Teams can only go as far as their quarterbacks can take them in the NFL. Drafting the face of the franchise is a goal that many teams try to achieve each year. Mark Schofield takes a look at the 2016 top QB prospects.
While you were enjoying baseball, the beach, barbecues and the golf course this summer, Mark Schofield was hard at work breaking down film on the next crop of NFL quarterback prospects. After lots of sleepless nights and enough coffee to kill a lesser person, he has emerged from the film cave with some thoughts on the likely quarterbacks to enter next season’s draft.
Others Receiving Votes
The Ohio State Cerberus – Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett
Sure, I took the easy way out here, but with the starting quarterback job still up for grabs in Columbus, it would be tough to slot in any of these QBs. Once Urban Meyer settles on a quarterback (or two), expect to see some names move up this list.
Matt Pawlowski – Guilford College
A dark-horse draft pick to be sure, the Division III quarterback won the starting job as a true freshman and has improved as a QB every season in school. Now a senior, Pawlowski hopes to improve on his junior year which saw him named a semifinalist for the Gagliardi Trophy, Division III’s version of the Heisman, and perhaps lead the Quakers to their first conference title ‒ and playoff berth ‒ in years. He has great athletic ability, a strong arm and tons of collegiate experience.
Tre Roberson – Illinois State
Roberson is a tremendous athlete at the quarterback position, and last season he led Illinois State to the FCS Championship Game, where the Redbirds lost to the Carson Wentz-led North Dakota State Bison. The Illinois State signal-caller has incredible athletic ability and makes plays with his feet, but is also a very accurate passer on short and intermediate routes. He needs to show improved decision-making and pocket awareness to prove he is more than an elite collegiate player.
John Robertson – Villanova
Another talented dual-threat FCS quarterback, Robertson returns for his senior year after a prolific junior campaign. In 2014 he completed 65% of his passes for 2,846 yards and 35 TDs, against just three interceptions, while rushing for 1,078 yards and 11 more scores. HIs efforts were rewarded with the Walter Payton Award, given to the best player at the FCS level. Some have compared him to Johnny Manziel, and it remains to be seen if he can transition to the next level. But he sure is fun to watch.
Kevin Hogan – Stanford
Kevin Hogan took over the quarterback position midway through the 2012 season, and has not looked back. He has improved as a passer the past two seasons, and completed 66% of his throws last year for 2,792 yards and 19 touchdowns with eight interceptions. But he needs to improve on his decision-making, accuracy and mechanics before he can be considered a draftable prospect.
Marquise Williams – UNC
Even bothered by a hip injury for most of 2014, Marquise Williams turned in a great year for the Tar Heels. He completed 63% of his passes for 3,068 yards and 21 touchdowns against nine interceptions. The QB also contributed 783 yards on the ground for 13 touchdowns and is UNC’s leading rusher returning this fall. Having improved in his accuracy and decision-making from his sophomore to his junior season, Williams is another quarterback to keep an eye on as this season develops.
Jeremy Johnson – Auburn
An unknown on the national stage, Johnson is the heir apparent at Auburn after backing up Nick Marshall the past two seasons. The junior is considered a much more talented passer and the inventive Guz Malzahn and Auburn may rely more on the passing game this season. Johnson has elite size and tools for the position, and has posted strong statistics in limited action ‒ 73.1% completion percentage for 858 yards and nine touchdowns against only two interceptions. He’ll be tested early, as the Tigers travel to Death Valley early in September.
10. Brandon Doughty – Western Kentucky
Brandon Doughty was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA because of a medical hardship, and returns to campus for one last season. Doughty put up impressive numbers last season in Jeff Brohm’s pass-happy offense, and is the active leader in touchdown passes at the FBS level with 63. With three of his top targets back in 2015, he should only build on those numbers. With a strong arm and good poise in the pocket, Doughty would be higher on this list if not for his previous history of knee injuries and his age.
