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Rookie QB stock watch: Blake Bortles up, Johnny Manziel down

With the bulk of the preseason in the rearview mirror, we asked Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks to review the top rookies at the game's most important position. The original intent was to evaluate the first 10 quarterbacks selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, but an injured shoulder has completely wiped out AJ McCarron's preseason. Still, we're left with nine notable signal-callers to assess. Who has inspired hope? Who has disappointed? Our resident scouts provide their report cards:


Daniel Jeremiah: Bortles has been outstanding during the first three preseason games. He made several impressive stick throws from inside the pocket, and he was very accurate on the move. He's really improved his velocity by incorporating more of his lower body into throws. Preseason grade: A+

Bucky Brooks: Bortles' stellar performance in Jacksonville has been one of the biggest surprises in the preseason. The rookie has shown better footwork, mechanics, poise and confidence than most observers expected after watching his college tape. And he reportedly has played better than team officials expected after watching him closely in minicamps, OTAs and training camp.
Preseason grade: A


DJ: There were a couple plays where he locked on to his target early -- failing to look off the safety -- but, frankly, I'm being nitpicky.

BB: He must continue to refine his footwork and make sure that he is consistently throwing from a stable platform to maximize his arm strength and accuracy. But he has made so much progress this preseason that it is hard to pick apart his game.


DJ: Starting veteran Chad Henne and letting their rookie quarterback take a redshirt year has been the Jaguars' plan since the day they drafted Bortles. However, the 22-year-old's outstanding preseason play might accelerate that timetable. If Henne has a few rocky games, I believe we'll see Bortles this season.

BB: Bortles will continue to develop away from the harsh spotlight for most of the season, but I expect him to lead the Jaguars onto the field in the final month of the season. Although the rookie will experience some growing pains, it is apparent that he possesses the tools to be a long-term starter in Jacksonville.


DJ: Johnny Football's shown some flashes of his scrambling magic, but he's missed too many easy throws and hasn't looked very comfortable playing inside the pocket. He's reverted to some of the poor footwork habits he displayed at Texas A&M, and both his vision and awareness have been inconsistent. Preseason grade: C+

BB: The Johnny Manziel Experience has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride in Cleveland, with his off-field exploits overshadowing his work on the field. Not to mention, he hasn't played with the same swagger and decisiveness that made him a spectacular playmaker at Texas A&M. Manziel showed signs of emerging from his funk in Week 3, but he still lacks consistency. Preseason grade: C+


DJ: His footwork, timing and understanding of the offense.

BB: Yes, he must master the verbiage of the playbook and core concepts of the passing game. But truthfully, Manziel needs to just cut it loose and quit worrying about playing a perfect game from the pocket. He's always been at his best when playing in sandlot fashion; it's impossible to expect him to become a high-level conventional passer after a brief offseason of work.


DJ: If Brian Hoyer plays at a high level, we won't see a lot of Manziel this year. But I'm not very confident that is going to happen. I expect to see Manziel in the lineup by the time the Browns take on the Jaguars in Week 7 -- at the latest.

BB: Manziel will overtake Hoyer as the Browns' starting quarterback by the middle of the season. He will spark the team with his energy and improvisational skills. While Mike Pettine will have to live with some dirtballs and miscues, the first-time head coach will reap the rewards late in the year.


DJ: Bridgewater was erratic in his first preseason appearance, but he settled down and played efficiently in his next two games. He looks very poised in the pocket and works through his progressions very quickly. The rookie has done a nice job of taking the easy throws instead of forcing the ball into coverage. Preseason grade: A-

BB: After a so-so debut, Bridgewater has played very well. The rookie passer has displayed the poise, confidence and arm talent that made him an impact performer at Louisville. He flashes the potential to be an effective playmaker in Norv Turner's scheme, boasting a 117.3 quarterback rating in the preseason. Preseason grade: A-


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DJ: Increasing his deep-ball accuracy and firming up his footwork. Also, he needs to be more aggressive in climbing the pocket when he feels pressure.

