With Free Agency all but over, media coverage has shifted almost exclusively to the NFL Draft, signaling the start of silly season. Pro days receive outrageous hype and are featured on national broadcasts. Contradictory quotes from anonymous team sources flood news feeds. And, of course, mocks drafts. So many mock drafts.
A year ago, the big story was Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. The two were considered excellent prospects, both having won the Heisman Trophy in consecutive years, and were the presumptive top two picks in the draft. It was inescapable. Trade rumors, crab legs, and constant “analysis” of their play. Their strengths and weaknesses were widely known by even casual fans. Mariota had Russell Wilson-like athleticism, but came from an offense that wouldn’t necessarily translate to NFL success (unless Chip Kelly went mad and traded up for him, as viewers endlessly heard about). Winston came from a pro style offense and displayed everything that you could look for in a traditional drop-back quarterback, but threw 18 interceptions in his senior season and had questions about his character.
This year, the quarterback chatter has been much quieter. The consensus top two quarterbacks in this year's draft, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, aren’t nearly as surefire franchise quarterbacks. Both have a deeper set of flaws than last years top picks. In all likelihood, the two won’t go at the top of the draft, either. As a result, they haven’t been covered nearly as extensively as Winston and Mariota. Mike Mayock ruffled a few feathers when he described the two as potentially better than last year's quarterbacks. Still, fans don’t really have a good idea of who these two are on the field. With that in mind, I decided to take a deeper look at the two on the field to get a similar picture of who these two are. I’m evaluated them comparatively in all areas relevant to being a successful quarterback, namely accuracy, arm strength, awareness and decision making, and mobility. Nowhere in this piece will you find mention of hand size, skinny knees, or any other pre-draft nonsense. The goal here isn’t to decide which of the two is necessarily a better prospect, but rather to give a holistic picture of each player's unique skill set.
Obviously, accuracy is the most important skill for a quarterback to be successful in the league. The best, guys like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, are masterful and excel throwing to all areas of the field. Evaluators tend to think that they can “coach up” a guy with a big arm that has accuracy issues, but history has shown that not to be the case. Guys like Colin Kaepernick who come into the league with accuracy issues tend to continue to have accuracy issues as they go on. Accuracy isn’t necessarily best assessed by completion percentage, but rather by watching film and seeing if they are putting the ball in a position for the receivers to make a play.
Goff is surgical in the short and intermediate ranges. He excels at quick hitting passes, namely lots of screens, slants, and crossing routes, to build rhythm and advance his team down the field. Goff will occasionally miss high in the intermediate range. Goff has shown that he is able to throw with excellent anticipation, a skill that disappointing quarterbacks like Kaepernick and Jay Cutler have never learned. His biggest problems come when throwing vertical routes outside of the numbers. Goff struggles when throwing deep routes and has a tendency to underthrow his receivers deep. We’ve seen guys like Ryan Tannehill and Teddy Bridgewater come out with similar problems and continue to struggle with them in the league.
Wentz is able to make accurate throws to all areas of the field. He shows great confidence to fit the ball into tight windows that other quarterbacks can’t. At it’s best, it leads to truly eye-catching throws, like his game-winning touchdown against Northern Iowa. Wentz displays excellent deep accuracy down the field, even when throwing into double coverage. He excels at throwing with timing and touch when needed, something that guys with big arms like his often struggle with. He is, however, less precise than Goff. He is prone to more than the occasional misfire and let’s a few throws get away from him. Like Goff, he has a tendency to miss high in the intermediate range, although the issue is more pronounced in his game. This was brought out at his pro day.
Arm strength tends to be blown out of proportion during the pre-draft process. A quick glance at quarterbacks in the NFL has shown that a player really only needs so much to be able to make all of the throws necessary to be a successful signal caller. Peyton Manning and Drew Brees never had even average arm strength in their time in the league. On the other hand, Cutler continues to seduce teams with his fastball. The benefit of having a big arm comes when trying to fit the ball into tight windows deep down the field and outside of the numbers. Aaron Rodgers is the best current example of utilizing a big arm on game day.
Goff has enough arm strength to make all of the throws. He certainly doesn’t have a cannon, but he is able to dial up velocity when he needs to fit the ball into tight windows over the middle. He puts his full body into the throw when necessary to get all that he can out of his frame. When throwing deep outs and comebacks, his balls tend to float a little more than you’d like to see. This problem also affects him when he tries to go deep down the field. Goff’s arm strength is comparable to that of Tony Romo: below average, but more than enough to get by.
Wentz will have a top ten arm in the league from the first play he steps on the field. The ball flies out of his hand. His throws really do jump off of the screen. He is able to throw with tremendous velocity to all areas of the field and deliver eye catching plays on a regular basis. He has tremendous confidence in his arm, but sometimes this confidence can get him into trouble. He may need to learn to take something off of some of his throws to make a more catchable ball. His arm is every bit as strong as Joe Flacco or Cam Newton, and just a slight below that of Rodgers and Stafford.
