More so than any other position in the NFL Draft, the class of quarterbacks is wholly judged by whether or not you think there is a franchise player or two among the group. In the 2016 NFL Draft, there might be.
If you are a believer in the talents of Jared Goff of California and Carson Wentz of North Dakota State, it's a good class. If you're comfortable including Paxton Lynch of Memphis in that franchise grouping, then it's a great class. Those three are in a tier above the rest of the class, with Goff and Wentz clearly in the top two.
Goff is the classic tale. He was an elite high school recruit who has followed up on his promise to become a likely top-seven draft pick. If you can overlook a slender frame (and even those nine-inch hands), you have a complete quarterback. There is no better signal caller in this year's draft at reading and manipulating a defense and working progressions. Anyone who has watched Cal and its porous offensive lines over the last three seasons has witnessed a tough player in the pocket who knows how to handle pressure. The arm strength and athleticism for Goff may not be off the charts, but they're more than good enough. Some of the stick throws Goff made, especially in his junior season at Cal in 2015, were pure NFL throws that connected in tight windows and zipped through coverage. Joe Montana comparisons for Goff are pretty ridiculous – and mostly lazy due to geographical and size similarities – but projecting him as a Matt Ryan-type quarterback is appropriate.
Wentz is lightly recruited player who has blossomed into a physical presence with all the tools. Wentz went from a blip on the recruiting radar to a national champion with North Dakota State. Playing at the powerhouse FCS school, he wasn't rushed on the field like Goff, so he's a little greener in the intricacies of the game. He's a notch below Goff in terms of reading coverages and tends to stare down receivers more. The pure talent, however, is why some of the Andrew Luck comparisons are on point. Like Luck, Wentz is a big athlete and not a stiff pocket statue. He's comfortable getting out on the move and will use his size to his advantage. Wentz also has an impressive arm, comes from more of a traditional pro-style system and at the Senior Bowl showed he's a natural leader. Everything about Wentz's game needs to be hastened up some, and his ball security in the pocket needs to be improved, but every tool is there. He could be a star with the right coaching.
Lynch isn't an enigma, but he's close to it. He was also lightly recruited coming out of a high school that used the Wing-T offense, which hid his skills as a passer. His relative lack of experience shows some with his shaky pocket presence and footwork. When Lynch is clicking, though, he's just as talented of a player as Goff or Wentz. He is a very good athlete for the position, possesses an arm that can make difficult throws outside the numbers and got better every year at Memphis at reading defenses. Lynch's potential is high, but he might be best served sitting at least part of his rookie season and hammering out some technique flaws. The pieces are there, though.
One quarterback who is pro ready is Michigan State's Connor Cook. He's a classic high-floor, low-ceiling prospect with decent tools and size. For a quarterback expected to go in the top 50 picks, that means he's an Andy Dalton sort of player. It's easy to knock that because Dalton has failed often in the playoffs, but there are a bunch of teams that would like to just get there first before advancing to the second round. Cook can get into a rhythm throwing the ball, and his accuracy will be on point on a variety of throws. Perhaps more so than the three above him, he knows when to add zip and when to take some off on throws. That is, of course, if he's sound with his footwork. Cook has a tendency to throw off his back foot, and it just kills his accuracy.
The great leap of faith in this class is Christian Hackenberg of Penn State.
Frankly, he's been a disaster the last couple of seasons. The idea of what Hackenberg can be is much better than what Hackenberg is in actuality. Maybe rating him as the draft's fifth-best quarterback is grasping at a promising past, but Hackenberg truly looked like a high first-round pick in his freshman year at Penn State. As a sophomore and junior, it all fell apart. Hackenberg's accuracy dropped three consecutive years (which is honestly insane), and his maneuverability and feel in the pocket was utterly terrible. But you have to wonder how much of that is a product of Penn State's offensive line consistently getting him hammered on the field and a lack of good wide receivers (other than having Allen Robinson his freshman season). Some team is going to draft Hackenberg thinking they can fix him. If they're right, the arm and ability is there. If they're wrong, it's a wasted pick.
Cardale Jones of Ohio State is another quarterback who will be drafted on what a team thinks they can do with his talent. He started just 11 games at Ohio State, but managed to basically become a cult hero after winning the national title during his sophomore season. As a junior, things fell apart for Jones. Many of his passes were errant, and his timing and placement were bad. From a skills standpoint, however, Jones is a cut above every quarterback in this year's draft. He just doesn't seem to always know how to utilize those skills properly.
If Hackenberg and Jones are being drafted on their potential, Dak Prescott of Mississippi State and Kevin Hogan of Stanford are being drafted based on their experience and how much of their game is proven. Hogan is arguably the draft's smartest quarterback and will eat up a playbook. His arm strength and size are good. His delivery, though, really knocks him. It's low and slow, a fatal flaw for any quarterback. He might be best-served as a backup in the NFL. Considering how bad the backup quarterback play is in the NFL, that's not an indictment on Hogan's talent.
Prescott is a well-built player who helped turn the Mississippi State program around. He's a real leader, has good arm strength and ball velocity and can make some plays with his feet. His placement can be off at times, however, and his penchant for getting out on the move will lead to turnovers.
Day-Three Gem: Jeff Driskel of Louisiana Tech finally broke out as a senior after a rocky start to his college career that saw him start at Florida before transferring. He's another physically gifted player with natural traits. He just needs to be coached up.
Overall position grade: B
Neither Goff nor Wentz grade out quite as highly as Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota last year, but they're not far behind. If the potential of Lynch, Jones and Hackenberg can be actualized, this group could be very good. But a lot has to fall the right way for that to happen.
|1. Jared Goff, 6’4, 215 pounds, QB, California|
|2. Carson Wentz, 6’5 1/4, 237 pounds, QB, North Dakota State|
|3. Paxton Lynch, 6’6 5/8, 244 pounds, QB, Memphis|
|4. Connor Cook, 6’4, 217 pounds, QB, Michigan State|
|5. Christian Hackenberg, 6’4, 228 pounds, QB, Penn State|
|6. Cardale Jones, 6’5, 250 pounds, QB, Ohio State|
|7. Dak Prescott, 6’2, 230 pounds, QB, Mississippi State|
|8. Kevin Hogan, 6’3 1/4, 218 pounds, QB, Stanford|
|9. Jacoby Brissett, 6’4, 231 pounds, QB, North Carolina State|
|10. Brandon Allen, 6’2, 210 pounds, QB, Arkansas|
|11. Jeff Driskel, 6’4, 231 pounds, QB, Louisiana Tech|
|12. Nate Sudfeld, 6’6, 240 pounds, QB, Indiana|
|13. Brandon Doughty, 6’3, 220 pounds, QB, Western Kentucky|
|14. Vernon Adams, 5’11, 200 pounds, QB, Oregon|
|15. Cody Kessler, 6’1, 215 pounds, QB, Southern California|
|16. Matt Johnson 6’0, 219 pounds, QB, Bowling Green|
|17. Jake Rudock, 6'2 3/4, 207 pounds, QB, Michigan
|18. Joel Stave, 6’5, 236 pounds, QB, Wisconsin|
|19. Jake Coker, 6'5 1/2, 236 pounds, QB, Alabama
|20. Travis Wilson, 6’7, 233 pounds, QB, Utah|