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NFL Combine 2016: Quarterback drills

Get your popcorn ready! The top passers will all throw at the combine on Saturday during the quarterback drills session.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The signal callers take center stage on Saturday at the NFL Combine for perhaps the most anticipated workout of the week. A group of 18 quarterback prospects are set to hit the field at Lucas Oil Stadium to perform a bevy of football drills in front of hundreds of scouts, coaches and front office personnel.

The trend in past years has been for the top guys to not participate in these position-specific workouts, opting to perform in a more controlled environment where they can toss the ball to familiar receivers at their on-campus pro days. This year, however, the top passers at the Combine -- including North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, Cal's Jared Goff, Memphis' Paxton Lynch, Michigan State's Connor Cook, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg and Ohio State's Cardale Jones -- each intend to air it out in Indianapolis.

On a basic level, these drills involve the quarterback throwing to the other wide receiver and tight end prospects on different route combinations. The workouts are intended to showcase their physical skill set and overall technique. The evaluators are primarily focused on comparing players' footwork, delivery, release and arm strength in a variety of passing situations.

To do this, the quarterbacks work through a series of dropback depths (3-step, 5-step, 7-step), and within those drops, they throw the five basic routes on the route tree: a slant, an out, an in, a deep corner and a go-route.

The team representatives who are observing and scouting the quarterbacks don't necessarily care if the receiver catches the ball or not. They are most interested in studying his footwork, how quickly and accurately the pigskin comes out of his hands, and his ability to spin a tight spiral.

Players to Watch

Carson Wentz (North Dakota State): The senior out of Bismark, N.D., has shot up the draft boards since leading the Bison to the FCS national championship in January, and is a near-lock to be either the first or second quarterback taken in April's draft. Tall and athletic, Wentz appears to have the prototypical build plus experience in a pro-style offense that teams covet. The pre-combine scouting reports note that his deep ball accuracy is inconsistent and he often forces throws in tight coverage, so teams will be looking to see him make better decisions and hit all his downfield targets.

Jared Goff (California): The 21-year-old is considered by many to be the best prospect in this year's class, and our Dan Kadar has him going at No. 2 to the Cleveland Browns in his latest mock draft. He is clearly a polished pocket passer with a high football IQ who can make all the throws. However, there are some concerns about his footwork under center as he mostly operated within a pistol or shotgun formation at Cal. Aside from the on-field drills, teams will also be heavily interested in his physical measurements, specifically his hand size and weight.

Paxton Lynch (Memphis): Lynch has faded from the spotlight over the past two weeks as draftniks have honed in on Goff and Wentz as the consensus top two guys heading into the combine. So this is an opportunity for the 6'7 signal caller to re-establish himself in the first tier of quarterback prospects with an excellent showing in the drills and strong interviews outside of the workouts. Lynch's success as a dual-threat playmaker is unquestioned, but he needs to demonstrate that he can maneuver within a more traditional system, too.

Cardale Jones (Ohio State): Despite having fewer than 300 career pass attempts as a collegian and yo-yo-ing back and forth as a starter in Columbus, Jones is still a really intriguing prospect. He likely has the strongest arm at the Combine and it should be fun to watch him sling the football downfield, if not for scouting, then at least for entertainment purposes.