The state of Alabama has sent some very good football players to the National Football League, some drafted in the first round. Roman Harper (DB), Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram (RB), Trent Richardson (RB), third in the Heisman voting, Rolando McClain (LB), Corey Lemonier (DE) and Nick Fairley (DT) just to name a few. Most have not lived up to their draft status. The only player from Alabama that is actually starting or contributing to the success of his team is 2013 "Rookie of the Year", Eddie Lacy (RB), who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. He was the only reason that "the pack" made the playoffs last year. There are a few Auburn defensive backs that are starting and a couple of offensive linemen, but all are mired in mediocrity. Why is this? I really don't know. Maybe you can tell me!
It has been obvious to me that in the case of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, they were unlucky in the draft. Ingram has been shuffled in and out with the New Orleans Saints so much that he is probably listed as the "out-back". Ingram is a player like Lacy. He gets better with every carry. He needs 25 to 30 carries to be effective. New Orleans is tired of waiting for Ingram to develop, so they will trade him before the draft. Also traded by New Orleans was Roman Harper.
In the case of Richardson, he was playing on a bad team. He ran so hard and delivered such a blow with his helmet that this caused the NFL to initiate a new rule. No longer can a ballcarrier use his helmet as a "weapon". This limits ballcarriers to attacking a tackler with only his elbow, hand or his knees. This changes football significantly for runners like Ingram and Richardson. The Cleveland Browns wasted little time counting out Richardson as a featured back. At mid-season last year they traded him to the Indianapolis Colts, primarily a passing team. Richardson is a back like Ingram who gets better with each carry. The NFL is not a good place for an every down back anymore. It has become simply a quarterback league. How did that work out for the great Don Shula at Miami. He never won a Super Bowl with arguably the best pure passer in the history of the league, Dan Marino. How is that working out for Denver? Peyton Manning is rewriting the record books, but he has only one Super Bowl win, that being with the Colts.
So, let's take a look at this year's crop of "saviors of the franchise", the quarterbacks in this year's draft. By the time you read this column, the draft may be over. Our press date is May 1. The first round of the draft begins on May 8, a Thursday. It will continue for three days culminating on Saturday, May 10. On Sunday, May 11, the talking heads will tell us how well each team did and why.
This list is by no means the same as some of the NFL gurus who have been pontificating about it for months. Their favorite subject, rating the quarterbacks. Neither is it a prediction as to the order in which the quarterbacks in this 2014 draft will be selected. This list is only the opinion of this writer, as to which quarterbacks have the best chance of leading an NFL team in the next two years.
BLAKE BORTLES - University of South Florida (6-5, 230 lbs.) The first thing to look at about Bortles is that he is a relatively late bloomer. Otherwise, why would he be playing for USF. He has only started for two years. With every snap, this prototypically built NFL style quarterback got better and better as a pocket passer, and as the leader of his team. South Florida beat Penn State at Happy Valley and Baylor in their Fiesta Bowl game in the 2013 season. They were 22-5 for the two years that Bortles was the starter. During this time, he completed 66% of his passes for 7,508 yards and 5 touchdowns with only 19 interceptions. He can make plays and take care of the ball. He does not have the best arm in the draft but neither did Bart Starr in the 1956 draft. Marino has no Super Bowls. Starr was the MVP in the first two Super Bowls, plus the winner of five straight NFL championships. This guy is a bigger Bart Starr. He will be the best in the NFL at running the quarterback sneak, a forgotten play since Starr hung up his cleats.
JOHNNY MANZIEL - Texas A&M (6-0, 210 lbs.)
No one has ever seen a prospect like "Johnny Football". He does very little correct and still is one of the top picks in this year's draft. Why? He plays "back yard football". Will his style and flare for not following the script translate to someone's NFL franchise? It's a long shot, but a long shot that some team cannot pass on. Maybe he can learn the ways of the world, and become a part time pocket presence in the likeness of an NFL quarterback. More than likely a team will have to draft Manziel with the idea that they will create an offense that fits Manziel rather than corral this package of dynamite, and repackage him as a drop back pocket passer. A revisit to the 1961 draft of a 6-0, 190 lb. scrambler from Georgia named Francis Tarkenton may give us a preview of what can be done, and a review of how Fran did it. Fran Tarkenton could throw from the pocket but his forte´ was to break the pocket and run around until he could find someone open, run for the first down or occasionally throw the ball away. Manziel reminds me of a stronger, tougher, more illusive, better athlete than Fran Tarkenton. That is why we are rating Manziel as the second best buy. Another Fran would be a good thing. He excelled in the NFL for more than a decade.
A. J. McCARRON - Alabama (6-3, 220 lbs.)
If a team is looking for a franchise quarterback who will single-handedly lead them to the Super Bowl, don't draft A. J. McCarron. If a good team is looking for that last piece of the puzzle that will turn the franchise in the direction of the Super Bowl within two seasons, take A. J. McCarron. McCarron is the quarterback in the draft most ready to lead an NFL team. Why? He has been trained in a pro-style offensive for five years. His trainer was Nick Saban, who was professionally trained by Bill Belichick for four years with the Cleveland Browns. Every member of Belichick's staff at Cleveland either became a head coach or a general manager. Art Modell, the owner of the Cleveland franchise was an idiot to move his team to Indianopolis. Belichick was building a dynasty in Cleveland (see New England). There is a reason to follow the "coaching tree". Here is why. A. J. McCarron was the first quarterback to be solely trained at Alabama by Nick Saban. Also, he was trained for five years. He started for three years (Blake Bortles - 2, Manziel - 2, Derek Carr - 3, Teddy Bridgewater - 3). McCarron led Alabama to two consecutive national championships, and was 10-0 headed for a third straight, when an uncharacteristic, illogical decision by Coach Saban cost McCarron's team its chance in the Iron Bowl, and football immortality. It must be emphasized that A. J. McCarron did not cost Alabama that chance. Coach Nick Saban did! McCarron completed 70% of his passes for 9,019 yards, 77 touchdowns and only 15 interceptions in three years as Alabama's starting quarterback. His record as a starter was 36-4. He has been tagged with the term "game manager". What are people thinking about? That is what a successful quarterback does. He manages the game. A team has to keep from losing before it can win!
Don't be surprised if McCarron is taken at the end of the first round or early in the second. The "gurus" have him as a third or fourth round pick. Just maybe some general manager knows what a game manager with a strong arm, and an uncanny understanding of the game of football is worth.
TEDDY BRIDGEWATER - Louisville (6-2, 215 lbs.)
Bridgewater is beaming with confidence. He is calm under pressure. In three years as a starter he was 27-8, sometimes playing out of class. His experience in a pro style offensive for three years helped him complete 68% of his passes for 9,817 yards, 72 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. He has a good release. The downside is his propensity to force balls into
coverage downfield. His athletic ability will be his best attribute in starting for an NFL team. His slim build has some teams concerned about his durability.
DEREK CARR - Fresno State (6-2, 215 lbs.)
Derek was a three year starter in a spread offense predicated on getting the ball out quickly on short throws. However, he does have NFL arm strength. In three years he completed 67% of his passes for 12,842 yards, 113 touchdowns with 24 interceptions. The only downside can not really be measured accurately. He played in a not so strong league, but so did Johnny Unitas. He can be an NFL starter in two to three years. Forget about his brother's lack of success in the league. Derek is his own man.
THE BEST OF THE REST: Zack Mettenberger - LSU,
Jimmy Garoppolo - E. Illinois, Tom Savage - Pittsburgh