CFB 24/7: Path to the Draft  

 

QB tracker: Johnny Manziel remains No. 1; fresh names crack list

The College Football 24/7 Quarterback Tracker is supposed to focus on the best-performing quarterbacks in the college game, but I can't avoid speculating about the pro potential of the outstanding collection of quarterbacks playing on Saturdays.

Never before have we seen so many dominant underclassmen quarterbacks with the arm talent, football IQ and confidence to thrive on the big stage. From Johnny Manziel's weekly heroics to Christian Hackenberg's emergence as a freshman standout, the college game is full of young talents with the characteristics scouts covet in franchise quarterbacks. Factor in the superb play of seasoned veterans like AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray and Stephen Morris, and there is little doubt that the NFL will remain in good hands when the likes of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees hang up the cleats for good.

Let's take a look at this week's list to see which standout quarterbacks have made a move up the charts:

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
(Last week's rank: 1)

Johnny Football's legacy was already in place in Aggieland after he captured the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman, but he cemented his standing as one of the greatest players in college football with his heroic performance against Ole Miss. Not only did Manziel top the 300-passing-yard/100-rushing-yard mark for the fourth time in his career -- the most in NCAA FBS history -- but he topped the 7,000-yard mark in total offense in his 19th career game. Those feats are remarkable accomplishments at any level, but especially against the tough defenses reigning supreme in the SEC.

2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
(Last week's rank: 4)

If not for the spectacular play of the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Mariota would be the runaway selection as the No. 1 pick on the list. The super sophomore has been magnificent as the director of the Ducks' high-powered attack. He has totaled 25 combined touchdowns without committing a single turnover. That speaks volumes about his intelligence, consistency and judgment at the position. More importantly, it is a key reason why the Ducks have rolled over every opponent with little resistance.

3. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
(Last week's rank: 2)

Boyd is on record saying that he wants college football fans to remember his name; he will get a chance to cement his legacy with a blockbuster showdown against Florida State this weekend. To this point, Boyd has exceeded expectations as one of the top playmakers in college football, but a red-letter win against the Seminoles would silence the skeptics questioning the Tigers' legitimacy as national-championship contenders.

4. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
(Last week's rank: 3)

The college football world finally got an opportunity to see Bridgewater on a big stage against a quality opponent. Although he didn't put on a spectacular showing, Bridgewater certainly didn't kill the buzz building in NFL circles about his potential as a franchise quarterback. From his superb arm talent to his mastery of the pre-snap phase of the Cardinals' offensive scheme, Bridgewater checks the box in all areas of the standard pro evaluation at this stage of his career. If he can fill out his slender frame and continue to refine his pocket-passing skills, there is strong reason to believe he will be the first quarterback selected whenever he makes his way to the NFL.

5. Brett Hundley, UCLA
(Last week's rank: 6)

The East Coast bias has prevented some college football observers from fully appreciating Hundley's game, but we will soon hear his name mentioned as one of the top players at his position with notable matchups against Stanford and Oregon over the next few weeks. Hundley will get a chance to catapult the Bruins into the top five, while also showing the NFL world that he has a game that's ready for primetime.

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6. Jameis Winston, Florida State
(Last week's rank: 7)

Everyone is waiting for the freshman sensation to hit the wall, but it doesn't look like it is going to happen based on his spectacular play against Maryland a couple weeks ago. Winston has completed more than 72 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Most impressively, Winston has been sacked just eight times in five games and taken superb care of the ball despite his inexperience heading into the season.

7. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
(Last week's rank: 5)

Don't let Mettenberger's pedestrian numbers against Florida sway your opinion on his development as a franchise-caliber quarterback. He is continuing to progress as a pocket passer by exhibiting the awareness to work through his progressions to find his second and third options in the route concept. If he can pass a few more tough tests down the road, Mettenberger could make a strong case for his candidacy as a possible Day 1 selection.

8. Derek Carr, Fresno State
(Last week's rank: 9)

Gunslingers can be risky propositions for offensive-minded head coaches because they are willing to take their chances fitting the ball into tight windows. Carr certainly possesses the aggressive mindset of a gunslinger, but he has shown more patience and better judgment as a pocket passer. He sports an impressive 19:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, while compiling three 400-yard games in five appearances. Although he rarely faces a stout defense in the Mountain West Conference, the fact that he is torching opponents on a weekly basis makes him worthy of a spot within the top 10 of this list.

