The quarterback is the most important player on the field. Drafting the right one can help a struggling team overcome the NFL odds and rocket up the standings. Drafting the wrong one? Not so much.
Earlier this week, we took a quick look at the impact a No. 1 overall draft pick can have on the NFL odds board. Twelve of the last 17 players taken first overall were quarterbacks, and of those dozen would-be franchise saviors, only three failed to make a positive impression: Tim Couch (1999, Cleveland Browns), David Carr (2002, Houston Texans), and JaMarcus Russell (2007, Oakland Raiders). Couch and Carr were stuck on expansion teams with poor offensive lines. Russell – well, he was special.
This year’s most likely No. 1 pick is special, too. We’ll get to him in a second, as we run down the top quarterbacks available in the 2015 NFL Draft. Keep in mind that our list is in order of perceived talent/ability, and not a prediction about what order they’ll be taken in. But we’ll also read the tealeaves and see if we can figure out who’ll go where; good matches should become good NFL picks for 2015, at least in the case of our top prospect.
No. 1 Marcus Mariota, Oregon vs. No. 2 Jameis Winston, Florida State
These are without question the two leading QB prospects in this year’s draft. Ranking one over the other is something of a fool’s errand; Winston is certainly the more talented of the two, but his “mental makeup” is poor enough for us to elevate Mariota to the top spot on our list. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is no slouch when it comes to talent. Mariota’s blessed with a combination of size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), mobility and arm strength that should serve him well in today’s NFL.
But is Mariota a “systems” quarterback? He worked in a spread offense at Oregon, while Winston (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) ran a pro-style offense at Florida State and developed into a tremendous pocket passer. This is the main reason why it appears the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14 SU, 7-9 ATS) will select Winston first overall on April 30. If no one trades up to get him, we can see Mariota slipping all the way to the New York Jets (4-12 SU, 6-9-1 ATS) at No. 6, or maybe even further than that, if new offensive co-ordinator Chan Gailey thinks he can salvage Geno Smith’s career.
No. 3 Brett Hundley, UCLA
It’s a pretty steep drop from Mariota and Winston to the remaining quarterback prospects. Hundley (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) has a lot of the same qualities as Mariota, including the size, speed and intangibles. But Hundley wasn’t as consistent as Mariota, and needs more work with his pocket passing. He’ll make a good second-round selection for a team willing to spend the time on his development; perhaps the New Orleans Saints (7-9 SU, 6-10 ATS) can have Hundley learn at the feet of Drew Brees, who was a second-round pick himself in 2001.
No. 4 Garrett Grayson, Colorado State
Once you get past Hundley, everyone else on the list is more suspect than prospect. But the biggest “sleeper” candidate of the bunch appears to be Grayson (6-foot-2, 220 pounds). He’s got the arm, he’s got some mobility, and he was a respected leader for the Rams. Stat gurus will love Grayson’s efficiency; he was second to Mariota amongst all FBS quarterbacks in yards per attempt (9.5) and fifth in passer rating (166.2). A team like the Philadelphia Eagles (10-6 SU, 9-7 ATS) could take a flyer on Grayson in the third round, much like they did with Nick Foles in 2012.
No. 5 Sean Mannion, Oregon State
Other draftniks have Baylor’s Bryce Petty in this slot, but after his sketchy 2014 season, we prefer Mannion (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and his cannon of an arm. The Beavers left Mannion out to dry last year behind a poor offensive line, so whomever picks him up this year in the third or fourth round needs to be stronger in that department – someone like the Denver Broncos (12-4 SU, 8-8 ATS), who will have to replace Peyton Manning at some point.