BB: Bridgewater must refine his footwork in the pocket. Although he has been fairly accurate, he has missed a handful of tosses due to poor balance and weight transfer. When he cleans up those minor details, Bridgewater's game will go from good to great.


DJ: This is an ideal situation for both Bridgewater and the Vikings. Matt Cassel has played great in the preseason and already has been named the opening-day starter. Bridgewater will have time to master this offense, as opposed to being prematurely forced into action. I don't think we'll see him much this season, as long as Cassel stays healthy.

BB: Bridgewater will enter the season as the No. 2 QB behind Cassel, but the clock is already ticking on the veteran's tenure, due to the immense talent and potential displayed by the rookie. With a dominant runner in place and an ultra-talented cast of weapons on the perimeter, Bridgewater will make an immediate impact when he gets his chance this season.


DJ: Carr has very quick feet and plenty of arm strength. He has the ability to change ball speeds on underneath throws, but his accuracy is inconsistent. He's very athletic and looks comfortable throwing on the move. Preseason grade: C+

BB: The gunslinger's performance has been one of the few bright spots in the Raiders' preseason. Carr has made a handful of spectacular plays inside and outside the pocket, displaying better pocket poise than scouts anticipated based on his play at Fresno State. Most importantly, Carr has quickly gained the respect and confidence of the locker room. Preseason grade: B


DJ: He still needs to improve his weight transfer and ball placement.

BB: He must be more efficient from the pocket, having completed less than 60 percent of his passes and averaging just 5.7 yards per attempt.


DJ: I believe we are going to see a lot of Derek Carr this season. I have zero faith in Matt Schaub, who already has elbow issues, and it's only a matter of time before the Raiders hand the keys over to Carr. (Bad pun? Affirmative!)

BB: Carr will replace Schaub early in the season. He is a better athlete with superior arm talent, which is significant for a team in desperate need of playmakers. While I don't believe Carr's performance will save Dennis Allen's job, his emergence as a legitimate starting quarterback will inspire optimism in the Black Hole.


DJ: Garoppolo has been very impressive. He has excellent foot quickness in his drop, makes good decisions and throws with touch and accuracy. He has very good pocket movement/awareness and shows poise under pressure. Preseason grade: A+

BB: The rookie has exceeded expectations throughout the preseason, showing tremendous poise and confidence directing the Patriots' offense. Garoppolo has displayed outstanding anticipation, awareness, touch and accuracy, tossing pinpoint passes to receivers all over the field. Preseason grade: A-


DJ: He needs to be a little sharper on his deep ball and avoid taking false steps at the top of his drop.

BB: Garoppolo must continue to work on his judgment and efficiency from the pocket. Although it's hard to dispute a 129.8 passer rating through three games, it's important to remember that Garoppolo compiled the numbers against backups.


DJ: He should be the No. 2 quarterback in New England this season. If Tom Brady were to miss a game or two, I believe Garoppolo could efficiently operate this offense and give the Patriots a chance to win.

BB: The Patriots have to be excited about potentially identifying a young QB for the future. Obviously, Brady's still the top dog, but Garoppolo could unseat Ryan Mallett for the backup job. While Garoppolo must continue to work on his mastery of the offense, the small-school standout is poised to carve out a big role in New England down the road.


DJ: Thomas had one near-flawless performance against Houston and one disappointing showing against Cincinnati. He drives the ball effortlessly, but his touch is still a work in progress. He's at his best on drive throws down the field. Preseason grade: B

BB: Credit Bruce Arians and his staff for helping Thomas make tremendous progress in a short amount of time. The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder is finally incorporating his lower body into throws, leading to better placement and accuracy. Thomas is playing with confidence and avoiding the bonehead mistakes that plagued his Virginia Tech tenure. Preseason grade: B-


DJ: He holds the ball too long on occasion and his overall touch/ball placement needs work.

BB: Thomas must learn to find second and third options in the route progression to exploit the vulnerable areas of coverage.

