Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Predicting the fate of the NFL’s loaded 2018 quarterback draft class

Posted on 9 May 2018 by Matt Bowers

It was just the third time in the modern era of the draft and 21st century that five college quarterbacks were taken in the opening round. This group legitimately have the potential to become the greatest QB class of all time, up there with the famed draft class of 1983 which included all-time greats Dan Marino, John Elway and Jim Kelly. 

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In total, there were 13 quarterbacks drafted through all seven rounds. We will just focus on the 5 first-round picks. This first round was more unpredictable than in previous years, partly due to a new thought movement over the potential economic risk of keeping a highly expensive quarterback on the roster. After the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year with a back-up QB in Nick Foles, the debate over the risk of spending such high draft/cap capital on QB’s was rekindled. 

The first round put those murmurings to bed after a short while. It’s been suggested that the model of the future is to spend big on defensive playmakers and allocate salary resources elsewhere whilst utilizing a young QB on a cheap rookie contract to win Super Bowls, like Seattle did with Russell Wilson. But the truth is quarterbacks have always been and always will be the most important player in the locker room and on the field. 

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After the news broke that Falcons QB Matt Ryan is now the first player ever to get $100 million guaranteed, the quarterback market continues to explode in an unsustainable way. No one can foresee the long-term result of a professional football players’ career, but we can make some reasonable short-term predictions based on college performance patterns. 

1. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns – 1st overall

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Baker Mayfield was the story of this year’s NFL draft. After setting college football on fire and re-writing the record books in his junior and senior years at Oklahoma, there were still lingering doubts about him due to his fiery personality and height. A walk-on at Texas Tech, he became the first true freshman to start for the famed college football program. 

The reigning Heisman trophy winner, Mayfield contains everything a quarterback needs to succeed in the NFL. He’s incredible in the pocket with great escapability when under pressure, he can push the ball out to the corners or anywhere on the field, and make throws into tight windows. Other than the basic building blocks of a franchise passer, he dominated a pro-style “Air Raid” system as a Sooner, which has translated well to the NFL in the past and recently. His college stats are undeniably elite: 

Needless to say, every great NFL quarterback was also great in college: but Mayfield was on an entirely different level in college. It’s the number one reason Mayfield’s draft stock skyrocketed in the weeks after the Combine and leading up to draft night. Before and after the Combine, Sam Darnold of USC was thought to be the consensus number one pick John Dorsey and the Cleveland Browns would anoint as the savior of their perpetually cursed football team. I think Mayfield will be starting over Tyrod Taylor by Week 6 and wins rookie of the year. 

2. Sam Darnold, New York Jets – 3rd overall

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Darnold might be the prototypical passer an NFL franchise would create if they needed a quarterback. If any team needed one, it’s the New York Jets. They might be the second-most perpetually cursed organization to have been incapable of locking down a QB after Cleveland. They made sure that changed on draft night, giving up king’s ransom to get him. At first, it looked like New York gave up far too much by sacrificing $24 million in cap space along with picks 37, 49, and a 2019 second-round pick. All this after signing once-promising QB Teddy Bridgewater, before he suffered a devastating knee injury in 2016. 

No one really knew whether the Browns would take Mayfield or Darnold first overall. Darnold was not as good in college, but had more of the physical attributes and valued intangibles than Mayfield. Standing at 6’3″ and 220 lbs, you wouldn’t believe his size watching his mobility and playmaking ability on the run. He has solid throwing mechanics, but there are lingering doubts over his high turnover rate and elongated throwing motion. 

I subscribe to the philosophy that rookie QB’s should be given the most amount of time on the bench to develop and refine their game before jumping into a starting spot. This is especially true for passers with mechanical issues, and we’ve recently seen the negative effects of starting a QB too early. Blake Bortles never had the opportunity to polish his craft before being shoved into the spotlight, and Carson Wentz was poor his first year before having a breakout sophomore season.

