Positional analysis: Quarterbacks

Blake Bortles (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY)

With the 2014 QB Class, beauty (and projected success) truly is in the eye of the evaluator. The rankings of most of the quarterbacks are all over the board in NFL circles, making scheme fit and desired traits a big part of the valuation. We break down the stats, analysis, strengths, weaknesses, and projections for the top quarterback prospects.

VIKINGS QUARTERBACKS – Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder.

TEAM NEED – Clearly, with only two QBs on the active roster, the Vikings are going to use at least one of their 2014 draft picks on a quarterback. If it doesn't come early, they may end up taking two and let them fight it out for a roster spot. If they take a quarterback high, it may lead to an attempt to move Ponder via trade. No matter how you cut it, this is a premium position of need for the Vikings and don't be surprised if their first-round picks goes here.

POSITION OVERVIEW: There isn't a clear-cut No. 1 QB in this year's class like there was when Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were locked in at Nos. 1-2 in 2012. However, there is a good chance that two or three QBs could come off the board in the first eight picks, with some believing the top three could be gone by the top five picks. There are some interesting depth picks that have experience and played for power schools that will be viewed as developmental/backup project types that will have QBs coming off the board early and often.

THE CREAM THE OF THE CROP

Blake Bortles, Central Florida, 6-5, 232 –
Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who completed 510 of 781 passes for 6,640 yards with 50 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in that span…Had 561 career rushing yards on 195 attempts, rushing for 15 TDs…Second-team All-Conference USA pick in 2012 and, after UCF changed conference affiliation, was named All-American Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 2013…Has prototypical size the scouts look for in a QB…Mobile within in the pocket and can extend plays…Has good technique and a high release point…Doesn't force the ball into dangerous situations…A natural team leader who eats and sleeps football and isn't an off-field distraction…Has good but not elite arm strength…Played marginal competition and will have a bigger initial learning curve than the other top QBs…Can improve his deep passing accuracy…Doesn't consistently step into throws and will need to work on his foot mechanics…Didn't lift at the NFL Scouting Combine, but ran a 4.88 40 with a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 board jump. PROJECTION: Has all the tools to be a very good NFL quarterback and, given his ties with members of the Houston Texans coaching staff, could go No. 1 overall.

Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville, 6-2¼, 214 – Third-year junior…Started 35 of 39 career games, finishing his career completing 781 of 1,142 passes for 9,817 yards with 72 touchdowns and 24 interceptions, while rushing 226 times for just 170 yards and six touchdowns…Saved his best for 2013, completing 303 of 427 passes (71 percent), for 3,970 yards with 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions…Big East Freshman of the Year in 2011 and Big East Offensive Player of the Year in 2012…Second-team All-American Athletic Conference pick in 2013, behind Blake Bortles…Played in pro-style offense and some scouts believe he is the most immediately NFL-ready QB in the draft…Reads his progressions well and doesn't bail out of the pocket when pressured…Does a good job of looking off defenders and keeping his cool in the pocket…Is a team leader and looks extremely comfortable and confident…Has a low release point that will either have to be modified or could result in too many tipped passes in the NFL…Has small hands and struggled at times to grip the ball in cold-weather games…Didn't consistently play top competition…Has a thin frame that has some wondering if he can hold up long-term in the NFL…Chose not to participate in most of the Combine events (the skill drills, bench press, running the 40, etc.), but did post a 30-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: Some believe Bridgewater will be the first QB to come off the board because he has played in an NFL-style offense and excelled. The only thing that could drop his stock is fear of injury. It will be hard for him to stay on the board anywhere beyond the top five picks.

Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, 5-11¾, 207 – Third-year sophomore…Started all 26 games he played, completing 595 of 863 passes for 7,820 yards with 63 touchdowns and 22 interceptions…An adept runner, he ran 245 times for 2,169 yards and 30 touchdowns…The first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy…Has had numerous off-field incidents, including a fight as a redshirt freshman that had him contemplating transferring, multiple incidents involving alcohol, leaving the Peyton Manning Passing Camp early and a scandal involving selling autographs to memorabilia dealers…Has amazing agility and reminds old-timers of Fran Tarkenton (including Tark himself)…Staggering production for a two-year starter… Has a good feel for pressure and instinctively knows when to move off his spot…Has excellent accuracy when on the move and spent 2013 developing his skills as a conventional pocket passer…Has a big opinion of himself and may be viewed as a risk player because of his off-the-field activities…Throws off his back foot too often and will throw the bad pass more often than he should…Has decent arm strength, but puts a little too much air under the ball…Doesn't have prototypical size …Takes unnecessary chances…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.63 40 with a 31½-inch vertical jump and a 9-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: The biggest question mark of the draft. He's been compared to improvisational QBs like Tarkenton and Brett Favre, but some teams will be wary of his sense of entitlement. If not for his laundry list of off-field issues, he would be in consideration to go No. 1 overall, but likely won't make it out of the top 10.

Derek Carr, Fresno State, 6-2½, 214 – Fifth-year senior who saw action as a true freshman in 2009 and redshirted in 2010…A three-year starter who made starts in his final 39 games, completing 1,077 of 1,616 passes for 12,731 yards with 113 touchdowns and 24 interceptions…Had an incredible senior season, completing 454 of 659 passes for 5,083 yards with 50 touchdowns and eight interceptions…The brother of former No. 1 overall pick David Carr (2002, Houston Texans)…Is married…Two-time Mountain West Conference Player of the Year…Has ideal arm strength and velocity with excellent touch on the deep ball…Is durable and showed his toughness by playing through a sports hernia injury in 2012…Has very good accuracy and confidence to throw into tight windows…Committed team leader who is more mature than most of the QBs in this year's class…Has a thin frame and may need to add a little muscle/bulk to succeed in the NFL…Played in a shotgun system and will need to develop his skills as a pro-style pocket passer…Can get flustered with pressure (see last year vs. USC)…His numbers were a bit blown up due to the system he played in that was pass-happy and gimmicky…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.62 40 with a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: Perhaps the most debated of the prospects, some scouts see him going as high as No. 8 to Minnesota if there is a run on QBs, while others see him being a premium pick on Day 2. Don't be surprised to see him go late in the first round with a team trading up into the round to snap him up.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Zach Mettenberger, LSU, 6-5, 224 –
Fourth-year senior who began his career at Georgia but was dismissed from the team after being arrested for sexual battery and minor consumption and subsequently lying to school investigators…Spent one year at Butler (Kan.) Community College before joining LSU…In two seasons at LSU, he completed 399 of 648 passes for 5,691 yards with 34 TDs and 15 interceptions…Has prototypical size with a very strong arm, excellent velocity and good downfield accuracy…Is extremely tall in the pocket and has good passing form …Had a much-improved 2013 where he increased his production and decision-making…Is heavy-legged and can't escape blitzes and heavy pressure…Doesn't have good pre-snap recognition skills and will often find himself missing open receivers and blowing up plays…Stares down primary receivers far too often…Didn't work out at the Combine, but got a medical exclusion due to a left knee injury. PROJECTION: He showed a lot of improvement in 2013, but has a long way to go and will likely be viewed as a two- or three-year project. Still, his size and arm should make him a Day 2 pick.

Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois, 6-2¼, 226 – Fourth-year senior who started all 45 games he played, completing 1,047 of 1,668 passes for 13,156 yards with 118 touchdowns and 51 interceptions…Saved his best for last, completing 375 of 568 passes for 5,050 yards with 53 touchdowns and nine interceptions his senior season…Broke all of Tony Romo's school records and won the 2013 Walter Payton Award, the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy for FCS players…Has solid arm strength and good velocity on throws…An experienced starter who showed his durability by starting all 45 games of his career…Has good feet to slide in the pocket and avoid the pass rush…Has a good feel for and throws with good touch and accuracy at all levels…A team leader who is a model citizen and level-headed player…Can struggle with the deep ball at times…Will have a long learning curve because he has never played elite competition…Has very small hands, which scares off some teams because balls can get knocked loose easier…Doesn't have ideal pocket awareness and will take big hits he doesn't see coming…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.94 40 with a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: A small-school product with upside from the same school that produced Romo, which has drawn numerous on-field comparisons, he is likely going to remain on the board until the third round and will likely go to a team that doesn't need an immediate starter so he can be developed, but has the intangibles to be a solid NFL starter.

