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Zierlein: North Dakota State QB Wentz deserves first-round grade

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Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
North Dakota State's Carson Wentz threw 16 TD passes in the seven games he appeared in this season.

Taking a first-round chance on a player from an FCS school isn't easy, but don't be surprised if an NFL club finds North Dakota State's Carson Wentz worth the gamble.

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NFL Media analyst Lance Zierlein has placed a first-round draft grade on the North Dakota State quarterback, who could be the most intriguing pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. Zierlein has studied film of each Wentz throw from the 2014 and '15 seasons.

"He checks a lot of boxes. He plays in a pro-style passing attack that allows him to read the entire field," Zierlein said. "He has great size, a good enough arm, and is very courageous in the pocket. He has fantastic touch and accuracy down the field. You have to project him a little because he's an FCS guy, and there are still signs that he has work to do with his decision-making.

"He probably needs to sit and learn for a year or two. I think if you take a guy inside the top six (or) eight picks, you're pressured to play him right away. Later in the (first round), those are better teams making those picks that don't have that kind of pressure."

Wentz has caught the eye of NFL Media draft expert Mike Mayock, as well.

The positives: Size (6-foot-6, 235 pounds), velocity, and a lightning-quick release.


» Prospects who have accepted invites to 2016 Senior Bowl


The negatives: Wentz broke his right wrist, on his throwing arm, and underwent season-ending surgery that cut his senior season roughly in half. And of course, there's that pesky question about the competition he's faced at the FCS level. An NFC scout told College Football 24/7 earlier this month that picking a quarterback from a smaller school like Wentz's can be scary business.

Wentz will try to answer questions about both his injury recovery and his ability to compete at a higher level next month at the Reese's Senior Bowl. The annual all-star game draws some of the most talented seniors and fourth-year juniors in college football for a week of practice, personal interviews and a North-South all-star game under the watchful eye of NFL coaches, scouts and personnel executives.


» Tracking underclassmen intentions for 2016 draft


If he performs well, his place among the 2016 draft's quarterbacks could rise significantly.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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