I’ve been trying to prosper away from football this summer, but it was time to come back and start watching 2016 prospects. The first position that I made an effort to watch was the quarterback group. The most polarizing and hotly debated position among draft twitter, it’s always a good position to start out with. It’s also important to have knowledge of how a quarterback progresses throughout their college career in order to forecast how they may progress once in the NFL.
Instead of focusing on each quarterback in-depth, I decided to chart their passes and focus on trends that emerge in their games. I charted each of the 2016 quarterback prospects using a grid broken up into nine areas of the field to measure passes that were, or should have been, completed. I also added an element to classify the ball placement on each throw into categories of good, average, and poor. The ‘good’ label is reserved for exceptional throws, into tight windows, or passes that lead a receiver to an open field after the catch. The ‘average’ label is for easy completions that most quarterbacks can consistently make along with incomplete passes, that most quarterbacks would struggle to complete. Lastly, the ‘poor’ label is given to incomplete passes that should have been easy completions, or, easy completions that because of a poor pass, required an exceptional catch from the receiver.
Now that you know the basics behind my method, here are the quarterbacks presented in the order in which I watched them.
Christian Hackenberg - Penn State
Hackenberg has easily been the most polarizing prospect in the 2016 class so far. His large regression from freshman to sophomore year has many arguing about which is the real Hack. I would be remise if I didn’t admit that Hackenberg’s performance in 2014 scared me, but I think his poor season can be heavily attributed to a poor system and poor offensive line play. The combination of which forced him to throw 75% of his passes less than 9 yards from the line of scrimmage. When he was given the chance to throw past 9 yards down the field, Hackenberg threw completable passes 63% of the time. I will be very surprised if Hack doesn’t declare after this season, unless he has a weird affinity for playing behind an offensive line that would be less out of place in a trash bin.
Connor Cook - Michigan State
I feel like I could write “Cook is really bad, but he’s tall and has a big arm so he’ll still get drafted high” and pretty much cover everything. Nonetheless Cook is really overrated. I will elaborate on this more at the end of the post, but he had the worst ball placement out of all seven of the quarterbacks I watched. If that doesn’t seem bad enough, his completable passes percentage within 9 yards of the LOS is 76.5%. Which, to give context, is 14 points lower than the average of 90.5% between the other six quarterbacks. Fellow Savage Derrik Klassen is the first person I saw mention that Cook bears more than passing resemblance to Andy Dalton, but the comparison fits extremely well. Ben Natan also elaborated more on the comparison in his latest article.
Jared Goff - California
It’s immediately evident when watching Goff that his accuracy is at or near the top of this class. It is also apparently evident, however, that his arm strength is lacking. Goff’s accuracy is evidenced by his 81.25% completable pass percentage, a mark that is well above the average. When throwing passes to the perimeter of the field, Goff’s accuracy can be overshadowed by his inability to throw the ball with enough velocity. This ends up affecting his ability to fit balls into tight windows down the field and ultimately causes him to be a more timid passer than he would ideally be otherwise. At this point, though, I still think Goff is one of the better quarterbacks in the class.
Trevone Boykin - TCU
Out of every quarterback listed here, I was the most excited to chart Trevor Boykin, also known as Trevone Vick. As one of the more exciting college football players in the country, Boykin impressed me in live views. After charting him it has become obvious that his accuracy and ball placement are both sub-par. Boykin had the second worst ball placement of the seven quarterbacks charted, coming in ahead of only Cook. Regardless of his poor accuracy and ball placement, Boykin is still an intriguing prospect to me. He has the arm strength to push the ball to all parts of the field with velocity and the athleticism to be a threat with his feet outside of the pocket. Both of these traits are what draw me to make a Michael Vick comparison, even if he is unlikely to ever become a player of that caliber in the NFL.
Gunner Kiel - Cincinnati
Gunner Kiel has been a pleasant surprise this draft season. He is just another name to add to the group of quarterbacks in the conversation to be the best in the 2016 class. His ball placement score came out exactly in the middle of the seven quarterbacks and he flashed an impressive completable passes percentage of 75%. All of the while showing the ability to complete passes to all levels of the field. What impresses me most when watching Kiel, though, is something that can’t be outwardly expressed in his charts. He shows fantastic pocket presence and displays the ability to go through a progression at an advanced level. Depending on how some of the other quarterbacks on this list play out their season next year, it would not surprise me to wind up think Kiel is the best of the 2016 quarterback prospects.
Cody Kessler - USC
Out of the seven quarterbacks I watched, I was most surprised with how my view of Kessler after watching him differed from the hype I had seen. After watching him, I am convinced that he will struggle to live up to the hype his senior season. My biggest frustration when watching Kessler is how little he pushes the ball down the field. As you can see in the charts, he only threw 30% of his passes beyond 9 yards down the field. Whether it is due to his timidness as a passer or play design, I think it comes back to his inability to effectively do so. Of the 30% he threw past 9 yards, only 52.4% were completable passes. More often than not when Kessler did attempt to push the ball down the field or add extra velocity to underneath passes, his accuracy faltered. At this point Kessler’s play style seems very similar to Brian Hoyer’s.
Carson Wentz - North Dakota State
Carson Wentz is #good. Which is something that I wouldn’t have suspected before making the decision to watch him. Wentz has a well rounded game; showing good accuracy, arm strength, pocket presence, mental ability, and athleticism outside of the pocket. His impressive accuracy can be shown through his ball placement score ranking second in the class and his completable passes percentage of 78.7%. Wentz’s biggest weakness may be the level of talent that he competes against. Playing at North Dakota State, the four time defending FCS champions, Wentz often has bigger windows to throw into and less pressure to deal with in the pocket. In one of his latest articles, Charles McDonald compared Wentz to Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. There are obvious differences between the two, but they certainly share some similarities in their playing styles.
As I mentioned earlier when discussing Connor Cook, I ended up ranking the quarterbacks with a ball placement score. To compute the score I figured out the percentage of good, average, and poor placement throws each quarterback made. I assigned one point for good placement throws, 1/2 point for average placement throws, and took away one point for poor placement throws. This may be an arbitrary way to figure out who has the best ball placement, but it will at least provide some context within the class. So, here’s how the rankings shook out.
- Carson Wentz - 38.35
- Jared Goff - 32.1
- Cody Kessler - 26.05
- Gunner Kiel - 25
- Christian Hackenberg - 23.95
- Trevone Boykin - 22.05
- Connor Cook - 10.85
As you can see, Cook finished WAY behind the pack. I think this accurately reflects how their ball placement came across while watching them, but take it with a grain of salt as there hasn’t been any test study to show how accurate this formula may, or may not be.