The quarterback class from the 2015 draft might go down one day as a synonym for top heavy. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota went picks one and two respectively, and both went on to have successful rookie years. However, beyond that there are a lot of questions as all of the others were developmental options for their teams. This 2016 crop is similar in regards to the majority of the signal callers fitting the developmental mold. While no quarterback in my eyes is as obvious as a Winston or Mariota, my guess is three signal callers will be taken in the first round. Despite that, only one or two should figure to possibly grab the starting job for their team at some point this season.
1. Jared Goff, California: In a draft filled with high upside quarterbacks who could use some seasoning, Goff is the most “NFL ready”. Despite declaring as a junior, he started more than two and a half years during his time at Cal. While he may not have world class arm strength, there is enough where Goff can make all the throws asked of him. Goff also has the always beneficial trait of climbing the pocket when facing pressure which will come in handy against NFL pass rushers.
Where some teams may have issues with Goff is the lack of time he spent under center. This is an adjustment many prospects over the years have faced, but nonetheless it will be one which comes up. Possibly as a result, Goff is also more of a “rhythm” passer so the up-tempo, quick strike attack could have been a big benefit to him. Some will also question Goff’s build as it is more “slender” than some of the other heralded quarterbacks in this class. That is something which should be able to be addressed as he wouldn’t be the first player to benefit from an NFL strength program. Despite the questions, I wouldn’t be surprised if Goff had a career similar to a quarterback such as Matt Ryan.
2. Carson Wentz, North Dakota State: Somehow in an era filled with sites like Rivals and Elite 11 camps, we have players like Wentz slip through the cracks. However, his is understandable. Wentz was originally a high school receiver before he had a major growth spurt his senior year by which point most scholarships were distributed. The rest is history as Wentz is well on his way to being a likely top five pick. With ideal size checking in at 6’5” 237 to go with a big arm and running ability, it’s easy to see why scouts love him.
At North Dakota State, Wentz was in a pro-style attack where he was asked to read the whole field and make NFL throws. He stands tall in the pocket and many say he also has the intangibles you’d look for in a franchise guy. So to this point, Wentz sounds too good to be true there has to be a catch. In his case, it’s that he was only a starter for two years. Considering that he’s still very new to the position as a whole, Wentz would be best off in a place where he could learn the NFL game for a year or so with a coach that has a pedigree of working with young quarterbacks.
I do really like Wentz as a prospect, but without knowing what coaching staff he will be working with I can’t completely justify putting him at my top spot. The tools are there to be a big time player, so seeing where he ends up will be very intriguing.
3. Paxton Lynch, Memphis: Checking in at 6’7” 244 pounds, the term “looks the part” was made for prospects like Lynch. After a fantastic start by Memphis in 2015, Lynch was considered among the names considered to go first overall. However the surge of Wentz and more time spent evaluating his game have hurt his cause. Lynch has deceptive athleticism for his size and has the arm strength to make throws in tight windows. What worries me is if he is able to win in the pocket as there were occasions where he didn’t move through his progressions quickly.
To go along with that, Lynch could also learn how to manipulate defenders and move them with his eyes. Considering Lynch’s physical skills and current limitations, he makes for an excellent developmental option for a team in the late first or early second round. Given a few years, the skills are there to become a nice starting option. However if a team decides to throw him into the fire right away, the results might not be pretty.
4. Connor Cook, Michigan State: In a crop of very intriguing quarterbacks, Cook is one of the bigger enigmas. Despite his tremendous success at Michigan State to earn the “winner” reputation, early questions in the draft process came about in regards to his attitude. Despite that, not many quarterbacks in this class are four year starters in pro-style offenses with big game experience. Cook also has shown on occasion that he can win in the pocket and read the whole field.
My main concern in regards to Cook is accuracy. It’s very rare that a quarterback who struggles with that component in the collegiate ranks suddenly thrives as a pro. Oddly enough, he scored very well in terms of accuracy on his deep ball, so that has to be eye opening for vertical oriented offenses. The short throws are what gave Cook trouble as on many occasions he simply put too much heat on them. While the framework in theory is there for a franchise quarterback, it seems many wonder if Cook will ever be able to “put it all together”. There’s a better chance he’s a “game manager” type than a top tier option, but in a class full of project quarterbacks that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
5. Jacoby Brissett, North Carolina State: Depending on what game you watch him, Brissett can look like one of the top available quarterbacks in this class. He is experienced under center, can shake off sacks to extend plays with the ability to drive the ball into tight windows when need be. So where does it go wrong?
