By trading for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Los Angeles Rams made a bold statement about the new direction of the team after leaving St. Louis. General manager Les Snead won't disclose his intentions, but all signs point to him choosing between two quarterbacks: Jared Goff of University of California, Berkeley, and Carson Wentz of North Dakota State.
The Rams' situation is quite different from the 2015 draft. In the weeks leading up to last year's draft, it was abundantly clear the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would draft Jameis Winston with the top overall selection, while the Tennessee Titans would draft Marcus Mariota with the second pick. With the Cleveland Browns potentially looking for a quarterback at No. 2 overall this year, two quarterbacks could once again be taken at the top of the draft. But there isn't overwhelming confidence in Goff and Wentz, as both only recently emerged as viable options in a draft class that many scouts believe has plenty of depth but lacks superstar talent.
Indeed, the debate over Goff and Wentz is in noticeable contrast to previous drafts; neither is considered a "can't miss" prospect. Months before the 2015 draft, Winston was thought to be more of a sure thing than Mariota, and Andrew Luck had the edge over Robert Griffin III in 2012. There is far more hesitance surrounding Goff and Wentz, prompting questions about the Rams decision to "gamble" on sacrificing depth for a top pick.
Before the Rams and Titans completed the trade, some mock drafts projected just one quarterback for the top half of the first round. The Browns are even considering trading the No. 2 overall pick, according to ESPN.com, despite a clear need for a dependable long-term solution at quarterback. Meanwhile, Paxton Lynch of Memphis was up and down on draft boards, at some points ahead of both Goff and Wentz, and there has been increased interest in Mississippi State's Dak Prescott and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg.
Snead is more than likely a serious admirer of both Goff and Wentz. In so many words, he has indicated it will come down to those two quarterbacks, and only them, after the Scouting Combine.
"I do think when you make a move of this magnitude, which was nice for us, we did feel like there were two players," Snead said on "The Dan Patrick Show" Monday. "We did determine that. We feel like there were two players worthy of picking there, and I think that's important to know. And yes, there's a leader in the clubhouse, but we still have over 10 days before the draft, I believe. Not much can happen in that time, but a few things can happen and you want to ... cross your T's, dot your I's and put your period on the sentence."
While Snead won't show his cards, he has a lot to consider when he's on the clock on April 28. Based solely on their college output and experience, Goff has a considerable edge over Wentz. Goff was a three-year starter at Cal, playing in a competitive and talent-rich Pac-12 conference. His numbers improved every season, throwing for 4,719 yards, 43 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2015 with a 64.5 completion percentage. The Golden Bears were just 1-11 in 2013, but they finished Goff’s junior season with an 8-5 record, beating the Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Wentz faced far weaker competition in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, and there could be concerns about his readiness. The Bison won a fifth straight FCS national championship last season, though they faced schools like Weber State and Western Illinois. As a senior, Wentz was limited to just seven games because of a wrist injury, throwing for 17 scores and four interceptions. In 16 games as a junior, he threw for 3,111 yards, 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a 63.7 completion percentage.
The physical tools, however, lean slightly toward Wentz. The 23-year-old's arm strength is better than Goff's, and he looks like a prototype pro-quarterback with his 6’6, 235-pound frame. Goff isn't much smaller at 6'4, 215 pounds.
Wentz also has an edge when it comes to mobility. Goff had minus-eight rushing yards in 2015, while Wentz totaled 1,028 yards on the ground and 12 rushing touchdowns in his last two seasons. At the Scouting Combine, Wentz ran the 40-yard dash slightly faster (4.77 seconds) than Goff (4.82 seconds) and also had a 30.5-inch vertical jump compared to Goff's 27-inch vertical.
If the Rams choose Wentz over Goff, it will likely have to do with Wentz's ceiling. Scouts believe Wentz needs to be more consistent with his mechanics, but they rave about his potential.
Goff seems more suited to have an immediate impact in the NFL. He's an accurate passer with a solid track record for making smart decisions.
NFL analyst Cris Collinsworth recently told the Los Angeles Times he thinks L.A. will select Wentz. Collinsworth praised Goff for his decision-making and play-making skills but sees the long-term appeal to Wentz.
"When you put the tape of Wentz on, the first thing that jumps out at you other than his sheer size is watching him run," said Collinsworth.
"He is a powerful-looking, maybe not Cam Newton, but in that big, strong, hit-me-I-don't-care kind of category. And when I watch him throw, especially on the run, there's an ease to it. The ball just comes out so easily, it makes you think that there's a little more he could put on it. Like watching Usain Bolt run — it always looks like there's one more gear he could hit if he ever had to."
The Rams had already watched Goff and Wentz work out in person before making the blockbuster trade, and they will reportedly meet with the quarterbacks one more time.