Round-by-round ranking of 2016’s best NFL QB prospects

Steve Palazzolo breaks down and ranks every quarterback prospect available in the 2016 NFL draft.

| 6 months ago
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Round-by-round ranking of 2016’s best NFL QB prospects

Our positional rankings kick off with a look at the quarterbacks — perhaps one of the deepest positions in the draft. While the QBs at the top end of the range are not flawless, there are both starters and developmental backups to be found in this draft class. It’s an intriguing group at the bottom range as many of the QBs came into the season with previous warts or little hype, yet they developed just enough in 2015 to possibly warrant a late-round flier.

The NFL has an exclusive club of backup quarterbacks bouncing around the league, but this class may shake things up a bit as there are a number of players who appear best-suited to sit for a few years with hopes of developing into a starter down the road.

Here are the top quarterbacks in the 2016 draft class:

Round 1

  1. Jared Goff, Cal

There’s a lot to like about Goff’s game, from his pocket presence to his game-changing throws under pressure, to his ability to elevate an overmatched Cal team in the Pac-12. He posted the top grade among all quarterbacks in 2015 after ranking eighth in 2014, showing well whether pressured or facing the blitz. He can throw his receivers open with anticipation and creativity, and he’s fearless in making these throws even when getting hit. Goff’s short area accuracy could stand to improve, and his decision-making was questionable at times in 2015, but his overall body of work and three-year progression at Cal are too much to pass up for a QB-needy team at the top of the draft.

  1. Carson Wentz, North Dakota State

One of the biggest stories of the draft, Wentz ticks all of the boxes in the “looks-the-part” department. He’s much more than that though, as we’ve done an initial grading of his 2015 and there’s plenty to like on film as well. His arm strength jumps out as a positive, and he often needs it as his timing in the passing game is not always up to par. His deep comebacks are a thing of beauty, and his entire skillset screams “vertical passing offense.” If put into that type of scheme, Wentz looks like a quarterback that can win a game by pushing the ball down the field, but at this point, he can also lose it for you with questionable decision-making. He has better touch than other quarterbacks that possess his type of arm, though his accuracy wanes at times when using the change up. Wentz’s athleticism is icing on the cake, and it should be an effective tool at the next level. Wentz’s upside is immense, and he’s best-suited to sit and learn before seeing the field, and that proposition will play an important role in his development. There’s some inherent risk with banking on upside, but the combination of current on-field play and the physical skillset may be too much to pass up.

Rounds 2-3

  1. Paxton Lynch, Memphis

The first thing to note about Lynch is his development from two-star high school recruit to NFL prospect as he’s done an impressive job of improving every year since entering college. His +30.5 overall grade ranked seventh in the nation in 2015 as he did a fine job of taking care of the football while flashing the big-time throws you’d like to see from a future NFL quarterback. He’s athletic for 6-foot-7, throwing well on the move (a huge part of Memphis’ offense) and moving the chains as a runner both in the designed game and as a scrambler. The athleticism isn’t a game-changer at the next level, but it certainly won’t hurt. There are some accuracy concerns, particularly at the intermediate level outside the numbers where Lynch posted one of the worst accuracy percentages in the nation. Lynch only averaged 7.9 yards per target — one of the lowest numbers in the nation — so while he has the arm to challenge the intermediate and deep level of the field, he was only asked to do so sparingly at Memphis. He only attempted three passes beyond 40 yards on the season, two of them were well-placed post routes that showed Lynch’s potential. Quarterback stock will always be inflated on draft day, and while Lynch feels more like a second-round prospect, we wouldn’t frown upon his name being called in the first.

Rounds 4-7

  1. Connor Cook, Michigan State

Week-to-week consistency has been an issue for Cook who posted four games “in the red” in 2015, but also had two of the better quarterbacked games we saw all season against Rutgers and Indiana. The potential is there as Cook pushes the ball down the field with a clear conscience, often putting the ball in tight, NFL windows in the 11-30 yard range. He’s less accurate on the short stuff, missing too many throws, particularly when pressured where his accuracy percentage of 53.4 percent ranked 55th in the nation. There are plenty of off-field concerns and rumors surrounding Cook, but if any of that checks out, there is enough to like from his on-field play to warrant a pick for a developmental role.

