An early look at the 2016 class
We’re 11 weeks into the 2016 season and most of the top quarterbacks drafted this year have gotten a chance to play. Jared Goff made his debut on Sunday, becoming the eighth rookie QB to take a snap this season. Now, not all of them have played as much as Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz, of course, but these rookies have been vaulted into starting roles for better or worse.
A total of six first-year quarterbacks have started a game, and while the sample size is small for most of them, let’s take a look at how they’ve fared thus far. Here’s how we’d grade each of them up to this point, excluding those who haven’t started (Christian Hackenberg, Connor Cook) or seen extended time (Trevone Boykin, Kevin Hogan).
Dak Prescott: A
Prescott has done everything right for the Cowboys. He’s replaced Tony Romo in the starting lineup and led Dallas to a 9-1 record through 11 weeks – the best in football. He hasn’t done it by being a game-manager, simply handing it off to Ezekiel Elliott every play. No, that hasn’t been the case at all.
Prescott ranks third in the NFL in yards per attempt, third in passer rating and sixth in completion percentage. He’s also averaging a very respectable 264 yards per game in the Cowboys’ run-heavy offense. The rookie’s numbers as a whole are remarkable, accounting for 21 total touchdowns (four rushing) and throwing just two interceptions in 10 games. On Sunday, he became the first rookie ever to throw for 300 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in back-to-back games.
That’s just one of the many records Prescott has set in his first year in the league. He’s looked the part in just about every game, overcoming slow starts, beating some of the top defenses and playing like a 10-year vet week in and week out.
What’s standing between Prescott and a perfect A+ grade are the misses he’s had. He’s not a completely polished product just yet as he’s struggled with ball placement, missing open receivers and poor footwork at times. That’s not to say he’s been bad – he’s been terrific – but those are areas in which he can improve (and will). As a fourth-round rookie, his performance has been remarkable and truly one of the best we’ve ever seen.
Carson Wentz: B
The Eagles moved all the way up to No. 2 in the draft to select Wentz – a big-armed North Dakota State quarterback who needed some time to develop as an NFL passer. It was a bold move to get the franchise moving in the right direction, and his career as a starter began far sooner than the Eagles planned.
Wentz was thrust into the starting role when the Eagles traded Sam Bradford to the Vikings on the eve of the season, and it’s looked like a good move for the most part. Wentz got off to a terrific start, feasting on lesser opponents with five touchdown passes and no interceptions in his first three games. He was making big-time throws, making good decisions, and looked like he could be in for a Pro Bowl season.
Week 5 is when things began to go downhill. Since then, he’s thrown six touchdown passes and seven interceptions in seven games, posting a passer rating above 100 just once in that span after doing it twice in his first three games. Teams seem to be figuring him out with pressure getting to him and impacting his decisions. That was the case on Sunday, and it’s been the case in recent weeks.
On the season, his 11 touchdown passes and seven picks still look decent, but his 84.2 passer rating (25th in the NFL) leaves plenty to be desired, as does his 6.57 yards per attempt (28th). Given the Eagles’ struggles at wide receiver and their inability to catch even the easiest passes (looking at you, Nelson Agholor), Wentz has become reliant on checkdown passes. Running backs have caught more than 22 percent of his completions, including 34 to Darren Sproles (third on the team).
If the Eagles’ receivers were more consistent and didn’t have some of the worst hands in football, Wentz’s numbers would be far better. And because of that, Wentz gets a B, which is a solid grade all things considered.
Cody Kessler: C+
When the Browns selected Kessler in the third round (93rd overall), grumbling was heard all the way from Cleveland to USC. He wasn’t viewed as a top quarterback prospect, and many thought he’d be a late-round pick in a draft class that was littered with players teams would reach for based on need. All he’s done since then is prove doubters wrong and play relatively well.
In eight starts for the underwhelming Browns, Kessler has completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 1,369 yards, six touchdowns and just two interceptions. His supporting cast has been terrible outside of Terrelle Pryor, and the offensive line has been even worse. Yet, Kessler has made the most of a bad situation and looks like he could potentially be the team’s starting quarterback in 2017.
Of course, there’s the elephant in the room that is the Browns’ record. They’re 0-11 (0-8 under Kessler) and have showed little signs of hope that they’ll win a game this season. That won’t be Kessler’s fault. He’s done everything he can despite suffering multiple injuries, the latest of which might end his rookie year.
If Kessler doesn’t play another game this season after suffering a concussion on Sunday, his rookie year will be a success. He wasn’t great or flashy and didn’t win any games, but he’s exceeded expectations and showed promise.
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Jared Goff: C
The No. 1 overall pick made his NFL debut Sunday against the Dolphins in rainy (yes, rainy) Los Angeles. It was a lackluster performance filled with short-to-intermediate throws and poor pass protection but no turnovers. Coach Jeff Fisher called it a positive outing for his rookie, citing the fact that there were no delay of game calls against him, but there was still plenty to be desired.
Given the conditions, his inexperience and the Rams’ inability to give him any help, Fisher was probably right: It was a step in the right direction. While Goff didn’t throw downfield much, he also didn’t throw a single interception or make any crucial mistakes that cost the Rams a win. The Dolphins were simply better down the stretch.
His career is obviously just beginning, and it’d be foolish to make any projections or determinations based on one start. However, as far as his overall body of work goes, he looks the part. He can make all of the throws, command a huddle and move within the pocket to elude pressure – something he’s going to face a lot of in Los Angeles. It'd be good to see the Rams open up the playbook a bit for him, though.
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Paxton Lynch: C
Lynch was drafted with the notion that he probably wasn’t going to start right away. The Broncos had Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian at quarterback and Lynch was an unpolished product with plenty of room to grow. He was pushed into the starting lineup by default as Siemian was dealing with an injury, and he played just OK. He did some things well but struggled in other departments.
On the plus side, he showed decent accuracy (62.7 completion rate) and arm strength, proving he can make the necessary throws to succeed in the NFL. However, he lacks awareness. Lynch was sacked seven times in two games (59 pass attempts). He didn’t have the instincts to step up and elude pass rushers. By the same token, he also missed open receivers and seemed frazzled when his initial read was taken away.
These are all things Lynch will need to improve upon if he wants to secure his place as the team’s starter for 2017. It was a tiny sample size, of course, but the flaws he showed in college came through in his short stint this season. There’s still certainly plenty to be excited about with Lynch.
Jacoby Brissett: C-
The Patriots surprisingly drafted Brissett in the third round this year despite Jimmy Garoppolo being firmly entrenched as Tom Brady’s backup (and likely heir). It proved to be a wise decision because with Brady suspended and Garoppolo injured, the Patriots needed Brissett.
He started two games for New England this season, going 1-1. He completed 34 of 55 passes for 400 yards and no touchdown passes or interceptions. Brissett did rush for a touchdown on 83 yards total, showing good mobility and elusiveness outside the pocket. That was one of his best assets at N.C. State, and it’s something Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick took advantage of in his spot duty as the starter.
Where Brissett struggled was throwing the ball downfield. Why? Because he hardly ever did. He averaged 7.3 yards per attempt, but that was inflated by his 58-yard completion to Martellus Bennett. He relied on checkdowns and first-read throws, and if they weren’t there, he’d take off (or get sacked).