2014 NFL Draft Preview – Senior Quarterbacks

Cornell's Jeff Mathews is the most underrated of this group and just may be the most talented.

Cornell’s Jeff Mathews is the most underrated of this group and just may be the most talented.

Tajh Boyd, Clemson

After dismantling the LSU defense to cap his junior season, Boyd had praise heaped on him from draft analysts across the board.  He opted to return to Clemson for his senior year though, which was the right decision to make.  Boyd is a well-built, mobile quarterback who is effective throwing on the run.  He has terrific accuracy in the short to intermediate passing game, often placing the ball with precision.  He also flashes ability to change arm angles as situations demand it.  Boyd has plenty of arm strength when it comes to extending the field over the top or making throws off his back foot with velocity.  His natural ability as a dual-threat quarterback is intoxicating, but he’s still quite raw.  It’s easy to question how much of a product he is of Chad Morris’ offense at Clemson with weapons like DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins.  Morris’ offense doesn’t ask Boyd to work through multiple reads often.  Instead, he’s usually given an either/or before pulling it to run.  Boyd also struggles to negotiate the pocket when pressured and will feel pressure that’s not there if it had been previously.  His decision making leaves much to be desired and it’s common for him to put balls up for grabs into traffic.  The biggest plight of Boyd’s game is inconsistency though.  He seems to be a different quarterback every week and needs to play at the high level he’s capable of more consistently.  Boyd makes eye-popping throws in most games, but needs to grow in his ability to read a defense and in his pocket presence.

Derek Carr, Fresno State

Carr showed promise as a sophomore but failed to progress at a quick enough rate as a junior.  He has all the arm strength you look for with the velocity to squeeze the ball into tight spaces.  Carr can also migrate from pressure while keeping his eyes up as a scrambles on occasion.  He also shows impressive loft and touch on bucket throws on the boundary and in the seam.  The negatives outweigh the positives though.  Carr struggled as a junior against tougher competition instead of rising to the occasion.  He has a tendency to panic under pressure and drop his eyes while in the pocket.  He’s also guilty of trying to do too much, either by forcing balls late into traffic or getting rid of the ball under pressure without regard for the situation.  Carr’s offensive line was by no means outstanding, but his propensity to try and escape the pocket laterally instead of stepping up made his job all the more difficult.  Finally, Carr struggles to come off his first read when it’s not open, which may be related to the way he handles pressure from the pass rush.  He must take some big steps as a senior and take command of the Fresno State offense in order to maximize his potential as a draft pick.

David Fales, San Jose State

Fales went from a relative unknown to a household name for anyone interested in the draft during his junior season.  He led San Jose State to their best season in ages.  Fales shows a strong command for the offense and plays with proper timing and anticipation.  He clearly operates a step ahead of defenses by diagnosing coverages and work through multiple reads to make use of it.  His footwork on drops needs work, but he’s a nimble mover and doesn’t get lazy with his feet while in the pocket.  He climbs the pocket well and can make plays after escaping.  He is guilty of holding on to the ball too long at times and doesn’t always handle interior push from pass rushers as well as he should.  Fales has sufficient accuracy in the short to intermediate passing game and can drop in balls on seam and corner routes with impressive touch.  The biggest concern with his skillset is arm strength.  The ball will float on him occasionally, which opens up his receivers to big hits.  He’s also very limited in his ability to beat defenses over the top.  On countless occasions as a junior, he gets a receiver who has multiple steps on the coverage and can’t extend the ball deep enough to make it count.  His deep accuracy is brutal as well.  When he tries to rifle balls into receivers in the short passing game, his accuracy wanes as well.  Fales does many things at a level much higher than we see from smaller school quarterbacks, but may have limited upside.

Jeff Mathews, Cornell

Mathews is certainly the most overlooked senior quarterback prospect at this point in the process.  He doesn’t garner the attention he deserves because he plays in the Ivy League against poor competition.  What stands out about him is that he truly dominates at the level he’s at, which is all you can ask.  Mathews has the size you look for at 6’4, 224 lb.  He has the arm talent to make some big-time throws all over the field.  He delivers the ball to the boundaries with impressive zip and stretches the field with an adequate deep ball.  He’s shown a tendency to leave his deep ball short on occasion, which could be a concern.  Even so, Mathews flashes the ability to deliver off his back foot in the face of pressure, which is vital for NFL quarterbacks.  He’s a more mobile quarterback than he looks as well.  He utilizes subtle movement in the pocket to elude the rush in tight spaces and can make accurate throws on the move after exiting the pocket.  What makes him effective when things break down is that his eyes stay up instead of dropping to the rush.  Mathews stands out because of what he has above the shoulders.  He can work through reads and multiple options quickly and finds the soft spots in the defense frequently.  Even though he runs a spread offense, he shows off an NFL skillset by attacking the middle of the field and intermediate areas with success.  The biggest concern with Mathews is a tendency to stare down his receivers.  Even though he gets away with it often in the Ivy League, it’s something that would be his passes intercepted at a much higher rate against higher quality defenses.  His level of competition will be a question mark no matter how well he shows as a senior, but Mathews has NFL tools and isn’t getting enough attention right now.

