As much as people like to say that the 2018 draft class is the weakest since 2013 (which it kind of is), there is still at least one redeeming factor: the quarterback class. I think this group has the potential to be as good, if not better, than the 2012 group that saw the likes of Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, and Robert Griffin III (for one season) emerge. I’m going to go through a few guys that I like that have the potential to go in the first round. These aren’t necessarily rankings as much as they are just going down the list of guys and saying what I like and don’t like about them and what type of future I see in them.
So far, for the underclassman quarterbacks, Allen is the only one who has declared for the Draft. There were talks that he could’ve come out last year and potentially been a high pick, but he elected to return to school to develop, which I thought was a smart move. However his season didn’t go that great, though a bum shoulder can certainly be a contributing factor. But he did deliver his best performance of the 2017 season in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (what a stupid fucking name) yesterday against Central Michigan. He didn’t throw the ball much, only 11 completions on 19 attempts, but he made the most of his throws, including 3 touchdowns in the first quarter. Wyoming ran the ball a TON in that game (42 times) but it was what they needed as they scored an easy victory over the Chippewas.
Strengths: Size, Arm, Mobility
Just look at this throw from Allen as you try not to vomit from looking at the uniform/field combinations.
That, folks, is what we call a laser. Allen has an absolute cannon and as you saw right up there, is accurate enough to squeeze the ball into tight spaces. He’s got the prototypical size you look for in a QB, as he stands at 6’5 233 pounds, which puts him at about the same size as Carson Wentz. He’s also deceptively quick for a guy his size, as Wyoming would often have him running the football, which he did as many as 18 times in a game this season.
Weaknesses: Level of Competition, Poor Showings Against Power-5 Teams, Health
As far as physical traits go, Allen is about as perfect a specimen as you could ask for. It’s the other stuff that might make you nervous. He played in a very weak conference in the Mountain West and the Cowboys couldn’t even win it, as they went 7-5 prior to their bowl win. He also had a chance to show what he could do against tougher competition like Iowa and Oregon, but both games were disasters for him, as he combined to go 32-64 (50% completions), 238 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. That’s just awful. To be fair to Allen, the talent around him is pretty bad, so perhaps he can be forgiven for those showings, but for being as highly touted a quarterback as he is, he needs to be able to elevate the play of his teammates. These aren’t fair comparisons to make, I know, but you see guys like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers make their teammates significantly better by just being on the field. I don’t see that from Allen. Health is also a concern, as he missed the final two games of the regular season while nursing that bum shoulder. He also missed basically all of his 2015 season with a broken clavicle, a bone located in the shoulder region.
Draft Thoughts: I wouldn’t draft Allen in the first round unless I had a veteran who was on the way out that he could sit behind and not only learn from, but adapt to the higher level of competition as well as a strong supporting cast around him. This kid has all the ability in the world but he really hasn’t shown it to the extent that one would think of with a kid who has been in the discussion for number 1 overall pick. Some potential landing spots could be the Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Giants, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Carson Wentz. Both came from small schools where they played against inferior competition but showcased some high level skills and prototypical measurables that get scouts excited.
Before the season began, Darnold was the consensus number 1 overall pick in the Draft. He had won the starting job for USC midseason and led the Trojans on an absolute tear en route to a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. However, his encore left a lot to be desired. He struggled MIGHTILY with turnovers this season, leading all players in that category, whether it be interceptions or fumbles. Darnold’s throwing motion also became widely criticized as being “funky.” Nonetheless, he showed some really good things as well, such as his ability to make big time throws and great mobility.
Strengths: Size, Arm, Mobility, Elevating Teammates, Winner
When Darnold took over the starting job in 2016, USC was 1-3 and head coach Clay Helton’s job was in SERIOUS danger. Once Darnold took over for Max Browne, however, USC’s fortunes flipped and they didn’t lose another game the rest of the season. He’s got excellent arm strength and can put balls in spots that a lot of quarterbacks can’t. I watched a couple of games this year and a few of his 12 interceptions were the result of his receivers dropping the ball and it landing in a defender’s arms. I think Darnold really missed Juju Smith-Schuster this past year because the only quality receiver on the Trojans was Deontay Burnett and he’s a marginal NFL prospect at this stage. This is also something Darnold does that Allen doesn’t: he makes his teammates better. Guys like Burnett really aren’t that great of talent, but they perform beyond their talent because Darnold gives them the opportunity to make plays with where he puts the ball at times. Also has very good footwork in the pocket, as he’s always in a position to scurry away from the rush when needed.
Weaknesses: Delivery, Decision-Making
Watch how long it takes Darnold to throw the ball after beginning his motion.
Now look at how Tom Brady throws it, which is widely considered to be the ideal throwing motion.
