2016 NFL Draft: Quarterbacks Who Could Outplay Their Draft Position
It's the most important position in football, so it's no surprise that quarterbacks dominate the conversation every year when it comes to the NFL draft.
This year's installment is littered with speculation regarding the nation's top prospects—Cal's Jared Goff, North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, Memphis' Paxton Lynch and Michigan State's Connor Cook—but this class of signal-callers also has some intriguing developmental prospects who could become NFL successes if they land in the right spots.
From raw athletic talents to resilient, strong-armed leaders to dual-threat playmakers, this year's bargain-level quarterbacks have something for everyone.
Here are a handful of field generals who could end up being steals by the time their NFL careers are all said and done.
Cardale Jones, Ohio State
After being forced into action because of injuries, Cardale Jones led Ohio State on an unprecedented national title in 2014, winning all three of his starts into victories in the Big Ten title game and both College Football Playoff matchups. Some speculated Jones would ride his newfound momentum and jump ship for the NFL, but he elected to return to Columbus for the 2015 season.
Jones struggled this past season, failing to hold down the starting quarterback job and looking erratic and ineffective as a passer. He still elected to leave early for the NFL. While some considered him to be a potential first-round pick last time around, he's now viewed as more of a project who is more likely to come off the board on Day 3.
Though he needs a ton of refinement as a passer, there's no denying Jones' natural tools, from his size (6'5", 249 lbs) to his arm strength and athleticism as a runner. If he's able to sit and develop under the tutelage of a good coaching staff, he could become a special player at the pro level.
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
There's no question Penn State's Christian Hackenberg has the physical tools to succeed in the NFL. At 6'4", 228 pounds, he has prototypical size for a pro pocket passer, and he has a big enough arm to make all the necessary throws.
But which Hackenberg will an NFL team be getting? The one who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2013 under head coach Bill O'Brien or the one who has regressed and struggled over the last two seasons under his new leader, James Franklin?
Evaluations and projections on Hackenberg seem to be all over the place, but if he falls to Day 3 of the draft due to his lackluster play over the past two seasons, he could end up being a great value if he ends up in the right situation. Don't be surprised if O'Brien—now the head coach of the Houston Texans—takes a chance on his former quarterback.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Thanks to his dual-threat abilities, bruising running style and even his jersey number, Mississippi State's Dak Prescott has drawn comparisons to former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow throughout his college career.
But while those comparisons have some merit when it comes to Prescott's ability to make plays outside the pocket, they sell him short when it comes to his effectiveness as a pure passer. He showed vast improvement in that area in 2015, looking much more comfortable in the pocket and refining his mechanics and fundamentals as a thrower.
Prescott weighed in at 6'2", 225 pounds at the Senior Bowl, proving he has the size to survive an NFL pounding, along with adequate height for the position. His versatility and leadership ability are reminiscent of the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson, and Prescott could end up being another third-round pick who goes on to NFL success.
Jacoby Brissett, North Carolina State
After seeing limited action over two seasons at Florida, Jacoby Brissett transferred to North Carolina State, where he threw 43 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions over two years. He also proved he could make plays with his legs, adding nearly 900 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground over that same stretch for the Wolfpack.
He's still fairly raw when it comes to the finer points of playing quarterback—mechanics, ball placement, manipulating defenders and reading coverages—but Brissett has some intriguing physical tools and impressive athleticism for his size at 6'4", 235 pounds.
He didn't do much too much to stand out from the pack at this year's Senior Bowl, but if Brissett ends up in a situation where he can slowly develop and refine his game, he has the physical makeup to be successful in the pros.
Jake Coker, Alabama
After transferring from Florida State, Jake Coker was expected to quickly establish himself as Alabama's new starter, following in the championship footsteps of A.J. McCarron. But Blake Sims beat him out as a junior, and the Crimson Tide fell short of a national title in 2014. Then, after just two games of his senior campaign, Coker was benched again for Cooper Bateman.
But Coker would replace Bateman later in that game, nearly mounting a comeback win over Mississippi and winning the confidence of his teammates with a gutsy performance. He would go on to throw for more than 3,000 yards, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions, leading the Tide to yet another national title.
He's not the most athletic guy in this class, but when you have the size (6'5", 236 lbs) and adequate arm strength, NFL teams can work with that. He wasn't invited to the combine, which is usually an indication of how NFL teams value a player. That means Coker could end up being a bargain as a late-round pick who could develop into at least a capable backup at the next level.
All observations obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.