If you’ve wondered just how tricky quarterback evaluations are, take a look at some of the new draft boards done by a couple of longtime NFL draft analysts, Bucky Brooks and Daniel Jeremiah.
Brooks ranks his top 5 QBs as 1. Cal’s Jared Goff; 2. North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz; 3. Michigan State’s Connor Cook; 4. Memphis’ Paxton Lynch and 5. Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.
In Jeremiah’s Top 50 player rankings, he has Wentz rated highest among QBs at No. 7. Goff is next at No. 8. Lynch comes in third among QBs at No. 21. Cook is fourth at No. 42.
When I looked at Brooks’ rankings, it dawned on me just how all over the board these QBs were as recruiting prospects.
In Hackenberg, you had a consensus “five-star” guy. Goff was a four-star. Cook was evaluated as a three-star. Lynch was pegged a “two-star” QB. Wentz, a 6-foot-6, 235-pounder from Bismarck, ND, was a no-star recruit.
The one thing all five quarterbacks have in common is they’re very tall. Hackenberg, Goff and Cook are the shortest at 6-4.
The crazy thing with Wentz is that he was just 5-8, 125 pounds as a high school freshman and, according to the Bismarck Tribune, he grew to 5-10 as a sophomore, 6-3 as a junior and then 6-5 as a high school senior. He’d played receiver for part of his high school years and there wasn’t much tape on him as a QB till his senior season. Central Michigan was reportedly about to offer him a scholarship, but Wentz basically shut down his recruitment when he accepted North Dakota State’s scholarship offer.
Along with Hackenberg, the other consensus top-rated, pro-style quarterback prospect from the online recruiting services in the 2013 class was Max Browne, who is now at USC and will be competing with freshman Sam Darnold for the vacant starting job this offseason. After that, according to Rivals, it was Hayden Rettig, Shane Morris and Jeremy Johnson. The top-rated QBs from the 2012 class were Jameis Winston, Gunner Kiel and Zach Kline, according to both Rivals and 247Sports. ESPN had Kline second and Kiel third with Winston ahead of both of them. In 2011 it was some order of Jeff Driskel, Kiehl Frazier, Cody Kessler, Max Wittek and Christian LeMay, depending on the particular recruiting site.
“(Recruiting) stars are based almost solely on individual skill set and zero based on the ability to operate a system,” said FOX Sports analyst Joel Klatt, a record-setting QB at Colorado who will update his NFL Draft Big Board after the Senior Bowl. "With all these guys — with the possible exception of Hackenberg, outside of his first year with Bill O’Brien — they all excelled to some degree in the operation of their system, which is what I think is 80 percent of quarterbacking. They (the online recruiting sites) generally just sit on skill set as opposed to how they operate."
As I detailed in my book "The QB", it’s just very hard for folks to gauge how guys will develop since it’s such a nuanced position tied into how guys fit into schemes and systems. Hackenberg is a good example of that. As Klatt noted, he shined as a true freshman in 2013 under O’Brien and completed what would prove to be a career-high 59 percent of his passes while only taking 21 sacks. His TD-INT ratio was 20-10. The last two seasons, he looked much shakier, completing 54 percent of his passes for a 28-21 TD-INT ratio while taking an average of 41 sacks a season. It’ll be very interesting to see how he shapes up as an NFL prospect. No one has ever questioned Hackenberg’s arm strength, but obviously there is so much more to playing the position, especially at the NFL level.