As a football junky, this time of the year is like Christmas. Why? Because it’s the NFL Draft. Each of the 32 NFL teams get a chance to unwrap new college players. Like really sneaky kids though, they know which presents are in each box before they open them. Well, they’re pretty sure anyway. Through the NFL Combine, pro days, hours of tape, scouting reports, and good old gut feelings, the coaches, GMs, and team officials are making the all important draft picks and by the end of this weekend are hoping to fill needed holes in their roster to take their team to next year’s Super Bowl.
Some drafts are pretty dry, full of players that mean a lot on the field in key rolls like offensive or defensive line, but lack any of the flare and public focus that grabs the attention and eyeballs of viewers. This year’s draft is not one of those. In 2018, it’s all about the quarterbacks. The big conferences you’re used to seeing on Saturday afternoon — the Pac12, the Big12 — they have QBs on the board tonight.
These are names you might already recognize, and if you don’t now, get ready, because you will soon. With both teams in New York drafting in the top five and looking for a QB, this could be the biggest year for the gunslingers in ages. Let’s take a closer look at six of them.
1. Sam Darnold — USC
Darnold may have the most boom or bust potential in this entire QB class. He looks like a Super Bowl winning quarterback, with the California sun kissed hair and a surfer boy sheik appearance. He’s a solid 6-3, 220 with a rocket arm and a good pocket presence, who’s at his best when he doesn’t have someone pressuring him. If you rattle Darnold, he tends to make mistakes, mistakes that a 20 year old kid is apt to make.
I was a big proponent of him staying another year in college to work on his calm under pressure and mature, but it’s all about making money while you’re young now, so here he is. If Darnold can find a coach that can reign in his tendency to screw up under pressure, something that is constant in the NFL, and let him mature under the tutelage of a good mentor, then his undeniable talent will help him succeed. He’ll be the next Matthew Stafford or the next Brady Quinn.
2. Josh Rosen — UCLA
Rosen is the stereotypical “pure passer” in this draft. He’s 6-4, 226, with a strong arm, great pocket presence, stellar accuracy, and mechanics that NFL coaches drool over. He doesn’t have much left to develop except his escapability. He’s not very good at evading incoming defenders, something he’ll need to learn to do in the NFL. That can be taught though. Rosen is probably the “best NFL quarterback” in this draft class. That’s different than being the best QB in college, or even simply the best QB, but at this point, if I was looking for a reliable pocket passer for my offense, Rosen checks a lot of those boxes. Rosen could be the next Matt Ryan or even Andrew Luck if he lands on the right team.
3. Baker Mayfield — Oklahoma
Mayfield is the wildcard quarterback of this year’s class. He’s not the tallest, or strongest, nor does he have the biggest arm, but he does have something that no one else on the board has: the “it” factor. Mayfield is cocky, sometimes too much so. It’s said he keeps a list of people who doubt him, so he can prove them wrong, and boy has he done that. Time and time again. Mayfield is only 6-0 and 216 but his ability to make a play out of something that has broken down is incredibly valuable, whether that’s with his feet or by identifying an open receiver downfield after the pocket has collapsed. Mayfield has that same kind of “put the game on my shoulders guys, I’ll win it for us,” mentality that you see in special players.
His comparisons to Johnny Manziel may not help his draft status, but in the end, if I was a GM, I’d take the chance on Mayfield. That intangible factor he brings to your team is worth the risk, especially at a well negotiated rookie contract.
4. Josh Allen — Wyoming
Allen comes into this draft as that kid from the small school that everyone is talking about. No one saw him play because he went to Wyoming, but they all heard he had an arm that could shoot the moon. Well, he does, but he also has a problem hitting the broadside of a Wyoming barn. He’s 6-5, 237 and all potential. Allen has the height, weight, athleticism, and arm strength that NFL scouts dream about, they just have to figure out what to do about his terrible accuracy under pressure. It’s bad. Like really bad, and he was at Wyoming, not Alabama.
All that said, if he can find the right coach that can focus decision making, get his scattershot under control and turn him into an accurate passer, he could really live up to his potential. However, he could also end up calling high school football games in Wyoming in a couple years.
5. Mason Rudolph — Oklahoma State
Rudolph put up mind boggling numbers while wearing America’s brightest orange as a Cowboy at Oklahoma State. He won’t be in a similar system in the NFL, because for some reason the NFL still hasn’t embraced the variety of play calling that you see in college. But there is a path for Rudolph to succeed in the NFL. He’s very reminiscent of the NFL’s soon to be highest paid quarterback, Kirk Cousins. Rudolph may not have a stellar career with a trophy case full of Super Bowl rings, but he could still make a lot of money, and eventually parlay it into a cushy commentating gig on one of the networks. He’s the right fit for certain teams, especially if any of them are willing to open up the playbook and get creative.
6. Lamar Jackson — Louisville
The youngest ever Heisman Trophy winner, Jackson is the QB that some teams just don’t know how to handle. Jackson has no real comparison in the NFL. I would say he has the potential to be the quarterback that I personally wanted Vince Young to be. Young was great coming out of college, even making the Pro-Bowl, but fizzled because he got on the wrong team with the wrong coach (Jeff Fisher, the quarterback killer), and had the wrong people around him.
Hopefully Jackson won’t have that happen to him. His raw talent is undeniable. It would be exciting to see him sit behind Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees for a few seasons, learn and develop in a system with talented players around him. Perhaps Lamar Jackson can be what Michael Vick could have been before ruining his career with dog fighting. Plugging Jackson’s talent into the right team could make this kid truly special.
There are other quarterbacks of course, but these are the six gunslingers with the biggest chance to make a splash. If I was a betting man, I’d say all these guys are off the board by halfway through the second round. They may all go by the end of the first if there’s a Wall Street-like QB panic that ensues.
With the current structure of the league, the quarterback is the most important player on your team, and getting the right guy locked in on a reasonable rookie contract means you can spend money to build around him. Just look at the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Nick Foles may have won them the game, but Carson Wentz got them there, and Wentz is a QB just a couple years into his rookie deal. Every team looking for a quarterback this weekend wants that kind of deal, not the Matthew Stafford kind of deal. Does that come in the form of Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, or maybe Lamar Jackson? We’ll find out.