By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) — The Chicago Bears aren’t looking to draft a quarterback in the first round of Thursday’s NFL Draft, but there are two reasons why you should still care about this quarterback draft class.
1. It’s the most important position in football.
2. How many quarterbacks get drafted in the first 13 picks will have a huge impact on which defensive players fall to the Bears at No. 14.
Personally, I wouldn’t take any quarterbacks that early, but Bears general manager Phil Emery said he expects two quarterbacks to be taken before he picks at No. 14, and he hopes there are three off the board.
I’ve spent a lot of time evaluating this year’s group of quarterbacks, and here’s how I see the class stacking up.
1. Derek Carr, Fresno State (6-2, 214)
Carr is the most polished off all the quarterbacks in this year’s draft, and he’s the guy I want leading my team. Running an up-tempo, no-huddle offense at Fresno State, he had the freedom to call the majority of the plays as he ran to the line of scrimmage, doing so with just hand signals. If there was a Peyton Manning of college football last season, it was Carr. His arm strength is as good as anyone else’s in this draft class, and he doesn’t sacrifice any accuracy. Married with a one-year-old who nearly died at birth, the 23-year-old is by far the most mature quarterback in the draft, and he already comes off as a professional, seasoned veteran.
Where I would draft him: First round. The Cardinals at No. 20 or the Browns at No. 26 would be good fits.
2. Blake Bortles, Central Florida (6-5, 232)
Bortles is a quarterback in a tight end’s body. He likes to be physical and embraces contact, but he needs to learn how to pick his battles — especially at the next level, because there are too many times he exposes his throwing arm/shoulder to possible injury. All those things that Johnny Manziel does well? Bortles does them, too, except he’s five inches taller and 30 pounds heavier with a stronger, more accurate arm. His game is elusiveness, getting out of the pocket, extending plays and doing the impossible. Now he just needs to learn how to improve his pocket mechanics and stay in there as long as possible. If he does that, Bortles is going to be a special talent at the next level.
Where I would draft him: First round. The Texans shouldn’t pass on Jadeveon Clowney at No. 1, but Bill O’Brien saw Bortles up close and personal when Penn State lost to UCF at home last season, and he’s also close to UCF head coach George O’Leary. If Houston can somehow get another first-round pick, that would be a great landing spot.
3. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (6-2 1/3, 214)
Bridgewater’s stock has fallen a little bit after a disappointing pro day, but he still has tremendous upside as a quarterback. Despite his lean frame, Bridgewater is as tough as they come, taking big hits and playing through injures. He has a ton of experience in a West Coast offense and was given a ton of freedom to make decisions at the line of scrimmage. He’s a smart kid who earned his degree in three years and continues to learn how to be a more vocal leader. Accuracy is an issue, but the raw materials are there. With the right coaching, he could develop into a star.
Where I would draft him: Second round. Like most of these quarterbacks, I have my concerns, which is why I would look elsewhere in the first round. But if Bridgewater is still on the board in the second round for teams like Houston, Jacksonville or Minnesota, he’d be a worthy selection.
4. Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois (6-2, 226)
Coming from an FCS school at Eastern Illinois, it was important for Garoppolo to perform well in each stage of the pre-draft process, and that’s exactly what he did. After being named MVP of the East-West Shrine Game, Garoppolo received an invite to the Senior Bowl, where he outperformed everyone except Derek Carr. He followed that up with a good NFL Combine and received good reviews after working out privately for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Texans coach Bill O’Brien at his pro day. Garoppolo has one of the quickest releases I have ever seen, and his arm is more than strong enough to succeed at the NFL level. Patience will be needed, however, as he will face much tougher competition and needs to break some habits from the Ferrari-like offense he ran at EIU.
Where I would draft him: Second round. Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch worked closely with Garoppolo at the Senior Bowl, and they could be a good fit together going forward.
5. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (5-11 3/4, 207)
You know the legend of Johnny Football and the highlight reel he created at Texas A&M. Now the question is, can he do the same thing in the NFL? No one in this year’s draft possesses the elusiveness that Manziel does, but there’s no guarantee his ability to improvise will work on Sundays when everyone is stronger and faster. The comparisons to Russell Wilson are off base because Wilson has a stronger, more accurate arm and came into the NFL as pocket passer who had scrambling ability within a pro-style offense. Manziel is a scrambler who is nowhere near as polished in the pocket. That’s not to say that he won’t find success in the NFL — he has the tools to be successful — but it would actually be smart of him to study Wilson to see how he creates passing lanes with his footwork in the pocket and throws off his toes to give himself an extra inch or two of height. It worries me that he has limited experience managing protection schemes and wasn’t asked to handle those assignments in college. Right now, I see a guy I like to call “One-Read Johnny.” He’s got a long way to go, and he has to commit himself fully to the game of football.
