Pewter Report begins its annual draft preview listing the top players at each position and also offers up two Bucs’ Best Bets, one in the early rounds and one in the late rounds. See where Pewter Report ranks the players and who they think makes the most sense for the Buccaneers. First up are the quarterbacks.WHAT THE BUCS HAVE AT QUARTERBACKThe Buccaneers wasted little time in free agency, targeting former Chicago and veteran quarterback Josh McCown. McCown had a terrific season in 2013 in relief for an injured Jay Cutler, tossing 12 touchdowns and just one interception, and leading the Bears to a 5-3 record in his eight starts. Tampa Bay is hoping that type of production continues here under the guidance of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. The biggest issue with McCown is his age as he will be 35 years old in July. As mainly a career backup, McCown has little wear on the tires, but Smith knows he isn’t the long-term answer. Behind McCown is 13-game starter Mike Glennon, who tossed 19 touchdowns as a rookie in 2013. However, despite good numbers, Glennon doesn’t appear to be in Tampa Bay’s plans as Tedford is most likely looking for more athleticism from his quarterback. Mike Kafka rounds out the Bucs’ current QB roster, and while he has a strong arm, has never shown a ton of promise in the NFL during his brief career.
WHAT THE BUCS NEED AT QUARTERBACKTampa Bay, at some point, will need to address the future at the quarterback position. As mentioned earlier, with McCown turning 35, no one in the organization sees McCown being able to play five years down the road. And with many thinking that Glennon could be moved during next weekend’s draft, finding a developmental quarterback could be a priority in this year’s draft. The Bucs want an athletic, mobile quarterback with great accuracy, good arm strength and a solid football I.Q. Don’t be surprised if the Bucs select a quarterback early in the 2014 NFL Draft so that person could be groomed under McCown this year.
BUCS’ BEST BET AT QB (EARLY 1-3) – Fresno State QB Derek CarrCarr could be the perfect quarterback for Tedford’s offense, and also for Smith, who wouldn’t have to deal with the chants of Johnny Manziel from the stands if the McCown-led Bucs offense has periods of ineptitude at times this season. Carr isn’t the dynamic personality that Manziel is, and in fact, is very much in the mold of Smith and McCown – something that most likely is appealing to the front office. If Tampa Bay trades down and takes Carr, the lack of fan pressure to start – that would certainly come with a Manziel or a Blake Bortles, who played down I-4 at UCF – would allow Carr to sit and develop behind the veteran McCown. Carr has great athleticism, a very strong arm, high character, a track record of productivity as a three-year starter and is very accurate.
BUCS’ BEST BET AT QB (LATE 4-7) – SMU QB Garrett GilbertGilbert, who started his career at the University of Texas, is one of those sleeper quarterbacks that saw his stock rise after a solid pro day where he reportedly completed 80-of-81 passes. Showing a strong arm, and the ability to make all the throws, the Buccaneers brought him to Tampa Bay for a visit. Most likely if the Bucs decide to draft a quarterback, it will be early but they could take a flyer late on Gilbert, who has great size and mobility and bring him in to learn for a season or two behind McCown.
TOP TEN QUARTERBACKS1. QB Johnny Manziel – Texas A&M – Sophomore – 6-0, 207 – 4.63Manziel is a dynamic football player and personality. Confident – some would say cocky – but short in stature, this quarterback plays much bigger than his size, and has the potential to be superstar in the NFL. Manziel has that “it” factor teams crave from the position that demands leadership and production. After a monster freshmen season that earned his the Heisman Trophy, Manziel finished his brief two-year playing career with 9,993 yards passing. There are chinks in his armor – sloppy technique, the propensity to leave the pocket too early, questionable decision-making off the field and such – but the upside is huge. Great coaching, combined with a willingness to listen and get better, could help turn around whatever franchise ends up taking the Texas native.
