Whenever the quarterback debate at the top of a draft comes down to two guys, it’s tempting to paint the players as opposites: Andrew Luck was the perfect prospect, but Robert Griffin III was the phenomenon; Jameis Winston could make the throws, but Marcus Mariota had the legs. When players are branded as disparate ideas, the debate becomes about what a franchise believes instead of who it prefers.
That’s not as easy this year, however, because neither Jared Goff nor Carson Wentz is an archetypal top QB. Goff went 1-11 as a true-freshman starter at Cal, with his only win coming against Portland State two weeks into the season. Meanwhile, before this year’s Senior Bowl, few outside the scouting world had even heard of Wentz, an FCS product who missed half of his final season with a broken wrist. These aren’t Heisman Trophy finalists or the prides of storied programs, and their less conventional paths make it tougher to pit them against each other.
But while the contrast between Goff and Wentz may be harder to spot, it’s still there. And the order in which teams rate the two will say a lot about the traits those franchises prize.
Most of the Wentz love has centered on his mobility, which often helped North Dakota State in crucial moments. The Bison weren’t afraid to use Wentz as a runner on designed plays, and plenty of third downs ended with him stepping up in the pocket, taking off, and slowly driving a defense insane. I get why that’s appealing, but I also thought that we’d already learned how dangerous it is to prop up a QB prospect because he can run.
To be fair, Wentz also has a nice arm, and with a clean pocket and room to work, he can really show it off. But he lags behind Goff when it comes to how, and how often, he finds himself in that setting. NDSU loved using motion and play-action to dictate where defenders would be on a given play, and when either technique created a wide-open throwing lane, Wentz, with that mobility and that 6-foot-5 frame, looked the part of an NFL starter. But he struggled when he had less space: Throws outside the numbers could be an adventure, and Wentz rarely placed the ball in a way that gave his receivers extra separation.
All quarterbacks prefer clean pockets and open windows, but Goff was less reliant on them than Wentz. Save for Cal’s quick-screen game, Goff was usually responsible for the ways the Bears influenced defenses. He’s already adept at controlling safeties with his eyes, in part because his eyes are never on the pass rush. Wentz feels outside pressure and steps up with ease, but Goff navigates the entire pocket. He subtly slides to find or make windows that many quarterbacks can’t. That’s a different type of speed.
If a team wants the QB with the faster feet, it’ll go with Wentz; if it wants the one with the faster mind, it’ll go with Goff. Based on everything that we know about quarterbacks, I’d go with the mind.
This piece originally appeared in the April 8, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.