Richner: 2016 Top QBs

Last Updated: 5/1/2016 1:00 PM ET
2016 NFL Draft - Top 10 Quarterbacks

Each year position groups are compared to the past draft classes, this gives analysts and idea on if the class is a strong or weak class. In looking over the draft grades of each quarterback prospect over the past 10 years, this class is similar in some ways to the 2013 quarterback class.

The 2013 class had EJ Manuel and Geno Smith leading the top of the boards. After them it dropped off dramatically to the likes of Matt Barkley, Landry Jones, and Mike Glennon. None of the quarterbacks selected in the 2013 have materialized into anything more than a developmental type prospect, whose teams still hold onto some slimmer of hope these players can prove that once and for all they can lead their respected franchises to a Super Bowl.

This year's draft class has a lot of talent, players who all have a diverse background in both experience and skill level. FCS player Carson Wentz, with prototypical size and stature, is grabbing the headlines as he has almost everything NFL teams want in their future starting quarterback. Jared Goff from Cal, might be one of the most accurate and consistent passers in this draft class. Though the Air Raid offense which he played in relies heavily on short, quick throws, Goff did a tremendous job in terms of deep downfield accuracy.

All the quarterbacks in this draft class share one common trait, none of them are ready to be starters come week one of the NFL season. They all will need time to sit, develop and learn their respective team's offense system. Kirk Cousins, of the Washington Redskins showed that with time and patience, teams can actually develop a talented starting quarterback in this league.

There are a number of statistical factors that go into the rankings, from wins as a starter, completion percentage, third down completion percentage, each quarterbacks average snap-to-pass time, to sacks and interceptions. All these and numerous other statistical categories and rankings make up the statistical formula used to rank and evaluate each of the quarterbacks in this draft class.

A couple of statistical categories we will talk about are negative play rate, which is the total number of sacks and interceptions over the number of pass attempts. This gives an idea at the rate or percentage of times a quarterback's pass attempts result in an undesirable result for his team.

Another category you will read about is third down variance, this is talking about a quarterback's drop in completion percentage from their first and second down average to third down. For example, if a quarterback had an average completion rate of 60 percent on first and second down, and a 50 percent completion on third down, he would have a third down variance of -10 percent.

Below are the rankings and reviews of the top quarterbacks in this year's draft class, along with each quarterback's prospected draftable grade.

1) Connor Cook (QB, Michigan State):

NFL front offices are always looking for the perfect quarterback: the next Peyton Manning, John Elway, or more recently, the next Andrew Luck. When a player doesn't check off all the physical boxes you want in an ideal starting quarterback, they are often overlooked, as was the case with Russell Wilson. In other cases, there can be a quarterback who had a tremendous amount of success in college but doesn't impress scouts with his arm strength or his scrambling speed and they will drop him, see Kirk Cousins.

With Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, he did everything that was asked of him in college, starting with successfully leading his team to a 34-and-4 record as a starter. He finished his career throwing for 9,194 passing yards, 71 TD, 22 INT, a 3.23 TD/INT ratio, and a 57.5 completion percentage.

Though he didn't have the most dynamic receiving corps, 12 percent of his completed passes went for 25 or more yards, which is the third highest rate amongst draft eligible quarterbacks in this year's draft class. He isn't afraid to go deep and stretch the field. Playing in a pro-style offense, Cook took command of his unit, though most will remark he wasn't nominated as the captain. I didn't see any other quarterbacks leading his team to come-from-behind victories over the past couple of years against the likes of Michigan, Ohio State or Oregon.

Cook doesn't make a lot of mistakes; he is quick to get the ball out of his hands and against Michigan in 2015, he had an average snap-to-pass time of 2.29 seconds. This shows up with the fact that he was only sacked 46 times throughout his career, a sack rate of 3.9 percent or once every 25.4 pass attempts.

Cook had a total of seven fumbles during his career, giving him a negative play rate of just 5.8 percent, tied for the lowest in this year's quarterback draft class.

At 6'4” and 217 pounds, Cook has what most NFL teams are looking for. What worries some teams is his accuracy. While most quarterbacks succeeded with short area passes, Cook had a lower completion percentage in this area than the average college quarterback. Cook excelled in the intermediate to deep passes. With a career completion percentage of just 57.5 percent, few quarterbacks who throw for under 60 percent have successful NFL careers. The last two quarterbacks to do so with sustained success are Carson Palmer and Matt Ryan.