What’s different is where the ball is when they begin their throwing motion. Darnold basically has the ball at his hip where he starts, Brady’s is practically at his shoulder. Darnold’s also kind of winding up like a pitcher in baseball instead of just slinging it like what the best quarterbacks do. That’s something that can be worked with though, as a good coach can help tweak that. But the reason Darnold’s isn’t great is because that extra split second is the difference between the pass rusher getting a sack or just getting pressure. Or a receiver open and a safety cutting him off. His elongated throwing motion very easily could have led to a lot of his interceptions or strip sacks. Perhaps on some picks the guy was open when he started his motion, but he took so long to get the ball there that the defender was in position by the time the ball was out.
Draft Thoughts: I personally think that returning to USC for one more season could be really beneficial for Darnold to have a full season to refine a new throwing motion before getting thrown to the wolves like he would be in the NFL. But I think he’s going to declare for the Draft and he’s so gifted and played against such good competition, he’s not going to make it past the top 5 picks. How he performs against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl will be a huge barometer for how well he might transition to the pros. That’s about as close to an NFL defense as he’ll face all year and if he performs really well, he could justifiably be the top pick. I think quarterback-needy teams such as the Browns, Giants, and Broncos should all be in on this kid.
Philip Rivers. Both guys have similar thick builds and have similar throwing motions and have a tendency to make the best of what they have. Rivers rarely ever has Pro Bowl-caliber receivers (Keenan Allen has been the one exception the last few years) but he gets them to play beyond their ability (Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, among others).
Lamar Jackson is the most exciting player in college football. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2016 and actually improved in 2017. At first, I thought no chance is he an NFL quarterback, but after watching some throws he was making, I started re-evaluating things. I still think he would make a better wide receiver in the NFL, where his elusiveness can be better utilized, but if he can continue to grow as a passer the way he did between 2016 and ’17, then we could be looking at the next Michael Vick
Strengths: Running Ability, Arm Strength
If a defense isn’t careful, Jackson can take over games with his legs. I mean, human beings shouldn’t be this athletic.
But Jackson is. Not only that, but in 2017 his passing numbers skyrocketed while his rushing totals kept pace with his monstrous 2016 season. Just look at this throw right here.
This is a beautiful job of reading the safeties and hitting his receiver in stride.
Weaknesses: Size, Gimmick Play Style
You might notice that Lamar Jackson is PAINFULLY skinny, especially at a position where it’s become of heightened importance to have some build to you due to how much damage you take. Add in the fact that Jackson is a running quarterback that by nature will take a lot of hits, and you have the potential of a guy who may have a shortened career. Also, when was the last time a run-first quarterback had long-term success in the NFL? The only one I can think of is Michael Vick and he was a once-in-a-generation talent. You could argue Russell Wilson, but his passing game has developed so well that he’s kind of shed the mold of a run-first quarterback. Jackson will need to follow Wilson’s developmental model if he wants to have a long career in this league.
Draft Thoughts: Again, I would prefer it if Jackson were to move to wide receiver, as I think that would be where he’d have the most success in this league. I wouldn’t take him in the first round just on the reputation of running quarterbacks and their lack of sustained success alone. However I do think that there will be a team that will be interested enough to take a chance on him in the first round, though I think as a quarterback he’s a third rounder. I think a team like the Buffalo Bills could be a landing spot for him, as he plays a similar style of game to the incumbent Tyrod Taylor, who has been handled about as poorly as an organization can handle a quarterback.
Colin Kaepernick. They basically have identical frames with great athleticism and strong throwing arms. Kap is one of the aforementioned run-first quarterbacks that fizzled out as their careers went along.
Baker Mayfield is about as polarizing a quarterback prospect as I can find. On the one hand, I see a lot of Russell Wilson in him. He’s short for a quarterback (6’0) but he plays with a lot of intensity and is able to use his legs to make plays, whether that be scrambling for a first down or moving out of the pocket to buy his receivers time to get open. On the other, he shows some Johnny Manziel traits that scare me. Mayfield is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and has led Oklahoma to a CFP berth for the second time in the last 3 years.
Strengths: Playmaking Ability, Athleticism, Accuracy, Intensity
Look at this play from Oklahoma’s bowl game last year.
Notice how he never took his eye away from downfield but was still able to react accordingly to the unblocked defender that his guard absolutely WHIFFED on. A lot of quarterbacks in that situation will panic and chuck it away or into coverage, including Tom Brady. But Mayfield is so confident in his running ability that he doesn’t panic and uses his peripherals to his advantage, then drops a dime to Dede Westbrook. Which brings me to another point of strength with him: his accuracy. Mayfield led the nation in completion percentage this season and being accurate is something that translates to the NFL extremely well. Also that play above was on a fourth down, showing how cool under pressure he can be.
Weaknesses: Height, Decision-Making (not interception-related)
My main concern with Mayfield is that despite having the potential to be the next Russell Wilson, I could also just as easily see him being the next Johnny Manziel. Mayfield’s had three instances this season where his maturity was called into question. The first came in the offseason when he was tackled by campus police after trying to flee while publicly intoxicated. The next time was planting the OU flag at midfield after their win against Ohio State. Finally, the whole grabbing his nuts and cussing at the Kansas bench. The first his just him being an idiot college kid, but Manziel had a host of incidents like that. The other on-field incidents could result in fines and some unwanted media attention were they to occur in an NFL game.