  1. Brandon Allen, Arkansas

Size and hand size be damned, Allen put together one of the best second halves in the nation, including two monster games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State. His quick release and intermediate accuracy was on display in those games and he carried that into a strong bowl game and Senior Bowl week. He’s a little too quick to leave the pocket – also on display when he continually tried to scramble during team drills at practice – but the plays he’s made within the scheme are impressive enough to warrant a mid-round pick.

  1. Cody Kessler, USC

While the physical tools will never impress, Kessler did a fine job of distributing the ball accurately in 2014, leading to one of the highest passing grades in the nation. Unfortunately, he took a step back in 2015 as he remained one of the nation’s most accurate in the short ranges, but anything over 10 yards was below the national average, and that’s concerning. Kessler’s regression raises questions about whether or not the lack of physical tools caught up to him, but it’s difficult to ignore his 2014 play which rivaled the top QBs in the country. The upside may not be huge for Kessler, though he had the lowest percentage of negative grades of any QB in the country, so there is a skillset to work with at the next level.

  1. Brandon Doughty, WKU 

Back-to-back years of strong grades put Doughty higher than most, but he’s shown accuracy to all levels of the field. He shows the pocket movement and decision-making to be a capable NFL player, and he led the nation with an accuracy percentage of 81.8 percent while ranking fifth in deep-pass accuracy percentage at 53.1 percent.

  1. Matt Johnson, Bowling Green

Speaking of size issues, as our own Sam Monson points out, Matt Johnson does everything “wrong” before the snap, but everything after is excellent. He’s too short, he plays in a Baylor-like offense that resembles a teenager playing Madden, and he rarely has to make anything close to an NFL read. But when he throws the ball, magic happens, to the tune of a +53.9 overall grade and the second-highest “big-time throw” total in the nation with 41. His downfield accuracy is breathtaking at times, dropping 40-plus yard bombs into buckets with regularity. Coming from an offense that is 40 percent bombs and screens is not an ideal translation to the NFL, but the term “arm talent” comes to mind when watching Johnson and he’s simply a player we’d like to see in an NFL camp to develop in the coming years.

  1. Vernon Adams Jr, Oregon

More work is still to be done on Adams as well, and he has a similar profile as Rudock’s. Adams battled a thumb injury early in the season that likely hindered his performance, but his +14.7 grade since Week 10 and an impressive performance in the East-West Shrine game have our analysts intrigued to break down exactly what changed in his game.

  1. Trevone Boykin, TCU

The NFL wants Boykin to play wide receiver, but we’d love to see him get a shot to play QB. He’s still relatively inexperienced at the position, and he sprinkled in enough “wow” throws to keep us intrigued. He posted the seventh-best grade in the nation in 2015, a year removed from ranking 14th, so the arrow is still pointing up in his development.

  1. Kevin Hogan, Stanford

Hogan’s development was the opposite of Kessler’s as he struggled for much of 2014 before finishing strong and carrying it into 2015. He struggled on a number of intermediate and deep throws, but his progression is intriguing and we’re working through our second pass watching that development.

  1. Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech

Competition level aside, Driskel’s one year at Louisiana Tech was a huge improvement after three uneven seasons at Florida. Consistency can still be an issue as he’ll mix in impressive throws with passes that miss by a wide margin, and his 71.6 percent accuracy percentage (15th in draft class) is concerning. It was only a step up from last year’s 67.2 percent mark, so while the arrow is pointing up in his development, he’s also just a year removed from not even being considered a draftable prospect.

Undrafted free agents

Jacoby Brissett, NC State

Brissett’s two-year passing grade is well below most of the other quarterbacks on the list though he’s done a fine job of using his legs to move the chains. If you catch the right Brissett games, there’s plenty to like, but the bad ones occur far too often. That inconsistency is too much to risk with a draft pick.

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State

Strides were made in the passing game, but Prescott still sits behind most of the passers in this draft class. He does add an intriguing element as a runner, particularly in the designed run game, but there are still too many questions about him as a passer to warrant a draft pick.

Nick Arbuckle, Georgia State

Another player we are going back to re-watch, the grades were strong this season and our analysts always came back impressed after watching him play.

Jake Rudock, Michigan 

We’re still working through our re-watch of Rudock, but his trend is one of the most interesting in the country. Through week nine, he was the 44th-ranked QB in the draft class at -13.5, but from week 10 and on, his +24.0 grade led all QBs in the class. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has lobbied hard for Rudock behind the scenes, and he’ll be one to watch during the draft process.