Young quarterbacks have a tendency to favor one side of the field over the other, most of the time they will stare down their intended target and fail to look off an opposing safety. Cook is good at spreading the ball and taking what the defense gives him.

Scouts do not love Cook's arm strength; they don't believe he offers the velocity that is needed as a top tier quarterback prospect. While he can make all the necessary throws, its Cook's ability to anticipate and his knowledge of the game that make him one of the top quarterback prospects in the country.

Just like his former teammate, Kirk Cousins, Cook needs to be placed in the right system with some time to master the playbook. He isn't ready to start right away, but with time and the right coaching staff, Cook can develop into a bonafide number one starter in this league. If a team has the patience to work with Cook and develop him properly, they could be rewarded with a future starting quarterback.

2) Carson Wentz (QB, North Dakota State):

There seems to be at least one quarterback every few years that just comes out of the woodwork. By that, I mean that they don't always show up on preseason watch lists and few people expect them to be a possible first rounder. In previous years, we had Cam Newton, a JUCO transfer, who rose to the top of the draft after winning the Heisman trophy, along with leading Auburn to a National Championship. Others include RGIII, Blake Bortles, Ryan Tannehill, and Joe Flacco.

Wentz has everything that most NFL teams are looking for with his size and stature. Standing 6'5” and 237 pounds, he impressed scouts with his performance at the NFL Combine, testing in the top half at almost every single drill.

With just 23 career starts under his belt, Wentz threw for 4,971 yards, 43 TD, 14 INT, 3.07 TD/INT ratio, and finished with a 63.8 completion percentage for his career. A mobile quarterback, Wentz was able to escape from pressure and was sacked a total of 30 times for his career, giving him a sack rate of five percent, or once every 19.9 pass attempts.

Wentz will need to work on keeping control of the ball while in the pocket or as he scrambles, he had a total of nine fumbles for his career.

While Wentz was able to post impressive stats, he was part of a program that is a juggernaut at the FCS level, winning five straight national titles. Wentz did a marvelous job of maintaining the status quo, but was he tested enough and does he have enough game experience without the help of a quality team around him? In talking with a few NFL head coaches at the Senior Bowl, most remarked that the system and quality of players in that division at North Dakota State was a runaway freight train of talent and he was rarely tested.

One area that Wentz really excelled at was in pressure situations; on third down he had a career completion percentage of 61.3 percent.

We have a number of high first and second round draft picks in recent years from players who played their college career outside the FBS level. With the success of Joe Flacco, and a few bright moments Jimmy Garoppolo has shown for the Patriots, there is no reason to think that Carson Wentz can't succeed in the NFL. Physically he can play at the next level, but he will need to grow as a passer to be successful in the NFL.

He often predetermines his target pre-snap as he tends to go to his first read rather than look off a safety or go through his progression. Overall, he reminds me of a young Colin Kaepernick, a player who has the physical skill set, but remains a work in progress in terms of his mechanics and mastery of the NFL passing game.

Wentz will most likely be a first round selection, but he should wait a while before seeing the field. Few players with this many question marks succeed when thrown into the fire. It would be best for him to sit for a couple of years before being inserted as a starter.

3) Jared Goff (QB, California):

It's hard to argue with a player who has consistently performed at such a high level over the past three seasons. Goff has a highlight reel of throws that goes on for hours. He does a remarkable job for a young a quarterback of looking off a safety and going through his progressions.

I do worry if Goff is capable of being a top tier starting quarterback in the NFL. In college he had 36 career starts, yet only led his team to 14 career wins, a .388 winning percentage. The only other NFL starting quarterback with over 30 career college starts with a similar career win total is Jay Cutler, who had 11 wins at Vanderbilt as a four year starter.

Goff finished his career with 12,180 passing yards, 96 TD, 30 INT, a 3.2 TD/INT, and a 62.2 percent completion percentage. Playing an Air-Raid style offense (think spread offense on hyper-speed), Goff was in his element getting to the line of scrimmage and throwing it around the field.

Goff didn't have to call plays in a huddle or make the protection calls at the line of scrimmage. It should be noted that few college quarterbacks are required to learn these skills anymore. The majority of throws Goff attempted last season (52.7%) were nine yards or closer to the line of scrimmage according to Pro Football Focus. He ran an offense dictated on short, quick-strike throws.

