Jared Goff or Carson Wentz? It mirrored the Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf question 18 years earlier, except in the more recent case an easy answer didn’t reveal itself quickly. It’s still debatable.
Goff, the first pick of the 2016 NFL draft, led the Rams into Super Bowl LIII in his third season. Wentz, the second pick, had a strong rookie season and improved upon it a year later until he suffered a season-ending injury after 11 games. The Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl without him. They have compiled similar statistics four years into their NFL careers.
OK, enough stalling. The best quarterback from the 2016 NFL draft is … Dak Prescott.
Selected by the Cowboys out of Mississippi State in the fourth round and projected as an understudy to Tony Romo, Prescott seized the job when Romo was injured in training camp, earned NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, and has started all 58 games of his career.
Prescott will attempt Sunday at Gillette Stadium to achieve what Goff couldn’t in a 13-3 Super Bowl loss last February in Atlanta and Wentz couldn’t last Sunday in Philadelphia: solve the complex Patriots defense.
Goff completed 19 of 38 passes for 229 yards, was intercepted once and sacked four times for 31 yards in losses vs. the Pats in the Super Bowl. The Rams converted on just 3 of 13 third downs. Wentz encountered similar difficulty vs. the Pats’ confusing front and killer coverage. He completed 20 of 40 passes for 214 yards and one touchdown, was not intercepted and was sacked five times for 40 yards in losses. He lost one of his two fumbles and the Eagles matched the Rams’ Super Bowl efficiency in converting on 3 of 13 third downs.
Prescott has never faced a defense quite like the one he’ll see Sunday. At the same time, he presents any defense with more challenges than either Goff or Wentz. He’s a better runner on any down than Goff and is a tougher short-yardage runner to stop than Wentz.
Goff out of Cal and Wentz out of North Dakota State were the first two of 15 quarterbacks taken in the 2016 draft. Prescott was taken with the 135th pick out of Mississippi State.
Goff, Wentz, Paxton Lynch, Christian Hackenberg, Jacoby Brissett, Cody Kessler and Connor Cook all were taken before Prescott.
A look at the NFL draft QB Class of 2016:
1 — Prescott: Leads the NFL with 3,221 passing yards. His 8.8 yards per attempt ranks first among starting quarterbacks and he is tied for second with the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins with 21 touchdown passes, two behind NFL leader Russell Wilson of the Seahawks. He ranks eighth among NFL QBs with 193 rushing yards. For his career, Prescott has rushed for 1,137 yards and 21 touchdowns, compared to 703 yards and three TDs for Wentz and 194 yards and six scores for Goff.
Prescott has thrown nine interceptions, three of which came in a 10-point loss to the Packers. That was his only multi-interception game. He’s the whole package: accurate, strong, durable, mobile, can run for big chunks and for tough yards near the goal line.
The Cowboys have needed more out of Prescott this season because Ezekiel Elliott hasn’t been quite the monster he normally is and Prescott has delivered.
So why did Prescott last until the fourth round? Maybe because he doesn’t fit the prototype as perfectly as the first two picks in the draft. He’s 6-foot-2, three inches shorter than Wentz and two inches shorter than Goff.
Prescott’s record (38-20, .655) stands taller than that of Goff (30-18, .625) and Wentz (28-22, .560).
2 — Wentz: He has justified going second in the draft by giving the Eagles everything they expected of him in the way of accuracy and mobility, but durability is a legitimate concern, if not a major one yet. He missed the end of his second season with an ACL tear and the end of his third with a back injury.
3 — Goff: It took him half a season to win the starting job as a rookie and he’s the first of the top three quarterbacks from the 2016 draft to have a disappointing season. He has just 11 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions and in so many ways he’s beginning to look as if he might be nothing better than an average starting quarterback.
4 — Brissett: Charlie Weis, his offensive coordinator at Florida when Brissett was a backup as a freshman in 2011, tagged him with the nickname “The Pied Piper” because of the way teammates followed his every move. By leading the Colts out of a dejected state in the wake of Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement, Brissett’s making the old Notre Dame coach look like Nostradamus. Brissett is 6-3 in the first nine starts of his career that he was healthy enough to finish, is completing 64.6 percent of his passes and has 15 touchdown passes and four interceptions.
