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2014 NFL Draft: Top 10 Underclassmen Quarterbacks

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Top Underclassmen QBs Eligible for 2014 NFL Draft

Bridgewater
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In this day and age of the NFL, there isn’t a more important position than the quarterback.

Quarterbacks are the leaders of the offense, given the responsibility of calling plays, adjusting calls according to what the defense shows them, and orchestrating drives all while the hopes of their teams rest on their shoulders. Now more than ever, NFL teams live and die by the play of their quarterback.

That’s why finding the right one is so essential when the NFL Draft rolls around each spring.

The difference between finding a keeper and a bust can be huge. Just look at where the Indianapolis Colts, who drafted Andrew Luck, and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who drafted Blaine Gabbert, are only a short way into their young quarterbacks’ careers. Put simply, making a good choice can boost a team to contender status while missing on a pick can cripple a franchise for years.

So what options do NFL teams have this upcoming May when the 2014 NFL Draft rolls around? There are several intriguing senior quarterbacks who will be available on draft day, but there are also a few underclassmen who could declare when the 2013 season comes to a close.

Assuming everything goes as expected this year, there will be at least a few underclassmen who decide to forego the rest of their collegiate careers and make themselves available for the 2014 NFL Draft.

Here’s a look at a few who could be on the board come May and what makes them worth a look.

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10. Devin Gardner, Michigan

Gardner
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

While out of the shadow of Denard Robinson, Gardner still hasn’t done enough to prove that he’s capable of being an NFL-caliber passer. Possessing athleticism, leadership and grit, the former wide receiver is a sight to see when outside of the pocket. When throwing, though, he displays subpar accuracy, horrid mechanics and an inability to read defenses properly. Gardner might make it in the NFL as a wide receiver, but lacks the arm to stick as a quarterback.

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9. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State

Keeton
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If it wasn’t for a recent ACL tear, Keeton would be much higher on this list. Despite playing against subpar competition, the Aggies’ field general has displayed outstanding physical tools throughout his collegiate career. Not only does he have a reliable arm and the ability to dissect defenses, but Keeton can also make opponents pay on the ground. With his injury, though, he could choose to stay in school instead of testing his luck via the draft.

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8. Bryce Petty, Baylor

Petty
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

This is a new name that many people likely haven’t heard of, but it’s one worth noting. Petty, who has only played in four games, is quickly making a name for himself as a prospect to be taken seriously. Although not as athletic as his predecessors at Baylor, he possesses an outstanding arm and the accuracy to thrive in the NFL. It’s still extremely early to say that he’s ready to make the leap, but if he keeps pace in 2013, Petty could put his name in the mix for the draft.

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7. Brett Smith, Wyoming

Smith
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Most people outside of the Mountain West don’t know who Smith is, but he’s a young quarterback worth keeping an eye on as draft season draws closer. A highly-productive passer, Smith has slowly begun to garner attention as an NFL prospect. He’s spent his entire collegiate career shredding poor defenses and getting mauled behind a subpar offensive line, but he’s athletic and has great leadership. His lack of arm strength will hurt him but the upside is there for Smith to grow as a serviceable NFL passer.

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6. Braxton Miller, Ohio State

Miller
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

While many will cite his winning ways and exciting ability to run as reason why he could be a top NFL prospect, there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical. Like Troy Smith, another former Buckeye passer, Miller will never have the arm or mental ability to read defenses to be an effective quarterback at the next level but is a great runner. If a team is looking for an athlete who can throw an occasional pass and run the read-option, though, Miller could be their man on draft day.

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5. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

Kelly
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Since taking over as Arizona State’s top quarterback, Kelly has done little to disappoint. Displaying above-average arm strength and outstanding accuracy, he has been extremely productive in his two years as the starter. His biggest concerns come from his overconfidence and willingness to throw into coverage. Kelly isn’t overly athletic and won't create big yards with his feet, but can move well in the pocket. Although he’ll never be a star in the NFL, Kelly is a quality passer with upside.

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4. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

Manziel
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

You’ve heard it all before. On top of his ugly mechanics, Manziel is a volatile character who could tear a locker room apart with his childish antics. If the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner can grow up quickly, though, there’s plenty of promise. He’s an electrifying athlete who always finds ways to make the best out of bad situations. Manziel will need lots of work on his accuracy and decision making with the ball, but can be an X-factor for an NFL team willing to take a risk.

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3. Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Mariota
Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

While Mariota might be one of the rawest passers on this list, the upside is there for him to develop into one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in recent history. Extremely athletic with blazing speed, Mariota does lots of his damage with his feet. So far this season, though, he’s proved that he can live through the air, too – just look at his 14 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. His mechanics need work and his accuracy isn’t great, but if he can get the proper coaching, he’ll be a dangerous playmaker in the NFL.

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2. Brett Hundley, UCLA

Hundley
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Possessing a prototypical NFL body, Hundley has quickly emerged as a top-tier passer who can hurt defenses with his arm and feet. As a second-year starter, though, there’s still plenty that he must learn before he’s ready to lead an NFL offense. All of the tools – arm, mobility, football IQ – are there, so there’s plenty of upside. If he learns to handle the pressure and keep his cool when the heat turns up, Hundley will develop into a terrific quarterback at the next level.

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1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville

Bridgewater
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

By all appearances, Bridgewater is the next great NFL quarterback prospect. With a strong arm, terrific accuracy and the intangibles that teams look for, the Louisville passer has quietly put himself atop the draft boards of franchises looking for a quarterback of the future. He has struggled a bit with consistency and doesn’t always use his athleticism to his advantage, but makes up for it with terrific decision making. Assuming he doesn’t tank in the second half of the season, Bridgewater will be a Top 5 pick.

Gil Alcaraz IV is the Content Planner for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @GilAlcarazIV, like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.