Here we are again Cleveland Browns fans, heading into yet another NFL offseason with the quarterback position and offense unsettled. After the recent resignation of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, coupled with letting quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains go, one can only imagine what the new direction will be for the offense in 2015.
Selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, many hoped the answer to the quarterback question would be Johnny Manziel. However, after sitting the majority of the season behind veteran Brian Hoyer, Manziel looked further away from being a starting quarterback than many imagined he would be—albeit in less than two games worth of snaps.
On top of looking like he was years away from being a competent NFL starter, Manziel continued to fuel the fire of the “doubters” out there in regard to his off-the-field activity. Offseason swan riding, images of him rolling up money in a bathroom, an alleged fighting incident outside the club in his building in Cleveland and an alleged party before the team’s final game of the season which caused him—and others—to be late for/not show up to a walk-through/treatment. Basically, Manziel’s rookie season was an absolute disaster for both him and the organization.
So here we are again, with general manager Ray Farmer facing a difficult decision heading into year two of the Mike Pettine era. Hoyer is set to be a free agent, and Manziel gave the organization literally no reason to put their faith in him being the long-term answer at the position.
Obviously a lot will be determined once the team hires a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, but there will be much speculation leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft—whether the fans like it or not. The Browns are owners of two picks in the Top 20, and 10 picks overall thanks to trades during last season’s draft. So it isn’t out of the question to think that Farmer will draft a quarterback at some point to add to the mix, or make a major move for a centerpiece.
For this reason, below are the names of five quarterbacks fans should get familiar with heading up to the draft.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Considered a virtual lock to go No. 1 overall by many, Mariota will be in the conversation until the card is handed in by Tampa Bay on draft night. Farmer’s admiration for Mariota last season was well-documented by many, and his disappointment when he decided to stay in school for another season was just as well-known.
At 6’4” and 210 pounds, the 21-year old Hesiman Trophy winner certainly isn’t a lock to become the next Andrew Luck “can’t miss” prospect in the draft, though.
He comes from a spread offensive system in which the translation to the NFL has been very difficult for scouts. He possesses all the traits you want in a quarterback—intelligent, hard-working, clean off the field, athletic, excellent arm, very good accuracy and much more. But people are stuck on the system which does not require him to make complex reads, thus creating worry in whether he can be a franchise guy at the next level.
Despite the system, Mariota is a guy worthy of giving up multiple first-round picks for and building a team around. Many comparisons have been drawn to 49ers QB, Colin Kaepernick, already—but Mariota is a much better passer at this point of his career and his development ceiling should be higher than Kaepernick.
This will be an intriguing situation to watch heading up to the draft, especially with Tampa Bay hiring Dirk Koetter as their offensive coordinator. Koetter’s system demands a more vertical-type of passer from day one, and if they believe Mariota isn’t that guy, the pick could go to the highest bidder. If Farmer was to offer multiple first-round picks (this season and next), Tampa would have to listen.
Brett Hundley, UCLA
Standing 6’3” and 227 pounds, Hundley opted to come back to UCLA after his redshirt sophomore season last year—where he likely would have been picked much higher. By coming back another year, Hundley exposed additional question marks for scouts—mainly around his ability to stay in the pocket and go through progressions instead of taking off and running at the first sign of pressure.
Even though there are questions, Hundley is still considered among many to be a late first/early second-round pick. For the Browns picking at No. 19 (from Buffalo) without a quarterback, they may be forced to look deeper at Hundley—because there is a lot to like.
He has the size, strong arm, good accuracy and ability to stretch the field vertically that you want in a potential franchise quarterback. Hundley also has the ability to get the ball out quickly and throws a good ball—two things crucial when playing next to Lake Erie in the winter.
But the lingering questions about system, running at the first sign of pressure and need to develop more feel as a passer and in the pocket have pushed him down many boards. If he can test well and prove to be able to throw the ball from under center in workouts, he is a name to watch for the Browns.
Bryce Petty, Baylor
When you look at Petty, he just looks like an NFL quarterback. Standing 6’3” and 230 pounds, his ability to sling the ball all over the yard with very good arm strength will be enough to make scouts droll.
However, Petty will be bit by the “Big 12 spread offense” judgment coming into the draft—and thanks to the failures of guys like Brandon Weeden, Blaine Gabbert and many more, he will be under a pretty high powered microscope.
If we can forget about the system questions for a second and focus on the production, it is hard to find a QB in this class more productive than Petty. He racked up 8,195 yards, 62 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his career—all pretty much coming in his junior and senior seasons. He also led the Bears to a 22-4 record over those years.
With a third-round grade, Petty will certainly be worth taking a look at in the mid-rounds if someone doesn’t over draft him in the second. He possesses a lot of the skills an up-tempo type of offensive coordinator will love, so depending on who gets hired he could be in the mix.
Sean Mannion, Oregon State
Another quarterback who considered coming out last season, Mannion decided to return to Oregon State for his senior year.
Standing 6’5” and 220 pounds, Mannion is another player who will certainly peak the interests of many scouts thanks to his “prototypical frame” at first glance. But there are reasons some have him projected as a fifth to sixth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
First, the positives. Mannion is excellent at playing within the pocket. He can make all the throws with the best of them, displaying good velocity and accuracy on throws all over the field. He also has a natural ability to lead his receivers, which was displayed a lot during his junior season with Brandin Cooks. He is also well-versed in a pro-style offense, unlike many passers in this class.
Now the negatives. He is pretty much considered a statue in the pocket, as he has very limited mobility. He also has a tendency to lose some zip on his passes when backing up in the pocket, instead of stepping up and trusting the line around him.
Mannion reminds me a lot of Nick Foles coming out of college, though he has more experience in a pro-style offense. Foles was looked over because many considered him not mobile for his size, but he has overcome that and actually looked functional as a runner at times in the Chip Kelly system. If a team works with Mannion, he would be a nice project selection in round five.
Connor Halliday, Washington State
Like Mannion, Halliday has a late-round projection (currently sixth or seventh round if drafted at all) but could end up being a nice project selection late.
He is 6’4” and 200 pounds, has good mobility (pre-injury), and can make all the throws NFL scouts will ask him to make. He also has shown above average accuracy during his career, leaving Washington state with a 62.1 percent career average, though he finished 2014 with a 67.3 percent completion percentage.
Over the course of his career, Halliday threw for 11,308 yards, 90 touchdowns and 50 interceptions—in 35 games. His 4,597 passing yards as a junior set a school record, so he certainly has the skill set to play the quarterback position at the NFL level.
However, after suffering a gruesome leg injury to end his 2014 season, he will have an up-hill battle on his comeback trail. Add in his propensity to force the ball at times into tight windows (hence the 50 interceptions), and Halliday will likely be a late-round pick as a project in the 2015 NFL Draft.