Ask NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger who the most talented quarterback in the upcoming draft is, or who has the most potential, and you might get a different answer. You might hear a name like Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel. But ask him what quarterback will forge the best NFL career, which is the question NFL scouts amass their scouting reports and measurables to try to answer, and Baldinger foresees a likely third-day pick: Georgia's Aaron Murray.
"I like Manziel, but I think he's going to get hurt. I think Bridgewater is going to go to a bad team. I think he's the best quarterback right now, but the question was, who is going to have the best career," Baldinger said. "I just think a guy like Aaron is probably going to go to a team where they may not need a quarterback (immediately). Where he goes, there may be no pressure."
Baldinger, who played 13 NFL seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles, likes Murray for his wealth of college experience as well. Murray played 52 career games as a four-year starter for the Bulldogs, setting SEC records for yardage (13,166) and completions (921). And if it's consistency scouts are looking for, Murray threw for 3,000-plus yards in each of four seasons, the only SEC quarterback ever to do so.
"Most of the great quarterbacks in this league right now, whether it's Manning, Rivers or Brees, they played a lot of college games," Baldinger said. "And this guy played as many as anybody in the country. ... When I watch him, he looks as good as anybody. He's got a good arm, he snaps the ball off, he's smart. He's probably going to get underdrafted in the fourth-round type range, where there is no pressure to play."
As likely first-round picks, Manziel, Bridgewater and UCF's Blake Bortles figure to get a head start on Murray where NFL experience is concerned. But for an NFL quarterback, a rookie year on the bench isn't a bad thing to Baldinger. He noted Packers star quarterback Aaron Rodgers sat for three seasons behind Brett Favre, and believes a rookie quarterback playing with some of the teams drafting at the front of the first round could be the worst thing for them.
"I don't think Murray is better than Teddy Bridgewater right now, but that wasn't the question. If Bridgewater goes to Cleveland, or Oakland, those are terrible teams who will have a hard time winning right away," he said. "He's probably going to have to play right away. I was a big Joey Harrington fan, but he went to a bad Detroit team, and he couldn't improve the team. They never improved around him. Blaine Gabbert was on a bad team."
Of course, being drafted as a quarterback in the latter rounds doesn't necessarily mean Murray will be chosen by a winning club that can afford to groom him more slowly.
But it might mean he won't have to learn on the job quite so much.