CFB's top 2016 Draft Eligible quarterbacks
When I sat down last February and started advance scouting the quarterback position for the 2015 Draft, I couldn’t help but think about the 2016 Draft. As I got near the end, I remember thinking, whoa, there are going to be a lot of teams looking for a quarterback that aren’t going to find it in late April 2015.
Jameis Winston. Marcus Mariota. That’s it.
Sure, Bryce Petty (Baylor), Brett Hundley (UCLA) and a handful of others will be day two or day three selections, but outside of Winston and Mariota, there won’t be much impact from this crop for a while, if ever.
So, once Mr. Irrelevant hears his name and the 2016 NFL Draft’s clock officially starts, will there be more than a team or two that can get excited about adding a quarterback in April/May 2016?
Before I answer that, we have to take a look back at recent history. The recent track record of successful next level quarterbacks early in their careers is not impressive.
That’s it? Probably so. What do all of them have in common, well three of the four? All were in pro style offenses while a number of top 2016 NFL Draft QB prospects come out of spread attacks. Has the advance of college spread offenses slowed quarterback development for young quarterbacks? Not entirely, but I asked a high ranking NFL personnel executive at a college’s Pro Day that very question.
“It’s killing them.”
Really? I queried.
The evidence seemingly speaks to the truth in that statement. Look at the quarterbacks drafted over the past five years in the first three rounds of the draft and the offenses each guy ran in college.
Blake Bortles - Pro Style
Johnny Manziel - Air Raid
Teddy Bridgewater - Pro Style
Derek Carr - Spread
Jimmy Garoppolo - Spread
E.J Manuel - Pro Style
Geno Smith - Air Raid
Mike Glennon - Pro Style
**Andrew Luck - Pro Style
**Robert Griffin III - Spread, up tempo
Ryan Tannehill - Pro Style
Brandon Weeden - Spread, Air Raid
Brock Osweiler - Pro Style
**Russell Wilson - Pro Style
**Nick Foles - Spread
**Cam Newton - Spread
Jake Locker - Pro Style
Blaine Gabbert - Spread
Christian Ponder - Pro Style
**Andy Dalton - Pro Style
Colin Kaepernick - Spread option (pistol)
Ryan Mallett - Pro Style
Sam Bradford - Spread, up tempo
Tim Tebow - Spread power, Meyer offense
Jimmy Clausen - Pro Style
Colt McCoy - Multiple
The ten players (out of 26 in total) in bold are locks to start the 2014 season, not good, bad or otherwise, just starters. Furthermore, there are a few teams that made multiple QB picks over those five years and still don’t have a starting quarterback. In addition, a handful of those ten are hanging on by a thread too - RG III, in particular, while Kaepernick and Dalton have taken their fair share of criticism playing for playoff contending teams. It wouldn’t appear that the 2015 NFL Draft is going to help that situation, especially immediately.
But, how about 2016 NFL Draft? Can a QB starved team find a top notch quarterback? It seems after studying these guys that there are a few more options in earlier rounds next year than this. In no particular order...here are some top Draft eligible QB prospects heading into the 2015 season.
Cody Kessler, USC
6’1”, 210 lb.
(Multiple, up tempo)
Incredibly efficient, Kessler took to new head coach Steve Sarkisian’s offense like a duck to water. He completed nearly 70% of his passes in 2014, throwing 39 TD and only five interceptions. He threw a number of screens and balls behind the line of scrimmage but still succeeded in most areas of the field. As a next level prospect, though, he’s probably behind other guys on this list. He doesn’t have a cannon arm or prototype size. He doesn’t drive the ball off his back foot/leg, so he doesn’t have the zip others do. But, accuracy is his game and coaches love those quarterbacks that just move the chains and live to see another set of downs. Then again, Kessler’s consistent accuracy led to amazing production; he had three four TD games, one five TD game, one six TD game and one seven TD game. All in one season.
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
6’4”, 236 lb.
There’s little question that Hackenberg had a much rougher sophomore campaign than his initial year under former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien. There was a ton of change for Hackenberg after his first season so perhaps his second season will end up being an anomaly but it definite gave some evaluators pause heading into his key third season. If there’s a guy on this list that just looks the part of a next level QB, it’s Hackenberg. He throws with such effortless motion and the ball comes out of his hand hot; however, his decision-making was subpar last year. He threw 15 interceptions to only 12 TD as he struggled throughout the season. But, if the Pinstripe Bowl is any indication of the year he’s about to have, then he’ll get back to his freshman season form and then some. Against Boston College, he threw it 50 times, completed 34 passes for 371 yards, four touchdowns and zero INT. There isn’t an NFL throw he can’t make; he just needs to show that he can consistently make those NFL throws without negative ramifications.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
6’2”, 232 lb.
One of the toughest players, much less quarterbacks, in all college football, Prescott is more warrior than true drop back NFL quarterback but he’s got the arm talent to make the transition. As a sophomore, in 2013, he led the Bulldogs to an Egg Bowl win as he was held together by a roll of duct tape. His NFL assessment could be difficult, given the offense he manages but he’s shown enough throwing acumen within the offense to make that analysis a little easier. The Bulldogs went 10-3 last year and went to a CFP New Year’s Six bowl game. He has a compact release with plus arm strength. However, he still plays like a fullback at quarterback, as opposed to the other way around. But, he throws the seam/sluggo/bang 8 routes like a champ, a definite NFL asset. He’s the guy that Mississippi State responds to and rallies around.
Cardale Jones, Ohio State
6’5”, 250 lb.
