With the news that the Titans traded away the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL draft to the Rams, rumors are flying that a QB will be taken first for the second year in a row. Now, it’s time to speculate who will hear his name called first. SI.com’s Chris Burke and Doug Farrar debate between North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and Cal’s Jared Goff.
Doug Farrar: O.K. Chris, it’s time to talk quarterbacks. And it seems that you and I see Carson Wentz and Jared Goff—the two highest-placed prospects in this class—rather differently. In my SI 50, I have Goff ranked at No. 14 and Wentz seventh. Where do you have them, and would you like to start out with a few thoughts on your obviously egregious rankings?
Chris Burke: Well, I have Goff at No. 14 and Wentz at No. 34. As that number indicates, I’d put a late-Round 1/early-Round 2 grade on Wentz. And I guess my argument would start with this: To some extent, I feel like there has been a rush to knock Goff because he comes from an Air Raid system and/or because he is on the wiry side. When I watch him play, though, I see more than enough to convince me that his game can translate to the next level, especially in how quick he is with his feet and delivery. That’s not to say that Wentz has no discernible NFL traits. I’m just less sure on the timetable.
So ... convince me I’m wrong.
Farrar: Interestingly enough, we have Goff ranked the same, so I’ll start with him. My concerns with Goff don’t have anything to do with the Bear Raid (the Air Raid system that Cal ran under coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin)—NFL teams have learned to compensate for the limitations of their quarterbacks’ college offenses—or his build.
I find that he’s so inconsistent with his mechanics, and thusly, his ball placement. My NFL comparison for him is Ryan Tannehill, because I’ll watch him have these impressive stretches of accuracy to all areas of the field, and then things start to fall apart. He’ll throw to his receiver’s back shoulder. He’ll throw with anticipation, but the timing doesn’t really work. I’ll see him throw his guys right into danger over the middle.
While he’s praised for his game under pressure, I see plays where his clock speeds up too much, and he’ll make throws he shouldn’t. I also question his ability to throw into tight windows—not the velocity, but the timing and accuracy. For the most part, I think he’s a “see-it-and-throw-it” player who varies too often on timing throws. Whether that’s a product of his offensive system or not, I don’t know how much of that is fixable. He’s quick, yes, but too often, he’s quickly wrong.
Why do you have Wentz in the early second round? I obviously think he’s the best quarterback in this class (actually, I don’t think it’s particularly close), so tell me what you see to knock him down.
Burke: For starters (and maybe this isn’t totally fair), I do worry about the FCS-to-NFL jump for Wentz, especially when he is coming off a year in which he made just seven starts. He improved as a player from year to year, which is a critical factor, but the learning curve is going to be steep. Some of the issues you have with Goff are the same ones I have with Wentz. The latter’s mistakes do not strike me so much as poor reads or panic so much as just overconfidence in his arm, which is strong but not in the Brett Favre/gunslinger sense. A lot of the mistakes Wentz got away with at North Dakota State are turnovers in the NFL. I also think he will be limited as a downfield passer—the deep throws were better in 2015, yet it’s still a sporadic aspect of his game.
You also mention being unsure about the praise of Goff against pressure. I’m not 100% sold on Wentz’s footwork, despite the fact that he is an exciting athlete at the position. He can get out of sync when he’s outside the pocket; inside it, the whole process—from snap to read to throw—can be lethargic at times.
It sounds like I hate him as a prospect. I don’t, even a bit. I just think he is a project, hence the ranking. What do I have wrong about him?
Farrar: I think they’re both projects, and I wouldn’t start either one of them their first years in the NFL. I don’t think that first-year NFL quarterback exists in this draft class.
