The Browns weren't in position to draft a quarterback in a previous mock, but they are now - and it definitely helps that there currently appear to be three top-10 signal-caller prospects again in the wake of Paxton Lynch's amazing season.
We haven't spoken to our NFL sources about Lynch yet, but unless he struggles to close out the year, I have to believe that he'll grade out as a top-10 prospect, and perhaps the top quarterback in the class. Even if he doesn't, teams get desperate and reach for players at his position. The Browns obviously need a signal-caller, as Johnny Manziel is an idiot who has no future (or present) in the NFL. Whatever hope Cleveland had for Manziel is now gone, as he won't stop his partying ways. Perhaps he can fool everyone again with another PR-move trip to rehab, but it's likely that he's done with the Browns.
It appears as though Colin Kaepernick's time in San Francisco is done, as the pizza delivery guy coaching the team has decided to bench him in favor of Blaine Gabbert. San Francisco will almost certainly release Kaepernick this offseason - unless they're forced to keep him because of the injury - so unless Gabbert has an amazing finish, they'll target one of the top-10 quarterbacks available in this class. Jared Goff can be the leader of a team that, according to Trent Dilfer, has a roster to die for.
Some teams have concerns about the offense in which Goff plays in, but his pocket awareness and movement, as well as his intelligence have stood out. Things could change - and knowing how fluid the draft process is, they probably will - but Goff appears to be the No. 2 quarterback prospect right now.
Rd. 1, Pk. 15
Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
It's sounding like Sean Payton won't be around next year, and he could take Drew Brees with him. It's a shame that New Orleans could part ways with Brees after all he's done for the city and organization, but the truth of the matter is, he'll be a 37-year-old due $19.75 million in a contract season.
If the Saints bring in a totally new regime, they may want their own guy, and the only first-round quarterback remaining is Connor Cook. The Michigan State product has some accuracy and consistency issues that NFL teams are legitimately worried about, but once again, teams will reach for quarterbacks, so he should end up being a top-15 selection.
Rd. 2, Pk. 19
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Half a season shouldn't drop a prospect a whole round, but my premise behind slotting Christian Hackenberg in the top five was that he would go that high if he put together a strong 2015 campaign. It doesn't look like that's going to happen now, so it's realistic could drop to the second day. If so, I'm sure the Texans would take a chance on him, given that Bill O'Brien got the most out of him when he was at Penn State.
Rd. 2, Pk. 23
Jacoby Brissett, QB, N.C. State
The next six games will be crucial for Alex Smith (and also the fans) in Kansas City. Smith can save his job by playing well down the stretch and taking the team on a run into the playoffs. The fans, as a result, will be miserable because they'll have to watch more of Smith's dinks and dunks going forward. However, if Smith continues to struggle, the stubborn Andy Reid may be forced to abandon him. If so, a quarterback is in play at this juncture.
Obviously, Cleveland needs a franchise quarterback. The actions of the Browns' brass to play Josh McCown over Johnny Manziel tells you what you need to know about their thoughts on Manziel as the future of the franchise. Cleveland has to try once again to land a franchise quarterback.
To me, Lynch looks like a upgraded version of Blake Bortles as a prospect in terms of athletic skill set. Lynch has completed 69 percent of his passes this season for 3,448 yards with 21 touchdowns and three interceptions. His arm can make all the throws for the pro game, but he also has flashed the ability to pass accurately and beat good coverage with precise completions into tight windows. Additionally, Lynch has the athleticism to make plays with his feet and throw on the run. However, he is a project for the NFL. Lynch has a great skill set, but needs work as a pocket passer with developing his field vision.
Rd. 1, Pk. 6
Jared Goff, QB, California
San Francisco blew it back in 2005 by taking Alex Smith instead of Aaron Rodgers. Maybe they'll get it right by taking this California quarterback.
In 2015, Goff has completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,710 yards with 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He has shown a quality, accurate arm with field vision. Goff also has functional mobility to avoid rushers and pick up some yards on the ground. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder is lanky and could use more weight. He also could have some issues with getting rattled and handling the rush in the NFL. Holding up against the pass rush led to him having some mechanical issues that he's working on fixing.
Goff enjoyed a breakout 2014 season. The sophomore completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,973 yards with 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He displayed real pocket-passing potential while playing with a less-than-ideal supporting cast. Goff became the starter as a freshman in 2013 and completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,508 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Rd. 1, Pk. 11
Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
The Rams seem ready to move on from Nick Foles. Obviously, they will consider quarterback upgrades in the offseason.
Cook has connected on 56 percent of his passes this season for 2,482 yards for 21 touchdowns and four interceptions. He's shown NFL evaluators that he has a strong arm, pocket presence, flashes of brilliant accuracy, and the mobility to avoid rushers and roll out.
The 6-foot-4, 218-pounder plays in a pro-style system and has shown steady improvement with his ability to function in the pocket while working through his progressions. Cook does need to improve his accuracy though. He will make some amazing throws into extremely tight windows and then miss on routine passes.