A.J. McCarron, Alabama

Opinions on A.J. McCarron vary across the board.  He’s put in terrific performances in some of Alabama’s biggest games, but usually leaves you wanting a bit more.  He also has the best talent around him of any quarterback in America.  McCarron can make big-time throws and shows the accuracy to place the ball on intermediate and deep throws.  The way he drops in balls to his receivers on corner routes is truly special.  He has some natural arm ability and showed he could make throws with compromised footwork on occasion.  He’s picked up some bad habits behind an elite offensive line though.  McCarron will hold the ball far too long and doesn’t anticipate receivers breaking open, partly because he’s always been able to get away with playing that way.  When pressure does come from pass rushers, he gets happy feet and drops his eyes immediately.  He also handles the ball poorly, often exposing it to pass rushers to knock loose.  McCarron has more than enough mobility to escape the pocket and pick up yards with his feet, but the way he negotiates the pocket leaves much to be desired.  Other concerns with McCarron include an elongated release where he pulls the ball back quite far and a lack of velocity on throws he needs to stick into tight windows.  His passes will float on occasion, but he’s gotten away with it to this point.  The overarching concern with McCarron is his inability to make big plays outside of the design of the play.  When he can sit in a clean pocket and wait for receivers to find holes, he’ll find them and be a very efficient quarterback.  When things break down and he’s forced off his spot, he’s an ineffective passer and is over reliant on picking up yardage with his feet.  McCarron looks like fool’s gold at this point as a draft prospect, but he has one season left to try and put it all together.

Zach Mettenberger, LSU

After a disappointing campaign as a junior first year starter, Zach Mettenberger has a long ways to go if he’s to be considered more than a project in the 2014 NFL Draft.  He’s a large, sturdy quarterback with a strong arm.  He delivers with adequate velocity in the short passing game and can fit the ball into tight windows because of it.  He also can stand in under pressure and deliver late while taking a big hit.  The things Mettenberger does consistently well don’t go much farther past those things.  His accuracy on the deep ball is almost non-existent and he struggles with trajectory and touch in the intermediate passing game.  Almost all the work he does in the LSU offense is outside the hashes with receivers in one on one situations.  He has a habit of tipping his throws with his eyes and threw some ugly interceptions as a junior because of it.  Mettenberger also has mechanical inconsistencies.  He does stride into his throws consistently which throws off his weight transfer.  He’s also prone to throwing a wobbly ball now and again.  On top of those concerns is his immobility.  He’s heavy-footed in the pocket and freezes up when the rush comes free.  You will never confuse Mettenberger for an improvisational quarterback.  He does his best work when he can sit in a clean pocket and pick out receivers in the short passing game.  He must showcase a wider array of skills as a passer as a senior.

Aaron Murray, Georgia

Entering his fourth season as the starter at Georgia, Aaron Murray will attract attention as a viable option for quarterback competition in the NFL.  What makes Murray successful is that he’s a smart quarterback.  He displays anticipation by releasing the ball at or before his receivers’ breaks.  He also picks up on subtle things in coverage like where the eyes of defenders are.  When a cornerback has his back to the ball in man coverage, Murray will throw back shoulder without reservation.  He has nimble feet in the pocket and can reset quickly.  He also has a crafty way of eluding the rush and escaping the grasp of defenders.  His pocket work does leave a bit to be desired though.  His lack of height is a limitation, but he also will drop his eyes to the rush and is overly reliant on his ability to pick up yards on the ground.  After leaving the pocket, he does have some ability to find receivers and get rid of the football.  Others aspects of his game are ultimately the biggest cause for concern though.  Murray’s accuracy on his deep ball is inconsistent at best and requires a clean pocket so he can step into his throws.  He’s limited by a lack of arm strength and a compact release.  When trying to make boundary throws, the ball will often float at the end.  His lack of velocity should scare talent evaluators.  Even with space to step into throws, the ball wobbles too often.  If forced to make throws off his back foot under pressure, Murray’s effectiveness can almost be completely negated.  So while Murray’s mind works on a different level than most college quarterbacks, his physical limitations are a hindrance to his prospects as an NFL prospect.

Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

Thomas had undeniably one of the most disappointing 2012 seasons for college quarterbacks.  The hype and expectations for him may have been overboard to start with though.  Thomas’ success has always been predicated on his ability as a runner.  His periodic air assaults were the result of the respect defenses were forced to show him as a running threat.  Thomas has always shown the tools that make scouts drool.  He’s an enormous quarterback with foot quickness and top level strength.  He has a natural arm when it comes to rifling balls in at high velocity and extending the field with the deep ball.  Thomas often gets in trouble with his mechanics and has scattershot accuracy.  His stride and weight transfer is inconsistent and he leaves balls short or overthrows them because of it.  It’s little inconsistencies that pile up and plague him as a passer.  His biggest issue is the command of a complex passing game.  He’s never shown an ability to work through reads and shows poor pre-snap recognition.  He’s prone to throwing ugly interceptions because of a lack of anticipation.  Throws come out late as a result, and defenders are able to get a beat on the ball.  It also doesn’t help that he has a habit of telegraphing throws.  For all his problems, Thomas still shows flashes of brilliance.  On occasion, he makes bucket throws on the boundary or on crossing routes with impressive accuracy.  He’s also very calm in the face of pressure and stands tall in the pocket.  Even if he progresses more than I envision as a passer during his senior season, his value will be highest as a dual-threat quarterback in a scheme that plays to his abilities as a runner.  Few quarterbacks have the ability to convert short-yardage the way Logan Thomas does.  There are very few runs in which he’s no falling forward.  He’ll be a scheme-specific quarterback in the NFL, but still needs to make big leaps as a passer if he hopes to compete for a starting job.

Others to watch:

Keith Price, Washington

Stephen Morris, Miami

Bryn Renner, North Carolina

Tyler Russell, Mississippi State

Originally published at DetroitLionsDraft.com: 2014 NFL Draft Preview – Senior Quarterbacks

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