2015 NFL draft positional rankings: Quarterback
How it all plays out between Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota has been and will continue to be the dominant storyline of the 2015 draft.
But there are some interesting subplots behind that duo within this year's quarterback class. A handful of prospects have a case to be the No. 3 quarterback taken, with several more fighting for a spot somewhere in the later rounds. There is no telling in what order they all will come off the board, which is why the draft projections below do not necessarily follow the rankings.
The top 10 quarterback prospects for the 2015 draft:
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon: At this point, there is nothing all that new to add to the Mariota vs. Winston discussion. So let's try this: The Oregon offense that is so often used as an argument against Mariota's pro-readiness actually has quite a few NFL elements in it. Will Mariota need time to improve his passing anticipation, develop a comfort level under center and get a better feel for the pocket? Sure. Most rookie quarterbacks do. But arguments that his college playbook was overly simplified or that he cannot operate in a "pro-style" offense miss the mark.
Take Peyton Manning, for instance. Per the Broncos, Manning has opened nearly 72 percent of his plays over the past two seasons (1,594 of 2,223) out of either the shotgun or the pistol. Of Manning's 395 completions last year, 303 came on throws covering fewer than 10 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Many were first-read passes, on plays designed to free up receivers quickly.
That is not meant to compare Mariota's skill set to Manning's, nor to ignore the dwindling arm strength from the latter as his career winds down. Rather, it's to point out that many NFL offenses, including one of the league's most prolific in Denver, look more similar to what Oregon ran with Mariota than some believe.
Mariota offers outstanding athleticism, a relatively quick release and an advanced understanding of the game's Xs and Os. Winston features a more traditional package of NFL tools, but Mariota is fully capable of being the better quarterback.
Draft projection: Top-five pick
2. Jameis Winston, Florida State: Winston probably will wind up the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, so long as he continues to show maturation following his publicized off-field troubles at Florida State. He has the size and the arm to excel at the next level and is a step ahead of Mariota when it comes to picking through his progressions. If we were to fast-forward three or four years and find Winston in the playoffs and warranting All-Pro consideration, few would be surprised.
That said, there are on-field concerns here—most of which differ from the ones circling Mariota, but concerns nonetheless. For starters, Winston turned the ball over a bunch last season, tossing 18 interceptions amid several awful decisions. Can the decision-making that led to some of those throws be improved? At his pro day Winston appeared to have shortened up his footwork and the motion on his release, but it's still elongated, which can be a problem in the NFL. And all in all, Winston simply played worse in 2014—far worse, at times—than he did in 2013. The Buccaneers, or any other team considering him, will need to hammer down a complete explanation for that backslide.
Winston remains the No. 1 quarterback on a lot of draft boards, and it's easy to understand why when matching him up with Mariota. The NFL longs for the physical gifts that Winston possesses, and he's shown a knack for raising his game in the clutch.
Draft projection: Top-five pick
3. Brett Hundley, UCLA: A popular mantra come draft time: "It only takes one team to fall in love with a player." In other words, even if 31 franchises have their doubts on a guy, that lone team could jump on a prospect's bandwagon and nab him early. Such is the case with Hundley, whose stock is all over the map. His own college coach, Jim Mora, has confirmed the near-unanimous line of thinking on Hundley: that he will need at least a year, and possibly several years, before he's ready to start in the NFL.
Hundley's athleticism is off the charts, plus he has the arm to make every throw. When he gets out of the pocket, the UCLA product can shred defenses; he also shows an understanding for when to get down or out of bounds to avoid a hit. He's tough in the pocket, too, consistently picking himself back up when he does take a shot. The negatives, of course, are quite obvious. Hundley is far too quick to take off, lowering his eyes as a runner rather than trying to keep plays alive behind the line of scrimmage. His touch can be ugly and his feel for the pass rush nonexistent.
If an NFL staff can figure out how to teach Hundley the intricacies of his position, though, there is a lot to be excited about—especially in a down year for quarterbacks.
