The 2015 NFL Draft was defined by quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who went with the first two overall picks. This year’s QB class is less likely to occupy the top spots on the draft board, but that doesn’t mean at least two signal-callers won’t be fist-bumping Roger Goodell early on draft night. And the most likely candidates are Cal’s Jared Goff and small-school sensation Carson Wentz from North Dakota State.
Even more so than last year, destination will be key to the fantasy fortunes of the 2016 rookie quarterbacks. With that key piece of data yet to be determined, let’s break down the other aspects of what might be in store for Goff and Wentz.
While Goff isn’t a perfect prospect, he’s pretty doggone solid: accuracy, athleticism and a high football IQ, with the added bonus of playing against (in theory, at least) a higher level of competition. And it’s a resounding endorsement that nearly every scouting report with an NFL comparison for Goff references Matt Ryan, who had a five-year run as a top-10 fantasy quarterback before slipping to 16th last year.
Wentz is also credited with football smarts, though his FCS level of competition concerns some. He’s also an inch bigger and 20 pounds heavier than Goff and a bigger threat to produce fantasy stats with his feet as well as his big arm; in six more collegiate games than Goff Wentz scored a dozen more rushing touchdowns and accounted for 1,142 more yards on the ground.
Given Wentz’s FCS experience, he may need more time before he’s effective at the NFL level than Goff, though both have coachable corrections to make in the pros. But while Goff has those Matt Ryan comparisons, it’s worth noting that Ryan has always had quality receivers like Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones to throw to—and even with Jones last year Ryan ranked 16th among fantasy quarterbacks.
Among the teams likely spending—or trading up for—the early first-round pick necessary to acquire Goff or Wentz, quality receivers are severely lacking. Between the Browns, 49ers and Rams the only wide receiver ranking among the top 48 fantasy performers at the position last season was Tavon Austin, who amassed half his value from rushing and special teams. Cleveland has top-three tight end Gary Barnidge and the hope that Josh Gordon returns from suspension and plays up to his 2013 levels, but for the most part the cupboards are bare.
With such a blank slate to work with, Wentz is the more likely of the two to have success. He has the size to hold up to an NFL pass rush and the athleticism to create fantasy points with his feet. Goff would be much less inclined to contribute as a runner, meaning he would need to rely on his receivers to bolster his fantasy prospects. In Goff’s case, falling to the Jets (Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker) would be a best-case scenario.
The wildcard in this battle might be Paxton Lynch; if he’s on the board when the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos come on the clock at the end of Round 1, he may wind up being the best fantasy option among rookie quarterbacks. Add dependance on location to the mix and it’s easy to understand why quarterbacks aren’t going off the board in rookie fantasy drafts until late—if at all—in the first round.