Draft Thoughts: As much as it seems like I might be criticizing Mayfield’s antics, I actually chalk this up more to just him being really intense and getting really amped up during games rather than him just being a prick, which was the vibe I got when Manziel would do his antics. I think it’s more likely that Mayfield becomes the next Russell Wilson than the next Johnny Manziel but I’d like to see him sit a year behind a veteran before being thrust into a professional offense, as he was in an air raid system at Oklahoma, which translates about as poorly to the NFL as any offense in college football outside of the wishbone. I personally would take him in the second round, but I think someone will take a chance on him in the first. I think some potential landing spots could be the Jaguars, Bills, and Cardinals.
Russell Wilson. I’ve already made the comparison enough in this so I’m just going to leave it at that.
This is my favorite quarterback in this class and if I were the Cleveland Browns, I’m taking him #1. He literally has everything, the only issue I’ll get into later. I was extremely impressed by some of the throws he made when he squared off with Darnold to the point where I couldn’t believe they were even being compared to each other. Rosen has been the starting quarterback at UCLA since he set foot on campus. He showed a lot of promise as a freshman, but was lost in his sophomore season due to injury. Then his junior season he picked up right where he left off from his freshman season, opening the season with an incredible comeback against Texas A&M.
Strengths: Arm Talent, Pocket Presence, Experience
Are you kidding me with this ball placement right here?
If this is thrown in any other spot, it’s picked off and based on how few Bruins are in the vicinity, it likely would’ve resulted in great field position for the Aggies. But he’s able to thread the needle and put the ball in the spot where only his receiver could get it. He’s also great in the pocket, as he seamlessly navigates the pocket and avoids pressure.
Weaknesses: Personality, Winning Percentage
The main knock I keep hearing from NFL scouts is that Rosen is a huge turnoff, with one scout going so far as to call him an “entitled prick.” They didn’t go into much detail about why that was, but it wasn’t a one-time occurrence. Rosen also hasn’t generated a ton of wins for UCLA, as his career record is only 17-13 (Darnold’s is 20-2 for comparison). However I think that has more to do with the talent around him, as his defense was pretty bad this season.
Draft Thoughts: I would take Rosen with the top pick in the Draft. I think he has all the measurables you could ask for in a quarterback and despite complaints from scouts about his personality, he has gotten the backing of his teammates, who seem to like him, which matters significantly more to me than whether scouts think he’s a dick or not.
Matt Ryan. Both have similar builds and similar play styles with great pocket presence.
Mason Rudolph-Oklahoma State
Mason Rudolph was the orchestrator of some of the most exciting games in college football this season, particularly his duel with Baker Mayfield in the Bedlam Game. Despite losing the game 62-52, Rudolph was spectacular against his Heisman-winning counterpart. Rudolph also seems to develop great relationships with his receivers, as both James Washington and Marcell Ateman had tremendous seasons catching passes from Rudolph.
Strengths: Arm Talent, Size
Rudolph is basically the exact same size as Allen, 6’5 230 so the benefits between these two are basically identical. Rudolph played in an offense that elevated your stats, but he took advantage of that better than anybody outside of Pat Mahomes. He may have run an air raid offense, but his ball placement and arm talent often made up for the lack of playbook. Look at this throw right here.
Yes his receiver missed the catch, but that ball went right through his hands and that ball could not have been thrown more perfectly. You’ve got to catch that if you’re the OK State receiver. Also, notice where that ball was thrown from: the 50. He was able to hit a touch throw 50 yards downfield and he didn’t even have to get much of a crowhop under there. Rudolph’s arm will be very enticing to NFL Teams.
Weaknesses: Type of Offense Run, Mobility
The type of offense run is a big one, mainly because he hasn’t had to make very many different kinds of throws. The routes the Cowboys receivers run are about as simplistic as they come and he’s never had to learn a playbook, which is what he’ll need to be able to do in the NFL. He’s probably going to have the biggest learning curve out of all the guys on this list but the talent is there. He’s also slow as dirt and his pocket presence and his ability to avoid pressure could use some work.
Draft Thoughts: Rudolph has a lot of talent but he might need a year or two to learn how to operate an NFL offense before being thrust into a starting role. I wouldn’t take him higher than the second round but I also wouldn’t be surprised if a desperate team falls in love with him and takes him earlier than they probably should. I think the Saints would be the perfect landing spot for him, as that would probably be the smoothest transition for him, the Saints offense being the closest we have to an Air Raid offense in the NFL. Plus their success on the ground could take a lot of pressure off him when Drew Brees decides to hang them up.
A better version of Bryce Petty. Both guys had similar skillsets and flaws coming out of college, however I think Rudolph is a bit more refined than Petty, who has shown the occasional flash in the NFL but the entire body of work hasn’t been great. I think if Rudolph is thrusted into the starting role too soon, then his career will be disastrous.
Those are my thoughts on a potentially stacked 2018 quarterback class. Agree? Disagree Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman 10 and contribute to my Patreon.