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Separation Saturday: Did Goff, Wentz emerge as top QBs?

INDIANAPOLIS -- The fine line between being a consistent contender in the NFL and a team lost in the wilderness of mediocrity is more often than not tied to who lines up behind center.

Teams in that desperate search for the next franchise quarterback no doubt were keeping a close eye on Cal's Jared Goff, Memphis' Paxton Lynch and North Dakota State's Carson Wentz. Each is projected by astute draft experts to be first-round selections.

All three of these top quarterback prospects are uniquely different. Goff is the big-school, polished passer. Wentz is a small-school prospect who has the size and athleticism, but questions linger about the level of competition he's faced. Lynch is a possible dual-threat hammer who exploded onto the college football scene in 2015.

"Goff is the most ready to play quarterback in this draft," NFL Media draft expert Mike Mayock said during Saturday's broadcast on NFL Network. "The ball comes out so quickly for him; love his feet, love his release. He can throw it at all three levels (short, intermediate and deep)."

Goff might be the leader in the clubhouse to be the first quarterback selected, but Wentz's emergence should make for interesting big school-vs.small school, polished passer-vs.-upside prospect debates over the next two months.

"Wentz ripped it today; he had a real nice day," Mayock said. "The more I hear from teams about him, the more I'm convinced he's a top-10 pick."

It's noteworthy that no North Dakota State player has ever been selected in the first round; the highest was linebacker Steve Nelson, who was taken by the New England Patriots in the second round of the 1974 draft with the No. 34 overall pick.

Memphis has produced two first-round picks in the last decade -- Dontari Poe in 2012 and DeAngelo Williams in 2006. Lynch is vying to join them, though seems to be facing an uphill battle to match the draft momentum of Goff and Wentz.

"I felt like Paxton Lynch, it didn't come out as good as expected. I think the transition with the footwork has to get more consistent," Mayock said. "This is kinda what I expected of him ... big arm, and athletic kid. The more snaps he gets, the better he's going to be."

Owning the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft is the Cleveland Browns, a franchise that seems to be annually listed under "Draft needs: Quarterback" type lists. With the Tennessee Titans owning the top overall pick and having selected Marcus Mariota in last year's draft, it seems that the Browns will have their choice of the best of what the 2016 class has to offer at quarterback.

"Cleveland has to be looking at (Goff)," Mayock said.

Possible landing spots for WRs

How about this draft course of action for the Browns ... take Goff at No. 2 overall and then get a potential game-breaking wide receiver with the No. 32 overall selection?

That is a possible dreamland scenario for Browns fans anxious to see their team's offense climb out of the mud.

NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein was impressed by Josh Doctson's workout on Saturday, and heaped some hefty praise onto the TCU wide receiver.

"I think Josh Doctson has made himself money today," Zierlein said on NFL Now Scouting Combine Live. "I absolutely think he's going inside the top 40 picks, and I think there's a good chance he doesn't get outside of the Cleveland Browns with the first pick in the second round. I think there's a good chance he ends in the back end of the first round."

Goff to Doctson -- and throw in Josh Gordon coming off a suspension -- and there's the making of an offense that could be loads of fun in Cleveland.

Also possibly living in a dreamland was NFL Media analyst (and former NFL defensive back) Solomon Wilcots, who likes the possibility of what Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller could do in the New England Patriots' offense.

"I think (Fuller) would be great in that arsenal teamed up with Rob Gronkowski and a Julian Edelman," Wilcots said on NFL Now Scouting Combine Live. "It expands what the Patriots can do offensively."

The problem? New England had to forfeit its first-round pick due to a football deflating scandal, and won't pick until selection No. 60 overall in the second round.

"Before even stepping onto the combine floor, I thought Will Fuller was a first rounder," Zierlein said.

Fuller has legs, but does he have hands?

Fuller dropped the fastest 40 time among receivers. His speed wasn't an issue entering this weekend's workouts in Indianapolis, nor will it be when he leaves to continue on with draft preparation ahead of Notre Dame's pro day.

What is a concern for Fuller is his hands. He can come down with a case of the dropsies.

"He fights the football a little like Ted Ginn," Mayock said.

Indeed, Mayock said at a press conference after workouts on Saturday that he still sees Fuller as a second-rounder.

Cardale's day cut short

One of the more intriguing quarterback prospects on hand in Indy at the combine was Ohio State's Cardale Jones.

Jones had a quick rise to fame after leading the Buckeyes to the national championship in the inaugural College Football Playoff in the 2014 season. He took over as starter ahead of Ohio State's win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game (which, like the combine, takes place at Lucas Oil Stadium). He then led Ohio State to an upset win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and then Oregon in the national title game. He opted to return to Ohio State for the 2015 season, but it was a disappointment. Jones earned the starting job in fall camp, but was eventually demoted to backup.

Unfortunately, Jones' combine workout came to a premature end during the 40-yard dash (he did manage to post the top vertical among the QBs).

Jones has two weeks to recover before Ohio State's pro day, which is scheduled for March 11.

"His pro day becomes a big day for him," Mayock said.

Miller time

Another Ohio State prospect carrying a heaping helping of intrigue into Indianapolis was Braxton Miller.

Miller played quarterback for the Buckeyes, was highly successful as a signal-caller, got hurt, and then switched positions for the 2015 season. The quarterback-turned-wide receiver might be seen by most to be a developmental prospect, and how much time a team is willing to allow Miller to acclimate to running routes in a pro-style offense will likely determine his draft slot.

"Will you burn a first-round pick on a developmental player?" Mayock asked on NFL Network's broadcast of the combine.

But ...

"He's special with the ball in his hands. There will be a home for him, and he will make a lot of money in this league," Mayock added.

QB thoughts

Here are some more of Mayock's takes on the quarterbacks at the combine:

» TCU's Trevone Boykin: "As a QB, he's not draftable." However, Mayock suggested that Boykin might have value at another position such as receiver or running back. NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks echoed that sentiment, suggesting a slash-type role could be in Boykin's future.

» Michigan State's Connor Cook: "Polarizing conversation here. There are two schools of thought on Cook. One school, he has first-round arm talent and can make every throw necessary. Another school of thought: why wasn't he captain of the team; why didn't he show up at the Senior Bowl? There's a cloud over his head and he needs to take care of that this week."

» Penn State's Christian Hackenberg: "He's had the tar beat out of him the last couple years. He's a little bit shellshocked in the pocket. Somebody is going to want to put him back together again."

How about the Houston Texans?

"Houston has to be looking at a quarterback. (Current Texans coach and former Penn State coach) Bill O'Brien recruited him," Mayock said.

» Ohio State's Cardale Jones: "When I was playing, he was a guard."

Jones measured in at 6-foot-5, 253 pounds while in Indy.

Follow Jim Reineking on Twitter @jimreineking.

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