The quarterback is the most important position on the field in the National Football League. If you don't have a good one you won't win games. For coaches, they are often judged on their ability to find and groom the next franchise quarterback. Other teams, such as Cleveland, will spend countless years trying to find a franchise quarterback. Well, thankfully, the Dallas Cowboys have a pretty good one in Tony Romo. However, nothing crippled their season more than when he went down in week two with a fractured left clavicle. The Cowboys' inability to find a capable backup has been hanging over their heads all season long. As the regular season comes to a close, we know that Stephen Jones, Will McClay, and Jerry Jones want to find the heir-apparent to the Tony Romo throne. The Cowboys need to make sure that they don't enter 2016 in as bad shape as they began 2015.
The Cowboys will have decisions to make with Kellen Moore and Matt Cassel. It's not likely that both of them return and the more likely candidate is Moore. Dallas likes the idea of having a veteran on the roster that can play in a pinch but gone are the days when they had disgruntled Kyle Orton and Jon Kitna has since retired. The landscape of free agent quarterbacks isn't looking all that great either. So, for the sake of mentioning, there are some guys out there that are being linked to Dallas. However, it should remain noted that both of these guys are under contract with their respective clubs.
Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns
As much as people keep talking about a likely divorce this offseason, don't be so sure. Manziel has shown some ability in the past several starts he's got. Head coach Mike Pettine has been fired. Cleveland probably doesn't know what they have in Manziel just yet and maybe a new coach will sell his ability to find out. As much as the owner for the Cowboys has such a love affair with Johnny Manziel, it's highly unlikely that the rest of the front office is going to get on board with that headache. Even if there are a ton of folks out in Aggie-land that would love to see JFF with a star on his helmet, cooler heads should prevail here.
Robert Griffin III, Washington
This is another case of a guy that many think needs a fresh start in a new organization. Well, all of the stories that we hear of his father being involved and a primary focus on his brand instead of football scares me to death. Of course, if he comes to the Cowboys, he's going to be in an organization that is very familiar with Baylor Football and with him. RGIII also has had two ACL replacements since college and was benched in favor of Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy. He's definitely got a good relationship with Tony Romo and is intriguing because of the talent he came to the league with, but like Manziel, with him along comes the baggage.
The 2016 Draft
The only right way to get this thing on track is to draft well and it's time the Cowboys take a chance on someone they can develop. If not, then why even have quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson? He's not likely helping a Pro Bowl incumbent like Romo with much of anything except for maybe another pair of eyes. The Dallas Cowboys need to take advantage of their draft positioning and look at this year's class which has a few solid names to throw around. This is hardly 2004 where Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger came into the league. Heck, it's probably not on the same level as 2012 with Russell Wilson, Luck, and Griffin. However, it's certainly better than 2013 with E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith and likely better than the Ryan Tannehill's and Brandon Weeden's that were put alongside the big three of 2012.
The Cowboys have some decent options but let's take an early look at what Walter Football has to say about a few of the candidates. We'll start with the Big Four:
Paxton Lynch, Memphis
Lynch has completed 69 percent of his passes this season for 3,670 yards with 28 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has drawn an underwhelming matchup with Air Force for his bowl game. It would have been nice to see him get challenged by a defense with future NFL competitors.
Lynch has a great skill set, but is raw and needs development. His footwork and field vision are the primary areas to improve. Lynch has an arm that can make all the throws for the pro game, and he has flashed the ability to pass accurately and beat good coverage with precise completions into tight windows. However, Lynch needs to become more consistent with the ability to thrive as a pocket passer. He also has the athleticism to make plays with his feet and or throws on the run. His draft stock rose dramatically with Memphis' strong start to the season, which included an upset over Ole Miss.
In his previous seasons as a starter, Lynch used his running ability more. As a sophomore, he ran for 321 yards with 13 touchdowns while completing 63 percent of his passes for 3,031 yards with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Lynch completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,056 yards with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a freshman.
Jared Goff, California
In 2015, Goff has completed 64 percent of his passes for 4,252 yards with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He beat up on weak competition early in the season, but he didn't play as well against quality opponents like Utah, UCLA and USC. Goff bounced back to close out the regular season well against Stanford and Arizona State.
