This past college football season, the nation’s attention was pulled from Johnny Football over to Tallahassee as another Freshman sensation, Jameis Winston led his talent-loaded Florida State Seminoles to a National Championship win over Auburn, as well as a Heisman Trophy. Winston becomes draft eligible this upcoming season, and will look to repeat this past season’s feat of bringing another Championship to Coach Jimbo Fisher. Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley both opted to not enter the draft this past season, and will return as the fellow front runners to Winston at the Quarterback position. Please note that these players are being ranked based off of projected pro-potential, not necessarily collegiate production. Here’s a look at the Top 5 Quarterbacks entering the 2014-2015 season:
1. Jameis Winston, Florida State, Sophomore (RS), 6’4” 227lbs, Top 10 pick
Winston took the reigns of a very talented Florida State offense as a Redshirt Freshman, and immediately showed the world why Jimbo Fisher chose him to lead his team, during an unbelievable performance against Pittsburgh in the season opener, where Winston threw more touchdowns than incompletions. He showed a lot of poise and confidence in the pocket, as he was willing to stand in and take hits, and stand tall in the pocket, looking much like Ben Roethlisberger, and was hard to bring down when hit. He displayed both an impressive throwing arm and special athleticism for a player of his size. He takes what the defense gives him, and shows good competitiveness for a player who is described as “laid back”. It also must be stated that Winston operates from a Pro Style offense, which is becoming rarer in college football, but is still the basis for NFL success at the position.
Aside from this offseason’s off-the-field issues, Winston does have a few flaws in his game. At times, he will trust his arm too much, attempting to force throws into tight windows. He can also struggle to diagnose and identify coverages, as he did against Miami, which led to an interception. He also has quite a windup in his throwing motion, almost like Byron Leftwich, which could affect his ability to fit passes into windows in the NFL. He also had elite talent around him, as he had plenty of NFL talent at his disposal, and it has to be asked if he has his complete focus is on football, as Winston is a pro prospect on the Seminoles’ baseball team as well.
2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon, Junior (RS), 6’4” 211lbs, Top 15 pick
At the helm of the high-powered offense in Eugene, Mariota has flourished during his two years as a starter for the Ducks. Mariota features great athleticism for a Quarterback, as he is truly a homerun threat every time he tucks the ball, similar, if not superior to Robert Griffin III. A quick release joined with a strong arm and good decision making make Mariota a competent thrower, and he threatens the defense with his combination of arm strength and accuracy. He didn’t commit his first turnover until mid-October, which was a lost fumble. He makes good decisions while running the Ducks’ read-option offense, and follows his blockers well as a runner, showing good vision.
Despite some of Mariota’s elite physical skills, he definitely isn’t a polished passer. He is inaccurate at times, and balls often sail high. His accuracy also suffers while on the run, and he doesn’t always put as much touch on the ball as he could. He shows poor habits while on the run, holding the ball at his side in one hand, which leads to fumbles, multiple against Washington State. Another knock on Mariota will be where he’s coming from. A lack of under center snaps, as well as playing in an option-based offense will be used against Mariota, who has followed the likes of Darren Thomas, Dennis Dixon, and Jeremiah Masoli; leaders of potent Oregon offenses in college, who have not succeeded, or made it to the next level. A large majority of Oregon’s offense is off of play-action, which doesn’t translate very well to the NFL.
3. Brett Hundley, UCLA, Junior (RS), 6’3” 227lbs, 1st Round
Hundley was another prospect who passed up the chance to be drafted this season to increase his draft stock. Under the guidance of former NFL Head Coach Jim Mora Jr., Hundley has gone from highly touted prospect to a an effective leader for the Bruins. An athlete at the Quarterback position, Hundley possesses a good throwing arm, and has good pocket presence. Although not a burner, he can be a running threat, as he had a long touchdown run vs. Utah this past season. He uses his feet to extend plays and is tough for defenders to drag to the ground.
Despite being a threat to the defense running the ball, he’s not a consistent homerun threat. He gallops more than sprints while scrambling, not a smooth stride. He also struggles to escape the pocket once it breaks down, getting collected in the traffic. Hundley has shown at times to be unable to stand in under pressure, and can lose his technique while on the run, resulting in inaccurate passes. Hundley will also be criticized for playing in a shotgun heavy, option based offense, relying on play action on nearly every snap. He will need more under center snaps, although Coach Mora stated that he has installed a package for Hundley to take snaps from under center, to better utilize UCLA’s power-run offense.