In 2014, Cook connected on 58 percent of his passes for 3,214 yards with 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He completed 59 percent of his passes in 2013 for 2,755 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. Cook improved throughout that season and was very impressive against Ohio State and Stanford to close out the year.
Pick change; previously Michael Thomas, WR
Rd. 2, Pk. 18
Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State
The Bills grab a potential starting quarterback. Jones has a great skill set, so perhaps Greg Roman can work some magic with him.
There is no doubt that Jones (6-5, 250) can make some devastating throws with elite arm strength for the NFL. Aside from his right-arm cannon, Jones has also displayed his running ability and how difficult he is to sack with his huge size. Jones has been up-and-down in 2015, but considering he has only 11 starts in his college career, it is understandable that he is raw and needs development. In 2015, Jones has completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,460 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions.
Jones put on a display in 2014 after entering the starting lineup behind Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. In his three starts, he completed 61 percent of his passes for 860 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
Jones has a ton of upside and could be a tremendous play-maker if he improves his football I.Q., field vision and overall passing technique. Teams do have concerns about his maturity and leadership skills.
Pick change; previously Jonathan Allen, DE
Rd. 2, Pk. 19
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
The Texans badly need a franchise quarterback, and Houston knows that Hackenberg is a fit for Bill O'Brien's system. Their personal history could cause O'Brien to make a huge push for the Texans taking Hackenberg in the 2016 NFL Draft.
In 2015, Hackenberg has completed 53 percent of his passes for 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns with three interceptions. He still has a ways to go to improve his accuracy and precision on some throws, but in almost every game, he also makes some great passes that are dropped by his receivers. Hackenberg must improve his accuracy and decision-making, so he's more of a project than an instant starter in the NFL.
Hackenberg completed 56 percent of his passes in 2014 for 2,677 yards with 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He played better than the numbers indicate as his supporting cast was a huge liability and the offensive line was awful. To end the season, Hackenberg led a huge overtime, comeback win over Boston College, completing 34-of-50 passes for 371 yards and four touchdowns.
Hackenberg (6-4, 234) was the star recruit for Bill O'Brien at Penn State and proved the hype wasn't misplaced during an impressive 2013 season that saw him named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Hackenberg completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions that season. He also ran for four touchdowns. Hackenberg has good size and a strong arm. He showed better field vision while playing for O'Brien.
Rd. 3, Pk. 5
Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
The Cowboys grab a young understudy to Tony Romo. Clearly, Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden aren't good enough to be backup quarterbacks, much less be candidates to start when Romo is done.
This season, Wentz completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,669 yards with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions. He also had four rushing touchdowns. Sources say that Wentz (6-6, 235) is prospect who has caught their eye and has early-round potential. As a junior, Wentz completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,111 yard with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. He had six touchdowns on the ground. If Wentz can have a strong week at the Senior Bowl coming off an injury, his stock could really rise with NFL evaluators.
Rd. 3, Pk. 19
Jacoby Brissett, QB, N.C. State
The Jets grab some young quarterback competition to go with Bryce Petty.
Brissett is a thick-bodied, big-armed pocket passer who has some athleticism. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder doesn't get a lot of attention, but there is a buzz building about him in NFL circles.
Brissett has completed 63 percent of his passes this season for 2,242 yards with 17 touchdowns and three interceptions. As a junior, he completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,606 yards with 23 touchdowns and five interceptions. In 2011 and 2012, Brissett was a backup at Florida. Former Gators head coach Will Muschamp mistakenly chose Jeff Driskel instead of Brissett to be the starter, and that paved the way for Brissett to transfer.
Connor Cook is definitely a pro-ready QB and could have made a case for being a 1st round pick last year (I had him being picked by the Texans in 2015 mocks until he announced he was returning to Michigan State). Considering the dire QB situation for the Jets (Fitzpatrick is fine for now, but how much longer until he rapidly regresses?), it would be wise to grab your future signal caller now.
Bet you didn’t see this one coming. Just because I think Manziel might be finishing up the process of correcting himself doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s a bust in the making. I hope I’m wrong, and I want insurance. Hackenberg has all of the tools to make for a good NFL QB, but with no reliable toolbox to help him carry them in Penn State, his draft stock is falling. At the very least, this selection can remind Manziel to stay on the straight and narrow. This could serve as either a motivator for Manziel (and I’m sure that the Browns can market Hackenberg to Bill O’Brien for a nice draft pick or two), or if he majorly regresses, a good replacement for less money.
Sooner or later, reality will reveal that Tyrod Taylor is not a true starting QB. Cardale can do everything Taylor can, but better. Jones may be raw, but considering that he reasonably could have been a second round pick last year coupled with another year of development in a strong program can only help the case for Cardale Jones being a first round pick. Even though I’m still holding out hope for Hackenberg to be worthy of a top 20 selection, Cardale Jones looks to have surpassed him, as Hackenberg is forced to toil under the horribleness of James Franklin.