A lot of draft media, like the experts at ESPN, have been pumping Goff as a top-of-the-draft prospect. As one scout told me, "They're giving him the Teddy Bridgewater treatment," i.e. overhyping. One scouting director said that Goff was a good player, but he didn't feel he was top-of-the-draft worthy right now. Another scout said they were lukewarm on Goff as a pro quarterback.
In speaking to another general manager from a team that is among the best at evaluating and developing quarterbacks, he felt that Goff was the best of the draft-eligible signal-callers. Obviously, there isn't a real consensus about Goff among NFL evaluators.
Still, Goff has shown a strong, accurate arm with quality field vision. He also has functional mobility to avoid rushers and pick up some yards on the ground. Goff needs to add weight for the NFL and also could have some issues with getting rattled and handling the rush at the next level.
Goff's stats are inflated by a college offense that has a lot of instant passes though. Coming from his college system, he will need development for the NFL with field vision, working under center and holding up in the face of a pass rush. Goff has displayed good mechanics at times, but also has had some issues maintaining that when faced with a lot of pressure, and that led to some bad habits of throwing off his back foot. He has said he is working to correct those problems.
Connor Cook, Michigan State
Sources say that Cook has good height, weight, and delivery but a number of evaluators don't really like Cook. They think he's too inaccurate, and they question his lack of leadership with his team not voting him a team captain. If one highly touted quarterback prospect slides like others have in years past, Cook could be the prime candidate.
This season, Cook has connected on 57 percent passes for 2,921 yards with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions. He played well against Oregon, but wasn't overwhelming against some mediocre opponents, though he had a prolific game against Rutgers. The Spartans have admitted their play calling was overly conservative at times and needed to let Cook throw more often. Late in the regular season, he played with an injured shoulder.
Cook has athleticism, good size, experience in a pro-style system and a strong arm that can make some beautiful throws downfield into tight windows. However, he isn't a quarterback who drops back and throws 50 times a game while dominating a defense. His accuracy needs improvement as well. Cook has been more of a game manager, and that could be his future in the NFL.
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
In 2015, Hackenberg has completed 53 percent of his passes for 2,386 yards and 16 touchdowns with five interceptions. He had terrible games against Rutgers and Temple, but good outings against Buffalo, San Diego State, Indiana and Illinois.
Clearly, Hackenberg needs to improve his accuracy and decision-making, but the junior has been playing in a bad situation with a weak offensive line and weak receivers. He also is a pro-style quarterback forced to play in a college spread offense that doesn't fit him well at all. Over the last two seasons, Hackenberg has routinely made some beautiful throws that are dropped by his receivers.
In speaking with sources, some teams grade Hackenberg on the third day of the 2016 NFL Draft as a fourth-rounder, but others have graded him in Round 3. Even the teams that graded him after the third round, expect him to be selected in the second or third round. One general manager said Hackenberg has just average accuracy and is a statue in the pocket. There also is concern about how teammates respond to him.
Poor Connor Cook, he's definitely going to be taking some flak for the performance his team had the other night in shellacking by Alabama on New Year's Eve. About a month ago, Bryan Broaddus was talking about quarterbacks on The Break and one thing he said that he would take over anything else is good accuracy. If that's the case, here are two more candidates that deserve a look for some of those looking to wait or trade back.
Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
Sources have said they really like Wentz's skill set and he has the potential to grade out as an early-round pick, even a first-rounder. For that to happen, Wentz is going to have to dominate at the Senior Bowl. Wentz missed the end of the season with a broken wrist. This year, he completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,669 yards with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions. Wentz also had four rushing touchdowns.
As a junior, Wentz completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,111 yard with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also had six touchdowns on the ground. Wentz was a backup as a freshman and sophomore.
Kevin Hogan, Stanford
Hogan had a rough start to the season against Northwestern, but after that he had some good performances despite an ankle injury. Hogan was superb against USC to help push the Cardinal to a big upset and led a final-second comeback win over Notre Dame. Hogan has completed 69 percent of his passes this year for 2,644 yards with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In his good games, he looks like an early-rounder; in his bad games, he looks like an undrafted free agent.
If the Cowboys are serious about fixing their quarterback situation, the draft is going to be a good place to start. Dallas will do its diligence on all of these prospects, but one thing is certain, they need to take a quarterback at some point and see if they can start the development process. They have a young, talented offensive line, that will go a long way in helping a young passer get up to speed.