Manziel is a gamble. Bortles is a project. Bridgewater is dropping like a rock. I’ll come right out and say it: There are no QBs worth taking in the top 5 of the 2014 NFL Draft.
While there is a void at the top, the 2014 QB draft class is deep. This will benefit teams that wait to snatch a signal-caller. With their hoard of 10 total picks, including a high 2nd round pick and two 3rd round picks, the Cleveland Browns are better suited to take first round talent at CB, OT, or WR with both of their first round selections, and take a QB on day 2 of the draft.
There are several prospects that the Browns could be targeting in Round 2 or 3.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
The Browns have a high 2nd round pick at #35 overall. There, they could grab one of the highest rated FCS quarterbacks in years, Jimmy Garoppolo. Hailing from the same school as Tony Romo, Garoppolo threw for 5,050 yards with 53 TDs and 9 INTs in his 14 games this season. He has a good physical make-up at 6-2, 226, and is lauded for his quick release and decision making. He more than exceeded expectations in the national spotlight during the East-West Shrine Game, and was named the game’s Offensive MVP. He’s a smart, level-headed guy with strong leadership skills.
Because he went to an FCS school, he gets less attention then some of the guys from bigger schools. He didn’t face the kind of consistent opposition as the other QBs in this class—he wasn’t under pressure or forced to dissect complex defensive schemes and he’ll take some time to develop into a starting NFL QB. But he’s a very teachable guy with a lot to offer, and will be worth taking a look at in Round 2.
A.J. McCarron, Alabama
Alabama’s A.J. McCarron won the Maxwell Award, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2013. Not bad for a “game manager.”
Facing the gauntlet of SEC opponents week after week, McCarron posted a career record of 36-4 in his 40 starts with the Crimson Tide. The team captain completed 67% of his passes his senior year while operating under a pro styled offense. He’s a good decision maker and is able to feel pressure and move around in the pocket. He has great throwing mechanics, and is a good locker room guy.
McCarron is 6-3, 220, but does not possess ideal arm strength. Often times he floats balls down the field, forcing his receivers to adjust mid-route. Perhaps the biggest question about him is whether he can perform without an excellent supporting cast around him. He’s played with NFL-level talent at Alabama—which might make him look better than he actually is. If Cleveland drafts him, they must continue to invest in their offensive line and receiving corps in order for McCarron to reach his full potential in the NFL.
Tom Savage, Pittsburgh
Tom Savage has gone from relative obscurity—grading out as a mid-to-late round pick—to being invited to attend the draft in Radio City.
Savage played college football at three different FBS schools: Rutgers, Arizona, and Pittsburgh. The 6-5, 230 pound gunslinger ended his senior year with the Panthers throwing for 2,958 yards with 21 TDs and 9 INTs. He has the arm strength to make every NFL throw, and throws a very catchable ball. He also has experience working in a pro-style offense. However, he could improve his accuracy and decision making ability. He tends to stare down his targets, which NFL corners will take advantage of. His mobility is very limited in the pocket, making him more one-dimensional.
It’s always right to question the meteoric rise of a QB prospect just weeks before the draft. The legitimate question is “If he’s so good, why are we just hearing about him now?” Skepticism aside, Savage does have several key tools to be a good QB in the NFL—namely his strong arm and big frame. If he’s the Browns pick in Round 2, expect him to hold a clipboard for most of the 2014 season.
Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Talent-wise, LSU’s Zach Mettenberger might be a first round pick. But his draft stock took a big hit after he tore an ACL tear his senior year. At 6-5, 224, he’s not lacking in size. His arm strength and ability to throw the ball from the pocket are two of his biggest strengths. He worked in a pro styled under Cam Cameron, and was a two-time captain.
However, there are a lot of questions with Mettenberger. On-field concerns include his inability to escape pressure and his long throwing motion. He’s an old school drop-back passer, but he needs to get rid of the ball more quickly and avoid unnecessary sacks. He has character concerns stemming from an arrest in 2010 and he’s coming off a very significant knee injury.
It would be a high risk, high reward pick for Cleveland. If the Browns take him, there is no need to rush him back from injury. They can afford to start Brian Hoyer this season, and let Mettenberger compete for the starting job when fully healthy.
Aaron Murray, Georgia
Aaron Murray does a lot of things that NFL scouts like very much. He has a quick release and throws a tight spiral. He has touch on the deep ball, and has played in big games throughout his career at Georgia. He’s a good teammate and has the mental make-up to be a leader in the NFL.
The significant question surrounding Murray is his durability—and if his small frame will contribute to a shortened career in the league. Much like Mettenberger, Murray began the 2013 season with hopes of being a first round pick. Those hopes were likely dashed when he suffered a torn ACL late in the season.
Standing at 6-1 and weighing just 207 pounds won’t ease injury concerns. While the recent success of QBs like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson has boosted the stock of smaller QBs coming into the NFL (i.e. Johnny Manziel) it remains to be seen how Murray's small frame will hold up year after year against NFL defenses. Regardless, his experience, mentality and leadership warrant consideration starting in Round 3 from QB-needy teams, including Cleveland.