The 2016 NFL Draft is in the rear-view mirror, and the incoming crop of rookies are participating in their first minicamps as professional players. Before looking ahead to the next class of quarterbacks, Mark Schofield takes a look back at the drafted QBs and hands out his grades for each selection, using the words of Tyrion Lannister.
The 2016 NFL Draft is in the books, and we have reached that part of the year when people like to throw up draft grades and start putting out their next mock drafts. But really, May is for one thing and one thing only: Game of Thrones. But since draft grades are all the rage – and because I cannot get the images of Season 6, Episode 2 out of my head – here is my attempt at grading the selections of all the quarterbacks in the 2016 draft, in the words of the Imp himself, Tyrion Lannister.
Note: There will be no spoilers.
Jared Goff: Round 1, Selection 1 – Los Angeles Rams
Tyrion Lannister to Lady Olenna Tyrell: “But, as Master of Coin, it falls upon me to calculate the cost for the crown. As of now, it’s a huge expense.”
Paying for a wedding in King’s Landing costs a tremendous amount of coin. Trading up to the first overall selection in the NFL Draft costs a tremendous amount of draft capital. But the Los Angeles Rams were willing to make the move to the top of the draft board to take the quarterback whom they believe is the future of their franchise, Jared Goff.
On paper and on film, Goff looks every bit the part of a franchise quarterback. His ability to move around in the pocket is impressive, and he can slide in the pocket and away from danger, before finding enough room to make a throw downfield. The only questions facing him during his transition are whether the Rams have enough weaponry in place to take the pressure off him, and Todd Gurley, their talented second-year running back. Perhaps they do. Or perhaps the huge expense of moving to the first overall selection prevented them from getting those pieces in place.
Carson Wentz: Round 1, Selection 2 – Philadelphia Eagles
Tyrion Lannister to Jon Snow: “Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you.”
Perhaps no quarterback was more critiqued during this evaluation season than the senior from North Dakota State University. While Wentz shows a number of traits on film that scouts drool over, such as his arm strength, his athleticism, and his involvement in the offense at the line of scrimmage, his critics point to his footwork flaws, his tendency to lock onto his first read, his inconsistency in the downfield passing game, and his level of competition coming from the Football Championship Subdivision.
Ultimately, one of these two camps will be proven right, and that is up to the Wentz. Whether he grows into the QB some believe he can become, or is simply the flawed quarterback his detractors believe he is, will be determined by his ability to either push himself and grow in the NFL, or not.
Paxton Lynch: Round 1, Selection 26 – Denver Broncos
Lord Varys: “You will be pleased to know our mutual friend is doing quite well in Lady Sansa’s service.”
Tyrion Lannister: “Good. One of my better ideas.”
The Denver Broncos entered the draft season with a huge question mark at the quarterback position. After winning Super Bowl 50, Peyton Manning retired, and Brock Osweiler left town for the bright lights of King’s Landing…err…Houston. The Broncos signed Mark Sanchez to provide a modicum of stability at the position, but needed to find a new, long-term, quarterback in this draft.
And find a new QB they did. Paxton Lynch, the big Memphis product with a huge arm, fell far enough in the first round that Broncos were able to trade up from the 31st selection and grab their quarterback of the future – and perhaps even the present. Lynch seems to be a perfect fit for the offense Gary Kubiak implements. The head coach likes to get his quarterback on the move after play action, rolling out and either attacking downfield to a wide receiver or in the flat to a running back or tight end. With his athletic ability and big arm, Lynch fits this style of play perfectly. Memphis rolled him out on around 16% of his snaps in 2015, third-highest in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and you can imagine how Kubiak will use him in this offense. This might not have been the best decision John Elway has made as an executive, but right now it seems like one of his better ones.
Christian Hackenberg: Round 2, Selection 51 – New York Jets
Tyrion Lannister to Jon Snow: “Would you rather be called the Imp? Let them see that their words can cut you and you’ll never be free of the mockery. If they want to give you a name take it make it your own. Then they can’t hurt you with it anymore.”