2. QB Blake Bortles – UCF – Junior – 6-5, 232 – 4.88Out of all the 2014 QB prospects, Bortles may be the safest pick. The UCF superstar played in a pro-style offense, and while no one will compare him to Robert Griffin III, Bortles is deceptively athletic and moves very well in the pocket. Extremely tough, with a solid arm, Bortles was also extremely productive during his Knights career, producing 71 career touchdowns (56 passing, 15 rushing) and a 22-5 career record as a starter. Bortles could use a little more polishing with mechanics particularly developing a bit more touch on his throws, but has demonstrated a strong work ethic during his college career.
3. QB Derek Carr – Fresno State – Senior – 6-2, 214 – 4.67Carr was dynamic over his career at Fresno State, including a monster senior season that saw him throw for 5,083 yards and 50 touchdowns while completing 68.9 percent of his passes. Red flags were raised though, as he struggled at times against upper-echelon competition, including a poor performance in the Las Vegas Bowl against USC. Going to a team that doesn’t have pressure to throw him into the fire in Week 1 most likely would be the best scenario as Carr perfects certain nuances of his game. Whatever teams gets Carr will have a quarterback with an arm strong enough to make all the throws and a fiery, high-character leader.
4. QB Teddy Bridgewater – Louisville – Junior – 6-2, 214 – 4.79The mysterious slide of Bridgewater is a bit puzzling and he could fall out of the first round. Some have used his slight frame as a reason, yet he is bigger than Manziel. Others have latched onto his poor pro day as an excuse, yet the tape against actual opponents, particularly upper-tier competition, is excellent (Florida in the 2012 Sugar Bowl). Of all the quarterback prospects, Bridgewater seems to have the best game film, especially when facing blitzes and pressure, going through his progressions and being a leader. While athletic, Bridgewater, who threw for 9,817 yards with 72 touchdowns and 24 picks in his career, is not a dual-threat quarterback in the mold of RGIII or Colin Kaepernick. Scouts compare him more to Russell Wilson, which is not bad company.
5. QB Jimmy Garoppolo – Eastern Illinois – Senior – 6-2, 227 – 4.94Garoppolo is an intriguing prospect for a number of NFL teams and figures to be a second-round pick. Obviously raw and unpolished due to the spread shotgun based offense he ran in college, Garoppolo possesses a number of tools that have attracted teams around the league. Perhaps the tightest spiral thrower in the draft, you could literally hear his passes whistle at the East-West Shrine practices in St. Petersburg earlier this year, yet he doesn’t have elite arm strength. He is a natural leader who also possesses a level head, rarely getting flustered. Garoppolo has a lot of work to do, but has the necessary tools, such as a very quick release, to become a quality starter in time. He threw for over 5,000 yards as a senior, averaging 360 yards per game with 53 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
6. QB Tom Savage – Pittsburgh – 6-4, 223 – 4.97Savage has burst onto the scene as of late and some scouting services have him ranked as high as No. 5 in this quarterback class and a possible selection in the second or third round. There are certainly some positives in his game like arm strength, toughness and intelligence, but Savage will never overwhelm anyone with his athleticism and looks sluggish at times in the pocket. His accuracy has also come into question at times, but Savage is not afraid to stand tall, step up and deliver a hit. He has had to learn three different offenses due to transferring from Rutgers, to Arizona State and then finally to Pittsburgh and some teams will look at that as a plus, while others may question his loyalty. He had marginal statistics as a senior at Pitt, completing 61.2 percent of his passes for just under 3,000 yards with 21 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
7. QB A.J. McCarron – Alabama – Senior – 6-3, 220 – 4.93McCarron did little to improve his draft stock by skipping the Senior Bowl, although some reports said he had a shoulder injury suffered in his bowl game. Scouts are still trying to determine exactly what type of NFL quarterback McCarron, who figures to be a mid-round pick, will be, but there is no question what type of college player he was. All McCarron did for the most part was win, and win often. But was he a product of the system that gave him an incredibly talented offensive line in Tuscaloosa along with an outstanding defense? Most feel he has an average at best arm, and while he has prototypical size for the position he lacks muscle mass on his thin frame and some wonder how he will hold up to the pounding of the NFL. Still no one should question is mental toughness or leadership after four seasons playing for Nick Saban. A 36-4 record as a starter and three championship rings will make teams stand up and take notice.
