas as a highly touted recruit, but transferred to SMU after what can only be described as a disastrous stint as the Longhorns' quarterback.
After an up and down first season in Dallas, Gilbert came into his own in 2013. He completed 66% of his throws and posted a solid 3 to 1 TD-to-Interception ratio, albeit against below average competition.
That performance leads to a very simple question. Why was Gilbert able to all of a sudden start making solid football decisions after a long history of making poor ones?
Some of the credit has to go to SMU coach June Jones, who consistently gave Gilbert simple, half-field reads he could thrive in. Without having to worry much about complex passing schemes, Gilbert was able to use his above-average physical skills to deliver the ball with a confidence that was seriously lacking at Texas.
That is not to say all of Gilbert’s success was due to the system, though. He displayed good accuracy and understanding of ball placement on most occasions. He showed anticipation and the ability to throw receivers open. He also looked comfortable standing in the pocket and delivering the ball against a rush.
No matter how he played last season, however, the questions about Gilbert will always revolve around his decision-making ability, and his colossal struggles at Texas will continue to be the albatross hung round his neck.
The confidence he played with may go some way in answering his critics, but whether that new-found comfort is down to Gilbert's personal growth or June Jones’ system remains to be seen. Based on his physical tools, I am willing to put down a few chips to find out.
Zach Mettenberger will turn out to be the best quarterback in this draft.
The love letter I wrote to Mettenberger earlier in this piece should be enough to show I like the guy, but this prediction has much more to do with the fragility at the top of the class.
All of the top four options – Bortles, Manziel, Bridgewater, and Fresno State's Derek Carr – have serious weaknesses that could lead to failure.
Bortles has inconsistent mechanics, occasional accuracy issues, and competition questions.
Bridgewater’s lean frame could lead to durability concerns, and his less than ideal hands and arm could present problems in bad weather.
Manziel’s play style and frame also lead to durability concerns, and he struggled against teams that kept him in the pocket with a soft rush.
Derek Carr, who I did not talk about, has faulty mechanics, a penchant for crumbling under pressure, and horrible tape against top-level competition, and by the way is by far my least favorite of the consensus quadrumvirate.
The point is there is no surefire franchise quarterback in this draft, and there is a significantly better than zero chance all the top guys falter in some way in the NFL. If that happens and Mettenberger ends up in the right system, there is a future in which Mettenberger is the cream of 2014’s crop.