9. Dak Prescott – Mississippi State
Dak Prescott might be one of the elite college quarterbacks in 2015, and a Heisman contender, but he has some flaws in his game that will need to be repaired before he can be considered a pro prospect. He left a number of plays on the field in the passing game last season, and needs to improve on his vision and poise in the passing game.
8. Trevone Boykin – TCU
A Heisman favorite, Trevone Boykin enjoyed a tremendous junior season in 2014, throwing for 3,901 yards and 33 touchdowns, as well as a whopping 354.5 yards per game in TCU’s “Air Raid” offense. He has tremendous athletic ability and a very strong arm, and can win from inside and outside the pocket. He needs to improve his accuracy, which would go a long way toward avoiding the “system QB” tag.
7. Gunner Kiel – Cincinnati
Gunner Kiel finally found a home at Cincinnati after transferring from Notre Dame, and exploded onto the national stage last season with six touchdown throws in the season opener against Toledo. Kiel has a strong arm and is an accurate thrower on short routes, but works in a system that relies heavily on the screen/bubble screen game. He struggles at time throwing downfield and driving the football into tight windows. Some are higher on the Bearcats’ quarterback than I am, but regardless of ranking expect Kiel to be among the discussion next season as the first quarterback selected.
6. Cody Kessler – USC
Cody Kessler is often the “forgotten man” in discussions about the top quarterbacks to watch, but the senior has a chance to change that this season. The USC QB checks off a number of the boxes pro scouts and coaches look for, as he commands from the pocket, and displays accuracy, anticipation and the ability to work through progressions well. Given that he has a number of traits sought after by NFL coaches, look for him to rise up draft boards with a solid senior campaign.
5. Jacoby Brissett – North Carolina State
The North Carolina State quarterback might be another relative unknown, but expect that to change very quickly. He gained some notoriety last season during a nationally-televised game against Florida State, when ESPN’s Sean McDonough compared him to Ben Roethlisberger and Fran Tarkenton. The Roethlisberger comparison fits, given how tough Brissett is to sack. He is very efficient in and out of the pocket, on third downs and in the red zone. Another season of refinement and he could be one of the first quarterbacks selected in next year’s draft. Get on the hype train early.
4. Carson Wentz – North Dakota State
North Dakota State won its third-consecutive FCS title last season in Carson Wentz’s first year as a starter. Wentz has prototypical height and arm strength for the position, and led two game-winning drives for the Bison during the FCS playoffs, including one in an early round game that included this perfect game winning throw (LINK TO FCS PLAY OTW) and another in the FCS Championship Game. He takes a lot of sacks and has some problems with fumbles, but another year of experience should solidify his status as a top-level prospect.
3. Connor Cook – Michigan State
Connor Cook might be the most interesting QB prospect to watch from an evaluation standpoint. Some draft evaluators, like me, love him. Cook has a strong arm, and shows elite anticipation and the ability to drive the football down the field and into narrow throwing windows. Other evaluators are not as convinced, and point to his flaws under pressure and poor decision making when under duress. One group is going to be right, and Cook’s 2015 campaign will go a long way toward settling that debate.
2. Christian Hackenberg – Penn State
If Cook is not the most interesting QB prospect to watch from an evaluation standpoint, Christian Hackenberg might be. The Penn State QB looked every part the future first-round selection as a freshman, working within then-head coach Bill O’Brien’s offense. But in his first year under James Franklin the signal caller took a big step back – his game against Ohio State in 2014 is some ugly film. However, he has a number of traits that scouts look for, including great size and arm strength for the position.
1. Jared Goff – California
Jared Goff won the starting job at California as a freshman, and has been the focal point of the Golden Bears’ offense ever since. He is adept at handling pressure, and on film displays the ability to make anticipation throws into narrow throwing windows. Some scouts and draftniks question his arm strength, but I believe he has a much stronger arm than he’s given credit for, with this play as an example:
This is a tremendous throw made without the ability to set his feet and moving away from the target. When you add anticipation and experience to this talent-set, you have a very elite level quarterback and perhaps, just perhaps, the top quarterback off the draft board next April.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.