The NFL is a passing league, and every incarnation of the NFL Draft is really just a glorified search for the next great quarterback. In recent years, it seems as if that has become a more arduous undertaking due to the style of offenses ran at the college level. Even when quarterbacks are taken at the top of the draft, as Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were in this year’s draft, there are multiple questions about them. Depth at the position has also been scarce. Outside of the two aforementioned passers, there were a couple of “maybe we’ll get lucky” prospects and little else in last year’s process.
The 2016 class is obviously not complete, as it’s unknown who will declare and who will return to school. However, it could be a very interesting class, based on the information available at this time. There seems to be no consensus on who the top player is, or even who has first round potential. There are a host of intriguing players whose draft position will be determined by their play this season. Here’s a look at an interesting, and what could be an unusually deep class of quarterbacks, in no particular order.
Jared Goff: There will be concerns about his slender build, but on the field, he’s looked terrific early on. He has plenty of velocity and accuracy all over the field, and trusts his arm to make every throw. He’s at the top of most boards right now, but scouts will be watching his footwork and ability to hang in the pocket against opponents that can generate a consistent pass rush. He possesses all the necessary traits to be an NFL quarterback.
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Christian Hackenberg: Two years ago, it would have been hard to find somebody who didn’t expect greatness from Hackenberg. He has size, a good arm, and the all-around look of an NFL passer. Unfortunately, things haven’t progressed like most envisioned. Behind a not-so-good offensive line, quarterback’s star has fallen. He looks scared in the pocket, and the constant pressure seems to have gotten to him. His potential is there, but it’s potential only right now.
Cardale Jones: If not for an injury to a Heisman candidate, the legend of Cardale Jones might never have gotten started. Fortunately for him, and college football in general, things happened the way they did, and a star was born. Jones has NFL size, and a cannon for an arm, though accuracy is questionable. He also moves well for a big man, and is hard to bring down. Scouts will drool over his arm, but his ability to read defenses and make the right throw will determine where he’s drafted.
Carson Wentz: A wild card in the draft could be Wentz. A freak athlete, he combines impressive size with uncanny instincts running with the ball. His arm is fantastic, and he can make all the throws, but his accuracy is inconsistent, especially on the deep ball. There will also certainly be questions about the level of competition he’s faced as an FCS quarterback. If he can demonstrate more of an ability to read defenses and improve accuracy, he could be surprise early pick.
Gunner Kiel: A highly though of recruit coming out of high school, Kiel made a name for himself through deciding on a school, more than actual play. His 2014 numbers were good, and he showed a good arm to go with nice size for the position. There are issues, though. His physical ability is unquestioned, but he often makes it easy on defenses by failing to read defenses or go through progressions, resulting in easy plays for the defense. He needs to progress quickly to make himself an early round player.
Jeremy Johnson: Though he likely returns to school, Johnson does have the physical traits that will make him intriguing to NFL teams. He’s big, has a good arm, and can make plays with his feet. However, he’s very raw as a passer, as his play in 2015 has shown. His ability to read defenses is extremely shaky and he lacks the savvy to look off defenders. He should improve as the year goes on, but he’d be a massive project as a professional right now.
Patrick Towles: Another quarterback who should, and likely will, return to school, Towles will have scouts watching. He has the desired size, and flashes an NFL arm and skills at times, but hasn’t been able to consistently show those assets. The offense at Kentucky doesn’t ask him to make a lot of downfield reads, and he would likely struggle if asked to do so. An underrated part of his game is his ability to pick up yards with his feet if needed, though he sometimes flees the pocket prematurely.
Connor Cook: A contender to be the first quarterback taken, Cook’s play will be monitored all season and scouts will be a constant presence. He has shown terrific arm talent, with the ability to gun it when needed, or drop it in when touch is desired. He’s a cerebral player who knows how to go through his progressions and find the open man, but his mechanics can be altered by a defense that can push the pocket. He’ll also hurry throws, or make bad ones under pressure.
Cody Kessler: Lacking the arm strength and size the other prospects have, Kessler relies on his mental ability to succeed. He throws with anticipation and accuracy, and scans the field to find the open receiver. He’s also steady in the pocket, even under pressure. His experience, especially in a pro-style offense, is a plus, and his biggest limitation is something he can’t control. He’s going to struggle to move the ball downfield and firing the ball into tight windows against NFL defenders.
Joshua Dobbs: A name on the rise, Dobbs has thrust himself into the limelight. His mental acuity is top notch, and he knows how to progress through receivers despite his inexperience. He has a good arm, and shows tremendous leadership skills as well. Mechanically, he needs some work. His throwing motion isn’t ideal, and his footwork is iffy. He does move well, but is willing to leave the pocket too soon at times. He needs another year of seasoning, but has already drawn plenty of attention.
Dak Prescott: Prescott jumped into the national spotlight last year, with a monster year that had him as a Heisman candidate. He runs the ball like a running back, but does have a good arm when he throws it, making him a dangerous two-way player. As a pocket passer, however, he’s far from polished. His mechanics are questionable, his accuracy is inconsistent, and he doesn’t have experience reading defenses and making reads. He could be asked to change positions.
Jacoby Brissett: Teams that like their quarterback to be able to make plays with their feet will find a solid base to work with in Brissett. He moves well and can change a game. As a passer, he’s a work in progress. In possession of an above-average arm, and the ability to get the ball out under any circumstance, he can make huge plays. He does need to improve his accuracy and his field vision. He could be a surprise pick in the draft if he shows development in those areas.
Trevone Boykin: Maybe the most athletic of the quarterbacks potentially available, Boykin is a wizard as a runner. He also does have a really good arm when he needs to use it. The issue with him will be accuracy and ability to run a pro offense. He sometimes trusts his arm a little too much and sticks with his first option, open or not. His size will be somewhat of a detriment as well. He’s fun to watch, but his pro potential might be limited.
Kevin Hogan: Scouts will want to love Hogan. He’s big, and he’s a smart player from a school that produced some pretty good quarterbacks. His arm is good, but not tremendously accurate, especially down the field. His passing motion is in need of work, as it’s a slow delivery. He might get drafted earlier than he should, based on experience, especially in a pro-style offense, but his inconsistency hitting receivers could be a big problem.
The 2016 NFL Draft figures to be an interesting one in terms of the quarterback position. Who decides to declare, and who stays in school will, of course, play a big part, but it looks like there could be an unusual amount of depth at an important position. If all of them develop as preferred, there could be several players capable of long NFL careers. Then again, it’s certainly possible that there a lot of guys drafted that don’t pan out. Either way, it will be fun to watch.