Future Top Drafted QBs?
Future Top NFL
The franchise quarterback. The face of an organization. Every team in the NFL craves him, but only a handful are fortunate enough to stake claim to an Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees or one of the Mannings, Peyton or Eli.
A month from now, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and likely Ryan Tannehill are going to be plucked out of the first round of the draft with very direct edicts from their new bosses—flatten the learning curve quickly, secure the starting job and eventually blossom into the kind of Pro Bowler who bring a Super Bowl to Indianapolis, the nation's capital and Miami or Seattle, respectively. Anything less would be inadequate for a buzzy player commanding such a high price tag.
Luck is going off the board first, and Griffin will be No. 2, but who will be there successors in future years, those Cam Newton-esque gems who raise the hopes of an NFL city? Who'll be the savior of 2013? 2014? How about 2017? It's obviously early for such an exercise, but no less fun to speculate and debate over the would-be first round hurlers who've yet to complete their college—or even high school—careers.
Making no assumptions about which players will leave school with eligibility still on the table, here's a look at future franchise quarterback contenders for the next five cycles of the NFL Draft.
The Sleeper … Braxton Miller, Ohio State
It did not take very long for Miller to put his stamp on the Buckeyes program in 2011. He displaced senior Joe Bauserman in September and never looked back, accounting for 20 touchdowns and rushing for a team-high 715 yards. His breakaway speed and athleticism, coupled with new head coach Urban Meyer, are going to result in plenty of fireworks in Columbus over the next three seasons. When he breaks containment, he flashes the hips and the explosiveness of a young Michael Vick. Three years from now, NFL scouts will be monitoring Miller's progression as a passer, especially after spending most of his career running Meyer's unconventional spread. While his arm strength isn't a concern, improving his reads and accuracy will be perennial priorities.
5. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Louisville didn't have to wait very long to start realizing dividends from the signing of Bridgewater, the four-star recruit who had his choice of major programs in the south and southeast. Atypical of a rookie quarterback, he took over the starting job in September, and helped lead the Cardinals to a three-way tie atop the Big East Conference. More than just a supreme athlete, with a knack for making plays, he has the makeup that coaches crave at the position. He's tough, gritty and a natural born leader. His presence on the field simply makes people around him better. The top priorities in the coming years will be to fill out a slender frame, and do a better job of employing the players around him. Bridgewater is a weapon. Now he needs to make sure his receivers are as well.
4. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
Mannion will enjoy an edge that few do at this level—four years of reps against outstanding competition. As a redshirt freshman, he made it impossible for the staff to ignore him, unseating veteran incumbent Ryan Katz in September. The son—and grandson—of a coach, he's exactly the kind of player Mike Riley wants behind center. The 6-5 Mannion makes quite a presence in the pocket, is heady beyond his years and will not be outworked. His debut at the controls was predictably erratic, tossing more interceptions than touchdowns, yet completing nearly two-thirds of his passes, and throwing for the fourth highest passing yards in Oregon State history. He'll have to cut down on the mistakes in 2012 and beyond, but that should come with experience and more film work. Not since Terry Baker was taken No. 1 overall by the Los Angeles Rams in 1963 has a Beavers quarterback had so much next-level potential.
3. Brett Nottingham, Stanford
While there may not be another Andrew Luck on the Farm, there is a handful of gifted successors hoping to follow in his footsteps. Nottingham, for instance. The four-star recruit from the 2010 class has spent the last two seasons learning from Luck and Jim Harbaugh, a top-flight developer of quarterbacks. He already has the look of a next-level passer, nuancing good touch and mechanics with the zip to fit the ball into tight windows. Nottingham already conducts himself like a poised veteran, bringing leadership and a sense of confidence to the huddle. Of course, his most immediate priority will be to win a wide-open job that may not be decided until the summer. If he can hold off the likes of Josh Nunes, he could earn a three-year audition playing at a high level in order to impress NFL scouts.
2. Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Brissett, Florida
You might have to go all the way back to Rex Grossman vs. Brock Berlin from a decade ago to find a more tantalizing quarterback race in Gainesville. If one of these heralded sophomores from the 2011 class can build some offseason distance, he's capable of going on to become a three-year starter for Will Muschamp. Both played in their first season on campus, filling in after John Brantley was injured. And both played as erratically as expected for a rookie quarterback in the SEC. In Year 2, better results are expected. Driskel, one of the top-rated recruits a year ago, has it all. He's big, strong-armed and a terrific all-around athlete. Brissett is more likely to stay at home, a statuesque hurler who sees the field extremely well. The pair will push each other to new heights, with a chance that the backup gets pushed right out of the Swamp in the search for more playing time.
1. Blake Bell, Oklahoma
The Belldozer is making a name for himself as an unstoppable goal line machine, scoring 13 touchdowns in the final six games of the season on just 41 carries. How great was the run? In those six games, Bell set the school record for the most touchdowns in a season by a freshman. Breaking passing records at OU as one thing, but setting a rushing mark of any sort at a place known for legendary running backs and option runners is something special. However, he came to Oklahoma as the Next Big Thing passer, literally. The 6-6, 245-pounder was considered one of the nation's top pro-style prospects, and the job would've been his this year had Landry Jones taken off early for the NFL. Bell has the size, the mobility, and the tremendous arm strength to put the ball anywhere on the field. But for now, he'll have to work through one more season as a cult hero.