Will quarterbacks re-emerge in the Heisman, draft picture?
Quarterbacks have won the Heisman Trophy five straight seasons and have been selected first in the NFL Draft five of the last seven years.
Those trends might not continue this year.
The quarterback position in college football lost plenty of star power with the early departures of Heisman Trophy winners Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who were taken with the first two picks in the most recent draft.
Now that Mariota and Winston have moved on to the NFL, running backs such as LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb have grabbed much of the attention and have dominated most of the mock Heisman ballots circulating around the Internet in the first month of the college football season. The lack of prime quarterback prospects in the college game also could have an impact on next year’s draft.
Rob Rang, a senior analyst for nfldraftscout.com, says the upcoming class of draft-eligible quarterbacks is ”average to below average.”
”It’s not a class where you’re going to see two quarterbacks dueling for the No. 1 pick like we saw (this year),” Rang said.
Of course, there’s still plenty of time for a quarterback to fill that void. California’s Jared Goff already is making the most of the situation while leading the 24th-ranked Golden Bears to a 4-0 start. California had gone a combined 6-18 in 2013-14.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has the 6-foot-4 junior as his No. 3 overall draft-eligible prospect. ESPN’s Todd McShay released his own list this week that ranked Goff seventh overall and first among quarterbacks. Rang also considers Goff the top quarterback prospect.
Goff, who still has the option of returning to school next year, has completed 69 percent of his passes this season for 1,240 yards and 11 touchdowns. San Diego State coach Rocky Long has called him ”as accurate a thrower as I have ever seen.”
With games against No. 10 Utah, No. 7 UCLA and No. 17 Southern California looming later this month, Goff has an opportunity to play his way into serious Heisman contention. Other quarterbacks receiving early Heisman buzz include TCU’s Trevone Boykin and Southern California’s Cody Kessler.
”He’s a very accurate quarterback,” Rang said of Goff. ”His ball placement is terrific. I don’t believe that he has elite arm strength and he certainly doesn’t have elite size. His height’s good, but he still has a pretty slim frame. I think some of the questions that came about Teddy Bridgewater (in 2013) could come up with Jared Goff as well, with that slim frame.”
But it gets a little muddled from there.
The only other quarterback rated among Kiper’s top 25 prospects is Penn State junior Christian Hackenberg at the No. 24 spot. McShay ranks Michigan State senior Connor Cook 20th, Ohio State junior Cardale Jones 25th and Hackenberg 26th.
Rang rates Cook as a potential first-round draft pick, and NFL Network analyst Charles Davis said the Michigan State quarterback ”continues to make improvements in all aspects of his game” and has the frame ”that you are seeking in a traditional pocket passer.”
”You can see that football is important to (Cook) by his offseason work and higher level of play each year,” Davis said via email. ”The most underrated part of his game is his athleticism. It’s not of the Marcus Mariota level, but compares favorably to Andrew Luck in his ability to move in and out of the pocket.”
Hackenberg and Jones haven’t necessarily helped themselves with the way they’ve performed so far this season. Jones has completed 57 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and four interceptions. Hackenberg has completed just 52.8 percent of his pass attempts.
Rang says that once he gets past Goff and Cook, ”I don’t know if there’s a quarterback that should go in the top 64.” Rang mentioned Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves and Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey as potential top-10 picks.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work out that way. Gil Brandt of the NFL Network noted that some quarterbacks may get taken earlier just because the position is held in such value.
”I think people look at other positions and say, `I can get that person or a person almost as good in the second or third round. But I’m not going to get a quarterback that’s almost as good in the second or third round,”’ Brandt said.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org.