After looks at the top defensive ends, the leading cornerbacks, and the best safety prospects in the 2016 draft class, our series culminates with a review of the signal-callers who who expect to hear their names called early in next April's draft. As has been noted in these posts, teams can exploit the depth presented in rich positions, which is one of several ways to generate value in a given draft; this value is increased when a team has need at a deep position. And, of course, the search for Tony Romo's successor continues. And the clock is ticking.
Given the fact that the Cowboys have done such a good job in recent years of building a talented, deep roster, it would be a shame for them to move on from the Romo era with little other than a hope of finding the next franchise-level quarterback. Sure, a solid-to-decent player at the position can win ten games by relying on a good defense and running game, but teams that don't have a top-ten caliber QB have one thing in common: they don't enjoy deep playoff runs, nor do their coaches keep their jobs for long. So, even though the Cowboys still have some building to do, it would behoove them to strongly consider - as they appear to have done in the 2015 draft - the available quarterback prospects. Since drafting QBs tends to be a bit of a crapshoot, the more guys they draft, the better chance they have of finding a good'un, right?
Unlike other positions, quarterbacks get better via repetition. So, while scouts love redshirt sophomores and juniors at other positions, many prefer their college quarterbacks to be more seasoned. We have both varieties here: talented younger guys and saltier vets. For my money, I'd prefer the quarterback I draft to have as much college experience as possible...
Note: Juniors are designated with an *
Connor Cook*, Michigan State (6-4, 218):
In 2013, Cook's first year as the full-time starter, he passed for 2,755 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. And he grew into the role, coming on strong in the season's second half, closing out the season with big games against Ohio State (24-40 for 304, 3 touchdowns, 1 pick) to secure the Big Ten title, and Stanford (22-36 for 332 yards with 2 touchdown, 1 interception) in Sparty's Rose Bowl win. He followed that up with a 3,214 yard, 24 touchdown, eight interception year.
Cook is tall, if a bit too lean, and boasts the field vision and decision-making ability to be a good pocket passer. He is smart, understands MSU‘s pro-style offense, and works quickly through his progressions. Cook has a quick set up and delivery, with an easy release and the arm strength to make all the throws. And he scores well in terms of intangibles, displaying confidence and resilience, and the ability to rally his teammates.
Cook wisely decided to forgo the 2015 draft, where scouts say he would have been the third quarterback chosen. To convince scouts that he is a high first-rounder, Cook needs to improve his ball placement downfield, must set his feet more consistently, and should play looser. If he can do these things, he can be a top-ten pick next April.
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (6-4, 234):
In 2013, Hackenberg completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions; he also ran for four touchdowns, a year that earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Year. As a sophomore, thanks in large part to a suspect offensive line, he fell off, completing 56 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards, with 12 touchdowns and 15 picks. He closed out the season with a comeback win over Boston College in overtime, in which he completed 34-of-50 for 371 yards and four touchdowns.
NFL scouts love Hackenberg's size, pocket presence, and field vision. Most of all, they love his NFL-caliber gun; Hackenberg has "arm talent," and can make all the difficult throws. While he's capable of making brilliant throws, Hackenberg's ball placement, recognition, footwork, and decision-making need polishing
Hackenberg is rife with potential, capable of making superb throws downfield; if he can make progress in terms of his technique, the Penn Stater can be a high first-rounder in 2016.
Cardale Jones*, Ohio State (6-5, 250):
After entering the starting lineup last season due to injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, Jones put on a show. He completed 61 percent of his passes for 860 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions and led the Buckeyes to a series of dominant performances on the way to a national championship. Consider: Jones has only three college starts, but they resulted in a Big Ten championship, a Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, and a national title against a talent-rich Oregon team.
Jones has NFL-caliber size and a big arm capable of making every NFL throw. To go with his big arm, Jones boasts excellent deep touch. He's a pocket passer who is very difficult to bring down in the pocket, and has the ability to tuck it and run when necessary. That said, he needs further seasoning: working through his progressions, moving his eyes getting rid of the ball more quickly, accuracy with intermediate passes.
Jones needs to give scouts more good tape before we can say with any confidence that he'll be a first day pick. That said, his upside is tremendous; if Jones continues to play anywhere near his 2014 level, expect him to go early.
We now leave the Big Ten and head west, to the PAC-12...
Jared Goff, Cal (6-4, 210):
As a freshman in 2013 Goff became the starter, completing 60 percent of his passes for 3,508 yards, with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. In 2014, he enjoyed a breakout season upping his stat line to 62 percent completions for 3,973 yards with 35 touchdowns and seven picks.
Goff boasts a big-time arm and shows the ability to read defenses and move defenders with his eyes. Scouts love his mechanics and accuracy at all three levels. While he will hold on to the ball for too long at times, and needs to speed up his internal clock, he does a nice job working through his progressions and making sound decisions.
