The NFL Draft season is always a fun time of the year for fans and pundits alike. Many people love to wear their general manager cap through mock drafts, and debating prospects is a staple of social media.
There is never a shortage for draft-season chatter on the 'Net, and that is a good thing. The more people talking about it the better, because the NFL Draft should be celebrated, debated, evaluated, estimated, prognosticated and fabricated by fans. It's as close as most of us will ever get to becoming general managers, so I choose to embrace it with open arms.
It may be my favorite time of the year. There is a feeling of hope for the hapless, a sense of renewal that is ushered in with springtime weather, and -- best of all -- it is the unofficial start to the upcoming NFL season. Some may argue free agency owns that distinction, and it may, but I prefer to credit the draft instead. All of the free-agent moves leading up to it are exciting, but short of a few notable veteran cuts in June, there isn't anything left even close to being on par with how the draft molds rosters.
Instead of blathering on and on, I'll close my yap and get into the important stuff: quarterback evaluation.
I see a several tiers of passers in this draft, but no single guy is a surefire, can't-miss prospect. That rarely happens. Usually scouts see glimpses of potential that leads to overdrafting. More often, hype overshadows reality. Every so often a team just gets lucky. This is a very deep quarterback class but not overly talented. I hesitate to say any one of these players honestly deserves a first-round grade in most other draft classes.
Blake Bortles, Central Florida: We're looking at all upside here ... Bortles is somewhat raw and will need some time to grow into who he is as a quarterback at the next level. A strong coaching staff can help expedite this process. Bortles has the prototypical size (6-foot-5, 232 pounds) and enough athleticism to make him the best gamble of the top-tier choices. If an organization is patient with him, which is rare these days, Bortles could be a franchise signal caller in two or three years. It appears increasingly likely that Bortles will be the No. 1 overall pick.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville: Many people are in love with Bridgewater; I am in no way convinced he has what it takes to be an NFL starter. Bridgewater is super tough, I'll give him that. He has a quiet aura of confidence about him, which I like. I have seen too much poor footwork from him, and his smallish build (6-foot-2, 214 pounds) makes me question how he will hold up in the NFL. In his defense, Bridgewater does a lot of the little things right. I expect him to slide and perhaps even freefall in the draft, especially if he makes it out of the top 12 or so picks.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Manziel has that "it factor" you cannot teach. He seems to play with eyes in the back of his head and is constantly aware of his surroundings, while somehow managing to keep his focus down the field. He said all of the right things this draft season and appears to have matured, but it is tough to ignore how Manziel will handle NFL-level spoils. I expect him to shine in the NFL, although I am quite conscious of his downside. Look for his name to come off the board in the first half of Round 1.
Best value at the position?
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois: Garoppolo screams upside! There is a lot to like here, but you have to be patient and willing to accept growing pains. He lacks ideal physical tools but has a knack for making big plays. His quick release and understanding of the game will be his strongest attributes. Garoppolo has enough arm to make NFL throws, even with average velocity on some of the deep outs is apparent. He is the true X-factor of this year's quarterback class and should come off the board no later than the end of Round 2.
Derek Carr, Fresno State: Speaking of X-factor, Carr could find his way into the first round of the draft. Former No. 1 overall pick David Carr's younger brother, Derek has much less pressure on him and is a significantly different player. The elder Carr had the weight of the world on his back and played for a miserable Houston Texans franchise, which I believe to have caused his career to end before it started. Derek has the best arm in this draft class and is more athletic than David. I have major questions about Derek's ability to handle defensive pressure, however. He will be either an early reach in Round 1 or someone will trade back into the round later to snag him.
Aaron Murray, Georgia: There is a lot to like about Murray, even if he checks it at just 6-foot-1, 207 pounds. He is a winner in a tough conference and has found success running a pro-style offense for four seasons. Murray has excellent footwork in the pocket and understands how to create throwing lanes to compensate for his lack of ideal height. He is recovering from anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction but could be ready for training camp. In time, Murray will work his way into a starting role. He may be the most NFL-ready quarterback of this year's group and should be a fourth-round pick.
Zach Mettenberger, LSU: The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder is a mixed back. Mettenberger is coming off ACL reconstruction in December 2013 and struggled with off-the-field issues early in his NCAA career. A long-term project passer, who has great arm strength and even better anticipation, he does an excellent job of delivering a catchable ball. In the right situation, with several years to grow behind the scenes, Mettenberger has starter potential. He should be a third- or fourth-round selection.
A.J. McCarron, Alabama: McCarron is about as safe as they come if you want a reliable backup with the ability to manage games. He is efficient, smart with the ball, disciplined, professional, and tested in an elite program versus the best defenses in the nation. However, McCarron's limited athleticism and average arm strength temper his potential. He has dealt with minor injuries and was rarely asked to carry the offense. He should carve out a lengthy career as a fringe starter and steady QB2. McCarron has a midround grade.
Brett Smith, Wyoming: If moxie were to be the most important factor in drafting a quarterback, even Johnny Manziel would be looking up to Smith. Confidence is in no shortage here ... Smith sometimes allows that to get the best of him. He comes from a small school and isn't the biggest quarterback at just 6-foot-2, 206 pounds. He has been highly productive, dating back to high school, and Smith has as much individual talent as any of the other QB prospects in this class. Above-average accuracy, impressive intangibles, and sneaky athleticism will endear him to one NFL franchise in the middle of the draft.
Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.
Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.