This is the first in a series on the NFL draft.
Beauty will be in the eye of the beholder when it comes to quarterbacks in this year’s NFL draft.
If all 32 NFL teams were polled regarding who the top choice should be in the draft, which will be held May 8-10, there might be votes for four or even five players.
But that won’t stop some teams from rolling the dice and selecting a quarterback early in the first round.
With Ben Roethlisberger coming off one of his best seasons – he played every snap last year for the first time in his career – and backups Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones in place, the Steelers will not be one of those teams in the market for a quarterback in the first round.
The Steelers, who hold the 15th selection in the first round, will be keeping a keen eye on the teams taking quarterbacks ahead of them in a draft that is considered one of the deepest in years.
“I had one GM tell me the other day that having a Top 20 pick this year is very similar to having a Top 10 pick last year,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “So I think there’s more depth. I think there are certain positions that are stacked this year, and you can get a quality player through three or four rounds.”
Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel is one of the most recognizable names in this draft after winning the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman two seasons ago.
The cocky 21-year-old didn’t repeat as the Heisman winner in 2013, but he put together another solid season for the Aggies and could go anywhere in the top 10.
The knocks against Manziel? His brash style and lack of overall bulk. At 6-0, 207 pounds, some wonder if his scrambling, devil-may-care style will work in the NFL.
If Manziel isn’t the first quarterback selected, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles might be.
At 6-5 and 232 pounds, Bortles has the classic size to be a drop back passer in the NFL. But he’s also adept at scrambling as his 15 rushing touchdowns in college would suggest.
In fact, Bortles has drawn comparisons to Roethlisberger, who has worked with the young quarterback during the draft process.
Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater (6-2, 214) was long considered the top quarterback in this draft class. But he declined to work out at the NFL combine, then had a sub-par individual workout on campus in late March that caused his stock to slip.
The tape on Bridgewater shows a solid player, and it’s unlikely he falls from the first round. In fact, if he’s available when it comes time for the Steelers to make their pick, they could find themselves fielding phone calls from other teams looking to move up to select the polished QB.
Mayock, however, isn’t convinced Bridgewater is worthy of a first-round pick.
“I would say in general, tape is worth about 85 percent of an overall grade, and the rest of the process is set up for red flags, and to go back and watch more tape to try to confirm what you saw or didn’t see,” Mayock said. “I saw about four of his tapes prior to the combine, and I really liked him. I thought he had a chance to be a franchise quarterback from what I saw on the tape.
“Except you’ve got to see the quarterbacks throw the ball live. I’ve never seen a top-level quarterback in the last 10 years have a bad pro day, until Teddy Bridgewater. He had no accuracy, the ball came out funny, the arm strength wasn’t there, and it made me question everything I saw on tape because this was live.”
While Bridgewater’s stock slipped, the opinions of Fresno State’s Derek Carr and Pitt’s Tom Savage have risen.
Considered a late first-, early second-round pick at the conclusion of the regular season, Carr is now viewed as a guy who could go anywhere in the first round.
The brother of former No. 1 pick David Carr, Derek Carr (6-2, 214) threw for more than 5,000 yards with 50 touchdown passes last year working out of the spread offense.
After bouncing from Rutgers to Arizona and finally to Pitt, Savage has the prototypical size (6-4, 228) and arm strength teams look for to run a pro-style offense, something he did with the Panthers in 2013.
Savage was considered a mid-round pick when the draft process started, but has risen up the boards as teams have investigated him further. Despite playing behind a makeshift line in 2013, Savage threw for nearly 3,000 yards with 21 touchdowns and just nine interceptions in his only season with the Panthers.
How high has his stock risen? Savage recently turned down an invitation from the NFL to attend the draft, an honor usually extended to players who are considered first-round prospects.