Here is a look at Packer Report’s top-rated quarterbacks. This is one of the better quarterback classes in memory — potentially good news for the Green Bay Packers, should they want to replace Scott Tolzien with a developmental prospect behind Aaron Rodgers and promising second-year player Brett Hundley.
Stats are from STATS, via RealFootball.com, though the comparisons were assembled by Packer Report.
CARSON WENTZ, North Dakota State
Position rank: 1
Height: 6-foot-5 1/4. Weight: 237. Hand: 10. 40: 4.77.
Notes: 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 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. As a senior, he missed eight games with a broken wrist. He returned for the national championship game and threw for 197 yards and rushed for 79 more while totaling three touchdowns in a 37-10 romp over Jacksonville State. In seven games, he completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 1,651 yards with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions. He added six more touchdowns on the ground. Starting all 16 games as a junior, Wentz threw for 3,111 yards with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and was the second-leading rusher with 642 yards and six more touchdowns.
Scouting: From size to athleticism to arm strength to touch, Wentz has it all. The knock on him, obviously, is competition, but he played in a pro-style offense and is familiar with playing under center and taking three- and five-step drops.
“Wentz is a good student of the game, one that can easily adjust from college ball to raise his game to another level in a pro-style passing attack,” longtime NFL scout Dave-Te Thomas said. “There is no question that he has a solid feel for pre-snap reads, doing a nice job of making checks and locating secondary targets. (He distributed the ball to an average of eight different receivers per game in 2014-15.) He is a smart passer with keen eyes scanning the field, following through with his progressions. Most of his interceptions in 2014 were the result of his targets passively making attempts at the ball in traffic — five of his thefts first touched NDSU players first before being picked off.”
His rise is almost unprecedented. Heading into the season, Thomas' team put a seventh-round grade on Wentz. A scout we talked to had him as a fifth. It's not all that unusual for a player to go from fifth-rounder to first-rounder. But a small-schooler who missed half of the season rising to a top-five pick? Wentz left a memorable first impression on NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. “The first tape I put in, I went, ‘Wow,’ and I didn't even know who he was. He was just a quarterback on my list. No clue. And I watched — I think it was Northern Iowa — and I watched this big kid swing the ball around the lot, and then on top of it, was athletic enough where they planned quarterback runs for him. When I look at him, I see a kid that's as athletic or more athletic than Andrew Luck. He's bigger than Andrew Luck. He's got arm strength comparable to Andrew Luck. He just doesn't have the experience that Andrew Luck has at a high level that Andrew has coming out of college. So, I see a ceiling for this kid similar to Andrew Luck. That's why I believe in this kid so much. But it's going to take a little bit of time. His character apparently is off the charts.”
Personally: 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. He feasted on lower-tier competition but has answered every question along the way, especially with his week at the Senior Bowl. “I think for me it's kind of what I expected going in to show what I'm capable of. But I think to a lot of people it showed I can handle that game speed. Obviously, there's still going to be a big jump going forward, but that was probably the big question everyone wants to know. ‘Can he adjust? He was playing FCS ball. All these guys are FBS guys.’ I think I went in there and proved that I could handle it."
JARED GOFF, California
Position rank: 2
Height: 6-foot-4. Weight: 215. Hand: 9. 40: 4.82.
Notes: Goff started all 36 possible games at Cal and became the only quarterback in school history to start his first game as a true freshman. He departs having set school career records for passing yards (11,733), touchdown passes (90), total offense (11,635) and completions (952). He’s one of only six players in Pac-12 history to throw for 3,000-plus yards in three seasons and the second to throw for 3,000-plus yards in each of his first three seasons. Among active FBS quarterbacks, Goff ranked second in touchdown passes, passing yards, passing yards per game (325.9) and completions (952). In 2015, he became the school’s first first-team all-conference quarterback since Aaron Rodgers in 2004. He completed 316-of-492 passes for 4,252 yards with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, breaking his own school records in passing yards, touchdown passes, total touchdowns and total offense. He finished 10th in the nation in passer rating (109.8).
Of our top 16 quarterbacks — not including Wentz, for whom STATS doesn’t have detailed statistics — Goff tied for second with 58 percent of his passing yards coming through the air, meaning his yardage total was built through passing rather than run after catch. In terms of passer rating, he was third in the red zone, sixth vs. pressure and in the middle of the back vs. the blitz and on third down.
Scouting: The knocks on Goff are his slender build, lack of athletic ability and throwing motion, with Goff having 43 passes deflected in 2015, according to Thomas. There also will be a transition from playing in a spread offense. Don’t confuse the lack of athletic ability with an inability to move and avoid in the pocket, though.