4. Bryce Petty, Baylor, Senior (RS), 6’3” 230lbs, 2nd Round
Sitting behind Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence clearly benefitted Bryce Petty, as he showed he was very capable stepping into the starting position at Quarterback for the high scoring Baylor offense. Petty sports a good throwing arm, as well as an accurate one, showing the prowess of when to use touch on passes for the Bears. Although not a dangerous running threat, Petty used good decision making and deceptive athleticism to keep defenses honest. He also uses his quick release to get passes off against pressure, as Petty has shown the tendency to stand in against oncoming pass rushers.
Although not inadequate as an athlete, Petty is not a running threat. Becoming a common pattern among Quarterbacks, Petty will too be penalized by scouts due to his exclusively shotgun offense in Waco, and a scheme that features both heavy play-action as well as fairly simple reads, only scanning one half of the field on most snaps. He also at times holds on to the ball too long, which could lead to sacks and ball security issues at the next level. He could also stand to be smarter while on the move, as he showed that he’s not always apt to sliding, taking on a defender against Texas Tech.
5. Sean Mannion, Oregon State, Senior (RS), 6’5” 220lbs, 3rd Round
Sean Mannion has some of the highest upside of all the Quarterbacks in this class. He has all of the physical tools to succeed. He has a strong arm, he’s tall, and has a solid frame. He makes spectacular throws look and seem routine, and he operated out of a hybrid pro-style offense that featured frequent play action passes from both fly sweeps and traditional run action. He and Brandon Cooks teamed to be one of the most potent combinations in the nation, and Mannion has shown the ability to make any throw needed of him.
Nearly every promising trait Mannion possesses is coupled with a frustrating flaw. Mannion, though making the tough throws look easy, often struggled with ball placement on short and intermediate passes. He seemed to depend on Cooks often, and benefitted from the 1st round pick making Mannion look good. Despite having a strong throwing arm, Mannion has very sloppy footwork, and poor technique in the pocket. The first play from scrimmage against Hawai’i could have been a long touchdown to Cooks, yet Mannion used poor footwork, and the ball was vastly underthrown. Mannion looks to be a developmental project right now.
Kevin Hogan, Stanford, Junior (RS), 6’4” 220lbs, 3rd-4th Round – Hogan took over as a Freshman for Josh Nunes, and has lead Stanford to back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances. Very comparable to Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, he has been called a “game manager”, but possesses enough talent to be a solid starter in the NFL. A good enough arm with decent athleticism. He’ll be a coaches’ favorite.
Taylor Kelly, Arizona State, Senior (RS), 6’2” 201lbs, 4th Round – Kelly is a gamer, who has thrived in Arizona State’s offense after taking over for Brock Osweiler. Kelly led the Sun Devils to a controversial win over Wisconsin, and a bowl win vs. Texas Tech. He possesses the tools for the NFL, but he could be held back by his shot-put like release.
Connor Halliday, Washington State, Senior (RS), 6’4” 190lbs, 4th-5th Round – Halliday is the typical Mike Leach quarterback; deceivingly athletic, excellent at making quick decisions, as well as having a good, strong throwing arm. Halliday set school and conference records against Oregon, going 58-89, no that’s not a typo, for 557 and 4 touchdowns in Eugene. He needs to tone down the interceptions, but he presents intriguing potential for the next level.
Devin Gardner, Michigan, Senior (RS), 6’4” 210lbs, 5th Round – A former starting Wide Receiver for the Wolverines, Gardner made the transition to Quarterback late in his Sophomore campaign, and as a Junior he completed his first full season as starter. Gardner is inconsistent, but his athleticism and arm talent will be enough to intrigue a team enough to give Gardner a roster spot. Don’t count out a potential future back at his previous position of Wide Receiver, either.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State, Senior, 6’2” 215lbs, 5th-6th Round – Miller is a homerun threat who is improving as a passer. Piloting the Buckeye offense for his 4th season, Miller will look to prove to scouts he can be a competent passer at the next level. Miller’s inexperience as a passer has shown throughout his tenure in Columbus, but Coach Urban Meyer has praised Miller’s work ethic this offseason to improve.
Nick Marshall, Auburn, Senior, 6’1” 210lbs, 7th Round – The former Defensive Back at Georgia, Marshall transferred to a Junior College in order to play Quarterback as he wanted, and started this past season for the Tigers. Marshall won’t be able to play Quarterback in the NFL, as he isn’t nearly competent enough as a passer. He is however, a good enough athlete to play in the secondary in the league. A burner, he could also be turned into a Denard Robinson-like “Offensive Weapon”.
This year’s class lacks the overall depth of last year, and there are many more athletic type Quarterbacks, as opposed to Pro-Style signal callers, however many of them have the potential to combine their athletic abilities and the passing game of the NFL together to continue to feed the new hybrid types of Quarterbacks, such as Colin Kaepernick, Ryan Tannehill and Robert Griffin III.