The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Rams just traded for the No. 1 pick. Here’s how they should use it.

Jared Goff deserves to be the No. 1 pick. (Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

With the Los Angeles Rams trading for the No. 1 overall pick – sending a laundry list of picks to the Tennessee Titans in return – there is a serious debate over which quarterback prospect the team should take with that selection, California’s Jared Goff or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.

Pro Football Focus has an opinion on this and four other positional debates based on its grading of every college football player in every game, and draft evaluations on every prospect.

Draft QB Jared Goff over Carson Wentz

Teams most affected: Rams, Browns, Cowboys

This isn’t an anti-Wentz vote nearly as much as it is a pro-Goff vote. Wentz is more difficult to evaluate than most quarterbacks, having played for an FCS program in North Dakota State as opposed to a Power-5 program like Goff at California, and having only played seven games this season due to time missed from a wrist injury.

PFF went back and graded all the games in which Wentz played (PFF grades every game involving an FBS opponent during the season, but graded North Dakota State after the season in order to better perform Wentz’s draft evaluation), and he earned the ninth-best cumulative passing grade in this year’s quarterback class, compared to the second-best grade posted by Goff. However, if you make a per-snap grading comparison to adjust for the time Wentz missed, they rank No. 1 and 2, respectively, with Wentz actually slightly edging out Goff.

Let’s just call this Titans-Rams trade a ‘reverse-RGIII’

So it’s not as though the numbers say Wentz won’t become a good NFL quarterback. It’s just that there is a lot of evidence that Goff will become a good NFL quarterback. Despite throwing an identical-to-Wentz 18.8 percent of his passes 20 or more yards downfield (tied for the 12th-highest rate in this draft class), Goff completed his deep balls at a 50 percent clip (10th in the class), compared to Wentz’s 38.5 percent rate (29th). He also fared better under pressure, earning higher passer ratings both when the opposing pass rush got to him and when the defense blitzed, and ranking eighth in accuracy rate under pressure at 65 percent compared to Wentz’s 27th place finish at 57 percent.

Moreover, while our analysts noticed some timing and inaccuracy issues on Wentz’s game tape, Goff impressed with his anticipation, quick decision-making and accuracy to all parts of the field, even in the face of pressure. There is a reason why he is the No. 1 quarterback in PFF’s grading over the past two seasons.

This is a case of the production metrics matching a prospect’s scouting reputation, and Goff would be a great pick for any team in need of a franchise quarterback – even over Wentz and the upside he brings — starting with the Rams at No. 1.

Draft WR Corey Coleman over Laquon Treadwell

Teams most affected: Giants, Vikings, Bengals

Baylor’s Coleman and Ole Miss’s Treadwell posted nearly identical receiving grades this season, with Coleman ranking ninth and Treadwell 11th in this year’s draft class, but that’s where this comparison stops being all that close. Check out how these two compare in PFF’s key statistical categories for wide receivers (rankings are among this year’s WR class):

Stat: Coleman (rank) | Treadwell (rank)

WR rating: 133.1 (4) | 106.9 (17)
Drop rate: 11.9 (39) | 9.9 (31)
Deep catches: 14 (7) | 10 (18)
Deep yards: 592 (5) | 326 (31)
Deep TDs: 8 (4) | 6 (7)
Yards per route run: 3.97 (3) | 2.42 (29)

The one concern with Coleman is his high drop rate, but it was an issue of Treadwell’s as well, and Coleman more than made up for it with his ability to separate from coverage and beat defenses for big plays both on deep passes and after the catch. Prior to Baylor’s top two quarterbacks going down with season-ending injuries, Coleman’s numbers were off the charts – ranking in the top five of receiving grades and No. 1 in yards per route run. And even with his late-season drop-off, he equaled the yards per route run average of Raiders rookie Amari Cooper during his final season at Alabama in 2014.

Need speed? Draft Notre Dame’s Will Fuller.

Treadwell could be a good value pick in the late first round for a team looking for a possession receiver, but he consistently struggled to separate in college, relying more upon his ability to make contested catches, and that was reflected in his production not ranking among the top players at the position in either the 2015 or 2014 classes. Meanwhile, Coleman’s explosiveness and big-time production merit his being taken as early as the top 15 picks.

