It's been 21 years since a quarterback rose from the ranks of the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) to be the first quarterback chosen in the NFL draft. In fact, it's been so long that when the Houston Oilers chose Alcorn State's Steve McNair No. 3 overall in 1995, it wasn't even called FCS -- it was known as I-AA. But after more than two decades, NFL Media draft expert Mike Mayock believes North Dakota State's Carson Wentz has a chance to snap the drought.
"This kid went from 'Who is he?' and a fifth-round pick to a top-10 pick and in the conversation with Jared Goff to be the first quarterback picked," Mayock recently told The College Draft podcast.
If Goff and Wentz are indeed the primary candidates to be the first quarterback chosen, Memphis' Paxton Lynch figures to be the next-best option. Four other NFL Media analysts project Goff to be the first quarterback chosen in their initial mock drafts, followed by Wentz, with three slotting Lynch a first-round pick and the third quarterback taken.
Goff had an outstanding junior season at Cal before choosing to enter the NFL draft as an underclassman, throwing for 4,714 yards, 43 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. While Wentz's draft rise has come in a relatively short period of time, Goff was regarded among the top quarterback prospects in the college game since before his junior season even began.
"Jared Goff makes every throw. Everybody criticizes the system he's in, but if you really watch enough of his tape, you can find him scanning the field, doing full-field reads, climbing the pocket, making the correct reads and checkdown throws," Mayock said. "I really like Jared Goff."
Mayock said he's evaluated "four or five" game tapes of Wentz.
"I had some questions about his deep-ball accuracy. In one of the games, he underthrew or overthrew four or five deep balls, but outside of that, I'm going 'This is a franchise quarterback, and if he was in a Power Five conference, he's a top-10 pick,'" Mayock said. "And I didn't know a thing about the kid (previously), I just couldn't wait to see him at the Senior Bowl. ... At the biggest and best of the college all-star games where he's lining up helmets with Alabama and LSU and all those other guys, he was the best quarterback there. He's going to go to the combine and run fast and jump high, and do all those athletic things, and he's going to knock people dead in the interview room."
Of course, 32 NFL clubs don't agree unanimously on draft prospects, and Wentz is no different. Two NFL personnel executives who spoke with NFL Media's Lance Zierlein aren't nearly as high on the 6-foot-5, 233-pound passer.
The NFL Scouting Combine later this month should go a long way toward defining the quarterback pecking order for the draft. Twenty-one years after McNair, Wentz has an opportunity to be at the top.