Goff played under the tutelage of head coach Sonny Dykes, who has coached the likes of Nick Foles, while he was the offensive coordinator at Arizona and Colby Cameron, when Dykes was the head coach at Louisiana Tech. Below are the final season marks for each quarterback while working in Dykes offensive system.
  • Foles (2009) 257-for-400, 64.3%, 2,465 passing yards, 6.2 YPA, 19 TD, and 9 INT
  • Cameron (2012) 359-for-522, 68.8%, 4,147, 7.9 YPA, 31 TD, and 5 INT.
  • Goff (2015): 341-for-529, 64.5%, 4,719, 8.9YPA, 43 TD, and 13 INT

Each of the quarterbacks fared extremely well playing under Dykes. The system which they operate in are very quarterback friendly. It should be noted that no quarterback who has played in a Dykes-led offense has gone onto to have any sustained success in the NFL. Nick Foles, is the highlight of the group, and he was demoted as the St. Louis Rams starting quarterback midway through the 2015 season.

One of the more amazing aspects of Goff's game is his accuracy. Even with a heavy load of screen and short area passes he has an exceptional skill of throwing the ball into tight windows and right into spots where only his receiver can make a play. He had a 60.3 third down completion percentage, a third down variance of -2.6 percent, which puts him in the top four amongst quarterbacks for this year's draft class.

Goff will need time to develop and learn an NFL style offense before he is ready to become an NFL starter. If he has a chance to sit and learn, he could develop into the next Matt Hasselbeck.

4) Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis):

There are not a lot of quarterbacks in NFL history who stand 6'7”. Those who have tried didn't possess the mobility and athleticism of Paxton Lynch. Lynch is a mobile quarterback who has the wheels to scramble and extend plays with his feet. It's his arm strength that make scouts drool over his potential. He is a quality pocket passer who excels in throwing into the intermediate and deep portions of the field

One area that sets Lynch apart from any other quarterback in this draft class is his accuracy on deep downfield throws. On throws of 20 yards or more down the field, Lynch completed close to 50 percent of his passes last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

In 38 career starts, Lynch had 8,865 passing yards, 59 TD, 23 INT, a 2.57 TD/INT ratio, and a 62.9 percent completion rate.

Though he is a big target standing in the backfield, Lynch was only sacked 57 times, giving him a sack rate of just 4.7 percent of the time, or once every 21.1 pass attempts. He had the fifth lowest negative play rate of any quarterback in the draft class at 6.6 percent of his drop back attempts.

For his career, Lynch had a 57.6 completion percentage on third down and a -6.8 percent third down variance.

With the recent success of Brock Osweiler and Cam Newton, NFL teams are a little less wary of bigger-framed quarterbacks. Lynch still has a lot of room for improvement. He will rely on his arm strength versus getting his feet and lower body set. His timing and ball placement can be improved upon, but he has a solid foundation on which to build. He is one of the more exciting and intriguing quarterback draft prospects to come along in a long time.

5) Dak Prescott (QB, Mississippi State):

Dak Prescott is a dual-threat quarterback who showed he can jet past pass rushers or rifle the ball down field for a big gain. Prescott played in the same system and under the same tutelage as Tim Tebow. While Tebow didn't develop into a top tier NFL caliber quarterback, Prescott has impressed scouts with his athleticism and pocket passing ability.

At 6'2” and 226 pounds, Prescott is a quick footed, smooth runner that is capable of scrambling for a first down or using his legs to evade pressure and get outside the pocket. He had over 2,500 rushing yards and 41 rushing touchdowns for his career.

With 31 career starts and 22 wins as a starter, Prescott finished his career with 9,376 passing yards, 70 TD, 23 INT, a 3.04 TD/INT ratio, and a 62.8 completion percentage.

He didn't play under the best offensive line, but it was his mobility which allowed Prescott to minimize the number of sacks he took. He finished with a sack rate of 5.3 percent, a sack rate of once every 18.9 pass attempts. Taking care of the football and reducing his negative plays, Prescott finished with a 7.3 percent negative play rate.

This season Prescott showed remarkable improvement in his accuracy and on delivering the football in the right spot, making for an easier and more catchable ball. In 2015 he had a third down completion rate of 59 percent, for his career he had a 57.6 percent completion percentage on third down. His third down variance for his career was -6.8 percent, similar to that of Ryan Tannehill and Kirk Cousins.

