(A series looking at the top players at various positions leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, set for April 28-30.)
Last year, it was clear-cut. Jameis Winston was at the top of the list at this position with Marcus Mariota second, because of the respective offensive systems each operated during their college careers at Florida State and Oregon, respectively. This year, there is that to consider, particularly with the proliferation of spread offenses throughout college football, but there also are some other issues with this group, including level of competition, leadership skills, and accountability. But if and/or how much those factors slow the NFL's many quarterback-needy teams from pulling the trigger on one of these prospects will make the first round on April 28 interesting and entertaining.
Here are some of the top quarterback prospects in the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft according to NFL.com.
There are three players generally considered to be first-round prospects, and they will be listed here in alphabetical order because even with the draft less than two weeks away there is no consensus about how they will come off the board. Goff became the first freshman quarterback in Cal history to start the first game of his first season on campus. The Bears finished 1-11 in 2013, with Goff setting school records for passing yards (3,508), passes completed (320), and passes attempted (531) on a 1-11 team lacking great talent. He started all 12 games as a sophomore, and he completed 62.1 percent for 3,973 yards, with 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In 2015, Goff capped his college career by setting conference records with 4,719 passing yards and 43 touchdowns. But there also were 13 interceptions. The Bears won their first bowl game since 2008 when Goff threw for 467 yards and six touchdowns against Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. There is some concern about style of offense, because Goff rarely operated from under center in college, and so there will be footwork for him to learn and master. He fumbled 24 times and lost 11 of those over three seasons, and he also was sacked 81 times, which call into question his ability to deliver the ball on time consistently.
Imposing in a uniform at 6-foot-7 and 244 pounds, Lynch ended up at Memphis at least partly as a result of a knee injury sustained during his senior season in high school. After taking a redshirt, Lynch started for the next three years, and he showed marked improvement over that time. He went from nine touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in 2013 to completing 63 percent for 3,031 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2014. During an 8-0 start in 2015, Lynch completed 39-of-53 for 386 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Mississippi, but in the Birmingham Bowl vs. Auburn he completed only 16-of-37 pass attempts for 106 yards with an interception. Lynch is a functional scrambler who's always looking to extend plays rather than run, and he was sacked just 15 times over 477 drop-backs. His yards-per-attempt statistic has improved dramatically, which indicates a willingness to challenge defenses down the field instead of being a "check-down Charlie." He completed 54.6 percent on intermediate throws (11-¬20 yards) and 44.9 percent on deep balls (21-plus yards), including 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
North Dakota State. That's the issue with Wentz, the level of competition, but he certainly was productive and a winner at that level. In his first year as a starter for the Bison in 2014, Wentz passed for 3,111 yards and 25 touchdowns to lead the team to a fourth straight FCS Championship. In 2015, Wentz came back from a broken right wrist that sidelined him for two months to lead the Bison to a fifth-straight championship. He started seven games in 2015 in which he completed 62.5 percent for 1,651 yards, with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions. Wentz, who rushed for six touchdowns in 2015, played in a pro-¬style attack with plenty of snaps under center. He was asked to make NFL throws and showed he could do it, and scouts see him as naturally accurate. At 6-5, 233, Wentz has prototypical size and a background in working through progressions. Wentz is still a developmental prospect after just two years at an FBS program, but he has experience in leading his team through the playoffs to championship games and then winning them.
The most intriguing senior quarterback prospect heading into the 2015 season, Cook passed for 3,131 yards, with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions, but accuracy has been a consistent question with him. Cook completed 56 percent as a senior, down from 58.7 percent and 58.1 percent the previous two years, and he never has completed over 60 percent of his passes in any of his high school or college seasons. Cook won two MVP awards in leading the Spartans to victories in both the 2013 and 2015 Big Ten Championship Games, but his teammates never voted him a captain. How important that is varies from team-to-team. If a team believes Cook can develop into more than a game manager, the 6-4, 217 pound winner of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award could become an interesting option toward the latter stages of the first round.
THE 2015 NFL DRAFT, QB STATISTICS
Number drafted: 7
Picks by round: 2 in the first; 0 in the second; 2 in the third; 1 in the fourth; 1 in the fifth; 0 in the sixth; 1 in the seventh
Highest pick: Jameis Winston, Florida State, Round 1, 1st overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Biggest impact: Winston and Mariota both were starters as rookies and before the end of the season both had been identified as franchise-quarterbacks-in-waiting. The here nod goes to Winston, who started all 16 games for the Buccaneers, and he completed 58.3 percent for 22 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and a rating of 84.2. Mariota posted slightly better numbers in terms of completion percentage (62.2) and rating (91.5), but he started four fewer games.