The run-up to the 2014 NFL Draft has seen a ton of attention paid to potential landing spots for the quartet of top-rated quarterbacks in Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, UCF's Blake Bortles, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Fresno State's Derek Carr. Whether it's early or late in the first round, quarterback-needy teams will have options when it comes time for them to turn in their cards at Radio City Music Hall on May 8.
Lately, the talk has picked up regarding the second tier of signal-callers. Pittsburgh's Tom Savage, for example, has seen his stock skyrocket over the past few weeks to join the conversation as a potential pick at the beginning of the second round. Following a successful pro day and various private workouts, LSU's Zach Mettenberger is a trendy name for some teams after he showed he was ahead of schedule in recovering from a torn ACL. NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt thinks Aaron Murray could join the second-round conversation, too. Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was even invited to New York City for the draft and Alabama's AJ McCarron was slotted to the Texans with the 33rd-overall pick in analyst Bucky Brooks' latest mock draft.
While players in that second tier of quarterbacks have plenty of positives in NFL scouts' eyes, almost every one of them is looked at as a likely developmental player who might not be ready to start right away (the possible exception being McCarron). If NFL teams are looking to grab one of them in the second or third round of the draft, however, recent history suggests it won't be very long before those quarterbacks are given the keys to the offense.
In the past five NFL drafts, 25 quarterbacks were taken in the first three rounds. Only three (Pat White, Ryan Mallett and Brock Osweiler) have failed to make a start in the NFL and the remaining 22 started at least 10 games. While not everybody worked out, that's a good number of games that teams have entrusted to young quarterbacks they take early in the draft. Furthermore, those that are drafted in the first three rounds are likely to be pressed into action early, too. Of the 25, 14 started their first NFL game and all but five started before the team's ninth game of their rookie season.
The prevailing opinion heading into this year's draft is that QB-needy teams drafting in the top 10 could wait before handing off the reins to a young quarterback. The Texans signed Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Vikings have Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder, the Browns still have Brian Hoyer and the Raiders traded for Matt Schaub. History, however, shows that even if the plan is to bring a rookie quarterback along slowly, it rarely works out that way if the team selects a quarterback in the first three rounds.
Thinking of taking Manziel in the first round? Be prepared to play him from Day 1. Want to grab Savage in the second? Be prepared to play him as a rookie, too. If Murray winds up as a second-day pick, an offensive coordinator better be comfortable with him starting 10 or so months after surgery to repair his ACL tear. Given the positional-player depth available this year, that could weigh on some general managers' minds even if they do need to take a quarterback at some point in the draft this year.
"There's no Andrew Luck, no Peyton Manning. It is such a mixed bag with each player -- every one of them has positives, every one of them has negatives," Vikings GM Rick Spielman recently lamented to mmqb.si.com. "And if that's the way you end up feeling, why don't you just wait 'til later in the draft, and take someone with the first pick you're sure will help you right now?"
"I believe Thomas offers more upside than nearly all of the quarterbacks being discussed as developmental prospects in this year's class," Brooks wrote. "In fact, I would take Thomas over Pittsburgh's Tom Savage and SMU's Garrett Gilbert because he is more talented, athletic and experienced than those players, who are two of the fastest risers on the board at the position."
There will be close to zero pressure for Thomas to play his first -- or even second -- season in the NFL. He could be able to develop as a passer in a particular system while mixing in his athletic ability in spot situations during games. If Savage goes in the second round, as some are suggesting, that's an awful lot of pressure on him early in his career to perform.
Savage's rise up draft boards reminds some of former Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib's last season. There was plenty of talk leading up to the 2013 draft that Nassib would wind up as a first-round pick and that he was even better than Geno Smith and EJ Manuel. Teams seemed to realize it would take him a while to transition to the next level, however, and he was picked in the fourth round by the New York Giants. If Savage or any of the other second-tier quarterbacks go later than expected come May, no one should be very surprised.
No matter the opinion of a quarterback's talent this year, franchises better be mindful of where they grab them in the draft. If clubs truly want someone they can develop, recent history shows the first, second and third round is not the best place to grab a signal-caller. If they do end up drafting a quarterback early, coaches and front-office officials better be comfortable that whoever it is has all the tools to win them some games as a rookie.