Nothing stirs the conversation more than quarterback talk. With the 2018 NFL Draft coming up, everyone seems to have their favorite quarterback prospect. Missing on a quarterback in the first round can set your franchise back five years. However, picking the right one can be the difference between a Super Bowl Championship and a first-round playoff exit. The Rams are facing that harsh reality already – Wentz > Goff.
This year feels like a rare opportunity to land the franchise quarterback every franchise is looking for. As many as five could realistically go in the first round. The problem is statistically only two of them will probably hit. Even in the 1983 NFL Draft that produced John Elway and Dan Marino also manufactured two busts in Todd Blackledge and Ken O’Brien. Historically 50 percent of quarterbacks taken in the first-round turn into flops. With the Draft vastly approaching, let’s rank the top quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft.
1. Sam Darnold (USC)
Don’t overthink this one, Darnold is the best quarterback available in the draft. The USC quarterback really has the most can’t miss qualities around him. If you really break it down, it’s hard to see a scenario where Darnold doesn’t pan out. Big, thick, strong, mobile, tough, and clutch would be the words that describe the Trojans quarterback. Darnold was recruited as a linebacker and has a great mentality with his teammates and he’s incredibly tough to bring down. I’ve compared Darnold’s ceiling to Aaron Rodgers because of his ability to improvise and throw off of any platform. His arm strength may not be quite as good as Rodgers but there’s more than enough zip to his ball.
Darnold has two years of starting experience and has thrown for 7,229 yards, 57 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, and 64.9 percent completion percentage. Skeptics have pointed to his interception numbers as a cause for concern. Those people are flat out stupid. Deshaun Watson threw 17 at Clemson during his final collegiate season. Obviously, it meant nothing. Brett Favre leads the NFL in picks and he turned out pretty darn good. High interception numbers mean he loves to push the ball down the middle of the field which is a positive, not a negative.
Darnold also has good bloodlines. His grandfather was one of the original Marlboro men and was an actor, basketball player, and volleyball player at USC. Sam’s father was also a football player at a lesser known college. Darnold, 20, also excelled at basketball and baseball which is another great sign. Great athletes succeed at the next level. 6-foot-3, 220, is the prototypical size that you want. I could really go on all day.
Darnold also proved that he has elevated his coaching staff and teammates. There were times last year that a graduate assistant was calling plays for times last year. Darnold was robbed of his original coach when Steve Sarkisian was released from the USC program. USC hired a quarterback coach to run the team in 2016 and lost the season opener to Alabama 52-6. Clay Helton found out quickly that Max Browne had no business starting and Darnold carried the program to a 20-4 record in two years including a Rose Bowl win a year ago. His ability to read through progressions and evade pass rushers behind a poor offensive line clearly separates himself from the rest of the quarterback draft class. If this didn’t convince you, then maybe you should read my blog about his USC Pro Day. I’m not kidding, it was the best quarterback workout I’ve ever seen.
2. Josh Allen (Wyoming)
Josh Allen is the biggest boom or bust prospect of any quarterback in the class. It’s hard not to fall in love with his physical skillset but his collegiate stat line is mediocre at best. Allen is 6-foot-5, 233, and a really terrific athlete. Allen ran a 4.75 at the combine too. Don’t forget the 10-1/8 inch hands! The interesting parallel with Allen is that he had the same collegiate head coach as Carson Wentz. While his ceiling may be as high as Wentz’s, he isn’t on the same level as a pure polished passer yet.
Allen is no sure thing for one reason, accuracy. Allen also has two years of scouting experience and completed 56 percent of his throws. That is a serious red flag. The likes of Kyle Boller, Christian Hackenberg, DeShone Kizer, and Jake Locker also couldn’t complete 60 percent of their throws in college. His production also went down the toilet after throwing 28 TD’s in 2016 compared to 16 in 2017. His supporting talent was trash but some of the blame also has to be put on Allen.
The tools are what you will fall in love with. This is the biggest arm you will find in 10 years. There are just throws this guy will make that 99 percent of the NFL simply can’t make. Coaching may be the ultimate deciding factor in how Allen turns out because he will need some help in reaching his potential.
3. Josh Rosen (UCLA)
Josh Rosen’s pure mechanics are flawless. His motion is really robotic and down right technical. Rosen just might be the third Manning brother. The question is whether he turns out like Eli or Peyton? Rosen is smart, mechanical, and extremely talented. His family background also comes from a very wealthy white collar family which is similar to the Manning family.
Rosen’s downfall will be his mobility and injury history. Rosen comes from a tennis background where he was the number one recruit in the country coming from out of high school. Rosen’s balance is within the confines of the pocket are excellent. The problem is that escaping pass rushers within the pocket isn’t going to happen. Rosen will likely be a statue in the problem. This isn’t necessarily a big deal because Peyton Manning was also a statue but mobility is becoming more and more important in today’s NFL. The real concern is the injury history. Rosen has battled concussions and shoulder issues which caused him to miss a lot of time in college. What if he just ends up being the Sam Bradford of the Draft because he can’t stay healthy? Durability has to be a factor drafting a quarterback.