Though the offense he played in doesn't translate all that well to the NFL, Prescott is similar in terms of his overall talent and capabilities to Brett Hundley of the Green Bay Packers, who went in the fifth round in 2015. I would imagine a similar draft position for Prescott in this year's draft.

6) Cody Kessler (QB, USC):

One of the most accurate and accomplished quarterbacks to enter the NFL Draft over the last couple of years, Kessler excites scouts and NFL coaches with his pinpoint accuracy that can deliver the ball in the right spot at the right time. He was able to direct a high-powered offense at USC over the past couple of seasons, showing scouts that even with the recent sanctions and coaching turnover, he was capable of taking a strong leadership position with the team.

At 6'1” and 220 pounds, Kessler isn't the big, strong pocket passer that typically personifies what NFL scouts are looking for. His quick release and solid footwork makes up for what he lacks in physical stature.

With 41 career starts, Kessler has a depth of knowledge at the quarterback position which few players in this class can compete with. He finished his career throwing for 10,338 yards, an 8.2 YPA average, 88 TD, 19 INT, and a 4.63 TD/INT ratio, the highest ratio in this year's quarterback class.

Even though he played in a number of big games, Kessler had trouble avoiding and getting away from pressure. He amassed 100 sacks during his career, giving him a sack rate of 7.9 percent or one sack every 12.6 pass attempts. He will need to learn that every pass attempt isn't going to be completed and that sometimes it's best to throw the ball away quicker and not put your team in negative situations.

With his sacks, interceptions and fumbles, Kessler had a negative play rate of 9.4 percent, the ninth highest amongst draft eligible quarterbacks in this class.

In spite of his issues, Kessler projects as a quarterback who has the makings of a possible starting quarterback in the NFL. He excelled in third down situations in college, completing 64.5 percent of passes. He had a third down variance of just -2.4 percent, the lowest amongst draft eligible quarterbacks in this draft class.

After watching Kessler at the Senior Bowl, his lack of arm strength worries some scouts. He won't be a quarterback who is capable of making a lot of deep, downfield throws. He is suited for the short to intermediate passes. Given time and the right system, I see Kessler as a possible mid-round steal in this year's draft.

7) Cardale Jones (QB, Ohio State):

Jones is a raw talent, who has the arm strength to stretch defenses and push the ball down the field. At 6'5” and 253 pounds, he is a larger quarterback who can make throws with defenders hanging onto to him.

With just 11 career starts and only 270 career attempts, Jones is not prepared to step into a starting spot or really even into the number two position on an NFL roster. Jones finished with 2,323 passing yards, 15 TD, seven INT's, a 2.14 TD/INT ratio, and a 61.9 completion percentage.

One aspect of Jones' game is his ability to pick up first downs with his legs or stand in the pocket and deliver the deep ball. 17 percent of his completions resulted in pass plays of 25 or more yards, the highest rate in this draft class. Jones' yards-per-completion average of 13.9 yards is the second highest of all the other draft eligible quarterbacks in this class. Vernon Adams led the group with 21.8 YPC.

Jones will need to work on developing better footwork in the pocket along with holding onto the ball with two hands while evading pass rushers. He had a total of 11 career fumbles, finishing his career with a 9.3 percent negative play rate. One area of the field where Jones has a steep learning curve is in the red zone. He was 11 for 28 in the red zone for his career, finishing with a 39.3 percent completion rate and with four touchdowns and zero interceptions.

One of the more intriguing aspects of Jones' game is his consistency from first and second down to third down. He only had a -4.25 percent drop in his third down variance.

Jones is the perfect fit to sit behind Carson Palmer and learn from Bruce Arians who enjoys throwing the ball downfield more than any other coach currently in the NFL. It will take a handful of years of development and work to get Jones ready to be a starter in the NFL.

8) Kevin Hogan (QB, Stanford):

Only one other quarterback (Jacob Huesman) in this draft class has more career starts than the 46 Kevin Hogan had during his college career. Hogan was the captain of one of the nation's most prolific offenses. Stanford had more formations and offensive sub-packages than any other team in the country. They could roll out nine offensive linemen and on the next play go to a five wide receiver formation. Some analysts might say it would be easy to play quarterback at Stanford when you have Christian McCaffrey lining up in the backfield. While McCafferey was a tremendous resource, Hogan still had to be the leader on the field, getting everyone lined up and in the right spot.