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DJ: Thomas has tremendous upside, but he's not ready to play this year. He likely will serve as the No. 3 behind backup Drew Stanton for the entire season.

BB: Thomas is in the ideal situation to potentially develop into a starting quarterback down the line. He will enter the season as the No. 3 quarterback, learning behind a pair of veterans (Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton). This should allow him to work on his game away from the spotlight and possibly make a push for playing time in 2015.


DJ: Savage has shown improvement each week during the preseason. He is at his best on in-rhythm drive throws. He generates a lot of velocity and can place the ball accurately when he has room to operate. Preseason grade: B

BB: Savage showed off his talents as a passer in the Week 3 matchup against the Broncos. He notched an impressive, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, connecting on 6 of 7 passes, topped off with a 31-yard touchdown strike and a successful two-point conversation to give Houston the 18-17 edge. Preseason grade: C+


DJ: He needs to enhance his pocket presence and show more poise under pressure.

BB: Savage must show a willingness to make some high-risk throws against one-on-one coverage. He has avoided making the big mistake, but will need to diversify his game to consistently move the offense.


DJ: I think there's a strong possibility that Savage will start some games for the Texans this fall. If he does, I believe his aggressive style will produce big plays for both his offense and the opposing defense.

BB: Savage has closed the gap on Case Keenum for the backup job, and he could unseat Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter by season's end. If Savage finishes the preseason with a bang, the drumbeat will grow louder for the youngster to get playing time, with Fitzpatrick struggling to move the first-team offense with any consistency.


DJ: Murray only logged significant burn in Week 2 against Carolina. In that limited amount of playing time, he showed timing, touch and accuracy on underneath and intermediate throws. He did force one ball that was picked off, but otherwise his decision-making was solid. Preseason grade: INC (not enough action to warrant a grade)

BB: Murray has flashed the moxie and confidence that made him a star at Georgia, but there are still some concerns about his arm strength and capacity to make throws outside the numbers. Although Andy Reid's system can mask some of Murray's deficiencies, the rookie will need to be on point with his timing, anticipation and accuracy to succeed as an NFL signal-caller. Preseason grade: C


DJ: Murray needs to continue to get stronger and boost his accuracy versus heavy pressure.

BB: Continuing to master the nuances of the Chiefs' offense, to fully understand the options available within each route. If he can quickly work through his progressions to get to his third and fourth options, Murray can win with his head (in spite of his arm) at the NFL level.


DJ:Alex Smith is the clear-cut starter for the Chiefs, and I don't expect to see Murray at all during the 2014 campaign.

BB: Murray will get a redshirt season in Kansas City, sitting behind Alex Smith and Chase Daniel. This will give him a chance to work on his craft on the practice field. If he takes to coaching throughout the season, he should be able to challenge for the backup job next year.


DJ: Mettenberger looked the same in the preseason as he did on college tape: flashing high highs and low lows. He has a huge arm and made several impressive drive throws, but he also forced balls into crowds and held the ball too long in the pocket. Preseason grade: B-

BB: Mettenberger certainly has shown that he possesses the physical tools to play quarterback in the NFL, dazzling observers with exceptional arm strength and raw talent. Yet he remains a work in progress as a decision maker. Although his gaudy preseason statistics and highlight-reel throws will lead some to favor him over Jake Locker, he is not quite ready for prime time. Preseason grade: B-


DJ: He must learn to play with more urgency and better his pocket awareness.

BB: Mettenberger needs to do a better job of taking care of the football. He has four turnovers (two interceptions and two fumbles), which is unacceptable for a quarterback expected to manage the game effectively from the pocket.

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DJ: Mettenberger has an intriguing skill set, but I believe he needs more time to develop on the practice field before seeing regular-season action. I don't expect to see him on the field this fall.

BB: Locker's injury history and Charlie Whitehurst's marginal talent makes it likely that Mettenberger will step on the field for Ken Whisenhunt by season's end, so the football world will have a chance to see if the rookie possesses the football IQ to match his extraordinary physical tools.

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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