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2014 NFL Draft: Buccaneers Day Two Quarterback Options

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are rallying behind Mike Glennon, but that doesn't mean they won't take a quarterback.

Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

If a team takes a quarterback on day two of the NFL draft, typically they are looking for upside. We’ve discussed many times that first rounders get the most support and have the most opportunity to play early. If a QB lasts till day two, they have some promise and are generally regarded as “could be” franchise guys, but need some additional polish or have some major flaws they need to work out.

Lovie Smith and Jason Licht didn’t get me my favorite Christmas-Draft Day gift in Teddy Bridgewater (who I still believe will be the #1 QB from this class in three years) but I firmly applaud the selection of Mike Evans. To me, Evans was the #2 overall player on the board and I really have to respect taking a great player, at a big need position, in a great value spot. I think Mike Evans has some tremendous potential to be a dominating receiver.  He’s played only 3 seasons of organized football (1 as a high school senior, 2 at Texas A&M) and has a passion that drives him. He’s going to get better as a route runner and has tremendous flexibility for a big man.

The question now is who throws him the ball in 5 years?Josh McCown would be 40 and Mike Glennon’s evaluations from the staff are anyone’s guess. Jason Licht did say earlier there were some franchise QBs in this draft, though probably not the names people were thinking of. Here is who I think Jason Licht might be thinking about and what I wrote about them while preparing for the draft:

Brett Smith 6’1 ¾” 206lbs JR Wyoming 

Phantom Rating: 9.0 [Minor Injury risk for frame] 

A much better QB prospect than he’s been given credit for, Smith didn’t receive a combine invite but a review of his game tape shows he should have (especially when you consider the other players who did receive an invite).

With his dad a former Oregon Duck, Brett had been hoping for a scholarship from Oregon. When none came he chose Wyoming over Oregon St. and some others. He was lightly recruited coming out of West Salem High School, despite being the Gatorade Oregon Football Player of the year and coming from a 6a program. This was primarily due to his lack of girth and overall frame and while Brett has bulked up he still has some more work to do in this area.

Over three seasons as a starter in Wyoming Brett Smith has displayed toughness, intensity, and loyalty to his teammates. As a true freshman starter Smith started 13 times completing 253 of 413 (61%) with 20 TD’s and 11 INT’s and was named a freshman All-American by the AP and Yahoo Sports. The following season he would be named team captain and lead the Cowboys to the Las Vegas Bowl. He missed 3 games due to injury but started 10 times completing 205 of 330 passes (62.1%) for 2,837 yds with 27 TDs and 6 INTs.  The injury actually provided Smith the opportunity to display what he could do from the pocket. Nursing that ankle injury he rushed for just 248 yds (by far his lowest total) but finished 4th in the nation in yards per completion, and became a much more proficient pocket passer. 

If he makes it as an NFL quarterback, Smith may look back on his injury hobbled sophomore campaign, in which he still led the MWC in passing efficiency, as a blessing in disguise. This past season Smith started all 12 games as the Cowboys struggled to a 5-7 mark on the year but primarily due to defensive issues, he completed 293 of 467 (62.7%) for 3,375 yds with 29 TDs and 11 INTs, he added 710 yards and 10 TDs on the ground in a variety of designed QB draws and scrambling plays.

Brett Smith comes with a lightning fast release. It’s in the elite category for release speed and one of the major reasons he rates this highly on my board. Throwing to less talented Wyoming receivers (with the dramatic exception of Robert Herron) the ball got there many times before the wide receivers were anticipating it.

His footwork after he receives the snap from center, sets up for what would be a 3 or 5 step drop (he operated from the shotgun) and delivers the ball on a timing route is fine. He even takes the time to look off the primary receiver. After that initial look though, his footwork is somewhere between wretched and dreadful. He fails to reset his feet and like many collegiate QBs with better than average arm strength he sticks the ball into too many narrow windows. At times he’s shown too much of a tendency to lock onto Robert Herron but that is probably due to Herron being the only other legitimate offensive weapon on the Cowboys roster.

Smith has an innate scrambling ability and elusiveness, but his accuracy “on the move” is less than would be desirable because of his footwork. NFL receivers should do better with his passes. They wouldn’t be easy catches but we would certainly call them catches that pro receivers should make. His deep ball accuracy is average and he needs to do a better job rotating his hips to avoid simply arm throwing it. The other major problem, aside from his deplorable footwork, is that he comes from a spread shotgun oriented system and has no experience dropping back from under center. QBs from this system will undoubtedly struggle, see Sam Bradford or RGIII for an example, when they are thrown into the fire.

After the combine snub at his pro day he ran a 4.51 40-yard dash and has large 10-inch hands accounting for some of his delivery speed and ability to pump fake cleanly.

