2014 rookie review: Three quarterbacks were selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, and none finished higher than 23rd in positional fantasy points. Blake Bortles went third overall and threw 11 TDs and 17 INTs. Johnny Manziel went 22nd, and sat most of the season. And Teddy Bridgewater went 32nd, and showed promise, but exceeded 300 yards passing only three times in 13 contests. Derek Carr actually had the best fantasy season of any rookie slinger, but he finished only 20th in fantasy points among QBs. It feels as though it's been a long time since 2012, when Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were such fantasy assets right away. In general, unless a lucky quarterback finds himself in a high-octane offense with some star weapons, fantasy glory doesn't tend to come in the first season.
The 2015 prospects
Jameis Winston (Florida State): I have no great insights about off-field worries when it comes to Winston. Certainly, his litany of mistakes (and perhaps behavior that should be classified with a stronger word than "mistakes") points to severe immaturity. The question of whether I'd take Winston first overall would come down to a boots-on-the-ground investigation into the kid, and whether I had the appetite to babysit a childish person. But looking at things only on the field, I can unequivocally say he's the best QB in the '15 draft. The tape I watched shows that his arm is elite. He's ready to read defenses and throw from the pocket. He's mobile, even if he doesn't look to run first. He's clutch. Personality-wise, it might be a big mistake for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to take him. Talent-wise, it won't be.
Comparable: Nowadays, every QB prospect over 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds gets compared to Ben Roethlisberger. Remember how Blake Bortles was Big Ben 2.0 this time last year? But even in Todd Haley's quicker-pass offense, occasionally Roethlisberger will make that prototypical "Big Ben" play where he holds onto the ball way longer than seems healthy, but his instinctiveness and strength somehow see him through. That's a lot to project for any prospect. I'm also tempted to use Joe Flacco as a comparison, because Winston's arm is just that strong. But Steve McNair is who I keep landing on for Winston. Heck, that's pretty good: NFL MVP, Super Bowl starter, 174 career passing TDs and 37 rushing TDs? Winston would take that.
Marcus Mariota (Oregon): The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner has gotten publicity as a possible Winston alternative at the top of the draft, but based purely on tape that's a difficult case to make. He's a great runner, significantly better than Winston. He's got good size and enough arm to be an NFL starter. But as you've heard every draft analyst say, you have to project Mariota into a pro offense, whereas Winston has proved he's ready now. At Oregon, Mariota showed he's awesome when his targets are running free, but I saw too many times -- especially in the national title game -- when his first target was covered and he lost his footwork. He got away with this in college, but it's something to worry about in the pros. And his deep accuracy wasn't always great.
Comparable: Mariota is a cross between Colin Kaepernick with less arm, and Robert Griffin III with less pure speed. Kap and RG III played in spread collegiate offenses, so scouts had to project them into pro systems, as is the case with Mariota. And each came into the NFL instantly ready to contribute with their legs, as Mariota will. Clearly, calling Mariota a cross between these two players would've felt like a bigger compliment a couple of years ago, but I don't mean it as an insult. In the right system (e.g., Chip Kelly's!), Mariota could be a success, and a fantasy star.
Brett Hundley (UCLA) and Bryce Petty (Baylor): The next two players likely to draw attention on draft day are Hundley and Petty, but I don't think either is a strong pro prospect, and I strongly doubt either will make a fantasy splash this year. Both men are terrific athletic specimens. Hundley can make every throw and is a rushing weapon, but took most of his college snaps from the shotgun and didn't have to make complicated reads. Even with those advantages, he held the ball too long (remember him taking 10 sacks in a single game this year?), probably because he stays with his No. 1 intended target rather than running through progressions. Petty also has good size and enough arm strength, but struggles with deep-ball accuracy because of poor footwork. He ran the spread at Baylor, and also tended to hesitate when his first option was covered. Petty was a more successful college QB; I'm not sure either guy is even close to ready to contribute in the NFL right now.
Comparables: Each man has a rare combination of height/weight and athletic ability for a QB prospect: Hundley was only 0.1 of a second slower than Mariota in the 40, and Petty proved he was nearly as explosive an athlete by matching Hundley in the broad and high jumps. But neither man is Mariota, either as an athlete or as a prospect. In a best case, they'll need time to adjust to life under center, and get their throwing mechanics and read progressions broken down and built back up again. There are Blaine Gabbert possibilities with both guys -- lots of size and raw talent, not a lot on tape that projects to the more difficult reads and throws an NFL QB has to make -- though had Gabbert not been forced into action right away, perhaps he'd have fared better in the long term.
Other names to know: Garrett Grayson (Colorado State) didn't take part in the combine because of a hamstring injury. He has a leg up on some of his rookie QB brethren because he ran Jim McElwain's offense, which uses pro-style concepts, and he certainly produced. But he's not huge-armed or a great athlete. ... Shane Carden (East Carolina) gets mentioned as a great competitor, and at 6-2 and 221 pounds he's got NFL size, but his big plays in college rarely came because of above-average arm strength. I'm pretty skeptical he's an NFL starter, though he certainly has a place in the league as a backup. ... Sean Mannion (Oregon State) stands 6-5 and is used to playing under center, but coming off a nightmare senior season his draft stock has plummeted. He's purely a pocket passer who didn't show good pocket awareness this past season, and he also threw some head-clutching interceptions. I'm not a believer. ... Some folks look at Blake Sims (Alabama) and want to see Russell Wilson: A good runner (Sims has 4.58 wheels) who can overcome his 5-11 height with his legs, arm and moxie. But as one of the more publicized collegiate QBs of '14, Sims showed that his throwing accuracy and decision-making are awfully rough. At best, Sims is a practice squad, developmental guy.