Jared Goff, Carson Wentz appear to be the top quarterbacks at NFL combine

Jared Goff has a dubious little item on his resume that could make him an ideal fit as the future quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.

He went 1-11 in his freshman season at California.

Goff met with the media Thursday at the NFL scouting combine, part of the annual evaluation of draft-eligible prospects. Several teams are looking for quarterbacks — among them the Browns, who pick second — and at this point the top two hopefuls are Goff and North Dakota State's Carson Wentz.

Because the selection order is determined by reverse order of finish, the worst teams have the best picks. Therefore, good quarterbacks had best be ready to lose, at least for a while. Goff, for one, has lived through that.

"We were terrible," Goff recalled of that abysmal 2013 season, when he picked up one victory despite setting a slew of offensive school records. "We lost every single game besides the game against Portland State. We had to really start from the floor and build everything up."

Last fall, Cal went 8-5 — its first winning season since 2011 — including a trip to the Armed Forces Bowl in which Goff threw six touchdown passes in a 55-36 victory over Air Force. The turnaround, he said, was "a testament to our hard work."

The work continues for these prospects, who will be put to the test on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, get extensive physical examinations, and go through a series of interviews with coaches and scouts from interested teams. The quarterbacks are scheduled to throw Saturday.

Coming a year after quarterbacks were selected 1-2—– Jameis Winston by Tampa Bay, Marcus Mariota by Tennessee — there's a good chance they will go 2-4 in the first round of the 2016 draft, which begins April 28 in Chicago. Any number of scenarios could change that, of course, among them the Titans trading out of the top pick.

Mike Mayock, draft analyst for NFL Network, has high praise for Wentz, who threw for 25 touchdowns as a junior, then — after recovering from a broken wrist — threw for 17 and ran for six in eight games as a senior.

"I see a kid that's as athletic, or more athletic than Andrew Luck," Mayock said, referring to the No. 1 overall pick of Indianapolis in 2012. "He's got arm strength comparable to Andrew Luck. He just doesn't have the experience that Andrew Luck has at a high level Andrew had coming out of college."

As it stands, Cleveland drafts second — the Browns have had 24 starting quarterbacks since they were relaunched as an expansion franchise in 1999 — Dallas has the fourth pick, and with Tony Romo missing 12 games because of injuries last season the pressure is on the Cowboys to start working on a succession plan.

San Francisco could be in the market for a quarterback at No. 7, along with Philadelphia at 13, and the Rams, who pick 15th and had the league's worst-ranked passing offense last season.

Rams General Manager Les Snead, while acknowledging strong quarterback play is important, said his team has crunched enough numbers to know that a stout defense can make even a struggling quarterback look pretty good.

"To win in this league, it's a direct correlation to how many points you're giving up," Snead said. "So what we're doing in our search for consistency at quarterback is also doing the things that we do well, and that's defense."

Regardless, barring any bizarre twists in the two months leading up to the draft, Goff and Wentz will be gone by the time the Rams are picking.

A quarterback who could still be on the board is 6-foot-7 Paxton Lynch of Memphis, who has a powerful arm and is remarkably mobile for his height.

"He reminds me of Joe Flacco coming out of Delaware," Mayock said. "He's a great athlete for 6-7. He's got a big arm, but he's a year or two away from playing…. But whether it's San Francisco, Philly, the Los Angeles Rams, if you think Paxton Lynch is a franchise quarterback, you'd better go get him because there aren't many of those guys out there."

Another potential first-rounder is Michigan State's Connor Cook, with Christian Hackenberg of Penn State, and Ohio State's Cardale Jones slated by many to be closer to second- or third-round picks. Further down the line are players such as USC's Cody Kessler, who said Thursday that one of his strengths was he provided consistency for the Trojans in a time of uncertainty and tumult.

"I always wanted to be just that, the constant," Kessler said. "We had five coaching changes in my three years as a starter. It was tough at times, and a different circumstance each time."

The buzz Thursday was about quarterback hand size, and specifically the concern of some that Goff's hands are too small. He measured nine inches from pinkie to thumb, a half-inch less than the desired minimum. The way scouts see it, smaller hands mean less ball security.

Goff shrugged off the assessment, acknowledging that while he did have 23 fumbles in his college career, he had only four last season.

"I've been told I have pretty big hands my whole life," he said. "I heard I have small hands yesterday, apparently. No, I've never had a problem with that or expect it to be a problem at all."

As is customary, NFL teams won't show their hands until draft day.

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer


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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 26, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Best in throw - Goff, Wentz figure to be first QBs drafted, out of Rams' range" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe