While I am not ready for the Dallas Cowboys to take the step of investing a first-round draft pick on "the franchise QB of the future", it is my opinion that now is a good time for them to start looking for a developmental guy who has the potential to become a solid NFL quarterback. Looking over the list of players who should be available in the third or fourth round, there are some players who have potential at the next level. With the benefit of quality coaching and an opportunity to serve as the understudy to Tony Romo, these guys could grow into quality NFL QBs. Let's take a look at some guys who might be worth a Cowboys mid-round draft pick.
Although Eastern Illinois plays at the FCS level of college football, the Panthers quarterback is certainly creating a lot of buzz among some NFL scouts. Garoppolo, who won the 2013 Walter Payton Award as the top player at the FCS level, is coming off of a highly productive senior season. For the year, he completed nearly 66% of his passes while leading all NCAA Division I quarterbacks with 5,050 yards through the air while throwing for 53 touchdowns. Among his accomplishments, the Panther quarterback passed for over 300 yards 11 times in 2013, including five 400+ yard efforts. Not all of Garoppolo's efforts came against FCS-level defenses; this season he faced FBS schools Northern Illinois and San Diego State. His combined efforts against the two higher level opponents were 65-95 for 711 yards passing with 9 TDs against only 2 interceptions.
Highly regarded draft guru Dane Brugler was highly complimentary in his assessment of Garoppolo's talents and potential at the next level.
Strengths: Good-sized, rhythm quarterback with excellent accuracy, timing and a quick release that really helps him be efficient from the pocket. Sets up quickly and shows good lower body movement skills to evade pressure and deliver from different platforms.
Weaknesses: Will get dinged by some teams for his "ordinary" arm strength and probably won't be a fit for every team, although he sure looks like he can make all the necessary throws in the NFL.
While I have not had an opportunity to watch any tape of Jimmy Garoppolo, other than some highlight packages, he certainly appears from all accounts to have the necessary tools to compete on Sundays. Unfortunately, I suspect that Jimmy's stock is going to continue to climb and he will possibly be off the board before Dallas is willing to address the need at quarterback.
Back in late September while watching LSU @ Georgia, I mentioned to a friend that I had tuned in to do a little scouting of the Bulldogs quarterback but came away more impressed by the guy throwing the ball for the Tigers, Zach Mettenberger. Since I follow the SEC closely, I kept my eye on the LSU quarterback as the season progressed, and I saw nothing that really took away from my opinion of him. For the season, Mettenberger was 192-296, passing for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns. He was intercepted only eight times. Although the senior quarterback has some character issues in his past, ones that resulted in his being dismissed from UGA after his freshman season, Mettenberger appears to have straightened himself out and he is now headed down a better path.
Now for a word from the draft experts, this time Bob Rang of CBS Sports.
STRENGTHS: Possesses a prototypical frame and arm for the position. Has shown steady improvement in reading defenses throughout his time at LSU, and drew praise over the 2013 summer for his quick pick-up of new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's scheme. He can drive the ball to the opposite hash, loft the ball over the seam or to the back in the flat and hit receivers streaking down the sideline. Does a nice job of keeping his eyes downfield and steps up to avoid contact. Improved as a senior in keeping his eyes focused downfield when stepping up into the pocket.
WEAKNESSES: Does not possess preferred athleticism to escape pressure. He has slow, heavy feet, and is confined to the pocket. Has a tendency to loft deep balls into coverage.
Since I have already mentioned him, now it a good time to take a look at the University of Georgia's passer, Aaron Murray. The redshirt senior hit the SEC with a bang by throwing for over 3,000 yards during his first year as the starter. Although many understated Murray's efforts due to his leading target being A.J. Green, following the receiver's departure Murray continued to deliver. For 2013, he was 225-347 passing with 3,075 yards through the air with 26 scores and nine interceptions before he tore an ACL against the University of Kentucky in late November. According to published accounts, Murray's surgery went well and he is on his way to recovering from the process. His intent is to be ready for UGA's pro day so that he can demonstrate to NFL scouts that he will be 100% in time for football camp to start.
In his assessment of Murray, CBS draftnik Bab Rang compares the Bulldog passer to current NFL QB Matt Barkley.
STRENGTHS: As one might expect given his playing time, Murray does many of the little things well. He has a quick set-up and delivery. He throws a tight spiral and is creative in the pocket, showing the ability to slide and re-set, as well as deliver passes from a variety of arm slots. He throws deep passes with velocity and good trajectory and can attack down the seam with excellent touch, as well. He's starred in a pro-style offense for three seasons against elite competition.
WEAKNESSES: While there are plenty of positives to note when discussing Murray, one obvious concern is his lack of preferred size. The success of Drew Brees (and Russell Wilson last year) proves that shorter quarterbacks can be successful in the NFL, though extraordinary awareness is required to prove the exception to the rule. Murray, frankly, hasn't yet shown this level of savvy. Too often, his passes are batted down at the line of scrimmage - or sneak through only to be dropped by pass-catchers who aren't able to see the ball come out of Murray's hand before it gets to them.
San Jose State
Another passer whom I have only seen limited film of, but who appears able to step up to the next level and acquit himself adequately is San Jose State quarterback David Fales. In two seasons as the Spartan stater, Fales has twice been named second team all conference (All-WAC in 2012 and All-Mountain West this past season). In 2013 he was 312-487 for 4189 yards passing. He tossed 33 touchdowns and 13 interceptions for the season. Foles is a bit of a gunslinger, which helps to explain some of the picks he threw this season. Neither does he possess the strongest of arms; however, one of his strengths is that he is able to quickly move through his progressions and identify the best target.
From Dane Brugler we have this assessment of Fales.
STRENGTHS: Quick-footed in his drops with an excellent feel in the pocket to step up and maneuver while keeping his eyes downfield. smart pre-snap reads and understands exactly where he wants to go with the ball, using his above average peripheral vision.
Good footwork and his bottom half always appears in sync with what's going on above the waist. Quick eyes and sees the field well to work through his progressions and always know where his targets are supposed to be. Balanced passer with a quick set-up and a snap delivery. Good (not great) arm strength who understands touch, knowing when to add juice to his throws and when to take some off. Poised in the pocket with a fearless attitude and accurate sense of what's going on around him. hangs tough and never gives up on plays.
WEAKNESSES: Athletic, but only average speed and can be caught from behind by defenders. Lacks elite arm strength and struggles to drive the ball on throws of 15+ yards. too many rainbows and not enough lasers, causing underthrown deep balls and allowing defenders to react and make a play on the ball.
Bad habit of throwing off-balance, causing his ball placement to waver. Overconfident and too willing to throw into coverage and take chances, especially under duress. Only average height and lacks elite size for the position. Will predetermine passes at times and lock onto targets, even when covered. Room to improve his ball security when scrambling. plays rushed at times.
While the Cowboys can reasonably expect that they will get several more seasons out of veteran quarterback Tony Romo, the fact remains that the back issues that caused the Dallas quarterback to miss the final start of the 2013 season should serve to open some eyes. Kyle Orton stepped up and filled the role adequately against the Philadelphia Eagles but Dallas can no longer take anything for granted when it comes to the QB position. Now is the time for the team to invest a draft pick in a short-term understudy for Romo, with the intent of him developing into the successor at the position in a few years. This does not call for the allocation of a first- or second-round draft pick, but the team cannot afford to take their chances with either a late-round selection or an undrafted free agent either. With several decent mid-draft prospects available, the Dallas front office needs to roll the dice and secure the services of someone who has a reasonable chance of stepping into Tony Romo's shoes in the near future.
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