Bucky Brooks on the Mannings’ Camp

Hundreds of high school football players made the trip to Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana for a special event this past weekend: the 18th annual Manning Passing Academy.

While the camp features players and coaches at several levels of the professional and collegiate levels as camp counselors, it’s the after hours activities that interest scouts and NFL coaches, when the collegiate participants get to show off their abilities in the offseason. Among the analysts in attendance were Mike Mayock and Bucky Brooks. Both NFL.com’s quarterbacks guru (Mayock) and the former player/scout (Brooks) made some interesting observations about the participating quarterbacks.

One of the biggest stories of the weekend was the departure of Johnny Manziel from the Mannings’ camp due to a reported illness, while others cited that Manziel had been sent home due to a bit too much partying. Labeled as “just the latest saga in the summer of Johnny Football” by ESPN anchor Rece Davis, Manziel’s publicity seems to be in full-blown media mania mode following many off-the-field stories stemming from his activities at Texas A&M and unprecedented reception of the Heisman Award as a freshman in December.

Regardless of the media’s coverage of Manziel’s off-the-field antics, the sophomore phenom still receives a good deal of attention due to his playmaking style of quarterbacking o”n the field. Brooks’ thoughts regarding Manziel revolve around the prediction that Manziel’s pre-draft evaluation by scouts and coaches — will the ‘sandlot’ quarterback draw reviews closer to Tim Tebow or Russell Wilson? Brooks tends to believe the Manziel’s mental approach is more suited to comparisons to the latter of the two — especially if he continues to develop as a proficient pocket passer.

While Johnny Football indeed favors improvisation and an ability to make plays via scrambling outside of the pocket, it became clear to Brooks during the interview process that Manziel understands the necessity of learning the pocket passer approach. The same approach is what has made perhaps the other most-discussed college quarterback famous at Alabama: A.J. McCarron.

Katherine Webb, McCarron’s girlfriend and celebrity personality, may have gotten more camera time in the past six months of the collegiate offseason, but McCarron is clearly in for a media-filled senior season as the ever-constant scrutiny of professional talent evaluators as his draft chances hang in the balance. Alabama’s pro-style offense has led scouts to label McCarron as one of the more pro-ready quarterbacks for the 2014 NFL Draft class.

McCarron can do it all — he has everything a scout looks for in a prospect — but the question is whether he can make the jump to an even more competitive level of play. Brooks came away impressed with McCarron’s “team-first” mentality and surprising aspirations to mirror Brett Favre’s “gunslinger’s mentality” as an expression of McCarron’s belief that he can be a playmaker at the professional level.

Each draft class features a player who receives the label of being the most physically talented quarterback of the group. Brooks believes that this label is most appropriately given to Miami junior Stephen Morris, whose impressive arm strength and pinpoint accuracy impressed scouts at the Manning camp. Other than passing abilities that include polished senses of touch and ball placement, Brooks came away with an impression that Morris’ anticipation and timing could make him a top quarterback in an impressive field of 2014 passers.

Brooks named several other passers in attendance as possible sleeper candidates for next May, including the likes of Devin Gardner (Michigan), Bryn Renner (North Carolina) and James Franklin (Missouri). Both Gardner and Franklin displayed impressive athleticism in combination with passing ability that could make either player appeal to professional scouts in the way Denard Robinson did this offseason. Renner’s claim to fame (according to Brooks) is an under-utilization of his passing talents in the Tar Heels “dink and dunk” offense that could lead to a late round ‘steal’ selection in May’s draft.

Mayock came away with similar impressions from the same collegiate passers as Brooks, with his most polished honors going to Renner and McCarron (although Mayock emphasized McCarron’s less-than excellent arm strength). Morris was mentioned in Mayock’s report as having been “developed well over the past couple years” due to notable mechanics, tight throws and impressive accuracy. In addition to Gardner, Mayock cited Florida passer Jeff Driskel as a raw quarterback prospect with passing ability and plus athleticism to keep an eye on as he starts his junior season.

The 2014 NFL Draft class of quarterbacks is shaping up to be a group to watch this season.

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