Christian Hackenberg, Penn State

“Looks the part” is the nicest thing that has been said about Hackenberg the last two seasons, and we’re not really sure how much that’s worth. The on-field play has been subpar by every measure, and most point to 2013 as the glimmer of hope in Hackenberg’s upside. We are in the process of going back to grade every play from that season, but the last two years of evidence that saw him rank among the worst quarterbacks in the country is not encouraging.


| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Levin Adkins

    I keep coming to these types of articles about the draft and i keep leaving disappointed. It looks like if I want information I can actually use I cant use this site because they have 5th round picks in the 1st round in their mock drafts and they have 2nd-4th round picks as UFA like with a couple of those QBs.

    • James W.

      Well, I don’t know about the mock drafts, but this article isn’t about where they WILL be drafted. It’s about where the analysts from PFF think they SHOULD be drafted according to the tape that they have watched and the metrics that the players put forth.

      • bill jaffe

        yeah mock drafts are good conversation starters but really not much else

      • Levin Adkins

        My apologies, I was referencing their actual mock draft from another article in the comment. I was also pointing out how they have other guys who are consistently ranked as middle round talent ranked as undrafted.

    • ThenAtlasSpoke

      If you dislike different perspectives so much, then you should really only look for articles that agree with your preconceived notions. However, if you are open to expanding your pool of expert evaluations to draw from and considering thoughts outside your pre-drawn conclusions, then an article like this is exactly what you should be looking for.

      • Levin Adkins

        Why should I be looking at this only for the sake of it being different? Different isnt always a good thing and if 9 out of 10 places say someone is a 1st round talent and this one site says that same person is a 4th round talent, why should I think there is any credibility? I understand how PFF works. They are huge on analytics, which is fine, but you, i and everyone else knows that they dont tell the whole story. This is a discussion board anyway so i’m allowed to have my opinion on their articles so you telling me how I should approach each and every article means nothing

  • Justin Sowels

    where the hell is Cardale jones ? He is better than most of these guys

    • bill jaffe

      actually he’s not, he’s got 3 great games and a season of uneven performances but someone will buy the Ohio State pedigree and draft him

    • Josh Stewart

      Uh, do you even watch football?

      • Flou

        Well do you ? Barett wasn’t better and the whole offense was a real mess. Jones is better than the 2/3 of the QB here

        • Josh Stewart

          Actually the offense got a lot better once Barett got time with them. Jones literally can’t throw the football. The only thing he did during their great run was rely on Zeke and bomb the ball downfield to Smith. Once Smith left, you saw his lack of ability.

  • Tim Edell

    It is funny to me that nobody gives Hackenberg the credit he deserves. When he was a Freshman under Bill O’Brien he ran a pro-style offense and ran it with precision and great execution. Over the last 2 years he was set up to fail in James Franklin offense. Watch the tape on him and he understands the QB position. From his pre-snap reads to his ability to throw the ball away Hackenberg is definitely a NFL QB. He has everything you look for in a QB but will need some time to fix the bad habits that he has obtained over these last 2 years. When he is under center watch how more proficient he is then when is lined up in the gun. Under center he has tremendous footwork and the ability to lead an NFL offense. You watch him when he is in the gun and his footwork is atrocious and is almost throwing flat-flooted on a majority of these throws. Im not saying he is a 1st round pick or a cant-miss prospect by any means… however Hackenberg has more physical skills, understanding of the game, and potential then any QB in this draft outside of Goff and Wentz. IMO there is no way that if he is sitting there in the 3rd round and the Texans haven’t selected a QB as of yet I can guarantee you that he will be reunited with Bill O’Brien.

    • hartjdave

      So his mechanics are a mess and that’s the fault of the scheme? Poor coaching? I didnt quite follow that..

