The blockbuster trade between the Eagles and Browns Wednesday for the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft — and the right to select California’s Jared Goff or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz — spoke volumes about the draft’s top two quarterbacks.
The Eagles, like the Rams and their trade with the Titans last week, are so desperate for a franchise quarterback that they mortgaged multiple years’ worth of draft picks for the right to select Goff or Wentz, the two big names in next week’s draft.
Yet the Browns, as desperate for a quarterback as any team in the NFL, passed on both of them. The Browns have whiffed on 24 quarterbacks since re-entering the league in 1999, yet they chose to collect picks and gamble with Robert Griffin III and another rookie they’ll take later in the draft instead of simply going for Goff or Wentz.
“I think both of these quarterbacks can be really good,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, “but they need time to develop and they need the right situation around them.”
There are no surefire quarterback prospects such as Andrew Luck in this year’s class, which also includes Memphis’s Paxton Lynch, Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.
Yet franchise quarterbacks are so scarce, and the fear of missing out on one so potent, that the Rams and Eagles gave up a haul of picks worthy of John Elway to secure the right to draft Goff and Wentz.
The Rams have played coy with their intentions since making their big trade, hosting Goff on an official visit Monday and Tuesday and Wentz on Wednesday and possibly Thursday. But the Eagles’ trade for No. 2 Wednesday may have clarified matters.
The Rams need to win now, and presumably want their No. 1 pick to start from Day 1, making Goff the clear favorite. Goff, a lanky 6 feet 4 inches and 215 pounds, started on opening day as a true freshman at Cal and never missed a start in 37 games over three seasons.
“If you’re a Goff guy, it’s because he’s more polished and ready to go Day 1,” said the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock. “He’s got beautiful pocket awareness, really good feet, the ball comes out quickly with a quick release, he’s accurate with good arm strength.”
The Eagles, meanwhile, have the luxury of being able to sit their rookie quarterback for a year or two. They already spent $22 million guaranteed on Sam Bradford and $12 million guaranteed on Chase Daniel this offseason, and football boss Howie Roseman said Wednesday that the plan is to have Bradford remain the starter despite the team’s plan to draft a quarterback.
And if it’s a developmental franchise quarterback the Eagles want, then Wentz is certainly the guy. He is the type of prospect that leaves scouts and executives drooling, with a huge body (6-5, 232), tremendous athleticism, and the humility and work ethic to thrive.
He won back-to-back FCS national championships at North Dakota State, then aced the predraft process, dominating at the Senior Bowl on the field and in meetings, interviewing well at the Combine (and reportedly scoring a 40 on the Wonderlic), and wowing scouts at his pro day.
“One of the best pro days I’ve ever witnessed,” said former Cowboys executive Gil Brandt, who has been scouting college players over six decades. “Wentz reminds me of Joe Flacco. He had two 55-yard passes that were as pretty as I’ve seen.”
Wentz is likely to be the first quarterback from FCS (formerly 1-AA) to be drafted in the first round since Flacco in 2008, and can top Steve McNair (third overall, 1996) for the highest-drafted ever.
Of course, the transition from FCS to the NFL is a big one, so the Eagles can afford to sit Wentz for a year or two while Bradford and Daniel keep the team competitive.
“I think the success of guys like Joe Flacco or Tony Romo or . . . the list goes on, whether it’s quarterbacks or other position players,” said Wentz. “There’s a lot of talented individuals at the FCS level that can play.
“Especially a guy like Flacco coming in really right away as a rookie and winning some ballgames, I think shows that that adjustment can be made by special players.”
But the Browns did pass on Wentz. Not only is it much tougher to project an FCS quarterback, but Wentz doesn’t have much playing experience, either. He red-shirted as a freshman, spent two years as a backup, then started only 23 games in two seasons, missing eight in 2015 because of a broken wrist.
Bill Parcells wouldn’t draft a quarterback unless he had 23 wins in college. Wentz had only 23 starts, and at a lower level of play.
“He’s got really limited experience for the second pick in the draft, so that’s why I have him behind Goff,” said ESPN’s Mel Kiper. “But you can’t teach the size, the arm, and the athletic ability, and the work ethic and the smarts.”
Wentz might have the greatest potential of any quarterback in the draft, but Goff is safer, more polished, and should be able to play immediately as a rookie. The son of former major league catcher Jerry Goff, who played six seasons for the Expos, Pirates, and Astros, Goff looks the part of a franchise quarterback: a tall, confident Northern California kid who began last season on the radar of every NFL team with a first-round pick, unlike Wentz, whose rise began in the predraft process.
A 62 percent passer for his career at Cal, Goff declined a Senior Bowl invitation but had the best throwing workout of any quarterback at the combine. He has a ton of experience for someone who doesn’t turn 22 until October, and he reportedly did well off the field, interviewing well at the combine and scoring a 36 on the Wonderlic.
The Rams have only Case Keenum and Nick Foles on the roster at quarterback, so Goff would almost certainly start from Day 1.
“I think I can be the guy who can play right away,” Goff said at the combine. “Honestly, I’m excited for whatever team wants to draft me and I’m excited to make an impact right away.”
But Goff does not come without his warts. Not only could he stand to pack on 15 more pounds, but his hand size could be an issue. When measured at the combine, he just made it to 9 inches, generally considered the minimum size for an NFL quarterback.
Fortunately, the Rams play in sunny Los Angeles and face warm-weather rivals in San Francisco and Arizona, but will Goff be able to hold onto the football in rainy Seattle or in cold-weather playoff games? He had 23 fumbles in college, though only four in 2015.
“As long as he can hold the ball and he doesn’t get stripped, it’s not a problem to me,” said Browns coach Hue Jackson. “But if there’s a problem that way, then it would be a consideration.”
The Browns, meanwhile, appear content to draft Lynch perhaps as high as No. 8, or Cook or Prescott in the second or third round (a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo with the Browns’ 32d overall pick shouldn’t be discounted, either).
Goff and Wentz aren’t rated nearly as high as Luck was in 2012, or as Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were last year.
McShay compares both Goff and Wentz to Blake Bortles, a little-known prospect out of Central Florida who shot up draft boards in 2014 and ultimately went No. 3 to Jacksonville. The Rams and Eagles would both be happy if their quarterbacks turn out like Bortles, who appears to have a bright future after throwing for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns last year.
“Bortles is one of those guys that had the mental toughness to overcome some real struggles early in his career, and [Goff and Wentz] appear to be guys that can do that as well,” McShay said.
“But they’re going to need time. You don’t want to throw your QB to the fire if you can’t protect them and put them in a decent situation early in their career.”
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.