Quarterback prospects take center stage at the 2016 NFL Combine Saturday, with Memphis’ Paxton Lynch, California’s Jared Goff, and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz making a big push to land in the first round.
The presumed leading quarterback triumvirate of this year’s class are in a far different position in 2016 as opposed to last year. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were widely and correctly predicted to go No. 1 and No. 2 overall well before the first round began last year, but with so many superior defensive players and offensive linemen littering scouts’ rankings it’s unclear when the first quarterback’s name will come off the board this year.
But Lynch, Goff, and Wentz all have the opportunity to flash their overall athletic abilities to convince scouts they can hang on the NFL level before holding private workouts or their respective pro days.
In particular, each has shown they can dominate college’s ranks and opposing defenses but the combine and their pro days will afford each time to dispel any preconceived negative notions NFL scouts and team executives may have about their games.
Here’s a quick scouting report for each passer.
Paxton Lynch, Memphis
In the mold of physically gifted quarterbacks like Cam Newton and even JaMarcus Russell, the 6-foot-7, 245-pound redshirt junior has all the tools to excel in the NFL but there are considerable and well-reasoned concerns surrounding his ability to adapt and learn a pro-style offense.
From a measurable standpoint, Lynch has the size and strength to look well over the tallest defensive linemen and his arm strength can reach every depth of the field. His frame has also allowed Lynch to play hurt and take hits in the pocket, scoring him major brownie points from scouts who are always hesitant to promote a passer who might be skittish in the pocket after taking that first hit from even an average NFL pass rusher.
The numbers are certainly in Lynch’s favor as well. He improved his completion percentage every year, finishing at an excellent 66.8 percent in 2015, and fired off 28 touchdowns to a mere four interceptions in his final season including a stellar performance against SEC titan Ole Miss.
But taking into account the complexities of both NFL offenses and defenses, combined with perceptions that Lynch will need time to develop, this combine is probably more critical for him than any other high-profile quarterback
If he stays in first-round contention, two good spots for Lynch might be New Orleans and Philadelphia at No. 12 and No. 13 overall. Neither side will likely thrust him into the role of starter right away, giving him time to adapt. A poor performance may mean he dips out of the first two rounds.
Jared Goff, California
Goff’s presently the frontrunner of this group, which can have both adverse and positive effects. For one, due to his exceptional performances with the Golden Bears, Goff may only need to confirm the one thing most scouts and GMs know already: He has the potential to be great. Goff showed tremendous accuracy on short, intermediate, and deep passes. The 21-year-old faced top-notch Pac-12 competition throughout his college career and fired off an impressive ratio of 78 touchdown passes to 20 interceptions over his final two seasons.
However, Goff’s premium status also afforded scouts more time to pick apart his game and catch minor flaws that might seem trivial in college but could balloon into a much bigger problem in the NFL. Goff’s shown awesome durability, but even at 6-foot-4 he’s only 215 pounds and his overall wiry frame will lead to questions about whether he can take hits in the NFL.
But he remains the frontrunner to be the first quarterback selected. Expect Goff to be picked anywhere from Cleveland at No. 2 to San Francisco at No. 7 if he performs to his potential on Saturday.
Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
While Lynch needs a strong interview and Goff just needs to reinforce what scouts think they already know, Wentz will have to do some mixture of both.
The biggest knock throughout the draft process will undoubtedly revolve around the FCS talent Wentz faced at North Dakota State, compared to the litany of fellow NFL draft prospects Goff and Lynch each stared down week after week.
Wentz could have padded this career numbers of 5,115 yards and 45 touchdowns to 14 interceptions during his senior season, and his legs are quite quick and strong, garnering 1,028 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns over four years.
A broken wrist derailed Wentz’s chance of posting stronger numbers last year, keeping him out until the Bisons’ FCS championship date with Jacksonville State.
And despite missing all that time, Wentz didn’t miss a beat by tossing one touchdown and rushing for two more as North Dakota State won it’s fifth-straight FCS crown.
Maintaining focus off the field while recovering from a serious injury is just as good a sign of a hardworking player as a quarterback willing to stand in the pocket to take hits, and it shows Wentz very much has the work ethic for at least a shot at the next level.
Wentz is projected to be picked in the Top 20 due to his size, big arm, and reputation as a winner, so he could very well move past Lynch somewhere in the first round.