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2016 NFL Draft: Top 10 quarterback prospects

It’s a fascinating class at the position this year.  There’s no Andrew Luck at the very top, but there’s a clear top 3 prospects that

It’s a fascinating class at the position this year.  There’s no Andrew Luck at the very top, but there’s a clear top 3 prospects that can be argued in any order with validity.  After that, there is a long list of intriguing potential in the mid to later rounds, extending beyond this top ten list.  It should be fun to see how it all plays out over the remainder of the pre-draft process and over draft weekend in April!   Sr = Senior, Jr = Junior, So = Sophomore.  An “r” prefix indicates a redshirt year (sat out for a year without playing, usually their first year of college).  

1. Carson Wentz, North Dakota State, Sr.  6ft 5, 233 lbs. 

1st Round There’s no question that the high grading of Wentz by many, myself included, is based largely on the potential upside.  There’s also no question that the Bison quarterback has just that in abundance.  North Dakota State are currently on a historic run that has seen them win five consecutive National Championships at the FCS level of college football.  While that is at the tier below the top level of the sport, it is still a sensational achievement.  The first three of those titles were led by the steady hand of Brock Jensen at QB, with his record leading to Wentz having to wait his turn.  As a result, Wentz has a fairly limited number of starts over his two years since taking over, and that included missing a large portion of his senior season to a wrist injury.  He made the most out of the time he had though, going 20-3 as the starter, and leading the team to a further two titles.  His final game was in the championship game in which he stepped in and looked as if he hadn’t missed a beat with a brilliant performance to finish on a high, a testament to how well he handles big pressure situations.  While he’s played well in the spotlight for North Dakota State, his limited opportunity to play versus top competition is a fair question.  Which is why his excellent performance throughout the Senior Bowl week recently was made such a fuss of, and rightly so.  Wentz did not just look the part among some of the top players in college football, but was a clear stand out overall and most definitely above any of the other quarterbacks in attendance.  On top of that, Wentz blew away personnel with his interviews, both with his character and his knowledge on the board with football X & O’s.  He had a 4.0 GPA in the classroom, and that intelligence translates to the field.  Though playing in the FCS, and using some spread and shotgun elements, North Dakota State also include a lot of pro concepts in their offensive scheme, including playing under center.  In addition, Wentz is trusted to read defences, and make changes at the line pre-snap based on what he sees.  The scheme requires him to work through a variety of pro-style progressions and reads.  He is more NFL ready than a lot of QB’s who played at a higher level, so knocking him for where he played is only so valid.  Physically, Wentz clearly has all the desired measurables looked for.  Not just tall and well built, he has excellent mobility, with his ability to both buy time on the run but also to make yards as a runner himself when required, and shows his toughness when finishing those carries.  He has the arm strength to make all NFL level throws, at times firing the ball downfield with ease.  There’s some definite issues with Wentz as well, no doubt.  While he can make every throw, his accuracy could be more consistent.  Part of that factors in his most significant weakness, that being his footwork, which is notably poor frequently on film.  Encouragingly, that too looked much improved at the Senior Bowl, but will need to be seen to continue to hold up under pressure.  He tends to take too many chances as well, with a bad habit of throwing directly into double coverage, and throwing back across his body over the middle of the field which he got away with in college but will be picked off doing that in the pros.  There’s almost certainly going to be a lot of growing pains early on for Wentz in his first year, but this is a QB prospect with so much to like, and though some focus on his measurables first, it’s his strength of character and high football IQ primarily that give him a chance to be very good.