Where I would draft him: Third round. The athleticism is too good to ignore completely, but if I absolutely needed a starting quarterback now, I’d look elsewhere first. Arizona would be a good landing spot. Bruce Arians would be a good influence on him both on and off the field, and he could develop behind Carson Palmer.
6. Zach Mettenberger, LSU (6-5, 224)
Mettenberger possesses the size that every team wants at quarterback. The problem is that he’s not a polished passer, and he’s coming off a torn ACL. The good news is that Mettenberger wasn’t very mobile in the first place, so the injury won’t affect him a lot, but the bad news is that he wasn’t very mobile in the first place. He does, however, possess a big arm, which you can’t teach. The release could be faster, as he tends to reach back a little bit more, but that can be adjusted slightly. Mettenberger is definitely a riskier pick, but it’s encouraging that he improved a lot in 2013 in Cam Cameron’s pro-style offense.
Where I would draft him: Third round. He can’t be asked to start right away. Kansas City or St. Louis could be good fits as they look toward the future for contingency plans. He wouldn’t be a bad option behind Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, either. And I can’t ignore that his size fits Bears GM Phil Emery’s preference, although the lack of mobility does not.
7. A.J. McCarron, Alabama (6-3 1/4, 220)
In terms of big-game experience, no quarterback has more than McCarron in this year’s draft. The winner of two national championships, McCarron was 36-4 in his time at Alabama, with 66 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He gets labeled as a “game manager” — which isn’t exactly wrong — but he’s more than that. There’s plenty of game film of him making big plays in crucial moments and putting the Crimson Tide on his back. McCarron is a smart, knowledgeable quarterback who reads defenses extremely well. Nick Saban trusted him to check to passes within a run-heavy offense, and he rarely made wrong decisions. McCarron definitely comes with a ceiling, however, as his arm strength and accuracy are just little bit above average. He needs to refine his pocket mechanics and be in an offense with bigger receivers who can go up and get the ball, as McCarron isn’t going to be a guy who zips it through tight windows.
Where I would draft him: Fourth round. McCarron is someone I would want in my quarterback room. He has the talent to be an immediate backup, helping the starter prepare each week while he develops. I would trust him to come off the bench in a pinch and give my team a chance to win. He may even become a starter you can win with down the road.
8. Aaron Murray, Georgia (6-0, 207)
Murray is an accurate quarterback who was asked to call the plays in Georgia’s pro-style offense. In fact, he’s one of the better decision-makers in the draft. The knocks on him are pretty obvious, however, as he’s a smaller quarterback who lacks arm strength. It’s encouraging that he makes good decisions and throws accurate passes, but when the windows close faster at the next level, will he be able to make all the throws? Teams will also need to clear him medically from the torn ACL he suffered last season, as he relies on his mobility, given his height. The good news is that he recovered quickly, and I liked that he participated in Senior Bowl activities despite not being able to practice/play.
Where I would draft him: Fifth round. This is a kid I wish I could give a higher grade, but I can’t ignore the ceiling. Like McCarron, Murray would be a great fit as a backup on most teams and someone I would want in my building working with my quarterbacks every day.
9. Tom Savage, Pittsburgh (6-4, 228)
Savage spent time at three schools, going from Rutgers to Arizona before finally finding a role at Pittsburgh. He’s a big-bodied quarterback who has a very strong arm. He definitely took a step forward this past season, but he’s still inconsistent and already 24 years old. The mobility is limited, but I have a feeling some team will see the size and arm strength and believe they can improve his accuracy. I love that he was coached by Paul Chryst, who is one of the best quarterback gurus in all of football.
Where I would draft him: Fifth round. If you’re a team with a lot of draft picks and feel like you can take a risk on someone you think could be the exception to the rule, go ahead and draft Savage. The 49ers have 11 draft picks, and Jim Harbaugh might be the right guy to work with Savage.
10. Keith Wenning, Ball State (6-3, 218)
As I was studying film of Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward, I couldn’t help but notice this surprisingly good quarterback from Ball State on the other side of the football. Wenning’s arm and mobility aren’t elite, but they’re better than a lot of what I’ve seen in the NFL. He was a four-year starter at Ball State and put the team on his back a lot. He’s a leader who understands the game very well and is in many ways exactly what you would draw up as an NFL backup.
Where I would draft him: Sixth round. Frankly, Wenning would be a perfect choice for the Bears with their final pick.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.