We at Scouts Inc. started our evaluations of 2014 draft prospects shortly after the 2013 draft wrapped. Getting a feel for the top prospects heading into the 2013 season makes this an exciting time.
For me, the emphasis has been on the Big Ten and the ACC, two conferences loaded with talent. Players like Michigan OT Taylor Lewan, Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan and Clemson WR Sammy Watkins in particular have stood out on tape.
Still, while those players are certainly intriguing, the depth at quarterback in the ACC is one of the more intriguing storylines at this point.
There's a lot of buzz surrounding Clemson's Tajh Boyd, and for good reason. With a 21-6 record as a starter, Boyd is a proven winner and leader coming off an impressive performance against LSU in last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl.
In terms of physical tools, he has the arm strength, pocket mobility and accuracy to play on Sundays. However, Boyd's lack of height affects his game in two ways that prevent him from being the top quarterback prospect in the conference.
First, the 6-foot-1 Boyd has trouble scanning the field and locating the open man from within the pocket. Second, his size affects his ability to get the ball out cleanly. Boyd shows the talent to change his release point and make it tougher for pass-rushers to bat balls down at the line, but it's still an issue when he throws over the middle.
While some might want to compare the smaller, athletic Boyd to Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, don't be too quick to embrace that comparison. Wilson played in a pro-style offense at Wisconsin and didn't have the talent at receiver that Boyd has enjoyed at Clemson.
Morris edges Boyd
So if it's not Boyd, then who is the top ACC quarterback prospect at this early point in the process? There isn't much separating the two, but Miami's Stephen Morris gets the nod based on my film study.
Morris doesn't have the same body of work (9-8 as a starter, 0-3 against ranked teams), and his 58.2 completion percentage last season wasn't ideal. However, that percentage is also an excellent example of the importance of not overvaluing statistics. Morris misses on occasion, but more often than not, he hits his targets and puts his receivers in position to produce after the catch on short-to-intermediate throws. He's not at fault for his receivers dropping passes they should have caught.
Morris gets the same accuracy grade as Boyd, but it's his frame and eyes that give Morris the edge. He is better able to see the field and does a better job of looking off safeties and finding his checkdowns when his first option isn't there.
Thomas, Renner also intriguing
Thomas is an intriguing -- and exasperating -- prospect with enormous upside. He has a strong arm and the lower-body strength to make plays with defenders wrapping up his legs, and he moves well for a player his size. On the flip side, Thomas must improve his decision-making and, more importantly, his accuracy. He sprays the ball around way too much, and sloppy footwork plays a big role in his struggles.
Renner is a coach's son who can pick a defense apart with short-to-intermediate passes when he gets time and space. He does a nice job of keeping his eyes downfield when he climbs the pocket. His decision-making is inconsistent, though. Renner also struggled with accuracy when interior pressure forced him off his spot, and he has just average arm strength.
Bridgewater tops them all
Finally, the best quarterback prospect I've seen so far -- and it's not even close -- doesn't play in the ACC or the Big Ten.
Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is a Big East product, and the command, poise and toughness he shows on tape is impressive. He gets through his progressions quickly, uses his footwork and eyes to manipulate coverage and has a willingness to take what the defense gives him, which stands out considering he was a true sophomore last year.
Add in his ability to pound the strike zone from inside or outside the pocket and Bridgewater appears to have a bright future.