The deadline for franchise tags is fast approaching on March 1. Quarterbacks will take the field to work out at the NFL combine this Saturday, Feb. 27. Sam Bradford is not yet signed to a deal. Put it all together, and you have an obsession over a football team that won’t play again for seven months.
Here’s some fuel for the fire, previewing five signal-callers to keep an eye on this week as the Eagles try to lock down the most important position on the field.
Carson Wentz, North Dakota State, 6-foot-5, 232
The big star of the Senior Bowl, many Eagles fans will already be familiar with Wentz. Despite his small school heritage, Wentz is flying up most draft boards and it seems unlikely he’ll still be around when the Eagles pick at No. 13. With that in mind, before we get much further, I’ll just caution anyone against falling in love with a prospect that may end up wearing the Dallas star. We all remember Byron Jones.
Wentz was limited to seven games as a senior by a broken wrist, but he sandwiched the injury with FCS National Championship victories, so recovery was not an issue. While you never know how the lower level of competition will affect Wentz taking his game to the next level, he competed well against the best college had to offer at the Senior Bowl, where he drew rave reviews for the week of practice, and the combine will be another chance to stack himself up against his direct competition.
It’s a catch-22: if Wentz continues to perform well, he likely solidifies his status where the Eagles can’t reach him. If he does poorly and starts slipping down the board, how comfortable do you feel taking him with his limited track record –a season-and-a-half against FCS competition?
Paxton Lynch, Memphis, 6-foot-7, 245
The most likely of the top three quarterbacks to be on the board when the Eagles pick, Lynch led Memphis to an 8-0 start this past season before declaring for the draft as a junior. Lynch completed 66.7 percent of his passes while throwing for 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions. His final game in college however saw Lynch throw for just 106 yards and an interception as Auburn beat Memphis 31-10 in the Birmingham Bowl.
Lynch has the ability to connect on the deep ball, but has struggled leading receivers into yards after the catch. That’s a priority for any West Coast offense, so what he shows the Eagles at the combine will be important. He can run the ball too, and found the endzone with his legs 13 times as a sophomore in 2014.
Lynch has the “sit-for-a-little-while” label attached to him, which may suit what the Eagles under Doug Pederson feel is in any quarterback’s best interest anyway. In his three years in college, his completion percentage, yards per attempt, yards, qb rating, and touchdowns went up every season, while his interceptions went down. He’s trending the right direction.
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State, 6-foot-4, 228
While Lynch’s stats improved this season, Hackenberg’s were a different story. As a freshman, entering Bill O’Brien’s program as the most heralded recruit in the country, he completed 59% of his passes for 20 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions. After O’Brien and star receiver Allen Robinson left for the NFL however, Hackenberg was left in a situation unrecognizable from the system O’Brien had recruited him into.
Under James Franklin, Hackenberg and the offense in general, stuttered. Hackenberg was sacked 82 times over his final two seasons, with things reaching their worst when Temple sacked him 10 times in the 2015 season opener. As a junior he completed just 53% of his passes. The offense ranked 113th in points scored in 2014 and 101st in 2015. None of these sound like the recipe for a first round quarterback. Or really, a drafted quarterback. But Hackenberg has stuck to boards despite the disappointment on the field. After his dismal sophomore season, he was still being called a contender for first overall pick.
Much of the intrigue surrounding Hackenberg comes from the league watching to see what Bill O’Brien – in desperate need of a quarterback in Houston – will do regarding his former protégé. The Texans hold the 22nd pick.
Jacoby Brissett, North Carolina State, 6-foot-3, 238
Brissett, like Hackenberg, spent a lot of time running away from pressure at NC State. On the one hand, that might prepare either of them for a day behind the Eagles’ current offensive line, or putting them behind one that bad in the NFL might just cement any bad habits they’ve already developed.
Brissett transferred from Florida, and in just two seasons starting for the Wolfpack, delivered several memorable performances. In 2014 he threw for 359 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions against number one Florida State while helping NC State build a 24-7 lead. In 2015 against number three Clemson he had another three touchdown, zero interception performance. The Wolfpack would ultimately lose both games 56-41.
He can run – against North Carolina on his Senior Day he had 128 yards and two touchdowns on the ground – but he focuses on extending plays with his feet and has shown the ability to complete passes on the run very well. There are moments reminiscent of Donovan McNabb’s days avoiding defenders in Philadelphia’s backfield.
Throwing that comparison out there is dangerous, and Brissett is not the product McNabb was leaving college. With that said, he’s one of the middle tier of prospects in this draft that isn’t garnering the local hype of a Hackenberg, Cardale Jones, or Connor Cook, and he’s worth taking notice of.
Cardale Jones, Ohio State, 6-foot-5, 250
Any opportunity for scouts to see more of Jones Is one they have to take. Since the big junior threw just 270 passes in his college career, he has to take advantage of every chance he has in the pre-draft process to show off what he’s got.
What Jones has going for him is that about 75 of those passes came in one of the most memorable streaks in recent college football. Jones, originally third string entering 2014, took over the reins for the Big Ten Championship game. He and the Buckeyes blasted Wisconsin 59-0 to play their way into the College Football Playoff where they shocked Alabama and drubbed Oregon to claim the National Title.
Since then, things haven’t been as rosy. He won a three-way off-season competition for the starting gig, but was eventually benched for J.T. Barrett. Nevertheless, he finished his college career undefeated as the starter.
Jones’ junior season was almost guaranteed to be a disappointment after the heights he reached in the post-season the year before. If the Eagles take him, it shouldn’t be with the idea that he’s ready to start anytime soon. But if Sam Bradford comes back to the fold and Pederson still wants a middle-round qb to mentor for a couple years, Jones could be the guy.