While most of the NFL is focusing on whether Jared Goff or Carson Wentz will be the first quarterback selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, there is a long line of capable signal callers who hope to start in the league one day. There is also a group of teams with aging veterans under center who should look into those prospects for grooming purposes.
Those quarterbacks -- including Paxton Lynch (Memphis), Connor Cook (Michigan State), Dak Prescott (Mississippi State), Christian Hackenberg (Penn State) and Cardale Jones (Ohio State) -- are considered too raw to be labeled as "NFL ready."
As a result, the quarterback class has been regarded as subpar this year, but that primarily applies to teams looking for an immediate franchise guy. This might just be a good class for teams without a pressing need at the position to jump in and acquire somebody with a lot of upside.
Goff and Wentz are both high-ceiling and high-floor players, which makes them attractive options for teams like the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers with unsettled quarterback positions. But even the guys with more caveats have potential, and all could have futures starting in the league. It just requires landing in the right situation. Which teams could and should be looking at this draft with an eye cast toward the future?
Not only do the Cowboys seriously need to consider a replacement for Tony Romo down the line due to his age, but they need a backup they can actually trust in case he gets injured again. Romo, who will turn 36 in April, broke his clavicle twice in 2015 and only played in four games. He also suffered broken ribs in 2014 and underwent back surgery in 2013.
He's not getting any younger and the Cowboys completely fell apart when Romo went down with injury last season. He's also coming off collarbone surgery in March.
Matt Cassel, Brandon Weeden and Kellen Moore all took significant snaps at quarterback last season. If the Cowboys can find someone they have confidence in and get him through a productive training camp and preseason, they might just be able to find both Romo's primary backup and future successor. It might even be worth them spending a top-10 pick on such a move. Investing in the position is sorely needed, even if the Cowboys are already overpaying Romo with a contract that has been widely panned.
Best Fit: Paxton Lynch, Memphis
It may be difficult for the Cowboys to acquire Lynch where they'd like to, barring a trade. Lynch is projected to come off the board late in the first round and it would be considered too early for Dallas to draft him in the top 10, where it currently holds the fourth overall pick. But Lynch is the most NFL-ready quarterback outside of Goff and Wentz, and this is an important factor given Romo's questionable health. Romo can teach him how to survive as a pocket passer in the NFL.
The last time the Chargers looked to invest in the future, they acquired Philip Rivers while they still had Drew Brees under contract. Brees ended up going to New Orleans, where he performed just fine, and Rivers has been one of the top quarterbacks in the league since then. On top of that, Rivers is coming off one of the best seasons of his career playing on a Chargers team that finished just 4-12.
But Rivers will turn 35 during the regular season, and while the Chargers recently gave him a contract extension, it might be time for San Diego to strike while the iron is hot. Many of the young players above would fit in nicely behind Rivers to learn for the next couple of seasons, or even more. Who knows if Rivers will be done at that point, but it can't hurt to be prepared, especially with Kellen Clemens as the top backup behind Rivers.
Best Fit: Connor Cook, Michigan State
The Chargers have Rivers signed to a long-term contract that pays him well, but not overly so. It's a good deal for both parties and Rivers hasn't shown a propensity to get injured as he ages. The perfect fit for the Chargers will then likely be Spartan quarterback Connor Cook, a player who seems to lack some of the personality traits of a franchise quarterback -- leadership and maturity -- but excels naturally as a passer. He has a very high ceiling, but a low floor and will need to sit, which the Chargers can afford.
You can call it luck or, really, you can call it whatever you want, but the Cardinals ended up in a great position when they acquired Carson Palmer in 2013. The quarterback looked drained after his seven seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and not much better in two seasons with the Oakland Raiders. However, aside from injuries in 2014, the Cardinals have gotten absolutely stellar play out of Palmer since bringing him in.
But Palmer will turn 37 during the 2016 season and the Cardinals are as strong a team as they are because they've made smart moves across the board in recent years. They want Palmer to be a long-term option at quarterback, but with his injury history, they can't keep rolling with whoever they can find on the free agent market for a backup. Drew Stanton was signed to an extension and the Cardinals like him, but they might be the only ones at this point. Like the Cowboys, the Cardinals should be looking for a guy who can be a backup sooner rather than later, and a starter whenever Palmer calls it a career or slows down.
Best Fit: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Prescott ticks all the boxes that the Cardinals like from Palmer. His football I.Q. is second to none and he is a leader in the locker room. He looked good at the NFL Combine, and even though he was productive in his final year of college he could stand to sit for a while early on in his career. What he needs most is help being a pocket passer, something Palmer excels at after playing behind poor offensive lines so often in his career. Prescott is the kind of player who can pick up on things quickly enough to make Stanton expendable after a season.