We’re just days away from the NFL draft, where 256 prospects’ dreams will come true when they’re given the chance to make their name in professional football. There are plenty of intriguing storylines to follow this week — how the Browns operate with two top-four picks, where running back Saquon Barkley falls and the mysterious case of UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin. One storyline that has slipped through the cracks is the number of quarterbacks taken in the first round.
For the first time since 1999, five quarterbacks are expected to be taken in the first round. Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson are all deserving of first round picks and will find their names called on day one. While I don’t find this class nearly as strong as the previous two — ranking behind the likes of Jared Goff, Cason Wentz, Mitchell Trubisky, Pat Mahommes II and Deshaun Watson — the need for the quarterback position across the league will cause an overvaluation of the position.
While I think it’s undeniable that all five will go in the first round, the debate on how the top five rank seems never-ending. But while the mainstream media sways you one way or the other do to bias or misleading evaluation, here’s the true ranking of the top five quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft.
5. Sam Darnold, USC
This is the biggest inflation of a prospect’s potential, ability, and character in the entire draft. Sam Darnold is a starting quarterback in the NFL. Sam Darnold is worth a first round pick in this year’s draft. Sam Darnold is not, however, the best quarterback in this draft, the best quarterback in recent draft history and definitely not worthy of the No. 1 pick.
There are certain things that you need from a quarterback in the NFL, characteristics that are unteachable. One of those is the ability to hold onto the football, an area in which Darnold has done an awful job at — his 25 turnovers last season only begin to highlight this. If your quarterback has fumbling issues or has the inability to make proper defensive reads and avoid porous turnovers, he isn’t far-and-away “the guy” in any draft class, let alone one with several better options at the position. Darnold is also one of the worst quarterbacks in this class inside the pocket. He’s only successful inside if his first option is open, but it almost seems as he’s looking for any reason to escape the pocket and scramble.
Another thing I don’t like in my quarterbacks — one that can be fixed, however — is the build of the signal caller. Some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL have terrific shape — Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton, to name a few — and even the most basic workout regiments can have a quarterback in pristine shape. Darnold, on the other hand, has a clunky build with underwhelming arms, chest and gut. His frame reminds me of present-day Ben Roethlisberger. Not that being compared to a two-time Super Bowl champion is a bad thing, but when you’re 20 and resemble the size of a 36-year-old quarterback, it’s not the highest praise one would look for.
While there are certain things I’m skeptical on in Darnold’s game, he’s done very well in certain aspects. Leading a winning program throughout your career brings a lot of praise, and what he was able to accomplish at USC says a lot about his character, passion for the game and charisma. If you put Darnold in a position where he doesn’t need to carry the load for his offense, like Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, Matthew Stafford in Detroit or Russell Wilson in Seattle, he’ll do just fine. He’s played alongside great talent through his college days to show his ability to work with stars and get the job done in an above-average roster.
Unfortunately for those who remain informed through national media and California-based programs, you’ve been force-fed for months on how Sam Darnold is the next coming of Jesus — but that’s far from the truth. He’s a starting quarterback in the NFL, but if you’re a team looking for a quarterback at the top of the draft, these next four guys offer a lot more than Darnold.
4. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Just ahead of the most overappreicated quarterback in this draft class is the most underappreciated. The best pass/run quarterback prospect since Michael Vick has been pegged all draft season as a wide receiver, a bust and a quarterback unfit for today’s NFL. But, just as they were with Darnold, the mainstream media is far off with its evaluation of Jackson.
First things first, knock of the wide receiver theory. It’s downright insulting to a quarterback who threw for 9,043 and ran for 4,132 in a pro-style offense through his collegiate career to be asked to slide to a new position. While they’re too afraid to answer to these claims, they’ve all been made out of the assumption that an African-American quarterback with elite speed and a smaller frame can never fit the mold of a NFL quarterback. Lamar Jackson is not a wide receiver, nor should he ever be in the pros.
The next mistake scouts make on Jackson is the quick comparison to Robert Griffin III, potentially this biggest bust at the quarterback position since 2010. Both have smaller builds and are amazing in the run game, yet there are so many NFL qualities Jackson holds that RGIII could never hope for. Jackson is a pocket passer first and only a runner when he needs to be. While RGIII and other similar quarterbacks would look for any opportunities to get out of the pocket and break off a long run, Jackson is one of the most comfortable quarterbacks in the pocket in this entire class. He has great awareness, has amazing ability to adjust and move around in the pocket and only breaks of runs when absolutely necessary. Lamar Jackson is not the same as the recent busts at the quarterback position.
The last thing that furiates me when I see reports on Jackson is how he’s not fit for today’s NFL. Did none of them watch what the Super Bowl champion Eagles did this year on the offensive side of the ball? The run-pass-option (RPO) was one of the most effective schemes in all of football this season and, because of that success, will only continue to be implemented more in the coming years. I can’t think of a better quarterback the past two seasons that would be more dynamic in an RPO system than Jackson. His ability to take off on the run, throw outside the pocket, and make snap decisions will catapult his career wherever he may end up. Lamar Jackson is a quarterback not only built for today’s NFL, but one built to thrive in it.
