Mike Mayock has been the go-to NFL draft guru for a decade now. And in those 10 years, Mayock has never seen a more intriguing or clouded quarterback draft.
There are three mitigating factors:
-- A deep second tier of quarterbacks that could produce up to 10 potential NFL starters in the first three rounds
-- The pick-your-flavor nature of this quarterback class.
-- And the presence of blue-chip non quarterbacks in South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M tackle Jake Mathews, and Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan.
"I've never seen a bigger variety of opinions from teams on who the top quarterbacks are -- and there are more potential starting quarterbacks that go deeper in the draft this year,'' the NFL Network chief draft analyst told USA TODAY Sports on Friday. "Most teams feel the two top quarterbacks are Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles. But there are other guys in that conversation, and I've heard 10 quarterbacks get grades of first, second or third round.''
Mayock adds that doesn't mean 10 quarterbacks are going to be selected in the first three rounds. But the dynamic driving everything is that the franchise quarterback model has changed.
Of course, general managers and coaches still prefer the 6-4, 234 Andrew Luck prototype. But in a draft lacking Luck, Mayock's top quarterback is Texas A&M playmaker Johnny Manziel at a time when Seattle's Russell Wilson, who also measures below the 6-foot NFL benchmark, has cemented that mindset change by helping lead the Seahawks to their Super Bowl championship in a complementary role.
"The two best teams in the NFL last season were Seattle and San Francisco,'' Mayock said. "They both win with outstanding defense, a physical and punishing run game and a quarterback who can make a smaller percentage of plays than Tom Brady or Drew Brees or Peyton Manning have to make on a weekly basis.
"And the neat thing about their two quarterbacks, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, is that smaller percentage of plays they have to make can be split up between their arm and their legs.''
"Johnny Football" fits that new-age trend with his improvisation.
Bottom line: Mayock believes Manziel has the 'It' factor to reward the team that selects him by one day capturing a Lombardi Trophy.
"The kind of projection I want to make with Manziel is Steve Young,'' Mayock says, referencing the Hall of Fame San Francisco 49ers quarterback.
"When Steve first came out of college and the USFL, he was a run-first quarterback who was scary good. He's a smart guy, and yet he struggled to make the best of both worlds, going through his progressions to make the easy throw…
"Johnny's got the arm strength. He's got intelligence. He's got the wow factor. Now he's just got to learn to win by making some NFL throws from the pocket. And if you can combine the two of them, I think you have a Pro Bowl, Super Bowl-winning type of quarterback.''
Mayock notes that if he had to take one quarterback in this draft in the top 10, it would be Manziel. But he qualified that by saying a team would have to satisfy major questions.
"My two big concerns with him -- and it's similar to every team I've talked to -- is No. 1, off the field is he the kind of person you want as the face of your franchise?'' Mayock said. "And based on his history, is it just some immaturity? Or is he a bad kid? Where do you come down on that whole conversation?
"And then, he's been so fantastic winning outside the pocket, will he be able to adapt and adjust in the NFL to win some games in the pocket? Those are critical questions."
How many signal callers will go in the first round?
"I think either one or two quarterbacks will go in the top eight,'' Mayock said. "That's at the most. Because of recent history with Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton, and Nick Foles as second or third-round guys, teams are a little more willing to be patient about where they get that guy. And I think they have to, especially in this draft. It's so good at top with great players.''
Mayock predicts a quarterback run beginning late in the first round and extending through the second.
"There's four or five guys who are in that next level after Manziel and Bortles," Mayock said. "In no particular order, it's Fresno State's Derek Carr, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo, and Alabama's A.J. McCarron. Different teams like different flavors. They're the five most obvious ones who could go at the end of the first, the beginning of the second.''