Let me be crystal clear with this evaluation: In the right system it’s a possibility he can be developed into an elite franchise QB. He’s got an elite release speed, he has very good athletic talent, and good but not great arm strength. As I said, a possibility to become one, it's not the probable outcome, it's not even the plurality outcome and while I hate arbitrary numbers I’d say about a 1/8 chance of becoming a franchise guy given the right environment. However, he’s too raw early to serve as a number 2 QB.  He’s a classic boom or bust candidate but comes with a blend or natural talent and intangibles that would make me a buyer somewhere in round 3. 

Why Tampa would be interested: Of the quarterbacks left on the board, Smith may well have the most upside in terms of both mobility and passing precision. His background means a long transition to the pro game, he’s going to need an extended mentorship, and you have to wonder if the locking onto a receiver is because Herron was their only weapon or because he locks onto receivers. He’s got the mobility that Tedford has shown an interest in and the leadership that Lovie talks about. 

Aaron Murray 6’1” 207lbs SR(RS) Georgia 

Phantom Rating: 9.35 [Medium Injury Risk for frame and past injuries]

One of the most highly touted recruits ever to come out of Plant High School (which I briefly attended for one semester when Aaron was in elementary school), Murray received 53 Division I scholarship offers prior to his graduation. Murray would attend the University of Georgia where he beat out eventual transfer student Zach Mettenberger for the starting job as a redshirt freshmen. Murray is the only SEC QB to throw for more than 3,000 yards in four consecutive seasons. He also was a durable and effective starter for the Bulldogs, not missing playing time until this past season. 

As a redshirt freshman he started 13 games and paired with A.J. Green to form a dynamic duo. Green greatly assisted Murray that season as he completed 209 of 342 passes (61.1%) for 3,049 yards with 24 TDs over 8 INTs. Without Green he experienced the dreaded sophomore slump with regression in his completion percentage to 59.1% (though he did throw for 35 TDs and 14 INTs) but he was “bailed out less” by Green on deep throws and began to be forced to work different areas of the field. It's also at this point the “can’t beat 'Bama, not a big game QB” canard started.

This criticism of Murray would be on his back in his junior campaign as he would lead Georgia to their third straight SEC title game. This was clearly Murray’s best season and ironically one that was largely ignored outside of Athens due to Alabama’s dominance of the national game.  His junior campaign posted a 12-2 record as a starter while producing a 64.5% completion percentage for 3,893 yards , 36TDs and 10 INTs. For all the talk of not winning the big game, his best game of his career came in the 2012 SEC Title game where he lost to Alabama 32-28. Murray put up 28 points against one of the stingiest defense in college football history and came within a Chris Conley red zone slip of upsetting the Crimson Tide. Murray suffered an ACL tear on November 23rd of this past year after completing 225 of 347 passes (64.8%) for 3,075 yds with 26TDs and 9 INTs.

Based on his pro day and other off-season workouts I’m going to assume for the breakdown of this section that Murray has regained his mobility and sense of balance and evaluate his long term prospects. There are a lot of things to enjoy about Aaron Murray’s pro potential but I will address the big negative first: his arm strength is currently insufficient as an NFL starter. In order to drive the ball more than 25 yards, Murray needs a clean pocket and the ability to step into his throws. Even then the ball tends to flutter at intervals past 45 yards. He has more than adequate zip on underneath throws, in fact I would even call his velocity good on underneath routes but his throwing motion causes him difficulty on long balls. I’d rate his arm strength similar to Andy Dalton’s and it's something that he would need to improve on, against the odds, in order to be a true franchise QB at the next level. 

Murray does show above average mobility in or outside the pocket for a QB who is not a running threat.  He’s able to change his release point and make throws with anticipation.  His short to intermediate precision and his very quick eyes are his biggest asset as a quarterback.  He has top end, elite, read progression speed and brings a intellectual acumen to the QB position. I love Murray’s in game learning ability as well, over the course of the game and career Murray learns what defenses are trying to take from him and can adjust his gameplan and read protections accordingly which is exceptionally rare for a collegiate QB.

His leadership skills are described as very good when combined with very good footwork, a quick compact release, and a scotch of improvisational X factor the prognosis would be top 10 QB, except for the arm strength.  It’s a stone’s throw away from being where it needs to be from him being a franchise QB but right now cannot be ignored. In terms of projections you're looking at a range of Matt Hasselbeck on the upside and Ryan Fitzpatrick on the downside with him “more likely” to end up on the Fitzpatrick side. The prognosis I would ascribe to him is that he has a small chance to be a top notch starter at the NFL level but is more likely to be a top notch backup/marginal starter type with some limitations. 

Why Tampa would be interested: I’ve heard zero rumors connecting the Bucs to Murray but while he’s not the athlete that some other options are, he does have some deceptive mobility. Arm strength is hard to improve but throwing to Jackson and Evans would cover that up somewhat for Tampa. If Tampa is actually serious about trading away Mike Glennon, Murray is more ready to be a backup in case we need one than other developmental options, even with the injury.

