By College Football Analyst Taber Small for TonySoftli.com
With the 2014 college football season about two months away NFL scouts have began to start compiling their list of prospects for next year’s draft. The quarterback spot is the most valued position in the NFL, and this year we saw a total of 14 signal callers drafted with three going in the first round. Around this time last year no one had Jacksonville Jaguar and former UCF QB Blake Bortles projected as a top prospect coming into the season. As we all know he ended up being the first signal caller selected in the 2014 NFL Draft going third overall.
Below is a list of next year’s top projected quarterback prospects to watch.
Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
Strength: Winston burst onto the college football scene in 2013 by winning the Heisman Trophy and leading Florida State to an undefeated National Championship season. He was phenomenal in his first year as a starter completing 67 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards with 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The redshirt freshman is a special and rare talent with NFL size at 6-foot-4 235-pounds.
I was extremely impressed with his development as a passer especially for a freshman. Winston demonstrated excellent poise bringing his team back in the championship game. He stands tall in the pocket while going through his progressions and accurately throwing pinpoint passes through tight windows. Winston also shows adequate mobility having rushing for 219 yards and four touchdowns last season. He keeps his head downfield when escaping out of the pocket and throws efficiently on the roll and on designed sprint outs.
Weakness: As great as Winston has been on the field his off the field incidents have raised major character and maturity concerns. He doesn’t possess a quick release, which does affect the timing on some of his passes. Winston is also a good major league baseball prospect, which has made scouts wonder what sport he will decide pursue professionally.
Marcus Mariota*, QB Oregon
Strength: Mariota looked magnificent in the first 8 games of the season and was the early Heisman favorite until their first loss of the season to Stanford. He’s become more polished as a passer in his two seasons as starter completing 65.8 percent of his passes for 6,342 yards with 63 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.
Mariota is the complete package for a quarterback and is also a tremendous athlete. Scouts love his upside because of his size at 6-foot-4, 220-pounds and impressive physical skill set. Mariota uses his strong arm and mobility to effectively run Oregon’s high scoring offense. His speed and athleticism make him a dangerous threat from the QB position.
Weakness: Mariota still needs to improve his mechanics as a passer and cut down on his turnovers. He gets sloppy with his footwork in the pocket causing him to become careless with the football. Mariota must show improved decision making from the pocket this season.
Other QBs to watch
Brett Hundley, QB UCLA – Hundley heavily considered leaving after the 2013 season but wisely came back. He is a solidly built QB at (6-3/230) with a live arm to make all the throws and he possesses great athleticism. Hundley looks like a first round pick when he plays within the system efficiently moving the offense. Hundley does struggles at times when he tries to do too much resulting in interceptions and turnovers. Scouts would like to see him display improved mechanics, consistency and accuracy on the deep ball in 2014.
Bryce Petty*, QB Baylor – Petty is a very efficient QB that passed for 30 total touchdowns versus only two interceptions in 2013. He has good size, athleticism and accuracy. Petty shows the arm strength to make all the throws with nice touch on the deep ball. He primarily operates from the shotgun in Baylor’s high-octane offense and rarely drops back from the pocket. Petty will need to show scouts that he can make reads from under center.
Sean Mannion*, QB Oregon State – Mannion is a tall thin signal caller (6-foot-4, 220-pound) that has run the Beavers pass happy offense the last two years. He was the PAC-12 leading passer with 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns. Mannion is a strong-armed passer that possesses a quick release and gets the ball out quickly to his receiving targets. He threw 15 interceptions in 2013 and needs to show improvement in his decision-making and taking care of the football. Scouts would also like to see Mannion elevate his game against better competition in key matchups.
Follow Taber Small on Twitter: @Tabersmall and NUCSports.com