Chosen by the Patriots in the third round with the 91st pick and traded to the Colts for receiver Phillip Dorsett, Brissett is the reason Patriots rookie Jakobi Meyers gave up his quarterback dreams. Brissett transferred to North Carolina State after his sophomore season and blocked Meyers’ path to the QB job, so he switched to receiver.
It’s too early to rank Brissett ahead of Goff, but he’s gaining on him.
Late to the Audition
5 — Jeff Driskel: The 49ers chose him in the sixth round out of Louisiana Tech and never gave him a snap. He started five games last season for the Bengals, who cut him Sept. 12. The Lions picked him up five days later and he has started the past two games in place of injured Matthew Stafford. For his career, Driskel has nine TD passes and three interceptions.
6 — Brandon Allen: Earned his first snaps at age 27 when the Broncos handed him the job to fill in for injured Joe Flacco the past two weeks. Allen hasn’t done anything to suggest he needs to start working on his Hall of Fame speech, completing just 49.2 percent of his passes, but he hasn’t embarrassed himself either. In losing a close one to the Vikings and defeating the Browns, Allen has thrown three TD passes and just one interception. The Jaguars drafted him in the sixth round and eventually waived him. The Rams claimed him and eventually waived him.
1 — Paxton Lynch: John Elway ranks as one of the all-time best quarterbacks and one of the all-time worst evaluators of the position. Elway burned the 26th pick of the first round on the 6-7 quarterback from Memphis. Big, strong-armed and mobile, Lynch didn’t demonstrate much of a feel for the position and the Broncos waived him after two seasons in which he threw four TD passes and four interceptions. The Steelers are a couple of injuries away from possibly giving him a shot.
2 — Christian Hackenberg: His first clue that he wasn’t going to make it as an NFL quarterback should have come on draft day, based solely on what team picked him. The Jets so seldom do anything right, so using a second-round pick on Hackenberg, the 51st selection, led to predictable results. After the Jets gave up on him, the Raiders, Bengals and Eagles gave him a look, but his most recent snap came for Penn State.
3 — Connor Cook: The Raiders started him one game in his rookie season and never used him again. He completed 18 of 45 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown and threw three interceptions. The Raiders, Panthers and Bengals took brief looks and cut him, never giving him a snap.
4 — Cordale Jones: He started the 2014 season as Ohio State’s backup and was elevated to a starting role after the two players ahead of him suffered injuries. He led Ohio State to a national championship, watched his stock soar on the strength of his rocket for a right arm, but he lost his job midway through the next season.
The Bills chose Jones in the fourth round. He appeared in relief in one game as a rookie, completed 6 of 11 passes for 96 yards, 64 on one completion, and threw an interception. The Chargers and Seahawks never elevated him from the practice squad and he’s listed on the roster of the DC Defenders of the XFL, a league that plans to launch in 2020.
Aside from leading the Buckeyes to a national title Jones is best remembered at this point for a Tweet during his freshman year at Ohio State: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.” Fortunately, Jones came to see the value in classes and went on to earn his degree.
Cody Kessler was taken in the third round, Kevin Hogan the fifth, Nate Sudfeld and Jake Rudock the sixth, Brandon Doughty the seventh. Kessler is with the Patriots and Sudfeld is the Eagles’ third-string QB.
If teams had another shot at the draft it would be difficult to imagine anyone other than Prescott going first.
Bill Belichick’s words about Prescott, voiced Wednesday, were so powerful they merit repeating: “Great, great quarterback — sideline throws, inside throws, in-cuts, posts, over routes, flag routes, you name it. Possession passes on third down, best third down team in the league, best passing team in the league, most big plays in the league — I mean, I don’t know where you want to start, they do it all. And, he does it all. He runs options, he runs read zones, keeps the ball in critical situations, tough guy to tackle, makes tough yards when he needs them, so he’s really good.”
So is the Patriots’ pass defense, which sets up a classic showdown.
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