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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.