Draft OT Jack Conklin over Ronnie Stanley

Teams most affected: Bears, Dolphins, Titans

Ole Miss’s Laremy Tunsil is considered to be the consensus No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in this class, and that’s where PFF has him on its board as well. But unlike many other draft boards, which seem to favor Stanley out of Notre Dame, the second-best tackle in PFF’s rankings is Conklin out of Michigan State.

The caveat here is that Conklin projects as a much better fit in a power-blocking run scheme, largely due to his ability to overpower defenders with blocks in the running game while still holding up well enough in pass protection. Stanley, on the other hand, is a better fit in a zone-heavy, run-blocking scheme that can mask some of his strength issues and take advantage of his athleticism.

Derrick Henry is a nimble freight train, but he’s not the draft’s top RB

So while it’d be hard to knock a zone-heavy team like Baltimore for preferring Stanley over Conklin, if all things are equal (either in a power scheme or team that runs multiple looks) PFF views Conklin as the better prospect.

Conklin earned PFF’s No. 3 overall grade among offensive tackles in both 2014 and 2015, while Stanley ranked No. 19 and No. 24 in those respective seasons. Conklin was an absolute mauler in the running game, and while Stanley is considered to have the edge in pass protection, their pass-blocking grades were nearly identical, with Conklin allowing just 25 pressures over two seasons, to Stanley’s 31.

Draft CB William Jackson III over Vernon Hargreaves

Teams most affected: Bucs, Saints, Dolphins

There isn’t a huge difference between these two prospects, with Houston’s Jackson ranking No. 15 and Florida’s Hargreaves No. 18 on PFF’s latest draft board. But that stands in contrast to many draft rankings, which place Hargreaves in the first half of the first round and Jackson closer to the 30s.

Jackson ranked second in coverage grade among cornerbacks in 2015, compared to Hargreaves’s No. 67 ranking. He performed well despite getting thrown at often by opposing quarterbacks – his 97 targets was the fourth-highest total in the country, and more than double Hargreaves’s 48. He also fared better than Hargreaves in PFF’s tackling efficiency metric, evidence of his ability to hold up against the run and get pass-catchers on the ground after the catch.

A look at Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander

When you factor in that Jackson’s size-speed combination (6-foot, 193 pounds, 4.37 40-yard dash) is superior to that of Hargreaves (5-10, 204, 4.50), it’s surprising that Jackson isn’t higher on more boards. Hargreaves was our second-highest-graded corner in 2014, so it’s not as though we don’t view him as a good player, but the numbers point to Jackson on this one.

Draft DT Chris Jones over Robert Nkemdiche

Teams most affected: Lions, Bills, Seahawks

Jones and Nkemdiche are similar in that they are super-athletic defensive linemen from Mississippi schools (Jones played at Mississippi State, Nkemdiche Ole Miss) who are considered high-risk, high-reward prospects. In Jones’ case, the question is whether his effort level will be consistent enough to be a successful NFL player, and in Nkemdiche’s case the question is his off-field behavior.

But after digging through each player’s grades and performing their draft evaluations, it was clear to our PFF analysts that purely from an on-field perspective it was Jones who was the superior prospect.

For all of the talk about Jones’ motor being up and down, only one interior defensive lineman in this draft class earned a higher pass-rush grade than Jones – DeForest Buckner, who is the consensus top player at the position. Jones was still impactful against the run, too, ranking 24th in run-defense grades – considerably higher than Nkemdiche, who came in at 47th.

That’s our big on-field question mark for Nkemdiche, as our analysts frequently saw him struggle with double teams and how he would take himself out of some plays by selling out to try to get after the quarterback. His talent as a pass-rusher is apparent, but even in that area he wasn’t nearly as productive as Jones was. For teams looking to take a chance on a high-upside interior rusher, Jones is a better choice than Nkemdiche.

Jeff Dooley is the Editor in Chief of Pro Football Focus and a contributor to The Washington Post’s NFL coverage.