Perhaps no quarterback selection contrasted with the view of the player among evaluators than when the New York Jets picked Christian Hackenberg in the second round. After a promising freshman year under Bill O’Brien at Penn State, the junior regressed in his final two collegiate seasons. His footwork became flawed, his accuracy dipped, his decision-making was off, and he tumbled down draft boards during the 2015-2016 season.
But it only takes one team to fall in love with a player, so enter the Jets.
Immediately after the selection the word from New York was that Hackenberg would be given a year or two to refine his flaws. He needs to make progress, but perhaps that begins with better protection around him. As a quarterback in the pocket, things can snowball quickly if you believe you are going to get hit on every single snap, forcing you to speed everything up: Footwork, decisions, throws; all happen faster. Too fast in many occasions for the offense to succeed. So if that can be solidified around him and the game begins to slow down for him, perhaps Hackenberg can grow into the QB many envisioned back in 2013 – silencing the many critics along the way.
Jacoby Brissett: Round 3, Selection 91 – New England Patriots
Tyrion Lannister to Shae: “Yes, well, we shouldn’t be judgmental about these things.”
In a draft filled with the usual amount of head-scratching decisions, Bill Belichick made perhaps the strangest with his selection of the North Carolina State quarterback. (As a small bit of reference, my son had soccer practice the Saturday morning after the pick, and a number of the other fathers are Patriots fans. I could barely park the car before being peppered with questions about this pick). At first glance, it does seem like a questionable use of resources. The Patriots seem set at the position right now, with Tom Brady still playing at a high level and Jimmy Garoppolo waiting in the wings.
But Belichick has his way of doing things, and during his tenure in New England he has selected a QB roughly every two seasons. He has long maintained that he would rather be a year early drafting a quarterback than a year late. So the fact New England picked a QB in this draft is not a surprise. I would argue that they were looking to go with a more developmental-type on Day 3, but with the looming Brady suspension they moved their process up a bit. Brissett is a good fit for what they like to do on offense, and given this, I believe he is likely their backup for those four weeks Brady is on the shelf. He drops to QB3 when the suspension is over, and gets time to develop. In two years, when Brady is 41 and Garoppolo is up for a contract extension, perhaps – just perhaps – he develops enough to be the heir apparent.
Cody Kessler: Round 3, Selection 93 – Cleveland Browns
Tyrion Lannister to Lord Varys: “I’m short, not blind”
As draft season unfolded there were many who believed that Cleveland would stay at #2 in the draft and pick either Goff or Wentz. But in a bit of a surprise the Browns moved back a few times, picking up some additional draft picks along the way. However, it was still assumed that they would pick a quarterback sometime during this draft, and that was confirmed with the selection of Kessler in the third round. At first blush, the undersized quarterback with an average arm might not be the best move by the Browns, but the more you dig into both Hue Jackson’s offense – and Kessler’s traits – you can see how this marriage can work.
Kessler is a great fit for a West Coast offense, given his accuracy in the shorter areas of the field and his ability to make throws with timing and anticipation. These are core elements of that offensive scheme, and are components Jackson implemented while in Cincinnati with both Andy Dalton and A.J. McCarron. In addition, Kessler is very adept at keeping his eyes downfield in the pocket, even when everything is breaking down around him. Putting these pieces together, perhaps the puzzle ads up to the QB of the future for the Browns.
Connor Cook: Round 4, Selection 131 – Oakland Raiders
Tyrion Lannister to the Lannister Army: “Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!”
Tyrion’s impassioned plea at the Battle of the Blackwater reminds me of everything I like about the Michigan State quarterback, who I had ranked as my QB3 before the draft. Set aside the scheme fit, the athletic traits, and the other off the field issues for a moment. Cook is a gunslinger who plays without a shred of fear. He’ll try throws that other quarterbacks in this class avoid. How about a seam route to a slot receiver with an underneath defender on his back and a Cover 2 safety rotating over? Sure. Cook will do that.