Rosen all in all is a terrific prospect. His footwork and knee bend is everything you want to see. His 341 passing yards per game is nothing to smirk at either. Rosen also completes 63 percent of his throws which is more than fine. Similar to Darnold, Rosen’s supporting cast was also hot garbage. The difference is that Darnold won a heck of a lot more than Rosen but that’s not something we should over analyze. When Rosen and Darnold matched up against each other during the season, Rosen was actually the more impressive quarterback on that day. I’ve compared Rosen to Eli Manning but most importantly, Rosen has a chance to be a Super Bowl winning quarterback. Another UCLA quarterback, Troy Aikman, might also be a comp for him.
4. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
The media has gotten way too out of hand with this Baker Mayfield thing. Is he the next Drew Brees like the public seems to suggest? Hell no! Could he end up being a competent Case Keenum guy who can carry a franchise for a short stretch? That seems a lot more likely. The high end for Mayfield seems to be Case Keenum. Don’t forget, Keenum is the All-Time leading passer in NCAA history when he put up video game numbers at the University of Houston under the tutelage of Kevin Sumlin. Mayfield’s collegiate numbers are eerily similar to Keenum’s. When you really break it down, every quarterback in the air raid system puts up video game numbers so you have to take it with a grain of salt. Mayfield’s collegiate head coach, Lincoln Riley, is beyond brilliant and took Shane Carden and East Carolina to the 7th best offense in the country not too long ago. Jason White, Robert Griffin III, Bryce Petty, Brandon Weeden…. the list never ends. Mayfield will also be 23 by Draft day which is much older than you would like to see. The Heisman trophy curse also isn’t helping his case.
Mayfield’s biggest supporters will point to the analytics as the reason why they adore him so much regardless of his inflated statistics. Since 2014 when Pro Football Focus began tracking college football grades, Baker Mayfield holds three of the top seven grades in their system for quarterbacks. His 2017 ranks as the top mark with a grade of 94.8. However, using analytics to grade quarterbacks is a foolish tool to use considering the tool is only four years old and it hasn’t been very accurate in terms of calibrating NFL success. I love analytics but using them to draft quarterbacks is beyond stupid. The Browns found this out the hard way when they passed on Jared Goff and Carson Wentz because the analytics led the to Cody Kessler who had the highest grade of the draft class. Kessler was a high completion guy who really didn’t have any chance to be a high end starting quarterback. By the way, the analytics also gave Jared Goff a higher grade than Carson Wentz which they were wrong about that too which is a story for another day (of course, I was right). In case you were curious, Mason Rudolph is the second highest graded quarterback in the class who doesn’t have a prayer at making it in the NFL.
The character concerns also have to be mentioned. Mayfield was arrested by police in Arkansas during his time in college. The on-field crotch grabbing and other antics are well documented with Mayfield. The lack of athleticism along with the character concerns also bring up too many red flags to warrant a first-round selection. Drew Brees was a state tennis champion. Deshaun Watson was a Georgia state high jump champion. Baker Mayfield is a walk-on who couldn’t outrun cops. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out he doesn’t measure up anywhere close to the elite level quarterbacks.
Do you love the high completion percentage? Yes. Do you love the fiery edge he plays with? Yes. Outside of that, it’s hard to find a whole lot to like. Could he be the next Johnny Manziel? Absolutely, they both wore headbands at their pro days and there’s a lot to compare. Especially considering the Kliff Kingsberry connection. At the end of the day, Mayfield is a marginal athlete, with an average arm, who has questionable character. The Georgia game is the tape that tells the story (Senior Bowl was up and down…Click here!). If you’re happy with what you saw, by all means, roll the dice. The truth of the matter is when Oklahoma ran out of trick plays, Mayfield wasn’t nearly dynmic enough to carry his team on his shoulders. I would take a shot on Mayfield in the fourth round expecting that he can be a quality backup quarterback but he will obviously be off the board well before then. By the way, I wrote all of this and haven’t once mentioned the fact that he only 6-foot tall. That’s a distinct fact that has precluded thousands of quarterbacks from every having a shot to make it in the NFL.
5. Lamar Jackson (Louisville)
Tyrod Taylor. That’s all you need to know. Jackson is really the 5th quarterback by default because I’m not too found on the sleeper quarterback this year. If you’re looking for one, Kyle Lauletta of Richmond, Chase Litton of Marshall, and Logan Woodside of Toledo would be the guys worth rolling the dice on. Jackson lands at the 5th spot here but the reality is that Jackson might be better off as a wide receiver.
Before you get pissy at me for claiming that he might be better off at receiver, the fact of the matter is that when you don’t complete 60 percent of your throws in college, what do you expect people to say? Be angry at yourself for not being more accurate, not the people who are trying to help you prolong your NFL career if your skillset at quarterback isn’t sustainable. Jackson will never be an accurate quarterback because he has a narrow base and doesn’t have proper footwork. Jackson has a whippy arm and has really average to below average arm strength.
His best skillset is his pure athleticism. However, Jackson did not do himself any favors when he declined to run the 40. He clearly has poor judgment considering the fact that he doesn’t have an agent. His mom is his agent and didn’t run because he wants to be a quarterback but doesn’t seem to understand the being a running quarterback is his best skill set. Jackson doesn’t come across as a smart person which magnified that connotation when he bombed the Wonderlic test. Running quarterbacks are not sustainable in the NFL and his high-end throwing isn’t nearly on the level of Michael Vick to become an elite quarterback. If Jackson has any chance to pan out, he needs to sit for a year or two because he’s really raw passer.