2. Paxton Lynch, Memphis, rJr. 6ft 6, 230 lbs.

1st Round There’s no doubt that Lynch had a breakout 2015 that led to his decision to enter the draft this year, but he did not come out of nowhere by any means, having 39 starts over the last three seasons, and really flashing a lot of potential prior to this season.  All the same traits were there, but only in inconsistent flashes during 2014.  His game really came together though in his junior year that led to a fantastic season for both he and the Tigers as a whole.  The highlight was the win over Ole Miss in which Lynch had the game of his career with 384 yards (at 72.2% completion rate) and 3 touchdown passes against top opposition.  There’s no question that his season slowed down late in the year, culminating in an undeniably awful performance in the bowl game versus Auburn, but that should not detract from his exciting potential or from what a great season it was overall.  The first thing that stands out about the junior is his huge 6ft 6, 230 lb frame, but he is also a smooth athlete with a fantastic arm and is surprisingly dangerous with his legs. Lynch shows excellent polish and technique as a thrower, with impressive touch on his throws.  A real stand out about his game is how well that technique holds up when throwing on the run when moving outside the pocket, keeping a consistent motion and losing none of the velocity.  Though he allows a few passes to get away from him, his accuracy is generally good, and has the strength to get the ball deep and to make any throw.  That said, there is certainly frustration in watching him fit a perfect throw into a tight window down field, only for him to then on the next play bounce a simple short out route into the ground in front of his receiver that he should have made in his sleep.  Building on that, Lynch also does work from a fairly simplistic offense that lacks many NFL level throws and reads, and includes a lot of quick releases and pre-determined throws requiring no reads and very little progression work.  There are times, such as on a very poor interception against Houston, when he goes with his pre-snap first read target even when clearly not open – he needs to realise when a play isn’t there and use a bit more common sense and initiative.  All these are legitimate concerns.  However, what should be hugely encouraging to teams that he can improve on the questions, is how well he has progressed year on year.  After a 9:10 TD to INT ratio in his first year, he improved those numbers to 22:9 in 2014, then 28:4 this year.  The completion rate has increased from 58%, to 63%, to 67%.  Hopefully that progress will continue at the next level too.  He’s another that needs to develop but has so much upside that sells me on both these first two guys over others.

3. Jared Goff, California, Jr. 6ft 4, 210 lbs.

1st Round Goff comes with plenty of experience playing at a higher level than the other two top prospects, as a three-year starter in the PAC-12 against more consistent and talented opposition.  He was thrown straight into the starting line up as a freshman, put up good numbers and continued to build on those over the next two seasons before declaring for the draft.  The statistics certainly make for impressive reading, finishing his junior season with 4719 yards, completing 64.5% of his passes, and 43 TDs to 13 INTs.  That said, there’s no question that the system he runs under Sonny Dykes is extremely friendly to putting up big numbers, working from the shotgun and spraying out a series of quick passes to an array of 4 and 5 wide sets in a high tempo offense.  While the system isn’t ideal for transition to a pro-style offense, Goff still was able to show a lot of excellent progression work, primarily on left-to-right reads, and being very decisive without hesitation.  There looks to be a strong football brain that should translate to an NFL scheme.  The physical parts of his game are a question.  Though tall, and despite adding muscle this year, Goff has a worryingly lean frame that has taken a number of hits over the years.  His accuracy from the pocket is excellent, including downfield, but his arm strength is barely above average.  Too often, he gives defensive backs opportunities to break on the ball and jump in front of routes, something that could become a bigger issue in the NFL.  While he’s shown a great ability to escape from the pocket when his protection breaks down, it’s clear that the pressure affects the timing and accuracy of his throws when on the move; he is not a great thrower on the run.  In addition, that pressure led to some very poor decision making at times this season.  It was a concern that Goff’s play regularly took a big dip against the best teams he faced this season, looking poorest in the biggest pressure games of the season.  While all the picks weren’t his fault, his 5 INT showing in a game of the week prime time setting against Utah was very poor.  Against Oregon, Goff completed just 18 of 41 passes, and failed to lead his team to many conference wins, losing 5 of 6 PAC-12 contests over the key part of the season.  Goff is looked at as the safer choice of the top 3 quarterback prospects in this class and no-one throws a prettier ball than he can from a clean pocket, but he definitely comes with a lot of questions himself, including his big-game mentality, arm strength, frame, handling of pressure, poor play on the move among others.