And he’ll do it on 3rd and long in the Big Ten Championship Game, with an ailing shoulder and a trip to the playoffs on the line. Look, I basically wrote an entire chapter of 17 Drives about that one throw.
Dak Prescott: Round 4, Selection 135 – Dallas Cowboys
Joffrey Baratheon: “Everyone is mine to torment! You’d do well to remember that, you little monster.”
Tyrion Lannister: “Oh, “monster”. Perhaps you should speak to me more softly then. Monster are dangerous and, just now, kings are dying like flies.”
Kings aren’t dying like flies in Dallas, but the quarterback position saw so many people fail last year you might mistake the situation for a season of Game of Thrones, whether it was due to injury or an inability to move the football and keep the offense on schedule. Tony Romo was lost for the season early, and the trio of Matt Cassell, Kellen Moore, and Brandon Weeden were unable to pick up any of the slack. So Dallas was another team that needed to address the position in this draft. They apparently wanted to trade up to grab Lynch, but were unable to complete a deal before Denver selected the Memphis passer.
So they went to a backup plan, drafting the Mississippi State product in the fourth round. The Cowboys are higher on Prescott than I am, but with a need at the position the organization must have felt it necessary to pull the trigger at this point. You can see the allure with Prescott, he is a big, strong and athletic QB who has the arm to make every throw in the playbook. There is an issue, from where I sit, with his accuracy and decision-making. But if the plan is to bring him along slowly and refine those aspects of his playing style, this could work for Dallas. Plus, what better tutor than Jason Garrett?
Cardale Jones: Round 4, Selection 139 – Buffalo Bills
Tywin Lannister: “I always thought you were a stunted fool. Perhaps I was wrong.”
Tyrion Lannister: “Half wrong.”
One of the more curious observations I saw this draft season was the thought that Jones was not an intelligent football player. From my review of his tape, this could not be further than the truth. In 2014 he operated in Tom Herman’s complex, downfield passing game for only three games (after being on the bench the entire season). In those three games he led Ohio State to wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, delivering a national championship in the process.
Even in 2015, when operating in Urban Meyer’s spread-based attack, Jones displayed both pre-snap awareness and intelligence as well as quick decision-making as the play unfolded. The offense was not the best fit for his playing style, as the QB is more of a classic big-armed, drop-back passer, and he eventually lost his starting spot to J.T. Barrett, a player more suited for this style of play. But on that short body of work, and given his traits, Jones could turn out to be the steal of this draft.
Kevin Hogan: Round 5, Selection 162 – Kansas City Chiefs
Tyrion Lannister to Jon Snow: “My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer and I have my mind…and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge. That’s why I read so much Jon Snow.”
In contrast with Jones, by every report and measure Kevin Hogan is a smart, cerebral quarterback who soaks up coaching and is a walking playbook on the field. The Stanford product is definitely raw around the edges, particularly when it comes to his throwing motion. He makes up for his elongated wind-up with an extremely quick release, but his arm strength and mechanics are not well suited for a downfield passing game.
But in Kansas City, he will have a chance to operate in a West Coast oriented offense, that is tailor-made for his skills. His ceiling might be that of a long-term backup, but with the departure of Chase Daniel to Philadelphia, the Chiefs are looking for exactly that kind of player.
Nate Sudfeld: Round 6, Selection 187 – Washington
Tyrion Lannister to Lord Varys: “The next time I have an idea like that, punch me in the face.”
My reservations with Nate Sudfeld were laid out in my pre-draft report on the quarterback. There are flaws in his decision-making process and his accuracy down the field. But there are moments when he displays the big arm, athleticism and the ability to drive the football into smaller throwing lanes that NFL teams covet. In Washington he’ll find a mentor in Jay Gruden, who was able to work well with Kirk Cousins last season en route to a playoff berth. Given that he will not be pressed into action early and will likely end up the third-string quarterback behind Cousins and McCoy, Sudfeld will have every opportunity to slowly develop into an NFL QB. He has the potential, it is just a matter of putting it all together.