While I do love several things about Jackson, he finds himself at my No. 4 because of how he’s handled the entire draft process. Not running the 40 at the combine or his pro day was foolish — I believe you showcase your best abilities no matter what the reasons to not may be — and choosing to have his mom serve as his agent has limited his ability to make connections with NFL teams. A team will be lucky to have Jackson running its offense, he just hasn’t made the best impressions throughout the organization.
3. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
While I do visualize Darnold and Jackson close to each other in teams of draftability, Mayfield is in the middle tier of these five. I believe there’s a decent gap between Baker and Nos. 4 and 5, but I also see a gap from him and Nos. 1 and 2. The gun-slinger has also received harsh criticism from scouts because of his size and character, however I find him undoubtedly worth a top-10 pick in this year’s draft and a surefire starter at the next level.
The biggest lash on Mayfield as a prospect is, just like Darnold’s talent and potential, unfairly overblown by mainstream media — his character. Certain scouts find him undraftable or unfit to lead a locker room because of his on-field antics, but that’s just what guys in an NFL setting are looking for in a quarterback. Some of the best quarterbacks in this league — Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton — aren’t just the cockiest players in the game, but some of the most loved by their teammates.
NFL teams want a go-getter, someone that’ll put their life on the line for the benefit of the team. So what if Mayfield grabbed his crotch on the sideline or struck an OU flag on the fifty of Ohio State? All that shows me is his competitive edge and desire to win. Character-wise, there isn’t a quarterback I’d rather have in this draft than Baker.
Yes, Mayfield doesn’t shape up as the tallest, fastest or strongest quarterback in the class. Sorry he won’t be the next Russell Wilson, I doubt we’ll ever have one, but why do we let positional norms limit us to what we look for at the position. The NFL is everchanging and those who’re stuck in the old form of how the league is “supposed to operate,” then they’ll never live to prosper in the future. Sam Darnold has a better “NFL body” than Mayfield, but Baker is far more accurate, severely more athletic and offers more in the run game. Stay away from the norms of NFL-past, the league is always adapting and those who refuse to adapt with it will be left in the dust.
2. Josh Rosen, UCLA
This was a close debate between two and one for me, and I almost had it listed as 1A and 1B, but in the end Josh Rosen ends up at No. 2 for me. He’s not the best athletic freak among these quarterbacks, but his knowledge within a pro-style offense while at UCLA and his vision of the field should guarantee him success in the NFL.
Mechanics-wise, Rosen is the cleanest prospect this season. His throwing motion is fluid, quick and gets the job done with little added effort. He’s brilliant in the pocket and can be surgical if placed in the right offense. While he doesn’t have the improvisational skills that Darnold, Jackson or Mayfield possess, his comfortability under pressure and awareness of his protection makes up for his inability to move outside. His arm strength is better than what scouts are giving him credit for and his deep-ball accuracy is among the best in this class.
I do, however, understand the concerns with Rosen to a certain extent. His athleticism isn’t ideal for the way the NFL is adapting. His athletic ability actually reminds me of Eli Manning, so take from that what you will. Athleticism can’t be taught, but we have seen quarterbacks be successful in the NFL without extreme athleticism. While I do believe the personality side of things is overblown by certain media outlets, his character is 50/50 from what I’m hearing. Certain scouts love his arrogance and intelligence, others find it demeaning and standoffish. My personal take is that, just like with Baker, some of the greatest quarterbacks in the league are intelligent douchebags. Just because he’s outspoken on things aside from football doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about the sport, it just shows he’s aware of what’s happening in the world.
If you’re looking for the next dual-threat quarterback to sweep the nation, Rosen isn’t your guy. He is, however, a surefire success inside the pocket, running an NFL offense and a go-getter at the position. His high floor makes him a top-two quarterback in this draft class.
1. Josh Allen, Wyoming
Forget the completion percentage and the lack of “success” at Wyoming — Josh Allen is the best quarterback in this year’s draft. Allen is a physical specimen at the position, his mix of size, his size speed and athleticism is the perfect mix for the NFL. He’s not a day one starter, but he has the highest ceiling of this crop and will thrive within the right system.
Let’s get rid of the completion percentage debate right away. Josh Allen has the highest ball velocity of any quarterback at the collegiate level since 2008 at 61 MPH, so forgive him for his receivers for being unable to hold onto a football. A 7.84 drop percentage rate is inexcusable for a receiving core, but definitely needs to be taken into consideration when looking at Allen’s completion percentage. Out of these five quarterbacks, Allen and Mayfield had the most downfield throwing offenses in collegiate football. While Mayfield did complete over 70 percent of his passes last year, he had more talent across the board than Allen ever had in Wyoming. The completion percentage of Allen is a mirage, don’t fault him for the situation he was placed in.
What makes Allen so captivating is his resemblance to Pat Mahommes from last year’s draft. For those who’ve followed my work the past few years, you know that Mahommes was far-and-away my No. 1 quarterback and I truly expect him to set the league ablaze next season in Kansas City — don’t say I didn’t warn you. Back to Allen, there just aren’t glaring questions or concerns I have with him — his build, arm strength, fit in today’s NFL, mobility, pocket presence and IQ all serve to a high floor and even higher ceiling. He is raw, but he will walk away as the best quarterback in this class if drafted by the right organization.