      • Tim Edell

        Yes he received very poor coaching once O’Brien left Penn State. Not only was he not put in the best position to succeed but the play calling and run/pass ratio in most games was horrible. Im the Ohio State game for example they threw 3 passes in the secon half. If you dont believe he received poor coaching take note their O coordinator was fired before the year was over. Hackenberg is a very very smart pro style QB who is well advanced in pre-snap reads and protection schemes. Franklins staff had him lined up in the pistol and in the gun a majority of the time. As I stated earlier his mechanics break down considering when he is lined up in the gun, his feet stop moving and his plant foot is a mess. When he is under center and throwing in rythmn he is much much better. There are not many, edpecially Goff who played in as simple as offense as you will find, that are more pro ready then Hackenbrrg is. Yes it will take him time to correct his mechanucs and his windup type delivery but these issues are very similar to what Winston had coming out last year. Belueve me I was not a big fan of his until I started watching tape on him and I think if he can reunite with O’Brien in Houston ( who won games with Hoyer, Yates, Weeden, and Mallett) he could turn out to be one of the best QBs in this class. Everyone can look at the same draft rankings from site after site but when someone offers a differnt opinion it has to be wrong. His arm is on the same level as Stafford and Rodgers and what separates him from busts like Leaf and Jemarcus is this guy has “it” between his ears. He understands the game and uf I can get a guy like this with all the potential in the world in the 3rd round sign me up.

    • KAO

      He’s awful. Decision making really cant be taught that much its who you are, especially when under pressure. He’s a God Awful decision maker. Great physical traits though….

      • crosseyedlemon

        Decision making can’t be taught? Your suggesting owners spend millions of dollars on a coaching staff just because they have nothing better to do….lol.

        • KAO

          Coaches put players in the best position or at least thats their job. They have a plethora of different things to teach a QB but players play and players win. QBs make their own decisions you cant really alter that very much. Historically guys are far more likely to keep making bad decisions as a pro. Hack is as bad a decision maker as you’ll ever see. Career backup.

        • Tim Edell

          You tried brother

    • bill jaffe

      i suspect you right about the Texans and round 3, i also think Penn State’s crappy o-line for the last 2 years did not help

    • Josh Stewart

      He sucks.

      • Tim Edell

        ESPN misses your great intellect!!

        • Josh Stewart

          Well I can throw some fancy smart sounding football words in there if it’ll make you feel better?

          • Donald Hair

            What do you think about Marquise Williams from UNC. I think he could be another Cam Newton. This Kid is a beast, I think

    • eusdart

      Boy o Boy were you guys WAY off on Goff and Prescott – if this is your day job “quit NOW”.

  • Framoka

    Cardele Jones left some serious money on the table coming back for tOSU’s crap season.

    • donald hair

      Cardele is not on the list either is Marquise Williams. Kid throw for 2013 1,698 yards, 2014 3068 yards and 2015 3072 yards for 7838 yards total with completion percentage of 58%, 61% and 63% and also ran for 536, 788 and 948 in those same years and when you google him he is not listed as being Drafted or being signed as an Undrafted Free Agent signee and waterfall does not have him in the Top 27 at least waterfall has Cardele at number 6. But you have QB’s ahead of Williams from Utah who only passed for 2095 yards with 13 TD’s and 10 interceptions when Williams throw 24 Touchdowns and 10 interceptions and also ran for 13 TD’s. So he accounted for 37 TD’s in 2015 alone. Take a look at the Georgia Tech Carolina highlights and tell me what you think.

  • Backinmd

    Saw Paxton Lynch play a few times on TV …To me he looked alot better than what the Scouts say …His upside is through the roof …

  • KAO

    Where the hell is Cardale Jones. He’s as big a project as you’ll ever see but his tape those 3 games he led OSU to the title is beyond solid and his potential is as good as any QB in hear. He will definitely be drafted after a good combine and pro day.

    • Josh Stewart

      He can be found on tOSU’s bench.

      • KAO


  • Mike Remmes

    Is it just me or does any one else see Tim Tebow in Wentz?

    • Zach

      I think it’s just you

  • Dave Taylor

    I’m a Penn State fan, and I have rooted for Hackenberg to play well. But his record is really not that great. His best year was under O’Brien in 2013, but if you look closer at the stats from that year, almost half his passing yards were to one exceptional receiver, Allen Robinson. And I recall quite a few jump balls that AR pulled down to make big plays. When Robinson left, Hack’s yards and completion percentage went way down.


    The surprise of them all is going to be Marquise Williams from North Carolina (CAM NEWTON) TYPE QB

  • Brian D

    As someone who follows the PAC-12 closely, Goff is going to be fantastic (comparisons to Aaron Rodgers are accurate), Kessler is a waste of a pick and Hogan will be a good backup but no more.
    Hackenberg- another waste of a pick. Mentally, he’s toast.