“Goff is a very intelligent player with no problems executing a complicated game plan,” Thomas said. “He has good arm strength for the short to intermediate area, and has confidence in the fact that he has the raw arm power to air the ball out consistently, but is still savvy enough to keep the game plan within his athletic talents. He generates the same velocity, whether throwing off his front or back foot. He has the touch to fire the ball into tight areas underneath and shows good hip rotation to generate a tight spiral. He would be comfortable in a West Coast or ball-controlled offense, but with his arm strength, he can certainly make all the throws. Goff is a gutsy field general, evident by his performance playing under a lot of pressure the last three years. He’s been dinged up a bit, mostly with just nicks and bruises, but he stands tall in the pocket under pressure and won’t panic and try to run with the ball.”
Said Mayock: “Quick feet, quick release, doesn’t have the arm strength maybe that Paxton Lynch does or Wentz has, but you can see everything you want in a quarterback that’s ready to play today. That’s what Goff is; he’s ready to go today. ... When I watch Goff, I see a guy sliding and moving around the pocket, going from one side of the field to the other making every throw. I don’t think Wentz is at that point yet as far as being quickly able to do that and I think he needs a lot more reps.”
Personally: Cal was in Goff’s blood. His father, Jerry, played third base for the Bears on the baseball diamond, punted for the football team and enjoyed a lengthy career with the Expos, Pirates and Tigers in the 1990s. His mother, Nancy, also went to Cal, as did his paternal grandfather. Goff didn’t just blossom as a passer at Cal. He blossomed as a leader as a two-year captain and helped Cal rebound from a 1-11 season in 2012. “It was definitely a learning experience and taught me a lot,” Goff said. “Taught me a lot about football, and had to grow up, had to mature, had to kind of become the leader of the team that next year. I’m very grateful for that experience, for sure. It’s been a part of my football journey that I’ll definitely look back on as something that helped me.”
PAXTON LYNCH, Memphis
Position rank: 3
Height: 6-foot-6 5/8. Weight: 244. Hand: 10 1/4. 40: 4.86.
Notes: 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.
According to STATS, Lynch averaged just 5.9 air yards per completion — for comparison, Connor Cook averaged 9.4 and Goff averaged 8.0 — so the receivers did much of the work. Still, his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 7-to-1 was by far the best of the draft class, with Dak Prescott’s 5.8-to-1 ranking second. His 83.4 rating against pressure ranked third but his 99.0 on third down was in the middle of the pack and his 87.6 in the red zone was near the bottom. In his finale, the bowl game vs. Auburn, he was terrible — 16-of-37 for 106 yards.
Scouting: Lynch is tall but, to borrow a phrase from former Vikings coach Brad Childress, he isn’t an “iron deer on the lawn.” As Mayock put it, “He’s a great athlete for 6-foot-7. He’ll surprise you with his athletic ability.” As a spread-offense quarterback, he’ll have a lot to learn — starting with the rudimentary stuff of taking a snap from center, taking five steps and throwing the ball. “Paxton Lynch looks to me, and I spent a couple hours with him a couple weeks ago watching tape with him and watching him on the field, and they’re rebuilding him from the ground up,” Mayock said. “He’s never been under center in his life. He’s got a lot that he’s got to learn. He’s working hard at it and when he gets his footwork lined up the right way, that arm strength is elite. It’s really gold. That’s a work in progress. I think he’s a first-round pick, but he’s a little bit of a project. He’s a year or two away.”
Said Thomas: “Lynch has a strong arm with good throwing mechanics and a quick release. He has enough quickness to roll out and elude when flushed out of the pocket. Lynch is a smart athlete who can sense pressure in the pocket and he does a very nice job of scanning for his secondary targets. He is the type who can buy time with his feet, as he is elusive enough to prevent from being caught in the backfield for the sack. Lynch has made great strides in developing his feel for making quicker progression reads. It is rare to see him force the ball or take unnecessary chances with it, as his judgment appears sound. Three of his four interceptions in 2015 were the result of his targets not carrying out their assignments. He is generally capable of making right decisions with the ball in his hands and is also quite effective when deciding when to scramble. Even when pressured, he shows good judgment in not trying to create something out of nothing. The thing you notice on film is the ease of the ball coming off his fingers, the tightness in his motion and the smoothness that the ball takes in its trajectory. Lynch has the ability to fire tight ropes up field and will have no trouble making all the NFL-type vertical throws. He can fit the ball into tight spots with good zip, and excites quarterback coaches when he uncorks the long ball down field with little or no wind-up.”
Personally: He garnered only light recruiting interest as a Wing-T quarterback. “I didn't really throw the ball at all in high school because we were a Wing-T offense, but when I got to Memphis, that's the first time I actually started throwing the ball in general. So we kind of tested a few things out, moving me in the pocket and stuff like that, but I'm confident in my abilities and what I can and can't do. Throwing on the run is not one of the things I can't do but standing in the pocket and making sideline throws is also something I don't think I'll have a problem with.”
CONNOR COOK, Michigan State
Position rank: 4
Height: 6-foot-4. Weight: 217. Hand: 9 3/4. 40: 4.78.