This is not a decision I would have made, but I’m just a guy on the sidelines drinking wine, and not the sellsword in the arena facing a Trial by Combat.
Jake Rudock: Round 6, Selection 191 – Detroit Lions
Tyrion Lannister to Podrick Payne: “Ah, the return of the conquering hero.”
Rudock is an interesting case from an evaluation standpoint. Watching him early this past season at Michigan you would not picture him being drafted in the NFL. Adjusting to life in Jim Harbaugh’s offense, his decision-making was slow at times and he seemed uncertain in the pocket. But as the season went on, he grew into the offense, gained confidence, and displayed some of the timing and anticipation you saw in seasons past while at the University of Iowa.
Now, Rudock gets to stay close to his most recent home and begin his NFL career with the Lions. With Matthew Stafford entrenched as the starting quarterback there will be no pressure for Rudock to see action early, but he is in a position to challenge for the backup spot early in his career. As we have seen in the past, when he gets a chance to familiarize himself with an offense, he shows improvement. Perhaps history will repeat itself in Detroit for the young QB.
Brandon Allen: Round 6, Selection 201 – Jacksonville Jaguars
Cersei Lannister: “You want to be Hand of the King? You want to rule? This is what ruling is; lying on a bed of weeds, ripping them out by the root, one by one, before they strangle you in your sleep!“
Tyrion Lannister: “I’m no king, but I think there’s more to ruling than that.”
If you were to construct an offense where the passing game was based solely off of play-action plays, Allen is your pick to run the offense. At Arkansas he excelled in this style of play, and was adept at working both under center and in the pistol or shotgun, carrying out a play-fake and making a smart decision with the football. But when running other plays, Allen was conservative with the ball, almost to a fault.
There is more to playing the position than making play-action plays, checking the ball down, or tucking and running when you don’t see an option available. If Allen can just ramp up the aggressiveness a bit, he can develop into a capable backup in this league, but I’ll need to see this on a more consistent basis to be convinced.
Jeff Driskel: Round 6, Selection 207 – San Francisco 49ers
Tyrion Lannister to Yoren: “I think he’s starting to like me.”
If you watched the final days of Jeff Driskel at the University of Florida, you probably never envisioned the ending to his career that Driskel put together. After transferring to Louisiana Tech, the QB finally showed some of the traits that made him a highly sought-after recruit out of high school. He showed the big arm to make every throw required of him in the NFL and challenged defenses along the sidelines and deep down the field. Plus, he displayed an aggressive nature and is not shy to try and stick the football into some smaller windows. The more I watched of his film from the last season, the more I started to appreciate his ability.
He has the potential to be a starter in this league, but he enters an interesting situation in San Francisco. The 49ers currently have both Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick on the roster, so you would imagine that one of those players gets moved, likely Kaepernick. That might propel Driskel to the backup spot, which would be a good fit because given his athletic ability, he fits well with Chip Kelly’s style of play.
Brandon Doughty: Round 7, Selection 223 – Miami Dolphins
Cersei Lannister: “You’re a clever man. But you’re not half as clever as you think you are.”
Tyrion Lannister: “Still makes me more clever than you.”
In a bit of a confession, I was watching Doughty when I had the idea for the “On Two” series. Watching his film against Louisiana Tech I noticed how well he understood the game from the pocket. I watched him wait patiently for routes to clear, I saw him work through progressions, and I saw him freeze safeties in the middle of the field before attacking the sideline.
Doughty comes with question marks. He lacks the pure arm strength to push the football into tighter windows or deep along the sideline, and his injury history cost him two years in college so he is an older rookie. But given the mental ability, I wouldn’t bet against him. Much like I wouldn’t bet against Tyrion.