Draft projection: Second round
4. Garrett Grayson, Colorado State: Whereas Mariota, Hundley, Bryce Petty and others will be followed by their spread offense history, Grayson fits more of the old-school quarterback description. He has played in a pro-style system, making all the requisite throws. The upside here falls well shy of the top three guys, but Grayson could make for a solid long-term backup, with the chance to work his way into a starting gig eventually.
Draft projection: Late third round to early fourth round
5. Bryce Petty, Baylor: As perhaps the favorite right now to be the first quarterback selected after Winston and Mariota, Petty's size (6'3", 230 pounds) works to his advantage. He also throws as nice a deep ball as any quarterback in the 2015 class, having time and again burned Baylor's opponents by dropping a pass in the bucket downfield. Petty is in his infancy when it comes to calling plays and fully running an offense—the Baylor attack was tailored to place as little pressure on his shoulders as possible. But the combination of what Petty did in college and the physical attributes he possesses makes for an intriguing prospect.
Draft projection: Fourth round
6. Shane Carden, East Carolina: Not every quarterback that finds NFL success is blessed with off-the-charts gifts. Carden may not check off the boxes for arm strength or speed or power. However, he still managed to put up nearly 12,000 yards passing over three seasons at East Carolina, with an impressive 86 touchdowns to 30 interceptions. A lot of those stats came courtesy of the Pirates' scheme, sure, but Carden did his part. He's an intelligent quarterback who can read the field well and find his guy. Carden also will appeal to any team placing an emphasis on finding hard-nosed, competitive players.
Draft projection: Sixth round
7. Chris Bonner, Colorado State-Pueblo: We're already pretty deep into shot-in-the-dark territory. Bonner led CSU-Pueblo to the D-II national title last season, throwing for 191 yards and a touchdown in the championship game against Minnesota State. Winning at such a consistent clip is a plus for Bonner, even if the competition level he faced will be a knock on him. No matter how you slice it, though, this would be a long-term play for a team—Bonner will need several seasons of refinement before being able to push for a starting job, if he ever can. At 6'7" with a solid arm and a good feel for the passing game, he deserves a shot.
Draft projection: Late fifth round to mid-sixth round
8. Brandon Bridge, South Alabama: Pull up a random game from Bridge's college days and you have about a 50/50 shot of seeing his potential. There were outings last season in which the 6'4" Bridge gave defenses nightmares: 137 yards rushing and three total touchdowns against Georgia State, or 339 yards passing and three touchdowns against Appalachian State. There also were days when it seemed as if he had just started playing quarterback that week. Bridge has so much of what the NFL desires in terms of size and athleticism. Unfortunately, he's also a total crapshoot as a passer, showing minimal touch and untamed technique.
Draft projection: Seventh round
9. Connor Halliday, Washington State: Halliday put up some wild numbers in Mike Leach's wide-open attack, like an NCAA-leading 714 pass attempts in 2013 and a 734-yard, six-touchdown outing in a loss to Cal last season. He did well rolling through his options and getting the ball out of his hands quickly. How far can those traits take him in the NFL? Everything else—an ability to throw on the run, downfield accuracy, playing under center, etc.—will have to come in time.
Draft projection: Seventh round to UDFA
10. Sean Mannion, Oregon State: Scouting Mannion had to be frustrating for NFL teams. He flashes just enough talent to make him intriguing, then usually undercuts himself with his deficiencies. The Senior Bowl experience was rough for him, as he was adequate at best among an uninspiring crop of quarterback prospects. His pro day reportedly buoyed his stock, but again, that's part of the problem: There's no telling when Mannion will be on his game. When he is off his game, it's like he is operating in slow motion, lumbering into his drops and staring down receivers. His 6'6" frame, experience in a pro-style system and ability to hit any spot on the field will help him in the draft. Mannion might not be far off the second tier of quarterbacks this year, when all is said and done.
Draft projection: Fifth round