2015 QB Class: Best, underrated and overrated

The Class of 2015 QBs still has to write its final chapter, but there are a lot of intriguing possibilities among them. NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas breaks down his two preseason "cream of the crop," one on the bubble, and his underrated and overrated candidates.

CREAM OF THE CROP


Marcus Mariota: University of Oregon Ducks, 6:03.6-212
Mariota has above-average lower- and upper-body mechanics, showing quickness in his pass set. He shows good mobility getting back quickly to set up, and unlike most spread quarterbacks he looks very comfortable lining up under center rather than in the shotgun. He has a snappy overhead release, and even when he carries the ball lower than ideal when moving out of the pocket he shows good zip behind his tosses.

Mariota has more than enough arm strength to make all the throws at the next level. He throws the long ball with touch and accuracy, zipping the post. Even when he throws off his back foot, his arm strength is above average. The thing you see on film is the speed and distance he consistently gets on his long balls.

The Ducks passer has the ability to avoid defenders and buy more time with his feet. He is very elusive when getting into the open and is a dangerous threat on the move. He is fast and agile, generally hurting the defense with his mobility. Another strong point is that he can throw with ease on the run, whether on the left or right hash.

Bryce Petty: Baylor University Bears, 6:02.1-230
Petty has a naturally strong build with broad shoulders and developed chest muscles, along with proper thickness in his thighs and calves. His frame still has room to grow without the added bulk affecting his overall quickness. He's built more like a linebacker and the coaching staff has made an effort to take advantage of that, resulting in 14 QB keepers for touchdowns last year.

Petty has the foot quickness to drop back quickly from center to his pass-set point, but is also capable of executing passes quickly from the shotgun formation. He shows very good body torque and balance in his drive back, whether taking a three- or five-step approach. He does a nice job of setting his feet and stepping into his throws, especially when on the move.

Petty can fire the tight ropes up field, putting good zip and velocity behind his long tosses. He has a snappy over-the-top delivery and keeps the ball high in his pass drop. With his velocity, he can hit a moving target in tight quarters and showed throughout 2013 that he is very conscious of the receiver's route progression. His ability to not throw interceptions (just three in 24 games) is because of his excellent field vision.

ON THE BUBBLE


Jameis Winston: Florida State University Seminoles, 6:03.2-236
Off-field issues have put Winston under the microscope, as many are also concerned that he could be one incident away from seeing his career greatly impacted. Maturity issues aside, he is an excellent athlete, but has had some ball-security issues (six fumbles), as he is not always alert to the edge or bull rush.

Winston is the type that will come up with that "big play" when needed in pressure situations, as he can be creative when the initial play breaks down and he has to throw in a hurry. Where he excels is his ability to make all the throws, as he can throw on the move and when off balanced. He is good at improvising, but must show better consistency in keeping his eyes downfield.

Winston has shown marked improvement with his short-area touch and accuracy, as it is rare to see him over-lead a receiver or get the ball behind his targets on crossing routes or throw too high to the boundaries. The thing that separates him from most young quarter-backs is his consistency laying the ball over the top down the seam, as he has shown nice deep ball placement.

MOST UNDERRATED


Cody Fajardo: University of Nevada Wolf Pack, 6:01.5-210
The Nevada senior has outstanding foot quickness and balance driving away from center, showing impressive body control to throw on the move. He is equally effective passing off the sprint or from drop-back action. He has very quick wrist delivery and the body control needed so he does not have to plant to unleash the long ball.

Even though Fajardo is usually under heavy pressure, he is very cool and calm, knowing that he has the size and strength to stand tall in the pocket and defenders have found that, with his overall strength, the Wolf Pack passer is very hard to bring down. The senior also demonstrates the arm strength to be highly successful on the deep outs, showing nice touch throwing in the seam.

Fajardo is not the type that will get "happy feet" when the pocket is compromised, but when forced to run, he is the type that needs to be accounted for, evident by his 2,436 yards and 31 touchdowns rushing. He not only has confidence in his rifle arm, but also shows very good mechanics, as he consistently keeps receivers in their routes in the short-area passing game and can really lay the ball up and hit his targets when he has to uncork the long bombs.

MOST OVERRATED


Devin Gardner: University of Michigan Wolverines, 6:03.4-212
Much like former teammate Denard Robinson (Jaguars), Gardner's better future in the NFL resides at the wide receiver position, as there are too many deficiencies in his mechanics, along with a lack of field awareness, to be comfortable lining him up behind center for too many plays. After breaking his foot at the end of the 2013 regular season, he wasn't expected to be at full-strength when Michigan opened its spring practice, but there he was, practicing without limitation. He also found himself in the midst of a quarterback competition, as the coaches announced that the job will be open entering fall camp.
That conclusion was based on Gardner's penchant for floating short passes resulted in his misfiring while trying to hit his targets in stride. One scouting report on Gardner cites his impressive physical tools, but states concerns about the mental side of his game, which to date, has been slow to develop for him. He struggles reading defenses and reacting to pressure around him while keeping his eyes downfield. He has the tools to be a pocket passer, but his first instinct is to run. If Gardner doesn't show significant development as a senior, he likely enters the draft with a fringe draftable grade. Game film review shows that his hesitation firing the ball out under pressure is the result of his poor timing and anticipation, as the bulk of his interceptions come from him failing to get the ball to his targets in a timely fashion.


Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.

Scout NFL Network Top Stories