Notes: Cook was a three-year starter who finished as the winningest quarterback in school history with 34 victories. He went 34-5, including 23-2 vs. Big Ten opponents (21-2 regular season; 2-0 Big Ten Championship games) and 2-1 in bowl games. His win total is the fourth-best in conference history. In 43 career games, he completed 58 percent of his passes for 9,194 yards with 71 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. He holds school records for touchdown passes, passing yards and total yards (9,403), and is tied for first with 10 300-yard passing games. As a senior, he won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (top quarterback) and the Big Ten’s Quarterback of the Year and finished ninth in the Heisman Trophy race. He completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,131 yards with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions to help the Spartans to the playoffs.
While all of our top quarterbacks (other than Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg) completed at least 60 percent of their passes, Cook was at just 56 percent. However, Cook blew away the field by averaging 9.4 air yards per completion. Oregon’s Vernon Adams (8.7) and Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld (8.2) were the only other quarterbacks to average more than 8 yards threw the air per completion, so there was a higher degree of difficulty to Cook’s attempts. However, he had a passer rating of just 47.4 under pressure and 71.7 in the red zone — both the worst among our top 16.
Scouting: One story line surrounding Cook is that he wasn’t a captain at Michigan State. “I think he's a complicated question, and I'll start with the premise that I think he's one of the four quarterbacks that has the physical talent to be a first-round draft pick,” Mayock said. “The second piece of that is, OK, what's the on-field evaluation? For me, he's never been a 60 percent completion guy, but part of that is because they throw the football down the field aggressively. The second half of (the playoff game vs. Alabama), I love what he did. He took a beating and kept throwing the ball and kept throwing tough passes down the field and completing them. I really liked — even though I think he was 18 for 39 that game — I liked that game. Then you get to kind of the off-the-field questions and the whole captain thing, and to me it does matter. To some teams and GMs, it doesn't matter that you're not a captain, but to other teams, it does matter. Why didn't his teammates vote their best player and their quarterback to be their captain and their leader? That's a legitimate question. And the second question for me is why didn't he go to the Senior Bowl?”
Otherwise, he is a smart, confident, strong-armed quarterback with limited mobility — at least compared to the other top quarterbacks in this draft. He skipped the Senior Bowl because of a sore right shoulder and played with a brace on his left knee.
Personally: Cook caught Michigan State’s eye as a high school sophomore, when he was asked to throw passes to a player the school was recruiting. By playing in MSU’s pro-style system, he believes he’s ready to hit the ground running. “I think it’s the system I’ve been in for the last four-and-a-half years. It’s been the same offense that I’ve been able to run throughout that entire time. I’ve done a lot of stuff from under center, done the five-step drops, done the seven-step drops, naked play-action pass rollouts. We have pro-style concepts, reading the whole field. It’s not like we’re standing just on one side of the field and staying there. We have one, two, three, to four different reads. Just being able to operate in the pocket, being able to get the ball from under center, and just our concepts I would say is what makes me the most pro ready.”
Position rank: 5
Height: 6-foot-2 1/4. Weight: 226. Hand: 10. 40: 4.79.
Notes: 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. 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 averaged just 5.6 air yards per attempt but had the aforementioned sensational touchdown-to-interception ratio (29 touchdowns vs. five interceptions). Across the board, he was excellent in all the situational numbers, with ratings of 106.4 on third down, 114.5 in the red zone, 120.1 vs. the blitz and a fifth-best 78.5 vs. pressure. That is why Prescott got the nod as our No. 5 prospect.
Scouting: Prescott recently was charged with a DUI. Even though the school administration and coaching staff vouch for his character, it does draw up red flags. On the field, his numbers were incredible. Then again, so were the numbers posted by Tebow. Noted Thomas: “Built more like a running back, Prescott operated in a system that Dan Mullen used when he was Tebow’s offensive coordinator.” NFL Network analyst Charles Davis, however, spoke highly of Prescott’s play. “I thought (Prescott) made as much improvement of a big-time quarterback of anyone in the country, in my humble opinion. He's a big, big strong guy that can throw the football.”
Despite the big rushing numbers, Prescott would rather stand in the pocket than run and escape. He’ll have to adapt after running a spread/read-option offense but shows good fundamentals when in the pocket. He’ll need to get rid of the ball quicker, too, as evidenced by his 32 sacks — fourth-most among our top 16.
Speaking at the Combine before the DUI, Mayock said: “He is what he is. He’s one of those middle-round quarterbacks. There are teams that are going to want to work with him. He’s got height, weight, he’s got some arm strength. What he did in the state of Mississippi to galvanize that team in that state I thought was special. What happens with those kind of guys is a quarterback coach or two will fall in love with the kid. It’s not going to make him a first-rounder because he’s a great character but a coach will fall in love with him and they’ll draft him.”
Personally: 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. His mom died of colon cancer in 2013. “Just the person she was, how selfless she was, she gave back to people, always had a smile on her face, was optimistic about everything and every situation and it just kind of carries down, just watching her allows me to carry through life the same way.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.