Field Awareness and Decision Making
Outside of accuracy, being able to see the field, go through progressions, and make good decisions is the most important aspect of succeeding as a quarterback in the league. Every year, fewer quarterbacks are coming out of pro-style offenses that help them transition easily to the league. The popularity of the spread offense in college football means that more college quarterbacks are relying on predefined, simple reads and aren’t prepared for what they’ll face on Sundays(Unless they’re drafted by Chip Kelly, of course). The ability to see the field well and adjust is the reason that Peyton Manning was so special, and the reason that Andrew Luck was so hyped coming out of Stanford.
Goff is part of one of those spread offenses, which raises concerns about how his abilities will translate into the league. Outside of this, Goff is a very sound passer. Watching his tape, you will frequently see him work through his progressions of receivers in a way that isn’t normal for spread quarterbacks. He checks down when the throws aren’t there and mostly avoids turnovers. He effectively manages the game and distributes the ball to his playmakers to give them a chance to move the ball down the field, although he certainly isn’t afraid to take selective shots down the field when they are there. He uses his eyes to look off safeties and open up passing windows on a regular basis. Outside of perhaps Teddy Bridgewater, Goff may well be the most advanced quarterback to leave college since Luck. The only recurring problem that shows up on tape is that Goff will sometimes miss a defender breaking on a route, leading to turnovers.
Despite coming from a lower level of competition, Wentz does come from one of those rare spread offenses. He is asked to do more than Goff in terms of pre-snap as well as making full field reads. Wentz does have problems of his own in this department, however. He has a tendency to lock onto his receivers, which frequently gives defenders the opportunity to make a play on his throws. Wentz also sometimes shows reckless confidence in his arm, trying to make too many hero throws, which gets him into trouble often. He needs to do a much better job at the next level when throwing windows shrink and defenders become more athletic. This is the biggest concern Wentz faces transitioning to the next level.
Mobility for quarterbacks is often synonymous with guys like Wilson and Mariota making highlight reel runs on a weekly basis. This doesn’t paint the full picture, however. In the NFL, there are things a lot more important than 40 times for quarterbacks. Just as important as the yards they pick up on the ground is what they do in the pocket to create time for their receivers to get open. We will also look at pocket presence here, which refers to a quarterbacks movement and awareness of defenders in the pocket. It’s their ability to sense and react to pressure. For example, Tom Brady may be one of the slowest quarterbacks in the league, but he is able to climb the pocket and avoid the blitz as well as anyone due to his exceptional pocket awareness.
Goff displays excellent pocket presence. He was frequently pressured behind a below average offensive line at Cal. Goff has shown the ability to maintain excellent footwork inside and outside of the pocket, even when under pressure. Like Brady, he shows excellent ability to sense pressure and move around the pocket. Goff also shows flashes of Aaron Rodgers, in terms of his ability to functionally scramble around to bide time for his receivers to break open. Goff isn’t a huge threat as a runner in terms of speed, but he does have more than enough athleticism to keep defenses honest and move the chains when needed.
Don’t be fooled by Wentz’s average 40 time. He is an elite athlete at the quarterback position. At North Dakota State, he frequently was able to showcase this ability on a number of designed runs. Wentz moves almost like a running back coming out of the pocket. He shows exceptional agility and is able to break tackles as well. He is an extremely physical runner like Cam Newton, and will fight and even dive for extra yards. Wentz needs to learn how to slide and avoid hits to protect himself better at the next level. Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck have shown that taking such hits isn’t a recipe for longevity in the league. Wentz moves around well in the pocket as well. He keeps his eyes down the field,looking for open receivers even when he does have to move around. Unlike some running quarterbacks, he uses his mobility to create opportunities in the passing game rather than always looking to run.
Both give whoever drafts them a unique set of benefits and drawbacks. Goff is the safer pick here and is much more ready to start on day one. Wentz needs to continue to develop in order to thrive as a starter in this league. Ideally, he could sit for a year behind an established starter. This, however, is unrealistic in the current NFL, unless the Cowboys decide to take their quarterback of the future with the fourth pick. Wentz’s upside is unmatched. He shows the jaw-dropping combination of arm strength and athleticism that coaches dream about. Mike Mayock wasn’t exaggerating one bit when he said that Wentz had just as much upside as Andrew Luck.
In terms of pro comparisons, Goff bears a strong resemblance to a young Matt Ryan. They are both smooth, skinny passers than operate with strong accuracy in the short and intermediate ranges, but turn the ball over a bit more than would be desired. Ryan has better arm strength than Goff does while Goff is more athletic. Wentz, on the other hand, resembles Andrew Luck. The two are athletic playmakers at quarterback that are willing to take chances that others aren’t, leading to greater highs, but crushing lows as well. Wentz may be a better runner than Luck and certainly has a much stronger arm. He isn’t nearly the prospect Luck was coming out of Stanford because of Luck’s exceptional field awareness and his much better accuracy. Wentz has a nearly unlimited ceiling, but could also spiral out like Colin Kaepernick if he doesn’t improve his decision making and continues to stare down receivers. Both could be excellent starters in the league and should give whoever drafts them franchise signal callers for the next ten years.