9. AJ McCarron, Alabama
(Last week's rank: 10)

The Crimson Tide's workmanlike offense doesn't fully showcase the talents of McCarron, but the senior standout is beginning to show evaluators he is more than a game manager at the position. Against Kentucky, Nick Saban let his quarterback cut it loose and he responded with a 300-yard passing game that showcased his talents as an accurate intermediate passer. Additionally, he shows exceptional patience and poise leading an offense that is still trying to find an identity that best suits its talented personnel.

10. Aaron Murray, Georgia
(Last week's rank: 8)

Despite last week's loss to Missouri, Murray has definitely changed the narrative about his ability to thrive in big games. The Bulldogs' star has been at his best when his team has needed him to take his game up a notch, as evidenced by his performance the past few weeks with his top playmakers sidelined due to injury. Although Murray must overcome some long odds to lead the Bulldogs back to the SEC Championship Game, he has already earned high marks for his leadership skills within the NFL scouting community.

11. Stephen Morris, Miami (Fla.)
(Last week's rank: 13)

The "U" has re-entered the discussion as one of the top teams in the country behind the stellar play of Morris. The savvy senior has completed more than 61 percent of his passes with a solid 9:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio through five games. While skeptics question whether the Hurricanes have faced a quality opponent on their way to a 5-0 start, there is little doubt Morris has the tools to be an effective starter at the next level. With games against Florida State and Virginia Tech on the horizon, we will soon see if the hype surrounding the Hurricanes and their ultra-talented quarterback is merited at this point of the season.

12. Bryce Petty, Baylor
(Last week's rank: 14)

It's uncommon for the quarterback of a high-powered offense that averages 63.4 points per game to fly under the radar, but that is certainly the case with Petty. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior is rarely mentioned as one of the top signal-callers in college football despite completing nearly 70 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and only one interception. Most impressively, he has posted five consecutive 300-yard games to start the season and tossed at least two touchdowns in every contest. Petty will face tougher competition in November (Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are on the schedule), but expect his numbers to reach ridiculous levels with a few cupcake matchups on the horizon.

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13. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
(Last week's rank: NR)

There aren't many observers in the college football world who expected Mannion to emerge as the top passer in the country this season. The 6-5, 220-pound junior had to wrestle the starting job from Cody Vaz prior to the season. Mannion has certainly proven the coaches right with an FBS-leading 2,511 passing yards and a 25:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in six games, while exhibiting impressive arm talent and sound judgment from the pocket. Most importantly, he has developed a connection with wide receiver Brandin Cooks that has made the Beavers' offense nearly impossible to stop.

14. Braxton Miller, Ohio State
(Last week's rank: 16)

The decision to use the best athlete on the field at quarterback is routinely done at the high school level, but Urban Meyer has built the Buckeyes into a national power by relying extensively on the explosive athleticism of Miller in the backfield. From executing a variety of designed quarterback runs to his improving skills as a pocket passer, Miller is capable of destroying opponents as the ultimate run-pass threat on the edge. Although his numbers and performances have been a little disappointing to date, the fact that Miller has made a number of big plays in key moments earns him a spot on the list.

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15. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
(Last week's rank: NR)

No one expects a true freshman to emerge as the top quarterback in the conference, but that's the case with Hackenberg in the Big Ten. The 18-year-old playmaker has shown surprising poise and confidence as a first-year starter, which was evident during his late-game heroics against Michigan. Hackenberg calmly led the Nittany Lions down the field on a game-tying drive that revealed his moxie and swagger as a big-game player. With Hackenberg just scratching the surface of his immense talent and potential, the college football world should pay close attention to the budding superstar emerging in Happy Valley.

16. Anthony Boone, Duke
(Last week's rank: NR)

David Cutcliffe has a reputation for developing NFL-caliber quarterbacks after shaping the careers of Peyton and Eli Manning during his time in the SEC. He has continued to show the Midas touch at Duke with Thad Lewis and Sean Renfree making the rounds in the pro ranks. While it's too early to speculate on Boone's NFL chances, the junior's exceptional performance against Navy (31 of 38 for 295 yards with three touchdowns) certainly piqued the interest of scouts searching for quality quarterback prospects in the 2015 draft class.

Out of the list: Keith Price, Washington (last week's rank: 11); Kevin Hogan, Stanford (last week's rank: 12); James Franklin, Missouri (last week's rank: 15).

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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