Signs point to the Cleveland Browns using the 2014 NFL Draft to acquire a quarterback. Perhaps you’ve heard.
Perhaps, too, you’ll be watching bowl games over the next several weeks. To keep you best prepared for family arguments and your calls to sportstalk radio between now and May’s draft, following is a who-what-when viewer’s guide to top NFL prospects in their bowl games.
WHO’S PLAYING FIRST?
Derek Carr, Fresno State
Regarded as a first-round prospect, Carr has had a very strong season for the once-beaten Bulldogs. The knock on Carr is the level of competition he’s played, but in Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl he’ll face a USC defense with several players the eyes of the NFL have also been watching. Carr can zip it, and NFL teams will decide whether he’s worthy of being handed the keys to a franchise over the next several months.
The younger brother of former NFL No. 1 overall pick David Carr, Derek has accepted a Senior Bowl invitation. If the underclassmen who have indicated that they’re returning to school stick to their word and Carr continues his current momentum, he could end up in the top 10 of the draft and possibly in the top five.
WHO’S GETTING PICKED FIRST?
Right now, signs point to Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater. A junior who just graduated, Bridgewater’s passing numbers down the stretch this season haven’t been what they were late in 2012 and for much of the early season, though he’s above 70 percent completion percentage for the seson. He possesses NFL arm strength and smarts to command an NFL offense, and assuming he declares there’s no reason to believe his stock will slip.
Bridgewater and his 11-1 Louisville team play Miami (Fla.) in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 28. The Hurricanes are quarterbacked by Stephen Morris, who has accepted a Senior Bowl invitation.
WHO ARE THE OTHER TOP PROSPECTS?
Johnny Manziel is just a redshirt sophomore, but just about everyone expects Texas A&M’s Dec. 31 Chik-Fil-A Bowl vs. Duke to be Manziel’s final college game. Manziel brings playmaking ability, proven production and a bunch of attention, too, but the biggest questions he can answer for the NFL won’t be answered until February’s NFL Scouting Combine when teams get to meet and measure Manziel.
Is he’s 5’11 or 6’1? Is he mature enough to handle the NFL spotlight and transition to a full-time football job? And which franchises will be willing to take on the spotlight drafting Manziel will bring? As usual with the guy who has maybe the best nickname ever, watching Johnny Football through the process will not be boring.
The best head-to-head quarterback matchup of bowl season could be in the Orange Bowl between Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller. A top athlete who’s made strides as a passer but still seems a long way away from being an NFL quarterback, Miller has said he’ll decide after the game whether he’ll be back for his senior season or test the NFL waters.
Boyd’s big game in last year’s Chik-Fil-A Bowl left him with an NFL decision, and he chose to come back for his senior year. Was his NFL stock higher then? Will any of this year’s underclassmen take note? Only time will tell, but a struggling Ohio State pass defense stands between Boyd and some major momentum headed into the Senior Bowl and the pre-draft process.
Another rising underclassman, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, faces off against Baylor’s Blake Petty in the Fiesta Bowl in another intriguing head-to-head matchup. The average college football fan hasn’t seen much of Bortles, but the NFL has taken a longer look lately. Bortles has NFL size (he’s listed at 6’3, 230), good athleticism and has completed 68 percent of his passes this season, but he still has plenty to prove.
Petty has indicated he’s coming back to Baylor for his senior season. Same for Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, who’s regarded as a top-five prospect should he change his mind. Depending on how things go for Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, who has Mariota’s ear and how the NFL’s underclass advisory committee grades Mariota, he could re-think things before the Jan. 14 early-entry deadline.
There’s plenty of tape on Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, and almost all of it shows McCarron producing and leading his team to wins. He probably can’t do a lot in the Sugar Bowl to change whatever opinion NFL teams have of him entering the pre-draft process, but McCarron will play in the Senior Bowl and through the following months will get a chance to show he’s more than just a system guy. Right now it’s tough to tell if teams regard McCarron as a late second-round type of prospect or a third-day of the draft type.
UCLA’s Brett Hundley has yet to make an NFL decision. The junior has NFL skills and has earned the attention he’s received thus far, but he’ll have to decide how much he could benefit from another year in college. Perhaps a big game Dec. 31 in the Sun Bowl against Virginia Tech and intriguing but inconsistent quarterback Logan Thomas, who’s accepted a Senior Bowl invite, could affect Hundley’s thinking.
Ball State’s Keith Wenning has NFL size and an NFL arm, and with a big senior season he earned an invite to the Shrine Game and plenty of NFL attention. The Browns are one of several teams whose scouts took multiple trips to see Wenning play this season.
Others playing in bowl games over the next two weeks who figure to get at least a look from the NFL are Washington’s Keith Price, South Carolina’s Connor Shaw, Missouri’s James Franklin and Cincinnati’s Brendon Kay. David Fales of San Jose State won’t be playing in a bowl game but will play in the Senior Bowl. Fales had a big second half of the season and is very much on the NFL radar.
LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and Georgia’s Aaron Murray suffered ACL tears late this season. They’ll be evaluated through the pre-draft process as usual, doing everything but taking place in on-field workouts. The big-armed Mettenberger could be selected on the second day of the draft if teams are satisfied with his medical report.
Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois might or might not be a quarterback at the NFL, but he’ll be in an NFL camp next summer. He closes his college career on Dec. 26 in the Poinsettia Bowl vs. Utah State.