Hogan had some big shoes to fill, taking over the starting spot after Andrew Luck jumped to the NFL. Hogan has been a three year starter, wining 36 career games, throwing for 9,390 yards, 75 TDs, 29 INT, a TD/INT ratio of 2.59, and a career completion percentage of 65.9 percent.

There are a few red flags to Hogan's game when looking into his efficiency metrics. He takes a higher than average number of sacks at a rate of one sack every 16.7 pass attempts. Hogan finished with a negative play rate of 8.6 percent of the time.

The other major issues most teams are having in breaking down Hogan's film is his ability to make the correct throw in pressure situations. Hogan had the biggest variance between his third down completion percentage (56.6%) compared to his first and second down completion percentage average (69.7%), a 13.1 percent drop. Most quarterbacks see a drop in their third down completion percentage, but such a drastic drop is a major red flag. The other quarterbacks who have been drafted in the last ten years with such a significant drop are Blaine Gabbert (20.9%), Jimmy Clausen (17.6%), and EJ Manuel (13.4%).

Hogan has the aptitude for understanding the formations and has a solid foundation of understanding an NFL offense. He is physically prepared to be an NFL quarterback, but it will take some time before he is ready to take the reins and be the face of an NFL franchise.

9) Jake Rudock (QB, Michigan):

Sometimes a quarterback needs to find the right coach to show him how to properly play the position. Rudock was a great quarterback while at Iowa, but after some tutelage from Jim Harbaugh, he started to show significant signs of progress. He still is a project type of prospect, but having played in a pro-style offense and understanding the concepts of a West Coast offense gives him a step ahead in terms of development over a lot of the other quarterbacks in this class.

At 6'3” and 215 pounds, Rudock has the stature to set-up in the pocket along with the arm strength to make just about every throw in an NFL playbook. In 38 career starts he was 25-and-13, throwing for 7,836 passing yards, 54 TD, 27 INT, and a 2.0 TD/INT ratio.

A consistent passer on each down, Rudock only had a 5.8 percent drop on his third down completion percentage, compared to his first and second down completion percentage average. For comparison, Andy Dalton had a -5.9 percent for his third down variance.

Rudock might not develop into a long term starting quarterback, but he has the statistical makeup of being a top level backup quarterback in the NFL. With a negative play rate of just seven percent, he won't make a lot of mistakes and he will take care of the football.

A capable runner, he was sacked on just 4.5 percent of his pass attempts, or in other words, once every 22 pass attempts. He finished with 12 rushing touchdowns for his career. Some team will give him a shot and with time, I think he could develop into a capable backup quarterback.

10) Brandon Doughty (QB, Western Kentucky):

A three-year starter for the Hilltoppers, Doughty showed remarkable improvements each season throughout his career. He was 28-11 as a starter, throwing for 16,120 passing yards, more passing yards than any other draft eligible quarterback in this year's draft. One of Doughty's more impressive statistical achievements is a 3.26 TD to INT ratio, showing a quarterback who takes care of the football and eliminates taking unnecessary risk. Though he had 1,491 pass attempts, he finished with only 54 sacks.

Doughty's ability to produce positive plays and minimize the negative plays gives him an opportunity to impress NFL coaches and front offices. His negative play rate was 5.9 percent, third lowest in the class.

He might not be considered a first or second day draft selection, but rather a development prospect who could shine in the right system. The Kansas City Chiefs would be a perfect fit for Doughty to learn and develop under a similar style quarterback in Alex Smith.

Quarterback Rankings - Draftable Round

Rank Quarterback Draftable Round
1 Connor Cook 2nd
2 Carson Wentz 2nd
3 Jared Goff 3rd
4 Paxton Lynch 3rd
5 Dak Prescott 5th
6 Cody Kessler 5th
7 Cardale Jones 6th
8 Kevin Hogan 6th
9 Jake Rudock 6th
10 Brandon Doughty 7th
11 Matt Johnson 7th
12 Vernon Adams 7th
13 Jacoby Brissett 7th
14 Jeff Driskel 7th
15 Christian Hackenberg 7th
16 Jake Coker FA
17 Brandon Allen FA
18 Trevone Boykins FA
19 Nate Sudfield FA
20 Joel Stave FA