Raymond Summerlin

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NFL Draft Cheatsheet: QBs

Thursday, April 10, 2014

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.

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Raymond Summerlin is a football writer for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter at @RMSummerlin.
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