Tom Savage 6’4” 228lbs SR(RS) Pittsburgh (By way of Rutgers & Arizona) 

Phantom Rating: 8.4

Savage is a former 5 star recruit and not a well known name among college football fans or NFL draft circles due to limited playing time. Savage began his career as the best QB ever recruited by Rutgers and would start 11 of 12 games at QB while completing 149 of 285 (52.3%) with 14 TD’s over 7 INT’s. Hampered by a wrist and rib injury Savage would start just 4 of 6 games completing 43 of 83 (51.8%) for 521 yards with 2 TDs and 3 INTs. Rutgers coaching staff showed their usual pee wee league approach to coaching up QBs (these are the same folks who wanted to convert Mohammed Sanu to QB) and named Chas Dodd their starter before replacing him with Nova the following season in order to keep their QB situation as unstable as possible.

Savage would initially transfer to Arizona, who a few months later would name Rich Rodriquez and his option offense as the new head coach.  This would have been a terrible fit for Savage and his drop back pro style so he transferred again, this time to Pittsburgh. I would have preferred to see him transfer to an FCS school where he could have begun playing immediately. Forced to sit out two full seasons due to NCAA transfer rules Savage would finally return action this past season. Starting 13 games for the Panthers, Savage would complete 238 of 369 (61.2%) for 2,958 yards with 21 TD’s and 9 INT’s.  He still looked very raw at times and started the season very rusty but showed enough attributes to warrant a further look.

Tom has a big powerful arm and can deliver the football on a frozen rope. Like most big powerful guys, he has a tendency to rely on his arm strength to make plays and somewhat disturbingly tends to still lock onto receivers.  He has slightly below average mobility but despite limited playing time shows a good feel for the pocket and will step up to deliver throws in the face of pressure. He throws from a wide base and is able to connect with receivers in stride but has not yet learned to throw with anticipation. He also has difficulty recognizing coverages, which could be innate, due to poor coaching, or due to inexperience. Has slow but good footwork on the move allowing him to throw with balance and maintains his eyes downfield. 

He will need significant work on the next level to improve his understanding and feel for the offense. The physical gifts which once made him a 5-star recruit from Cardinal O’Hara High School in Pennsylvania are still there.  What is missing is the coaching he should have received in college and right now he look very far behind in terms of his understanding of pro offenses.  

Why Tampa would be interested: Savage never really received quality coaching in college and has a classic drop back passer’s skill set.  He could be a long term project for a number of teams, I am not 100% sure Tampa fits but if you subscribe to the theory that he’s simply underdeveloped the positive traits may make Tampa a buyer at some point.

A.J. McCarron 6’3” 220lbs SR(RS) Alabama 

Phantom Rating: 8.2 

One of the most underrated QBs ever to win not just one but two national titles, A.J. McCarron is an after thought in most places outside Alabama.  A three year starter, McCarron seems best known in the national media for marrying IMG model Katherine Webb. Its highly underserved as McCarron is one of the finest leaders and quarterbacks ever to play the college game. As a redshirt sophomore McCarron started all 13 games while guiding Alabama to a National title, en route he showed poise but also was raw and completed 219 of 328 passes (66.8%) for 2,634 yards with 16 TDs and 5 INTs.  His understanding of the offense was reportedly very good but his ability to translate that on game day, from a pro perspective, left something to be desired. He did have a great offensive line and Trent Richardson to power the Crimson Tide but he also made the plays he needed to, particularly on 3rd down. 

He followed this up with a very impressive junior campaign which demonstrated a more complete grasp of the offense.  Starting 14 games he completed 211 of 314 passes(67.2) and an astounding 30 TD’s versus just 3 Interceptions.  This past season was not statistically his best but was his best work as a QB, for the record he started 13 times completing 226 of 336 (67.6%) with 28TDs and 7 INTs.

McCarron a good work ethic and general’s leadership to the huddle. He’s confident without being arrogant and has worked in a pro style offense during his time at Alabama. He has deceptive mobility and some short range accuracy when dislodged from the pocket. The talent at Alabama has concealed many of his major flaws, most notably arm strength. McCarron’s arm strength is far below NFL starter standards: he has difficulty driving the ball outside of the hashes and vertically down the field. Velocity on underneath throws is below average but acceptable.

