NFL

2016 Quarterback Class: The Next Great Quarterback Class?

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A constant meme after every draft is that next year’s draft class is going to be the next great class. This meme has especially grown huge legs in regards to the 2015 and 2016 quarterback draft classes. Outside of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the 2015 quarterback class was downright putrid. It lacked depth and developmental talent that are expected from a position as important as quarterback. It’s still extremely early, but the 2016 draft class looks to be one of the most talented that we’ve seen in recent years.

With any class, you have to start with the senior and the 2016 class has two solid ones at the top. Michigan State’s Connor Cook and the University of Southern California’s Cody Kessler.

Cook comes into the 2015 college football season with the most hype as some see him vying for the top spot in the 2016 NFL draft. In 2015, he threw for 3,214 yards, 45 touchdowns, and just 15 interceptions with the Spartans. Cook is the classic pocket quarterback who can make NFL-caliber throws at all three levels of the defense. He doesn’t have top-end arm strength, but he has enough to make any throw that he needs to on the football field.

Cook is the one of the only quarterbacks in this class who has shown the touch necessary to hit certain throwing windows. Also, he shows good mobility from inside the pocket and he has the intelligence to make full-field reads, which is the most underrated factor for a quarterback entering the NFL.

Kessler, on the other hand, doesn’t translate to every offense. He is much more suited to a west coast type of offense where he can dink and dunk his way down the field. Kessler loves to work the short and intermediate game to move his offense down the field. Kessler is an extremely accurate quarterback, over 70 percent completion percentage in 2014, and he is an excellent decision maker, threw for 39 touchdowns and just five interceptions in 2014.

Kessler is the type of quarterback who won’t lose you the game, but he’s not going to put the team on his back and win it either. Going into 2015, look to see if Kessler tries to take more risks and push the ball down the field more to try and persuade teams that he can be a top-15 pick.

Cook and Kessler are firmly entrenched at the top of the senior quarterback class but don’t forget about small-school prospect Carson Wentz from North Dakota State. He doesn’t have the pedigree of Cook or Kessler, but he has the size and athleticism that could make him rise up boards as the process moves along. Wentz is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, but he can also run as he rushed for 642 yards in 2014.

After those three, you get the athletic spread quarterbacks who are better running the ball then they are throwing it like Dak Prescott and Trevone Boykin. These types of players are in every draft and they will go through the same progression. They will make a lot of plays that will wow you during the season, but once you get down and study the tape you will notice that they are suited to play quarterback at the NFL level.

Once you get through the top-five seniors, there isn’t really much that makes this class special. However, when you add in the potential underclassmen to the mix you see the unlimited potential that his class has.

At the top of the list for the underclassmen is Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg. When you draw up a quarterback in a lab, he would likely look like Hackenberg. At 6-foot-4 and 236 pounds, Hackenberg has the height to see all the throwing lanes and the bulk to withstand punishment, something we all saw last year. The problem with Hackenberg is that he has a bad cast surrounding him and a coach that’s not exactly known for developing quarterbacks to the next level and it showed. Last year, Hackenberg was sacked 44 times and threw just 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, which is horrific statistics for a top-tier quarterback.

However, evaluators are holding on to what they saw from Hackenberg as a freshman under Bill O’Brien’s pro-style offense where Hackenberg showed poise, arm talent and accuracy on his way to being one of the best true freshman quarterbacks in recent memory. Hackenberg’s stock will likely be the most volatile this season as it will be interesting to see if he prospers despite his surroundings.

Another underclassmen receiving a lot of early buzz is University of California’s Jared Goff. He is another quarterback that hails from the spread offenses, but unlike others, Goff has shown the ability to succeed from within the pocket and make pro-style reads. Of course he will have a steep learning curve when it comes to calling plays and dropping from under center, but Goff has the on-field intelligence that makes you think he can handle it.

Goff is an extremely accurate quarterback who always plays the ball in favorable positions for his receivers. He has the touch to float a ball over a linebacker, which is extremely important at the next level. One area where Goff needs to develop is with dealing with pressure. He was extremely inconsistent in that area for much of 2014.

The most intriguing quarterback in this entire class is the national champion Ohio State Buckeyes’ Cardale Jones. Last year, Jones filled in for the injured J.T. Barrett and looked magnificent doing so. Jones makes throws that no one else in college or maybe even in the NFL could make. He has a huge arm and he loves to push the ball down the field. Furthermore, Jones has the size and athleticism to threaten outside the pocket as well. This is very beneficial as it allows him to makes plays inside and outside the construct of offense, the trait that separates the good from the great quarterbacks.

What makes Jones so intriguing is that he may not even start this year as injured quarterbacks Braxton Miller and Barrett will be back and vying for the starting quarterback job. However, when you are looking at pro potential the answer is clear, Jones is the top guy on the Buckeyes.

The last underclassman who will get talked about a great deal throughout the process is the University of Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel. He hails from an air-raid style offense where he operates exclusively out of the shotgun, so, like Goff, he will have a slightly bigger transition that someone who comes from a more pro-style offense.

Kiel’s defining trait is how he deals with pressure inside the pocket. He doesn’t get fazed by the bodies around and he routinely makes big throws with pressure in his face. Furthermore, Kiel isn’t extremely athletic, but he has enough juice in his legs to make plays outside the pocket or to scramble for a first down from time to time.

All of these quarterbacks have the opportunity to go fairly high in the draft and unlike in 2015, they all have the opportunity to develop into good professional quarterbacks. Of course, they will need to shown some signs of progression this season, but as it stands today, the 2016 quarterback class could be special.


About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and DraftBreakdown.com