Paxton Lynch, Memphis (6-6, 230): Underclassman. Lynch entered the draft following a junior season in which he completed almost 67 percent of his passes for 3,776 yards with 28 touchdowns against just four interceptions. The yardage and touchdown totals set school records. Along with his rushing total, Lynch finished with 4,015 total yards. By ranking 12th in passer rating and 13th in completion percentage, Lynch helped lead Memphis to its first 10-win season since the 1930s and to the American Athletic Conference title. It was a remarkable turnaround for the school, which had won just four games before Lynch arrived on campus. In three seasons, he threw for 8,863 yards and piled up passing and rushing totals of 9,550 yards and 76 touchdowns. He garnered only light recruiting interest as a Wing-T quarterback. His best days are ahead, his coach said. “(Lynch hasn’t) topped out," said Memphis coach Justin Fuente. “When I had Andy Dalton as a junior (at TCU), he was as big and strong and as good a player as he was going to be. Paxton's still a kid as a junior. He's got plenty left.” He grew a lot during his three years as Memphis’ starting quarterback. On the first play of the 2013 spring game, he took the snap and turned the wrong way.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (6-2, 226): As a senior, Prescott was a finalist for the Manning and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm awards, won the Conerly Trophy as the top player in Mississippi and earned All-American accolades as the SEC’s first-team quarterback. Prescott, who earned his master’s degree, won the prestigious Senior CLASS Award, which is given to the top NCAA FBS senior student-athlete who best exemplifies four areas: community, classroom, character and competition. He accounted for 35 total touchdowns and 3,954 yards of total offense, and was one of four players nationally with at least 25 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns. Prescott led led the SEC in conference games in completions (226), completion percentage (67.1), passing yards (2,528), touchdown-to-interception ratio (17 to 4), passing yards per game (316.2) and total offense per game (363.2). Overall, he finished 23rd nationally in passer rating on the strength of 29 touchdowns vs. five interceptions. For his career, the two-time All-American is one of four players in FBS history and the second player in SEC history (2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow) to throw for 60 touchdowns and rush for 40 touchdowns in a career. Plus, he is one of 10 players in FBS history and the second player in SEC history (Tebow) to pass for 8,500 yards and rush for 2,000 yards. Prescott owns 38 school records, including 11,470 total yards and 110 total touchdowns, figures that rank third and fourth, respectively, in SEC history. He finished his career by winning MVP honors at the Senior Bowl. That entire package caught the attention of coach Dan Mullen during a camp featuring the school’s top football recruits before Prescott’s freshman season. “You could kind of see he was separating himself from all these elite players,” Mullen said. “Not in performance but in how he carried himself and how he led all these other guys that he had that ‘it’ factor.” His mom died of colon cancer in 2013. When he was a young boy, she used to tell him: “‘If you can't hang with the big dogs, stay on the porch.’ So I wasn't going to stay on the porch and see somebody else do what I love to do.”
Joel Stave, Wisconsin (6-5, 229): Stave’s numbers rank among the best in school hsitory. As a senior, he threw for 2,687 yards with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The former walk-on was the Badgers’ primary quarterback during his final three seasons and played extensively throughout his career, finishing with 7,635 pasing yards with 48 touchdowns and 37 interceptions. His 31 victories broke Brooks Bollinger’s school record of 30. “I am so happy for Joel,” fullback Derek Watt said after Stave was named MVP of Wisconsin’s victory over USC in the Holiday Bowl. “People have been riding him his whole career. And what he's got to show for it is the most wins in school history. That is a tremendous accomplishment for him and it is an honor to be part of it.” He started his career watching Russell Wilson take Wisconsin by storm but made his biggest gains under first-year coach Paul Chryst this season. “I’ve grown a lot this year, just being in so many different situations than I have been in year’s past. My first three years, we had two Heisman candidates at running back and James White, who is also no slouch there. We’ve has some very consistent offensive lines and always had that running game that we could lean pretty heavily on. Obviously we were banged up on the offensive line and had running backs bounce around, so based off the situation I had to grow a little bit and do more to help the offense.” In his apartment, there is a poster that says, “Relax.” Aaron Rodgers made that word famous but its presence at Stave’s place is coincidence. "It wasn't easy, it wasn't always fun, it wasn't always exactly what I thought it would be,” he said of his career. “But, in many ways, it was exactly the way I wanted my college career to go." Stave is listed as a throwing quarterback, meaning he will go through drills with the quarterbacks one day and then throw to the skill players the next.