The problem is when he’s in a less than clean pocket he lacks the natural arm talent to adjust his point of delivery and still put the ball on the receiver accurately. His footwork is polished but not natural and the time he needs to reset will limit his upside potential. McCarron received excellent pocket protection at Alabama, a luxury he’s not going to receive at the next level. He has sufficient accuracy on shorter passes to matriculate an offense down the field but won’t make any wow throws or be the engine that powers a team to success. He displays the understanding of when to take risks but seldom throws with anticipation and will most likely struggle against tighter coverage at the next level. I have no doubts he can run a pro offense, keep the team out of trouble and rely on the running game and field position to prevail, but he lacks enough demonstrated accuracy and arm strength to make me believe he’ll be an every game starter. 

Why Tampa would be interested: Leadership.  If Glennon is dealt, and McCown suffers a season ending knee injury week 1 and I have to pick one rookie QB remaining to finish that game I probably pick McCarron, he has really limited upside but I think for a couple games he would be the best option (slightly over Murray who I expect will still be rehabbing a knee going into mini-camp).

Derek Carr 6’2” 214lbs (RS) SR Fresno St. 

Phantom Rating: 7.99

Younger brother of former #1 overall pick David Carr, Derek brings all the physical tools necessary to be a starting NFL QB. Carr has a big strong arm and well above average mobility, he can shift the pocket easily and throws well on the move. He used this athleticism to dominate Mountain West Opponents for 3 straight seasons despite a plethora of mechanical issues. Carr’s first season as a starter came in 2011 he started all 13 contests threw at a 62.6% clip for 3,544 yards and 26 touchdowns versus just 9 interceptions. He followed this up with a Mountain West MVP season in 2012, starting 13 games and completing 4,104 yards with of passes at a 67.3% rate and tossing 37 TD’s over 7 Interceptions.  This past season was by far his best yet, 5,083 yards came through the air at a 68.9 % completion percentage and 50 TD tosses versus just 8 interceptions. So what’s not to love?

Plenty, as Carr’s numbers and a cursory look at his game film will lead many an evaluator in exactly the wrong direction. Carr’s mechanics are a complete and total mess. What’s more, they are a well-refined complete and total mess, as opposed to someone who is wild. Carr has actually devoted significant time to re-enforcing poor mechanics making it three times more difficult to undo them. His statistical accuracy is also more of a function of his offensive scheme with short routes and flanker screens to artificially boost accuracy.

His long ball has been described as chuck and duck, he won’t step into a deep pass even in a critical situation. At times on film he seems to feel phantom blitzers and feel more pocket pressure than is actually there and if a defender actually is breaking through he won’t make quality throw he’ll look to either escape the pocket or throw the ball away. When he does escape the pocket he dips his head and takes entirely too long to reset his feet. I have no doubts about his physical gifts, I don’t question his leadership, I question fundamentally how he chooses to play QB and don’t believe he will be effective at the NFL level. 

Why Tampa would be interested: I really hope they are not, the release and arm strength intrigue a lot of people though. I am not sure it’s a done deal that Houston picks him. One thing the Minnesota trade up for Bridgewater in front of Houston last night shows is that Minnesota believed Houston was heavily considering Bridgewater with the 33rd pick. Oakland could be a possibility, St. Louis as well. If this happens in Round 2 you’ll see me react worse than I did to the pick of Glennon in Round 3 last year.

Jimmy Garoppolo 6’2” 226lbs SR E. Illinois (FCS)

Phantom Rating: 7.8 

Highly disciplined 4-year starter and recognized team leader for the Panthers. Started 45 consecutive games after claiming the starting job on the 4th game of his freshman campaign. Garoppolo had a fairly successful and consistent completion percentage in two different offensive systems displaying his intelligence. Jimmy’s best season, by far was 2013. Ordinarily a QB with a TD to INT ratio of 1.5: 1, Garappolo threw 53 touchdowns against only 9 interceptions this past season on 66% passing and accumulated 5,050 yards in 14 games as he led E. Illinois into the FCS playoffs. This effort led to him being the Walter Payton award winner (FCS MVP) and receiving some hard earned recognition. 

He comes with a quick release and excels at selling play action but the big spike in his numbers came from running a spread offense this past season and his footwork still needs major refinement dropping back under center. Small hands make you wonder if he can maintain accurate control of the ball but he does throw with good anticipation for route breaks. Low delivery point makes me wonder how many batted balls we will see at the line and most of all my concern comes with arm strength and ability to feel pressure. 

Jimmy does keep his eyes downfield but seems to not accurately feel pocket pressure and does not read defenses exceptionally well. If you're going to have a weaker arm, you’d better be able to read and as noted Jimmy’s best work came in a spread with a single read. His long ball flutters at any range past 30 yards and that represents a major concern. This is a good young man by all accounts and a fine leader, but the physical skills are not there for him to be an NFL starting QB in my opinion, he will probably have some success in reserve though after he gets his feet wet. 

Why Tampa would be interested: I really hope they are not. I tend to champion some small skill kids that most don’t investigate and while I tried to like Jimmy the game tape doesn’t support an assessment that he’s an NFL starter in my opinion.