A.J. McCarron, Alabama, 6-3¼, 220 – Fifth-year senior…A three-year starter who completed 656 of 978 passes for 8,630 yards with 74 touchdowns and 15 interceptions…The 2013 Maxwell Award winner, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm winner and second in the Heisman Trophy balloting…Has a nice combination of height, size and muscle mass…Reads his progressions very well and has good lateral pocket movement to extend plays…Has good touch and delivers the ball on time consistently…A proven winner, he had a career record of 36-4 as a collegiate starter…Doesn't have the type of body that can add much more muscle or bulk, so long-term durability may be a question mark…Doesn't have an elite throwing arm and doesn't get ideal velocity on passes deep downfield…Needs to learn to look off defenders better because he tips off too many passes…Has an injury history that included foot surgery, problems with his right knee and some throwing shoulder concerns…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.90 40 with a 28-inch vertical jump and an 8-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: A decorated college quarterback who would be a higher-rated prospect if he had a little more arm strength.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech, 6-6¼, 248 –
Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who completed 682 of 1,223 passes for 8,898 yards with 53 touchdowns and 39 interceptions, while rushing 489 times for 1,337 yards and 24 touchdowns in that span…Started all 40 games in his final three seasons…Prototype size for an NFL quarterback…A physical player who is hard to bring down and can do some damage when he breaks the pocket as a rusher…Throws with excellent power and velocity…Questions with his throwing motion, his footwork and accuracy…Needs to learn how to read his progressions and speed up his mental game…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.54 40 with a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: One of the bigger boom/bust project QBs in the draft, he has the skill set to be a third-round choice, but his question marks are too numerous and will likely drop him into the final day of the draft.

Aaron Murray, Georgia, 6-0½, 207 – Fifth-year senior and four-year starter who completed 921 of 1,478 passes for 13,166 yards with 121 TDs and 41 interceptions, along with 286 rushing attempts for 396 yards and 16 TDs…Suffered a season-ending left ACL injury…Throws a very good-looking pass and they are almost always tight spirals…A film room junkie who is constantly looking to improve his game by doing the little things to make himself better…Played four years in a pro-style offense and faced elite competition on a weekly basis…Is undersized and viewed as an injury risk coming off a significant knee injury…Has a low release point and had too many passes batted down or deflected, which is dangerous for a QB…Holds onto the ball a half-second too long and, at times, doesn't show the confidence to uncork a pass over the middle when into a tight window…Didn't work out at the Combine while recovering from ACL surgery. PROJECTION: Viewed as one of the top college QB prospects following the 2012 season, his knee injury will likely make him unavailable to play until sometime during the 2014 season. That's never good on draft day. He will likely drop into the final day of the draft, but has the ability to be a successful NFL quarterback in the right system.

Tajh Boyd, Clemson, 6-0¾, 222 – Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who completed 864 of 1,339 passes for 11,575 yards with 103 touchdowns and 36 interceptions and 482 rushes for 1,132 yards and 25 TDs…Played his senior year of a high school with a torn right ACL that needed surgery…ACC Offensive Player of the Year in 2012…Muscular and tough, will stand in the pocket and take the big hit to deliver a pass…Good velocity on the intermediate pass and crossing timing routes…Places the ball where typically only his receiver can catch it…Viewed as too short by NFL standards…Played in a shotgun system that made the decision-making process very simple for the quarterback…Erratic from game to game and even series to series…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a slow 4.85 40 with a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 8-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: Few players have more of a disparity in how they are valued than Boyd. Some believe he will never make it, but he has the intangibles and experience to develop into a solid NFL passer. But he likely will remain on the board well into the final day of the draft.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Tom Savage, Pitt, 6-4, 228
David Fales, San Jose State, 6-1¾, 212
Stephen Morris, Miami, 6-2, 213
Jeff Mathews, Cornell, 6-3¾, 223
Brett Smith, Wyoming, 6-2, 206


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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