I get the thing about Wentz’s limited starts, but I would turn that around and point to how well he’s developed in such a short time. I mean, he had one season at the position in high school, and a couple of years as a backup, and then, there he was. I think that speaks to a natural affinity for the position. And I don't buy the learning curve argument to the degree that it’s sold. If you watch the Wentz episode of Gruden’s QB Camp, there are a ton of passing concepts in North Dakota State’s offense that are pro-ready, just under different verbiages. Wentz ran multiple play-action concepts out of the backfield. He dealt with a full route tree. He made more than one read. He’s not as good at the read thing as Goff is at this point, but I have no doubt that he can get there, and NFL teams regularly adjust their reads to fit the abilities of their young quarterbacks.
I’ve talked to people in the know who have told me that Wentz’s reads are actually harder than Goff’s, so there’s that. I think he’s better at throwing to the point at which the receiver has the best opportunity to catch the ball, and the defender is at a disadvantage. I think he throws with anticipation more often and more consistently. Does he trust his arm too much at times? Sure, but he also makes some dynamite throws into tight windows. If I’m a coach, I’d rather have to manage that ability than have to try and create it out of whatever I have. Wentz takes more time to process, but he also makes up for it with a very quick release. Get him up to speed on the processing side, and there's more to work with.
Where I agree with you completely on Wentz is that he’s not yet a consistent thrower on the run. He doesn’t square his shoulders to the target and has to make too many adjustments as a result, especially on contested boundary throws. That’s something he needs to sort out. As far as the simplicity of the enemy defenses, one could easily make the same argument about Goff. He regularly faced base nickel and dime defenses with little in the way of adjustments because the offense was so wide-open. I’ll also posit that Wentz’s strength of opponent debit can be negated to a large degree by the guys he was throwing to, and the guys who were blocking for him. When you isolate the players, I think Wentz has a higher floor AND a higher ceiling.
Burke: Well, I think Goff is closest in this class to being pro-ready (I’d argue No. 2 is Connor Cook, but that is another topic for another day). There will be bumpy moments with him, as you said, but circle back to my argument about the rapidity with which Goff operates when the ball is in his hands and that should translate. Will the decision-making be an issue? Possibly. I do not think he will be taken aback by NFL speed, though.
To me, Goff would fit best in a West Coast offense with some spread principles—that’s why I keep selling the fit to San Francisco. While he’s not “mobile” in the way that we think of Marcus Mariota or Cam Newton, he certainly has the quickness in his footwork to elevate a West Coast attack via rollouts and play-actions.
One of the bigger selling points I get from Wentz, at least in terms of comparing these two quarterbacks, is that he projects as a more across-the-board option. Ideally, I’d like to see him in a scheme that allows him to get out of the pocket rather frequently, either via run plays with QB options built in or boots/waggles off fakes. Think Adam Gase or Gary Kubiak, and that’s what I have in mind.
Farrar: Well, at least we agree on the scheme fits. Anyway, since we started this debate, the Rams have made a major trade to nab the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft. We assume they’re going quarterback, and reports indicate that while they’re leaning Wentz’s way, they’re not completely decided yet. It seems that we’ll be arguing Goff vs. Wentz for the Rams, and the Rob Boras offense—whatever that may be. The Rams obviously feature their tight ends a ton, they love to run power, and Jeff Fisher has always preferred that his quarterbacks manage mistakes rather than amplifying them through the pursuit of big plays. Like it or not, as is the case with most defensive-minded coaches, he wants a guy who will run the system and transcend it in manageable bits and bobs.
Given those constraints, who do you think makes the most sense for the Rams at No. 1? I’ll still go with Wentz here. He ran all kinds of play-action and option stuff and he has experience with QB power. While both quarterbacks are mobile, Wentz is the bigger and better pure runner.
CB: I guess the question is: Has that been the Rams’ offense because they want it to be or because they couldn’t do anything else with the QB talent they have had? Given what we know, at least, Wentz probably is the choice here and you hit on the main reason I’d argue that: wanting to run power. If I’m choosing between Wentz and Goff to operate that style of attack—under center, RB coming downhill—then Wentz’s current skill set better fits the mold. He has experience doing that. Goff may be able to transition into those things (and probably will have to, to a certain extent) but the current Los Angeles offense is built for a quarterback more like Wentz.