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Monday, May 27, 2013

2014: Year of the Quarterback?

Wild on Sports
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2014: Year of the Quarterback?
By Wild on Sports Analyst Bryan Ridall

With the 2013 Draft just over a month old, and the new rookies participating in OTA’s and mini-camps, it’s time that we look ahead to the 2014 draft class; one with much more promise at the skill positions than this year’s. Depending on the draft order, it is entirely possible that four of the first five picks in 2014 could be quarterbacks. With an entire season to play until the draft arrives, it is likely that the stock of many players will rise and fall throughout the year until we get to the Combine, but it is never too early to get the fans of perennial bottom-feeding teams excited for the upcoming draft.

Impact Position: Quarterback

The Quarterback Class of 2012 was one of the strongest ever, drawing comparisons to the class of 2004 (Manning, Rivers, Roethlisberger) and even 1983 (Elway, Kelly, Marino). However, 2013 was a very different draft, with only one quarterback going in the first round, and three quarterbacks going in the first 3 rounds. The class of 2014 could be one of the most dynamic to ever come out of college, as well as the most diverse. A.J. McCarron, from Alabama, and Aaron Murray, from Georgia, are seniors this year and will look to improve on their impressive quarterback play. McCarron has won the last 2 National Championships with ‘Bama and would look to add a third to his resume, as well as a Heisman Trophy. McCarron is a gifted pocket-passer, with great decision making skills, and a decent long-ball that will need fine tuning in the NFL. McCarron runs a very balanced, pro-style offense and has the leadership abilities you need in a starting quarterback. Murray doesn’t have the hardware to compete with McCarron, but has been equally as impressive for Georgia, and if it wasn’t for a coaching blunder by Mark Richt in the SEC Championship Game, Georgia may have been playing Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship. Murray is another strong pocket passer, but he excels at stretching the field with his arm, and having good accuracy on throws over 25 yards. Murray’s biggest hurdle will be his inability to win big games, which has put his leadership ability and overall effectiveness into questions.

While both McCarron and Murray have established themselves at perennial powerhouse schools, while compiling impressive seasons, two “new-comers” have burst onto the scene and resemble the new “read-option” quarterback that has taken hold of the NFL. Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel will be the most intriguing quarterback to come out in 2014. If Manziel can replicate his season from a year ago, regardless of if he wins the Heisman or a National Championship, he should declare for the draft. Manziel combines an interesting throwing style with his ability to change the game in a single play, and only got better as last year went on, demonstrated by his 41-24 beat down of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, as well as his impressive night at the Cotton Bowl. Manziel’s size, maturity, and lack of experience are all questions for teams heading into the year, but Manziel’s size and pure throwing ability have garnered him comparisons to Drew Brees. Manziel will be much more of a project than McCarron or Murray, but his overall athleticism and ability to extend, and even create plays, make him intriguing for a team looking to run the read-option.

The fourth quarterback in the group is Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville, who may have the biggest upside of the entire group. Last year, in Bridgewater’s first full season as a starter, he completed 68.5% of his passes for 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns, to go along with his 11 rushing touchdowns, and was named Big East Offensive Player of the Year. Bridgewater led the Cardinals to a Big East Title, and defeated Florida, who had the #1 pass defense, 33-23 in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, while being named the game’s MVP. Bridgewater, under head coach Charlie Strong, is just starting to realize his potential, while utilizing his athletic gifts. Strong is also the perfect coach to instill the mentality that a starting quarterback needs, because Strong is a no-nonsense, extremely focused and well-prepared coach. When April 2014 rolls around, don’t be surprised if Bridgewater is being talked about as the #1 pick, as he is already being projected as a top prospect.

Outside of the quarterbacks, the only other prospect with #1-pick potential is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (In case you don’t remember who he is, give this a watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC44nP7ClxM). Clowney is a physical freak at 6’6 and 272 pounds, and his play gets more impressive every single year. After having a strong rookie year, finishing Top 10 in the SEC with 8 sacks, Clowney set the South Carolina record for sacks in a season with 13 as a sophomore. Clowney was named a unanimous First Team All-American and also won the Hendricks Award for the nation’s best defensive end, while being a finalist for the Bednarik Award (Defensive POY), Nagurski Trophy (FWAA Defensive POY), Lombardi Award (Best Lineman/Linebacker), and Heisman Trophy. Clowney’s stock was so high that even after it came out that he may take a year off from football to avoid injury, he was still being considered for the #1 pick. This year, Clowney has the ability to cement himself as one of the greatest defensive ends ever in college football, and improve on his record-setting numbers from last year.

Though there is almost an entire year before the 2014 draft starts in New York, scouts and teams have already started to research the players that will impact their teams in the future. With the evolution of the NFL, and the importance placed on the starting quarterback position, it is likely that one of the four quarterbacks listed will go #1. However, Clowney is a once-in-a-generation type prospect, and could have teams overpaying to move up to help get the impact player they need on defense.

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