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana (6-6, 236): Sudfeld was a one-man show for the undermanned Hoosiers. Sudfeld closed out his career as the Hoosiers’ all-time leader in touchdown passes (61) and passing yards (7,879), and was second in completions (593) and third in total yards (8,011). As a senior, he was second-team all-Big Ten with a school-record 3,573 passing yards. Sudfeld topped 350 passing yards seven times. He also finished second in IU history with 27 touchdown passes and fourth with 247 completions. He paced the Big Ten with 297.8 passing yards per game to help the Hoosiers to their first bowl game since 2007. Sudfeld was a finalist for the prestigious Wuerffel Trophy and the Senior CLASS Award, which go to players who excel on and off the field. Twin brothers Matthew and Zach played at Brown and Nevada, respectively; Zach is a tight end with the Jets. Football is great but it’s not everything, as Sudfeld well knows. About 25 years ago, his grandfather created a relief organization called Assist International, which focuses on needs such as providing fresh water, delivering medical supplies and serving orphans in Third World nations. Twice, Sudfeld has gone on mission trips to Uganda. It put his life in perspective when he missed part of his sophomore season with an injured left (non-throwing) shoulder. “When you're injured, you feel bad for yourself at first. (In Uganda) you see there are bigger issues in the world than missing a few games.”
Carson Wentz, North Dakota State (6-5, 233): Wentz will challenge Cal’s Jared Goff to be the first quarterback off the board. Wentz led the Bison to back-to-back FCS national championships. He was a team captain for both seasons. Wentz is a winner: He went 20-3 as a starter. In 2014, he rallied the Bison out of a 14-0 deficit in the season-opening win at Iowa State and orchestrated two late game-winning drives in the playoffs. In 2015, he piloted a 79-yard touchdown drive to beat Northern Iowa. Wentz is tough: He sustained a broken wrist this season against South Dakota but finished the game. He missed the next eight games and returned for the national championship game. He threw for 197 yards and rushed for 79 more while totaling three touchdowns in a 37-10 romp over Jacksonville State. Wentz is productive: In 2014, he threw for 3,111 yards with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and was the second-leading rusher with 642 yards and six more touchdowns. Along with all of that, he was a first-team Academic All-American. Wentz’s brother was a four-year starting pitcher and infielder for the Bison who owns school records for hits and doubles. A cousin, Connor, was a tight end for the Bison the past three seasons. So how did he end up at North Dakota State? Depending on who you talk to, Wentz has grown 10 inches and put on almost 100 pounds since his freshman year in high school. “I tended to win the earlier battles,” Zach said. “I have a feeling now things would be a little different. To see his maturity has been really special. To see him as an athlete, to see his leadership ability come out, makes me proud as an older brother.”
Josh Woodrum, Liberty (6-3, 225): Woodrum finished his career as the program's all-time record holder in passing yards (10,266), completions (833) and attempts (1,304). His 61 touchdown passes rank second on the list. Woodrum was an all-Big South selection in each of his final three seasons. His 10,690 total yards ranks second in conference history. Woodrum posted six of his 14 career 250-yard passing games during his senior season, when he completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 2,772 yards with 12 touchdowns with four interceptions. Afterward, he was picked for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. Like Stave, Woodrum is listed as a throwing quarterback. “I was really hoping that I would be invited to (the Combine), just so I could showcase my athletic ability and meet the player personnel [officials] and the scouts. I know a lot about offenses and how they operate and how defenses operate, so I’m looking forward to getting into the film room and the meeting room with these guys.” Woodrum’s little brother has Down dyndrome. He’s a two-time gold medalist in swimming in the Special Olympics. “My brother has been so influential in my life. He’s taught me so many lessons,” he said. “He’s such a role model to me not only because of what he’s gone through, but also his attitude. He’s so upbeat and loving all the time that he never has a bad day. Obviously he gets cranky sometimes, but he’s so outgoing toward people with such a loving attitude that it’s hard not to smile when you’re around him.”
ALSO IN THIS SERIES
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