8. QB Zach Mettenberger – LSU – Senior – 6-5, 224 – N/AThe main thing keeping Mettenberger from top 5 QB talk is an ACL injury suffered last December. The former Georgia Bulldog signee had an excellent senior campaign with former Ravens offense coordinator Cam Cameron running the LSU offense in 2013 where he completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,082 yards with 22 TDs and eight interceptions. Some early career off-the-field concerns still haunt Mettenberger, but to his credit, he appears to have matured. With desired NFL size and arm strength, Mettenberger could end up being second-day steal for a team not in need of immediate quarterback help. Tough, smart and deceptively athletic, there is a lot to like about the Georgia native.
9. QB Aaron Murray – Georgia – Senior – 6-1, 207 – N/ALike Mettenberger, Murray saw his stock suffer with a late season ACL injury. Murray, a Tampa, Fla. native, doesn’t have the perfect NFL desired size, but it is hard to argue with his production. Four straight 3,000-plus yard seasons against SEC competition is an incredible feat no matter how tall you register on the height scale. Murray completed 63 percent of his passes for 13,166 yards with 121 touchdowns and 41 INTs. Scouts also love how Murray was able to get better each of his four seasons and even fare better by squashing the knock of not playing well in big games.
10. QB Connor Shaw – South Carolina – 6-0, 206 – 4.62Shaw won a lot of games for Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks in his career and finished as the best career in South Carolina history for a quarterback, throwing for 6,074 yards with 56 touchdowns and only 16 INTs, including 24 TDs and just one pick as a senior. Like Murray, Shaw isn’t the biggest physical specimen in the draft. He also doesn’t have a rocket for an arm, which hurts his stock among scouts, but is very athletic and displays edge speed. A natural leader, Shaw is most likely a Day 3 draftee and if he can add some size to his frame could be a solid developmental guy down the road.
BEST OF THE REST QB David Fales – San Jose State – Senior – 6-2, 212 – 4.99Fales showed great accuracy in his career, especially in 2012 when he completed 72.5 percent of his passes. Has a decent arm but his spirals tend to come apart in mid-flight at times.
QB Brett Smith – Wyoming – Junior – 6-1, 205 – N/ASmith is a throwback-attitude QB who plays with a chip on his shoulder and can win over teams with his attitude and work ethic. Accuracy needs to improve when throwing on the run, but scrambles well. Threw for 8,829 yards with 76 TDs and 28 INTs, but should have stayed for his senior season.
QB Garrett Gilbert – SMU – Senior – 6-4, 221 – 4.83Gilbert was a Texas recruit who eventually transferred to SMU after graduating early. Many were surprised he wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine due to his size, arm and scrambling ability. Former Cowboys talent evaluator Gil Brandt thinks he is a better prospect than some QBs who are ranked higher.
QB Keith Wenning – Ball State – Senior – 6-3, 218 – 4.99Wenning had a superb senior season making Ball State history after completing 296-of-454 passes for 3,933 yards with 34 touchdowns and only six interceptions in the regular season. Not known to have cannon, his accuracy and ball placement are impressive according to scouts.
QB Tajh Boyd – Clemson – Senior – 6-1, 222 – 4.84Boyd had a terrific college career at Clemson winning his last two bowl games, including a dramatic back-and-forth game with Ohio State in this year’s Orange Bowl. Is the ACC all-time passing leader with 11,904 yards with 107 TDs and just 39 INTs. Small build but solid frame, Boyd struggled during Senior Bowl week to ever get in a rhythm.
QB Stephen Morris – Miami – Senior – 6-2, 213 – 4.63Morris was a big disappointment for Hurricanes fans his senior season due to an ankle injury, showing little improvement in a year many thought he would take the next step. Poor decision made for frustrated fans and coaches all year. Still has some talent, excellent athlete with a strong arm.
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at [email protected]
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