Like others in this class, Brissett has formed some bad habits in part due to poor offensive line play. This could lead to traits such as throwing off his back foot or putting his eyes down when feeling pressure. Deep ball accuracy also was an issue as there were multiple instances I saw in which he had an open man, but overthrew them. Assuming he has better protection and weapons at his disposal, I feel with some seasoning Brissett could become one of the more heralded names in this crop of quarterbacks.
6. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: After a prolific 2014 season, Prescott made strides as a pocket passer his senior year and started gaining some major draft buzz earlier this year. However, that came to a halt when he was arrested for a DUI a few days after his pro day. For someone whose position has so much to do with decision making, that isn’t the best look. Despite that, there are positives teams will see in Prescott. While still raw as a passer, he cut down on his turnovers in 2015 and when given time can stand tall in the pocket to make big time throws.
Due to his ability to make things happen with his legs, Prescott took a beating during his time at Mississippi State. That could be a concern for teams and also lead to bad habits in terms of pocket poise. Teams will see how Prescott improved gradually as a passer, so it wouldn’t surprise me if someone felt they could help him grow even more. To me, the tools are there to become a very good backup at the next level that occasionally makes a spot start or two due to injuries. It may not be the ideal scenario for many players, but the longevity and level of pay for that kind of work is nothing to scoff at.
7. Cardale Jones, Ohio State: Before late 2014, the man known affectionately to Ohio State fans as “12 Gauge” was best known for his tweet about how he didn’t come to “play school”. What a difference a few months make. As we all know, Jones due to the quarterbacks in front of him going down became the starter at Ohio State and ended up leading Ohio State to the national title later that season. Despite thinking about entering last year’s draft, Jones returned to Columbus. While he most likely would have gone earlier in the 2015 draft, there is a very good chance career wise staying in school was the best option for Jones’ long term prospects.
Coming off the games he did, Jones would have been viewed as a potential savior to a team being selected in the second or third round. Now figuring to likely go early day three, he will have time to develop. The physical skills are everything a scout can dream of, but there is a lot of refinement that can be made to his game. Like so many others in this class, his ultimate landing spot will say a lot about his future prospects.
8. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State: If Cook wasn’t in the picture; Hackenberg would by far be the most polarizing quarterback prospect in this class. Is he the guy who looked like a future number one pick as a teenager under current Texans coach Bill O’Brien? Or is he the player who looked like a late round flier at best type under James Franklin the past two years? Somewhere in the middle lies the answer and it is why I couldn’t put him higher than the five to eight range in my rankings.
The positives are all ones teams love: ideal size, big arm and didn’t miss a start despite taking a beating behind Penn State’s offensive line. He also was able to cut down on turnovers in 2015 and has shown he can win in the pocket. However, the questions are very alarming. Hackenberg’s accuracy last year was a major struggle as he lacked repeatable footwork on his throws. Due to the hits he’s taken over the years, the internal clock that’s a necessity for quarterbacks isn’t fully there. As we’ve seen with other prospects over the years, the habit of seeing ghosts in the pocket doesn’t just go away. While there is reason to be intrigued for developmental purposes, odds are a team will overdraft Hackenberg based off of his impressive freshman tape.
9. Brandon Allen, Arkansas: If you’re into quarterback prospects that showed substantial growth on a yearly basis, Allen might be the one for you. An afterthought up until midway through his senior year NFL wise, Allen finished in a big way and has been getting some looks. While he’s more slender than some prefer at the position, he can drive the ball, make NFL throws and showed to be effective on bootlegs and rollouts.
Due to his size, concerns will arise on if Allen can take the shots an NFL quarterback is susceptible to. While these things are completely out of his control, hand size will also be a question mark especially as he moves onto the larger ball at the next level. While Allen didn’t have to make a ton of progressions in terms of reading the field at Arkansas, there is enough positive that he is worth a selection in day three for a coaching staff to work with.
10. Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech: After his time at Florida, never would I have thought Driskel would be considered an NFL prospect. But after an impressive year as a graduate transfer at Louisiana Tech, here we are. Driskel has always been an impressive athlete with a prototypical build and plenty of athleticism. However, accuracy can still be an issue at times for Driskel and he didn’t really have an ideal trajectory in college to get to this point. There is enough here that if the right coach selects him on day three, there could very well be something here in a few years.
2016 Class Grade: B-