A quarterback class of hits, ifs, maybe’s and stiffs

Former Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

When you look at the quarterback situation in the National Football League, there really isn’t that much that separate many of the starters to the clipboard holders. With the exception of the top-tier group of quarterbacks, everybody pretty much look alike, sound alike, move the same way and bring nothing exceptional to the table.

In other words, they’re all interchangeable parts. You can go in and take Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, substitute him with a Bruce Gradkowski or a Matt Cassel, and you’re going to wind up with the same type of player, which equates to mediocrity.

There is a lot of that going on these days in the NFL.

That’s because NFL scouts, general managers and coaches basically think alike, which can help explain the quarterback clone situation the league has. Outside of a Cam Newton, Andrew Luck or a Russell Wilson, the quarterback dilemma in the league has the feel of zombie nation.

Really, what is the difference between a Josh McCown, Landry Jones, Sam Badford, Drew Stanton, Matt Flynn, Blaine Gabbert or Derek Anderson? Their uniform colors? There’s really not that much to this bunch except they’re on different teams.

The Cleveland Browns went out and selected USC quarterback Cody Kessler in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Photo by Dennis j. Freeman/News4usonline.com
The Cleveland Browns went out and selected USC quarterback Cody Kessler in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Photo by Dennis j. Freeman/News4usonline.com

This brings this discussion to the 2016 NFL Draft quarterback class, which pretty much offer fans more of the same same type of signal-callers. Cal’s Jared Goff, who went to the Los Angeles Rams and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, are expected to be this year’s Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

Goff and Wentz have been hyped as being able to bring something different to the table. We’ll see. The Rams and Eagles gave up 11 draft picks between them to nab Goff and Wentz, so they had better be the exception to the rule.

The Rams gave up six draft picks to get Goff with the No. 1 overall selection. The Eagles, like sheep going to the slaughter, followed in their footsteps and got rid of five draft picks for Wentz at the No. 2 spot. If there was a trend going on with the NFL quarterback class of 2016, overreach might be the right word to use.

Of course, that’s debatable. Some teams filled their needs, others just wasted time and space with their draft selection.

Former Michigan State quarterback Connor Coook was picked in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com
Former Michigan State quarterback Connor Coook was picked in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

New York Jets  

Let’s start with the New York Jets. The Jets are trying to get a franchise quarterback on the cheap. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the Jets proved once again why they are the Jets when they picked Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg with the 51st overall selection.

They went from breaking apart negotiations with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick to a kid who only completed 53 percent of his passes his last year in college. I’m not impressed, neither should Jets’ fans. The Jets are going to enter the 2016 season with the fearless lineup at the quarterback position of Geno Smith, Bryce Petty, and now Hackenberg.

Everybody at 6-foot-4, 234 pounds won’t make the cut as an NFL quarterback. But every year, we have scouts who seem to believe to play in this league you have to have a huge frame. Well, how about completing some passes. Hackenberg completed just 56 percent of his passes in the Big Ten.

Again, this is why the Jets are the Jets.

Philadelphia Eagles 

Let’s move along to the Philadelphia Eagles. This team has a clear identity crisis going on. This is not 1999. Carson Wentz is not Donovan McNabb. Doug Pederson is not Andy Reid.

The move the Eagles made to snap up Wentz with the No. 2 pick feels like the team is trying too hard to -recreate the best era of football the franchise has ever had. McNabb, who was the No. 2 pick in that 1999 NFL Draft, and Reid, teamed up to go to five NFC title games and a Super Bowl during their run.

The Eagles have been a hot mess ever since. The Chip Kelly era blew up in their faces. Now with a Reid clone in Pederson, the Eagles think they may have re-captured that magic back. I don’t think so.

Their first mistake was signing an often-injured Sam Bradford to a 2-year, $36 million contract ($22 million guaranteed). As the former No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Bradford has officially been certified as a bust in this league.

The Eagles then turn around and sign his backup, Chase Daniel, (another unproven journeyman quarterback) to a three-year deal that will net him at least $21. Sounds like this team has no direction and can’t make up their minds who they want to be the starting quarterback. Making things even more unstable, the Eagles fell in love with Wentz and selected him as the No. 2 pick in the draft. Why?

We know why. Again, he’s that big kid (6-foot-6, 235 pounds) with the big arm that you can’t pass on, according to the scouts. Well, Wentz only played one full year as a starter for North Dakota State, and that was his junior season. Last year, Wentz played just seven games before going down for the year after breaking his throwing wrist.

The Eagles want Wentz to be “that guy.” He’s their guy, alright. For better or for worse.

Some football experts have compared Philadelphia Eagles newly drafted quarterback Carson Wentz to Carolina Panthers quarterback and 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player Cam Newton. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com
Some football experts have compared Philadelphia Eagles newly drafted quarterback Carson Wentz to Carolina Panthers quarterback and 2015 NFL Most Valuable Player Cam Newton. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline.com

 Los Angeles Rams

Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher is super-stoked at having the opportunity to land a franchise quarterback. When your other options are Nick Foles or Case Keenum, you would be just as excited. Fisher has been down this path before. One time it worked out. He wasn’t so lucky the next time around.