“12 Gauge” started the 2014 training camp as the third quarterback on Ohio State’s depth chart and finished it holding a press conference to announce that he’d return for his redshirt junior season in Columbus. Jones’ career flipped overnight as he started, and won, three games - the B1G championship game (59-0 over Wisconsin), the Sugar Bowl semi-final Playoff game (42-35 over No. 1 Alabama) and the CFP National Championship Game (42-20 over No. 2 Oregon). After his three starts, it was clear that Jones had NFL QB tools - size, plus-plus arm strength and incredible cool and poise. He would’ve, more than likely, been the third quarterback taken in the 2015 NFL Draft. At worst. Will he get picked apart after 14 or 15 games as a starter? Shoot, will he even be the starter in 2014? Either way, he’s an NFL QB in waiting. Even if he can’t help the Buckeyes this year, he can help (insert NFL team here) in 2016.
Jared Goff, Cal
6’4”, 210 lb.
(Air Raid, Tony Franklin-offense)
Goff has seemingly set nearly every passing record in only two seasons on campus and is coming off of a 3,973 yard/35 TD/seven INT season as a sophomore. For being 6’4”, he doesn’t have a cannon arm and succeeds more with touch and ball placement than he does NFL-type bullet throws. But, he’s a competitor and has helped make Cal significantly better year over year. He hasn’t gotten great protection in the past so he has very happy feet in the pocket, but he has a fairly quick release on shorter throws. When he’s got to drive the ball in a tight spot or make a significantly long throw, he tends to wind up a bit to deliver the rock with some juice. Regardless, when Goff is eventually in the draft pool, there will be a staunch argument for/against “system QB” v. a “QB with NFL-traits in a passing offense”. I can’t wait (I think).
Connor Cook, Michigan State
6’4”, 222 lb.
Cook’s decision to return for Michigan State’s 2015 season was a bit of a shock, given the fact that he would’ve been in competition to be the third quarterback off the board in the 2015 NFL Draft. At worst. If he’s not at the top of the 2016 NFL Draft board, then something has gone horribly awry. Many will say he has “it”, in large part to his success in big games - 2013 B1G Championship, 2014 Rose Bowl and 2015 Cotton Bowl. He has prototype size and adequate arm strength. He tends to make some horrendous decisions and I’ve seen some “what the ——?” plays (and not the good kind). But, he has total command of the offense, is competitive and is a strong leader on and off the field. He’s not going to run for a ton of yards, but he’s got good enough feet to move around the pocket and keep plays alive.
Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati
6’4”, 208 lb.
It seemed like Kiel was sort of a modern version of a quarterback runaway bride for a while. He committed to LSU, changed his commitment and signed with Notre Dame, then transferred to Cincinnati and sat out a year. When he finally got on the field in 2014, he lived up to most of the hype. He threw 31 TD but also had 13 interceptions and made some jaw dropping throws. But, he seems to be a rhythm quarterback that when he finds it, he crushes it, but when his confidence is lacking, he doesn’t belong in the CFL, much less the NFL. Tall, easy throwing motion with a plus arm and some touch, Kiel could use a bunch more snaps before he enters the NFL, but it’s going to be tough to keep him from running to the NFL after another tremendous season for the Bearcats.
Patrick Towles, Kentucky
6’5”, 241 lb.
This is seemingly a complete projection for Towles who isn’t quite the most efficient quarterback on this list. He threw 14 TD and nine interceptions last year but has truly only scratched the surface of what he can do. He has a cannon for an arm but tends to let it get the best of him at times, making poor decisions when throwing downfield. But, when he’s in the pocket, delivering, he more than looks the part of a next level signal caller. He’d be wise to stay another two years (this and next). Then again, if he remains in a spread type offense, it may not matter because he’ll get drafted solely based on how his physical traits project and not his mastery of a spread college attack.
John Robertson, Villanova
6’1”, 219 lb.
The 2014 FCS Offensive Player of the Year threw 35 TD and only three interceptions as a junior, in addition to 2,846 passing yards and 1,078 yards on the ground. He accounted for 46 TD in 2014, 33 in total in 2013. He runs it extremely well (nearly 1,100 last year and nearly 1,500 as a sophomore) but as we’ve seen, more and more teams refuse to utilize that asset within their offensive schemes. He’s not a statuesque pocket thrower but he’s got extremely good ball placement and throws a tight, catchable ball. He may not be a first rounder, but with another season like last year’s he’ll get Jimmy Garoppolo-type hype by April 2016.
Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky
6’3”, 216 lb.
Graduate Student/6th year senior
(Multiple, up tempo)
In December, Doughty got great news as he was granted a sixth season and an opportunity to build on 2014’s record setting season at WKU. He threw 49 TD and accounted for 4,830 yards through the air last season. He led the Hilltoppers to a season-defining 66-65 win over Marshall to end the Thundering Herd’s shot at an undefeated season. Over the final five games of the year, he threw 24 TDs with only two interceptions. But, it was ugly v. La. Tech when he threw four interceptions in a brutal loss to the Bulldogs. He’s a classic, over the top arm motion QB with a fairly quick release but average arm strength. He never thinks a play is over and that’s often what gets him in trouble. He must make better decisions when and where to throw the football.
There’s more talent in the above list than found in the guys about to be drafted in 2015. That said, had Cardale Jones, Dak Prescott and Connor Cook all declared last season, then the reverse would be true. Either way, the 2015 CFB QB crop is oozing with some talented next level QB ready for the 2016 NFL Draft.