Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The top quarterback prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft all had collegiate eligibility left on the books but opted out for obvious reasons.
Despite the loss of players like Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles, the quarterback position in the FBS is still teeming with top-notch talent.
With that in mind, here is an early list of the best signal callers who will be suiting up on Saturdays in the fall:
JAMEIS WINSTON: There are plenty of red flags surrounding the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but they aren't in regard to his play on the field. While he is definitely hurting his draft stock with each questionable decision outside the football universe, Florida State's sophomore gun slinger is the total package under center. Coming off a stellar redshirt freshman campaign that saw him complete 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns en route to All-American accolades, a national title and the aforementioned Heisman, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound youngster has the ability to make all the throws and is a proven leader in the clutch. It will be up to Jimbo Fisher and the FSU staff to rein in their superstar and keep him focused on the task at hand in 2014. Realistically, though, the only person who can derail what could be a promising future in the NFL is Winston himself.
MARCUS MARIOTA: With all the flair and much less of the drama, Mariota could stake his claim to the top spot on this list as well. The ultra-productive Oregon Duck flirted with the idea of leaving school early, but a return to Eugene is probably in his best interest. The 6-4, 215-pounder is poised for a strong junior campaign and that is saying a lot considering all he has accomplished in his first two seasons at Oregon. After picking up All-American honors and being named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2012, Mariota followed that up last season by completing 63.5 percent of his throws for 3,665 yards and 31 touchdowns against just four interceptions. He added another 715 yards and nine scores on the ground as one of the nation's premier athletes under center. Another year with big numbers should result in his name being called very early in the 2015 NFL Draft, should he participate.
BRYCE PETTY: A Baylor quarterback went extremely high in the 2012 NFL Draft and history may be repeating itself in 2015. He may not be the dynamic playmaker that Robert Griffin III was in Waco, but the 6-3, 230-pound Petty is evolving into the kind of efficient pocket passer the NFL craves. In his first full season as the starter, Petty was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, completing 62 percent of his passes for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns with just three interceptions. He also had a knack for finding the end zone on the ground, leading the Bears with 14 rushing scores. He would have been among the top quarterbacks in this year's draft class, but the NFL's loss is Art Briles' gain, as Baylor should have little to no worries under center in 2014.
BRETT HUNDLEY: UCLA has a rare talent in the 6-3, 227-pound Hundley. After record-setting performances in his first two seasons with the Bruins, Hundley's star continues to rise. In 2013, Hundley completed 66.8 percent of his throws for 3,071 yards and 24 TDs. He also led the team in rushing, amassing 748 yards and 11 more scores on the ground. With a quick release and more than enough arm strength to make all the necessary throws, Hundley needs to focus more on his pocket awareness, anticipation and patience to become a can't-miss prospect at the next level.
NICK MARSHALL: Auburn took a chance on a junior college transfer and rode Cam Newton's Heisman campaign to the 2011 national title. That same magic was present a year ago and almost led the Tigers to another national crown. Marshall was a big reason for that as he took to Gus Malzahn's offense instantly, leading Auburn to an SEC championship and spot in the BCS Championship Game against Florida State. The Tigers came up just short in the end against the Seminoles, but that does not detract from what the 6-1, 210- pound Marshall accomplished. He became just the fourth QB in SEC history to rush for over 1,000 yards, finishing with 1,068 yards and 12 TDs. He also found time to complete just under 60 percent of his throws, for 1,976 yards and 14 TDs. No, he doesn't have the prototypical size the NFL looks for, but another year in Malzahn's system should result in eye-popping numbers for Auburn's senior signal caller.
BRAXTON MILLER: A postseason ban may be the only thing that prevented the Buckeyes from winning a national title two years ago, as Ohio State ran the table in 2012 (12-0) thanks in no small part to a sophomore quarterback. The 6-3, 215-pound Miller set a single-season school record that year with 3,310 yards of total offense and a fifth-place finish in the Heisman voting. Miller came close to matching that as a junior, throwing for 2,094 yards and 24 TDs, while rushing for 1,068 and another 12 scores a year ago, as OSU posted another 12-win campaign (12-2). Still feared more for his running ability than his passing, Miller has improved in the latter over his career in Columbus. Despite plenty of arm strength, Miller needs to work on being patient and go through his progressions as a passer to maximize his potential.
SEAN MANNION: In his first season as the full-time starter, the 6-5, 220-pound Mannion proved to be among the nation's most productive signal callers in 2013. Oregon State's Brandin Cooks won the Biletnikoff Award last season and can certainly throw Mannion some love in helping him earn that. Mannion set the Pac-12 record with 4,662 passing yards (second nationally) while throwing for 37 touchdowns (fourth nationally). He averaged 358.6 ypg (second nationally) in Mike Riley's offense, and while Cooks will be catching passes in the NFL this season, Mannion's numbers should still be among the nation's best when all is said and done.
TAYLOR KELLY: In a conference chock-full of talented signal callers, add Arizona State's Kelly to the list. The 6-2, 205-pounder is a two-year starter with over 6,000 passing yards to his credit. Kelly was a second-team All- Pac-12 selection in 2013, completing a school-record 67.1 percent of his passes, for 3,635 yards (third-most in school history). He added 608 yards on the ground and nine more TDs to the mix, leading a balanced attack for the Sun Devils.
SHANE CARDEN: The top under-the-radar signal caller on this list, the 6-2, 221-pound Carden is starting to get a national following. Although he didn't start the 2012 season as East Carolina's starter, he quickly earned the spot and has not let go since. After putting up big numbers as a sophomore that year, Carden came into the 2013 campaign with the job in hand. He certainly delivered, completing 70.5 percent of his passes (second nationally) for 4,139 yards (school record) and 33 TDs. He added another 10 scores on the ground for good measure, en route to Conference USA Most Valuable Player.
RAKEEM CATO: After passing for just over 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns as a freshman at Marshall in 2011, the 6-foot, 188-pound Cato took it to another level in 2012, being named the Conference USA MVP after posting 4,201 yards passing and 37 TDs. He provided more of the same in 2013, throwing for 3,916 yards and 39 touchdowns, averaging just under 280 yards passing per outing. Cato's lack of size will be a deterrent in terms of draft position, but he has some of the same qualities that Super Bowl winner Russell Wilson has, and with another strong season throwing the ball all over the place for Marshall, he could force pro player personnel to take notice.
HONORABLE MENTION: Christian Hackenberg (Penn State), Devin Gardner (Michigan), Trevor Knight (Oklahoma), Davis Webb (Texas Tech), Bo Wallace (Ole Miss), Chuckie Keeton (Utah State) and Jeff Driskel (Florida).