The first time Fisher had the opportunity to work with a first round draft pick that was a quarterback was when the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans selected Steve McNair from Alcorn State. Fisher got a Super Bowl appearance out of McNair. He was at it again with Rose Bowl folk hero Vince Young from Texas. That experiment didn’t work out too well for either parties.

Now we have the Jared Goff experiment. Good, bad or indifferent, Fisher is banking on Goff to be the face of the franchise for the next decade or so. With the Rams relocating to Southern California after spending two decades in St. Louis, the team wanted to make a big splash in the Los Angeles market.

Well, they made the big splash. Now it’s time to start swimming.

During his recent press conference in Los Angeles, Goff comes across as young man that is cool and collected.

The moment doesn’t seem to big for him. With the bright lights of Los Angeles shining on him from here on, Goff looks like he will fit in quite nicely. He has the Hollywood looks, a calm demeanor and a franchise who really has his back. But what takes place on the field is altogether a different matter.

His record as a starter at Cal was a not-too-hot 14-23. But that Cal defense was not anything close to the type of stout defense the Rams have. And Goff will have his share of offensive weapons to choose from. The Rams have gone all in with Goff. After the Sam Bradford debacle, the Rams are betting that Goff can take them to the Super Bowl one day.

At the very least, the Rams and Goff need to win more games than incurring losses. While Goff has all the right tools to be successful in the NFL, this is still a wait-and-see project to be determined at a later date.

Cleveland Browns

After going through all of the smokescreen that the Cleveland Browns have created during the offseason with the announcement of an open competition between Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown and the quarterback they draft, their actions have spoken a lot louder than their words.

The starting quarterback position is RG3’s to lose. McCown is there to back him up. Cody Kessler is there to learn and hold the clipboard. He was a safe pick for the Browns to make. Kessler is not a threat to RG3 and everyone knows it.

He doesn’t have the arm strength of RG3, is not as mobile as the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, and holds the ball too long at times.

What Kessler do well is play the game manager role pretty well, something that Kansas Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has mastered. But he is not the answer for the future. Kessler had a pretty nice career at USC.

However, going up against defenses in the AFC North Division, where ball-hawking, bone crunching defenses like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens roam, is going to be more challenging. This is not Cal or Utah.

This pick is a holding pattern for Cleveland. Whatever the Browns are saying about an open competition at the quarterback position, it is nothing but smoke and mirrors. This is RG3’s job to lose.

Cal's Jared Goff was taken by the Los Angeles Rams with the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman
Cal’s Jared Goff was taken by the Los Angeles Rams with the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Kansas City Chiefs

Now we’re talking. This is a way better pick than the Browns picking Cody Kessler in Round 3. Getting the best bang out of their buck, the Chiefs looked to future with Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan. Great choice. Hogan is one of the few QBs in this draft that could be a real difference-maker.

Hogan is bigger than Kessler, more mobile than his former USC counterpart and has a stronger arm.

Hogan is a poor man’s Andrew Luck, very underrated. He is a lot better of a player than someone who was just called to hand the ball of to Christian McCaffrey during his college career.

Yeah, you can put up the numbers to validate Hogan being drafted (65 percent passing completion, 9, 385 yards and 75 touchdowns in four years), but his true value is that he is coming from the same system where Luck played under.

For once, a team got it right with their draft selection at the quarterback position. Reid and  the Chiefs did not overreach with this pick. And Alex Smith is not getting younger. Nor will Smith take the Chiefs to the next level outside of making the playoffs. You don’t go to the Super Bowl with an Alex Smith at quarterback.

Hogan might be a different story. Hogan took Stanford to three Rose Bowl appearances and led the Cardinal to three Pac-12 Conference championships, so you know he’s a winner. At pick No. 162 of the fifth round, the Chiefs came out winners on this one. In a few years, a team with the 6-foot-4, 218 pound Hogan under center has a very good chance of going to that next level.

Oakland Raiders

There are some people who like to think they are the smartest one in the room. The Oakland Raiders thought they were smarter than everyone else in the draft war room when they picked up Connor Cook in the fourth round. Why?

Cook is another tall, big stiff from the Big Ten who could not even complete 60 percent of his passes in a run-happy conference. For his career, Cook completed just 57 percent of his passes during collegiate career, not exactly overwhelming numbers to prepare you for tight, bump-in-run coverage the NFL executes.

That’s not to mention the no-show Cook displayed against Alabama during Michigan State’s 38-0 wipeout loss to the Crimson Tide in a College Football Playoff semifinal game. If Cook had trouble putting up points against Alabama, what is he going to do against the likes of a Von Miller and the Denver Broncos? How about good night, and good luck.

This is the first in a three-part opinion series on the quarterback class in the 2016 NFL Draft             

Dennis J. Freeman
About Dennis J. Freeman 1120 Articles
Dennis covers the NFL (San Diego Chargers), NBA (Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers), Major League Baseball (Los Angeles Dodgers) and NCAA sports (USC, UCLA, Long Beach State). As a professional journalist, Dennis has also covered and written on topics such as civil rights, politics and social justice. Dennis is a graduate of Howard University.