4. Connor Cook, Michigan State, rSr. 6ft 4, 220 lbs.

3rd Round A sequence of plays right at the end of the first half in the playoff semi-final loss to Alabama summed things up.  After making two consecutive beautiful throws and completions to the sidelines from the far hash to put his team in position to score a much-needed touchdown, Cook makes a horrendous interception to kill the drive, firstly staring down his receiver the whole way before throwing clearly into tight coverage on a play that was just never there.  Cook is excruciatingly inconsistent in his technique, his accuracy, his decision-making.  Scouts love the measurables with his big frame and very strong arm; he absolutely looks the part of an NFL quarterback.  But there is good reason that his completion rate in his three years as a starter read as 58.7%, 58.1% and finally a new low as a senior with 56.1%.  While the team has had plenty success under him on his way to becoming the winningest QB in school history, his game has always come with major flaws in his footwork and rhythm.  It was a big reason for his at-the-time wise decision to return for his senior year rather than enter the 2015 draft, to improve those areas.  Part of his accuracy issues come from throwing too much from his upper body, rarely setting his feet right and stepping properly into his throws, leading to some very bad looking balls that sail off target.  Despite the efforts to improve, it remains a big issue.  The target on the previously mentioned interception was his top receiver Aaron Burbridge, highlighting another problem.  Throughout his career with the Spartans, Cook has consistently forced passes into his favourite receiver game after game even when not open.  The first two years that was to Tony Lippett, this year it was the same with Burbridge.  His tendency to lock onto one player led to said receiver having to frequently bail Cook out by coming down with the ball in tight coverage.  In addition to not managing to resolve his on-field issues after choosing to play in college this year, his character has taken a big hit, and the questions are legit.  It was strange for him not to be nominated as a team captain to start the year, and so far in the off-season, many of his former teammates have been far from praise-worthy about him.  An embarrassing moment with Archie Griffin in receiving the Big 10 title game MVP award led to much criticism to pile on.  While his reasons are based on (arguably poor) advice from his agent not to attend the Senior Bowl and finishing recovery on some shoulder soreness, it’s frustrating for scouts that they haven’t been able to see him in a practice setting, and interacting with teammates.  His leadership and personality are in question, to go with very hit or miss on-field play.  A third round selection seems a much more fitting grade, but talk continues that he could still go in round one ultimately.

5. Nate Sudfeld, Indiana, Sr. 6ft 6, 236 lbs.

4th Round He isn’t one of the better known names in this year’s QB class, in part due to playing for the Hoosiers, who have not been known as a particularly strong football program over the years.  In addition, limited playing time in his first couple years was followed by a season-ending injury in 2014 after finally earning the full time starting role.  He was able to show what he could do for an entire year in 2015 as a senior, which included some impressive numbers in throwing for 3573 yards, and 27 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions.  He’s yet another who has a big frame and a strong arm that can hit the sidelines and launch the ball deep, but also has shown some impressive touch throws.  Also like many this year, his consistency needs work, missing on a number of throws that led to a very pedestrian 60% completion this year.  He’s a guy who needs to sit a couple years, in part due to the system he’s coming from.  The Indiana system lacks pro concepts, and significantly, doesn’t ask for Sudfeld to make too many of his own reads, often being dictated to from the sidelines for any pre-snap adjustments.  The foundations are all there to build on though and the potential to maybe develop into a starting-calibre NFL quarterback.  On top of his ideal size and arm, the mechanics are good, albeit with a slightly elongated motion and release.  He checked off plenty of boxes with his practice performances during the East-West Shrine All-Star week that proved to be a positive step in the process for Sudfeld and helped his stock.  Expect him to be picked up fairly early on the last day of the draft.

6. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State, Jr. 6ft 4, 236 lbs.

