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Wentz rates high on pro day

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(STATS) - He's been the feel-good story leading into the NFL Draft - the likable small-school player finding his way to football's highest stage.

Yet as Carson Wentz sizzled pass after pass during North Dakota State's pro day Thursday, the NFL personnel on hand and national TV coverage served as serious reminders to what he's being asked to become:

A franchise quarterback.

It's a label that comes with high pressure, of course, but one Wentz has been handling with the same ease as his passes.

He checked off more boxes during passing drills to former teammates in the Fargodome. The likely high first-rounder drew NFL decision makers such as new Cleveland coach Hue Jackson, whose team holds the No. 2 overall pick and may seek a quarterback.

Dallas (fourth), San Francisco (seventh) and perhaps Philadelphia (eighth) are other teams picking in the top 10 which are considered candidates to select a QB with their first pick April 28.

Wentz hopes he didn't leave any doubt Thursday that he can be a top quarterback in the pros.

"I thought it went pretty well," Wentz said on the NFL Network's broadcast. "I don't think it was perfect. I want to be perfect out there with feet on the ground, but that's kind of the nature of the beast some days. But overall I thought it went well. I came out, had fun, enjoyed it and the guys enjoyed it, so it was a good day."

Wentz appeared comfortable during the fast-paced workout, which lasted 25 minutes. He completed 63 of 65 scripted passes which included short, sideline and go routes, and showcased his athleticism and foot movement.

After the scripted segment, Jackson and Browns associate head coach Pep Hamilton added in seven more passes, including five in which Hamilton wet the football before the snap. Wentz's first throw went poorly into the turf - "It was pretty doused; that would've been a torrential downpour," he joked - but he adjusted well with his final four.

NFL free agent quarterback Ryan Lindley led Wentz through most of the workout. Lindley has served as Wentz's personal QB coach this offseason. Ironically, Lindley also has worked with California's Jared Goff, considered the other top quarterback candidate in the draft.

"I really wanted to just highlight the fact that I can throw the ball on the move," Wentz said. "I can do some awkward things and still put the ball on target. I thought we highlighted that today and I thought it went well."

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock thinks the hype is justified.

"Forget arm talent because he's got all the arm talent necessary," Mayock said. "I had a couple people tell me today, from a game-day perspective, from a competitive perspective, he's Philip Rivers. Really, nice guy off the field, but when you get to game day, watch out."

Making all the big throws with J.J. Watt or Khalil Mack bearing down from the edge will be a big leap from the level Wentz played at in college, despite his success playing for North Dakota State's FCS dynasty. That level of competition - or supposed lack of it - is the nagging concern.

An FCS quarterback (or player) hasn't been chosen in the first round since Baltimore selected Delaware QB Joe Flacco in 2008. Before him, none had gone since the Houston Oilers plucked Steve McNair out of Alcorn State with the third pick in 1995 - the highest selection ever for a non-FBS quarterback.

Wentz has measured up quite well during the draft buildup, and not just because of his prototypical size for a quarterback - 6-foot-5, 237 pounds with 10-inch hands. His throwing mechanics and arm strength rank well among QBs in the draft class, he makes plays with his mobility and he has been groomed in a pro-style offense.

While North Dakota State has won five straight FCS national championships, Wentz was a starter for only 23 games over 1 1/2 seasons because he missed eight games as a senior with a broken bone in his throwing wrist. He faced only one FBS opponent during his career, beating Iowa State.

"I've done everything I can to eliminate the doubts," Wentz said. "I mean, there's always going to be people who are going to say that. It is what it is, I can't control what (happens). Obviously, I believe (on) the FCS level, there's a ton of good football players. I think the biggest thing that's different is just the depth. Other than that, I thought we played some great competition.

"I went out Senior Bowl week, everybody saw what I did there. And, obviously, I can play at a fast pace, at a high level, so, hopefully, I put those doubters to rest."