Goff's tall, thin frame could use more muscle and he will need to keep his throws from sailing as they did at times in 2014. If he can correct these weaknesses in his game, Goff could be the first 2016 QB off the board.
Best of the Rest:
Kevin Hogan, Stanford (6-4, 220):
After redshirting in 2011 behind future number one pick Andrew Luck, Hogan took over the starting job in 2012, leading Stanford to a Rose Bowl berth. In 2013, Hogan had the unfortunate task of following Andrew Luck as the Cardinal's starting quarterback. He fared decently, completing 61 percent of his passes for 2,630 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, adding 314 yards and two scores on the ground. In 2014, he started a bit slowly but picked up his game as the season wore on, finishing with 66 percent completion percentage, 2,792 passing yards with 19 touchdowns (and five more on the ground) with eight interceptions.
Like Luck before him, Hogan is a big, athletic player who possesses a big arm and the feet to be a threat when he escapes the pocket. Although he's a streaky passer, Hogan has steadily improved his consistency, and has played his best when it counts most, compiling a 10-1 record against top-25 teams. If he can play for a whole season like he did at the end of 2014, Hogan will hear his name called on one of the draft's first two days.
Cody Kessler, USC (6-1, 210):
In 2013, Kessler replaced Matt Barkley as the Trojans starter, and enjoyed a solid season, completing 65 percent of his passes for 2,968 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The following campaign, he blew up, completing just under 70 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,826 yards, and setting USC season records for completions, accuracy and efficiency and touchdown tosses, with 39.
Kessler is an accurate passer with good touch and shows great anticipation and good pocket awareness. He is confident and decisive in the face of a pass rush. On the other hand, he's undersized, and doesn't have the arm strength of most of the other players on this list - although that criticism is belied by the fact that he completed 50.6 percent of throws of 16-plus yards last season.
Gunner Kiel*, Cincinnati (6-4, 208):
Kiel initially enrolled at Notre Dame but, after a redshirt year in 2012, decided to transfer. After sitting out the 2013 campaign as per NCAA regulations, he completed 59.7 percent of his passes for the Bearcats with 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Kiel boasts a strong, accurate arm, and is deceptively athletic, extending plays by escaping the pocket. With another year of growth, he'll be in the mix as one of the better 2016 selection meeting's top quarterback prospects.
Trevone Boykin, TCU (6-2, 221):
After pulling double duty in 2013 at both QB and wide receiver, Boykin transitioned to full-time signal-caller in 2014, completing 61.2 percent of his passes and accounting for 4,608 total yards, and engineering 41 total touchdowns (33 passing, 8 rushing), enough to earn Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors. He's an exceptional athlete with a strong arm, but struggles with anticipation and decision-making.
Dak Prescott*, Mississippi State (6-2, 230):
In 2013, Prescott completed 58 percent of his passes for 940 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The following season he broke out, completing 61 percent of his passes for 3,449 yards with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, adding 986 yards (4.7 per carry) with 14 scores on the ground. He's a tough, gritty runner and an efficient passer; as a player who reminds scouts of Cam Newton and Tim Tebow, the open question with Prescott is whether he's an accurate enough passer to play QB at the NFL level.
Jacoby Brissett, N.C. State (6-3, 239):
Like Kiel, Brissett sat out the 2013 season per NCAA rules after transferring to N.C. State from Florida, where he played sparingly for two years. In his only season with the Wolfpack, Brissett flashed potential as a pocket-passer, completing 60 percent of his passes for 2,344 yards with 22 touchdowns and five interceptions (including a 32-of-48, 359 yards, three TD performance versus Florida State).
Patrick Towles*, Kentucky (6-5, 238):
In 2014, although playing with a limited supporting cast, Towles completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,718 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. More than his numbers, scouts love Townes's NFL-ready size, arm, pocket presence, and surprising athleticism; Townes is a former high jumper with good wheels. Coaches will love him as well, as he boasts a good developmental skill set with high upside.
Carson Wentz, North Dakota State (6-5, 222):
After a redshirt season in 2011 and two years of mostly backup duty, Wentz broke out as a junior, completing 228 of 358 passes for 3,111 yards with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season. He was also the Bisons' second-leading rusher with 138 carries for 642 yards (4.7 per carry) and six TDs. Scouts love his prototypical size, good arm, and excellent movement skills.
As I mentioned above, the Cowboys can benefit from positions that promise rich yields in a given draft. When a position is strong, and the majority of teams are drafting for need (which they are), it means that players at these strong positions will fall. When pursued over the long term, therefore, a strategy of drafting to positional strength yields greater value. In terms of quarterbacks, therefore, the controlling idea shouldn't be that they must, or will, draft one in the first round; rather, it should be that quarterback promises the desirable combination of need, opportunity and value that allows smart teams to improve their roster in an environment wherein resources are limited.