4th Round After a highly promising freshman season, the last two years couldn’t have been much worse for Hackenberg in terms of on-field play.  He was far from perfect, but certainly showed a lot of ability that first year under Bill O’Brien, however his play has only regressed since.  There’s no doubt that there’s validity to him not fitting well within new head coach James Franklin’s offense, and that his offensive line has been very poor at times over the past two seasons.  That doesn’t excuse him much though.  Despite the bad protection, many of the sacks are on Hackenberg for his indecisiveness to pull the trigger, holding on to the ball for far too long, often even when there is an open target that he’s just failed to spot.  Even in a clean pocket the ball placement is all over the place.  The number of grossly over and under thrown passes are littered across practically every game film.  There are times when he looks completely unnatural and awkward in the pocket, that is only exaggerated further when faced with the blitz.  Some of the decision making is baffling too that leads to strongly questioning whether he truly understands what he is seeing out there on the field and how defences are setting up.  One particular play stands out, from what was a low point performance all round versus Michigan State this year.  The Spartans corner clearly playing off-man, proceeds to maintain position and distance inside and over the top on the receiver, and should never have been thrown at by Hackenberg.  Once he did make that poor decision, he compounded the error with awful placement.  He at least should have targeted the outside shoulder of his receiver, but missed inside for the simplest of interceptions.  To look at some positives, there was reason for the early encouragement back in 2013, that maybe under the right coaching (perhaps even back under O’Brien), he can re-discover that early promise.  He has the size and a strong arm that is looked for.  His toughness is certainly there, playing through some knocks that he’s taken without complaint or missing snaps.  He’ll get his chance, but it’s difficult to see a franchise QB in Hackenberg right now, with some serious doubts about his feel for the game.

7. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State, rSr. 6ft 2, 226 lbs.

4th Round The development over the past few seasons by the Bulldogs’ quarterback has been an unexpected surprise, considering where he was when he first broke into the team.  Back in his first season starting in 2013 as a sophomore, he was a running QB who could throw a bit, and indeed ran for more scores than he passed for (13 to 10).  Now he’s a legit pocket passing quarterback with the ability to run, rather than the other way around.  The progress he has made with his accuracy, touch, timing, and decision making has been massive, in particularly as a senior in 2015, where he proved that he has the potential to continue his development at the position at the next level too.  He finished this year with 3793 pass yards (66.2% completions), 29 TDs to just 5 INTs, while still adding another 10 TDs on the ground as well.  His stand out performance of the season came in week ten against a very talented Missouri defence in bad weather conditions.  No problem for Prescott as he destroyed the Tigers with 303 yards, 4 touchdown throws and no picks in a dominant display.  Anticipation is an area that still needs work, throwing his receivers open as opposed to waiting for them to get open for example.  However, he has shown excellent ability to work through his progressions and make good, quick decisions.  Also working in his favour is his high character, determination to improve and his strong leadership.  The dynamic, creative elements of his game can continue to be utilised in addition to his work inside the pocket.

8. Cardale Jones, Ohio State, rJr. 6ft 5, 250 lbs.

4th-5th Round A true wildcard pick for the 2016 draft, it’ll be fascinating to see when he’s selected and where to.  I love the potential, I won’t lie.  Jones was nearly a bizarre prospect for the 2015 draft, where it seemed he might enter on the strength of just a handful of starts in college.  Jones became an instant star after injuries forced him into the starting line-up for the 2014 Big Ten title game then the playoffs that followed, and ended up leading Ohio State to the national title.  The decision to return to actually put in a full season seemed like it ought to pay off as he successfully won the starting job this season, but poor play resulted in Jones being dropped midseason for J.T. Barrett instead, despite not losing any games.  Therein lies the biggest risk with taking Jones – the failure to show any progress in his play this season from where he was.  His game is as raw as it gets, but a little improvement would have encouraged.  The worry is that he will be exposed when discussing his knowledge of the game in depth in interviews.  It’s clear in his play that he doesn’t show anticipation as to when his receivers will become open, and that he isn’t able to read defences right now.  He has plenty of traits to love though, and not just his size.  Jones has exceptional mental strength, a calm presence on the field, and no situation is too big for him.  He is determined, tough and highly competitive.  There’s no doubt that there’s no one who can match him for his tight end size, and incredibly strong arm.  He needs to learn some touch, to not throw everything as hard as he can, but his potential in a vertical attacking offense is exciting.  His ability to run the ball at his size and build certainly compares to one particular current NFL MVP that I was trying to avoid naming.  Opinions and grades will be all over the map, and if things don’t go well in the pre-draft process, his stock will rightly drop lower than this, as he does need to ease quite a number of concerns, and regardless will be a risky choice.

