Free agency fallout: How early action may impact top QB prospects
Once the initial flurry of free agency fades, among the most pressing questions that arise is this: How does it affect the draft?
Continuing with NFL draft tradition, quarterbacks figure to dictate many Round 1 plans—directly for those teams drafting a QB, and indirectly for those that see their options altered by a presumed QB-needy team’s selection.
Now that the initial 24 hours of the new league year is in the books, what are the updated outlooks for the 2016 draft’s top quarterback prospects?
Jared Goff, Cal
Much of what happens from here obviously depends on whether teams have Goff or Carson Wentz (or a surprise like Paxton Lynch) atop their boards. As things stand right now, though, we have the following to consider:
a) Cleveland, picking at No. 2, still needs a quarterback—Josh McCown could be an early-season option if they want their pick to gain some extra seasoning, but they have to nab one regardless.
b) San Francisco, picking at No. 7, almost definitely needs a QB. Chip Kelly’s arrival opened the door for Colin Kaepernick to reclaim his starting job, but as trade talks for Kaepernick have greatly intensified, that possibility seems slim to none. There is not an option out there that should keep the 49ers from drafting a QB. The returning Blaine Gabbert certainly will not do so.
c) Philadelphia, now at No. 8, is all but off the board in the quarterback derby with Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel locked up. A developmental QB later could be in the plans, but the Bradford-Daniel battle is on for 2016.
That about covers the main threats to take a quarterback in the top 10, because I’d still call it very unlikely that either Dallas or San Diego does so. What’s interesting as it relates to Goff is not how high he might go—No. 2, or No. 1 if a team trades up—but how low he could fall.
The MMQB’s Robert Klemko pitched a top-10 scenario where the Browns select Wentz, the 49ers go defense and Goff slips into the double digits. An entirely plausible scenario.
As nonsensical as it sounds, Goff is the top QB prospect but also more likely to slide than Wentz. The North Dakota State star offers more size than Goff and his team’s offense, while not just a carbon copy of any particular NFL team’s playbook, did give him more pro-style looks than Goff had.
All that said, the floor for Goff can’t be too low, not given the way we’re seeing teams panic over their quarterback situations. Set it at the Rams’ pick at 15 and work up from there.
Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
Starting with Hue Jackson’s combine comments about the importance of a quarterback’s hand size, there are myriad reasons to connect Wentz to Cleveland at No. 2. Wentz might have been a tempting prospects for the Eagles, though, had they not gone out and paired Daniel with Bradford.
Otherwise, the picture for Wentz more or less mirrors Goff’s. It’s difficult to see either slipping beyond St. Louis at 15. The Rams continues to argue—most recently by slapping a first-round tender on him—that Case Keenum can be their guy, but they might just be trying to convince themselves.
Depending on what happens with Kaepernick and Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Jets at No. 19 could be a sleeper to move up. Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has proven he can adapt no matter his QB’s style, but Ryan Fitzpatrick thrived in the pocket last season. Goff and Wentz both are very good there, with the arm to get the ball downfield and to the sideline.
Paxton Lynch, Memphis
A much tougher case to nail down than either Goff or Wentz. Lynch isn’t that far removed from the perceived top two quarterbacks ... but he’s also not all that clear of the second wave of prospects.
His best-case draft scenario is that one team, like Cleveland or San Francisco, has a QB board skewed compared to the general consensus. Saving that, Lynch without question would benefit from the Browns and 49ers sparking a mini-run at the position early. In the latter circumstance a team like the Rams could jump into the top 10 for Lynch, with both Goff and Wentz off the board by pick No. 7.
Lynch could be in for a longer wait, but the upside is the possibility of landing in a brighter situation. Being Cleveland’s pick at 2 would come with a laundry list of challenges. But should either the Jets or Broncos go hunting for a quarterback later in Round 1, Lynch could land somewhere with more immediate hopes.
Lynch also could be option A for a team feeling good, but not great, about its quarterback situation beyond 2016. We’re talking, potentially, about the Bills (Tyrod Taylor is a free agent after ’17), Redskins (Kirk Cousins is franchise tagged), the Steelers (Big Ben’s injury history is growing) and Chiefs (Daniel just bolted as Alex Smith’s heir apparent).
Connor Cook, Michigan State
The sleeper to throw Round 1 into chaos. There will be franchises that buy into the notion of Cook as a poor leader or a possible off-field problem—those rumblings have been too numerous to ignore. There also might be a few teams with Cook ahead of Lynch, which could push him into the top-20.
Of the top four quarterbacks listed here, Cook probably is the most "NFL-ready," at least in terms of transitioning from his college system to the pros. Michigan State’s offense makes for the mildest learning curve as compared to Cal, North Dakota State and Memphis’s attacks.
Cook may not bring with him the upside of Goff, Wentz or Lynch, but he could be the best choice for a team that feels like it needs a QB for a 2016 playoff chase. Had Houston not landed Brock Osweiler, Cook would have been a clear option.
Now, the 31-32 spots are where to watch, spread over the end of Round 1 and start of Round 2. Denver could nab Cook at 31, even if it pulls off a trade for Kaepernick or signs a free agent—Trevor Siemien is the only QB currently on the roster. Cleveland would have to think about a quarterback at 32 if it goes elsewhere in the first round.
The rest of the QB class
Not only are teams having a hard time finding starters, they’re struggling to locate reliable backups. Just look at the type of attention paid humdrum candidates like Matt Schaub or Matt Moore.
Again, even if the Denvers and Houstons and Clevelands of the world somehow all head into the draft with a projected starter and backup in place, free agency quickly has shown how tough it is to find a suitable replacement when the time comes.
Because of that, count at least this list of prospects among Day 2 considerations: Cook, Dak Prescott, Brandon Allen, Vernon Adams, Christian Hackenberg and Cardale Jones.
Four quarterbacks were taken in the top 100 last year. The number figures to be closer to seven or eight this draft.