9. Jacoby Brissett, North Carolina State, rSr. 6ft 4, 236 lbs.

5th Round Originally starting out with Florida, Brissett transferred to the Wolfpack after losing out to Jeff Driskel, a decision that the Gators in hindsight must regret.  Driskel has worked back into a prospect with LA Tech after transferring himself, but struggled while in the SEC.  Brissett meanwhile put together two very solid seasons with NC State after sitting out 2013 due to transfer rules.  The big QB is yet another built for the next level with his sturdy, well filled-out frame.  An area where he has consistently stood out is his Roethlisberger-esque ability to escape from would-be sacks, buy time in the pocket and find a throw when the play looked doomed.  He is very safe with the football, rarely turning it over, with just 11 interceptions in the past two seasons while throwing for 43 scores over that period.  However, while ball security is great, he’s arguably too safe overall as a player, constantly checking the ball down on short completions, and resulting in a very modest 2662 yards and barely averaging 200 yards a game through the air as a career starter.  Brissett struggles at times to see the whole field, stares down receivers, and overall shows a lot of limitations in his overall feel and football IQ.  Despite all the quick short check down throws, he has a bad habit of making his receivers work too hard to bring in those simple completions.  The inconsistent footwork gets reflected in some off-target throws to all levels of the field, and his completion rate failed to average 60% in his two seasons with the Wolfpack.  He has NFL qualities but remains a project with a questionable ceiling.

10. Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky, rSr. 6ft 3, 212 lbs.

6th Round Production wise, no-one can match the statistical output of the 6th-year senior over the past couple seasons.  Yes, the system is a big factor, being conducive to putting up big numbers, but plenty quarterbacks play in similar systems without matching the numbers of Doughty.  After his 2014 performance of 4830 yards (67.9%), 49 TDs & 10 INTs, he bettered it in 2015 with 5055 yards (71.9%), 48 TDs & 9 INTs.  Doughty had some struggles during the East-West Shrine week, which highlighted some of the transition issues he’s going to have to the NFL, but there’s plenty to work with.  On top of his solid size (albeit with a need to add a little extra bulk), Doughty has arm talent.  Few QBs get close to 72% completions, yet he put up that number despite taking a large number of intermediate and deep shots each game, showing nice accuracy downfield.  His composure in the pocket is great, stepping into throws to deliver a strike even when he knows he’s going to take a hit.  He does tend to slightly over and under throw receivers too often on shorter throws, and locks on to targets with his eyes that better DB’s will read more frequently.  As good as he is inside the pocket, he is less effective and accurate on the move.  His ability to read defences can be both basic and a little slow, being exposed at times against the better opposition he faced.  Also working against him is multiple knee injuries, including a torn ACL that essentially cost him two years earlier in his career.  The production is hard to ignore, and deserves to earn him a chance as a late rounder.  

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Rebecca Rennie

Hello all, I'm Rebecca, also going by Bex, and I am the RealSport College Football Editor, as well as writer and NFL Draft analyst.  I also edit other sports including the CFL, cycling and golf, while occasionally contributing to the NFL section as well.  I'm a fan of most sports and enjoy discussing with fellow fans, so do please comment on articles and interact.  A big fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and of the Central Florida Knights in college.

2016 NFL Draft: Top 10 quarterback prospects

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