I think New York should go with Bridgewater for as long as he plays at a high level, and give Darnold the wheel in the 2019 season. In reality, I think he’s starting by Week 9 due to Bridgewater being injured or Todd Bowles simply wanting to play with his new toy. 

3. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills – 7th overall

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The Wyoming quarterback is undoubtedly the enigma of this draft. A massively overrated cannon-slinger, he goes against the modern zeitgeist of measuring QB’s through statistics and intangibles. Standing at almost 6’5″, he’s a mountain of a man who can throw the football harder than anyone ever has before. At the combine, his throws were clocked at 66 miles per hour, the fastest ever recorded. But besides that, there’s really not much about him that indicates his potential success in the League. 

Basically, Allen doesn’t complete very many passes, and when he does, he doesn’t throw it very far. Quite the paradox for a prospect with perhaps the most throwing power ever. The last two seasons he averaged just above a 56% completion percentage, with those passes only averaging about 6.6 yards a piece. And this wasn’t in the powerhouse conferences, either. As previously mentioned, no good NFL signal-caller has ever been that statistically poor in college.

It takes more than being able to throw the ball long and hard at the highest level. I think Allen’s career will be similar to Jay Cutler’s. He will be reasonably effective for maybe a season, hit his ceiling, and become a journeyman inaccurate-gun-slinger who bounces around the league without taking teams deep into the playoffs.  

4. Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals – 10th overall

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In what came as a surprise, Josh Rosen slipped down to 10th when the Arizona Cardinals traded up to get their future face of the franchise. Many thought if Denver didn’t take him at five (where they drafted DE Bradley Chubb), he would fall to the Dolphins at 11. However, the Cardinals moved up to get their man at 10, making it the first time in the modern era four QB’s were taken in the top 10. 

There is tons to like about Rosen as a passer. From his pinpoint accuracy to his excellent vision in the pocket and his NFL-polished throwing mechanics, there really isn’t much to not like about his game. He was touted as the most NFL-ready passer of the crop. He grew up in an affluent family, and the only demerit on his prospect came in some form of scouts doubting his commitment and passion for the game of football. I think Rosen welcomes this and will prove all of them wrong.  

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“Chosen Rosen” will sit behind Sam Bradford until Arizona’s new check-down/injury prone signal-caller inevitably gets injured. The Cardinals are paying Bradford $15 million this year, but if they trade him before or during this season they’ll avoid that figure rising to $20 million against the cap in 2019. Bradford will get hurt and be traded about halfway through the season, and the California kid takes over from there and never looks back: they’ve got themselves a QB out in the desert. 

5. Lamar Jackson, 32nd overall – Baltimore Ravens

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Maybe I don’t understand the scouting of college quarterbacks, but Lamar Jackson will prove to be the most underrated QB in this draft. The most lethal dual-threat talent the NFL has seen come into the league since Michael Vick, NFL executives and scouts don’t seem to like quarterbacks who can beat you on the ground as well as through the air.

Winning the 2016 Heisman after scoring a ridiculous 51 total touchdowns (and following that up with 45 TD’s in 2017), Lamar Jackson can truly do it all. He has a cannon for an arm, is a relatively accurate thrower, and can juke/outrun every single player on the field. He’s a scoring machine. You truly have to see it to believe it. 

He is the Michael Vick reincarnate, only with the potential to be much better. Jackson is a more talented thrower, and has showed his ability to make electric plays and keep the ball alive when all seems lost. Vick said himself that Jackson was five times better in college than he was. 

The Baltimore Ravens will be an absolute force in the AFC and the entire league with Lamar behind center. Defenses won’t know what to do. For some reason, NFL decision-makers are afraid of a passer who can also run the ball. Lamar Jackson will light it up, and should be starting by Week 3. He has developed and prepared well in Petrino’s pro-style offense at Louisville.

The reality is Joe Flacco will most likely play his final season in Baltimore while Jackson watches on (barring another season-ending injury), and the Ravens will move on from him to their terrifyingly talented young QB in 2019. That would also save them $18.5 million in cap space for 2019, leaving Jackson and the Ravens to disintegrating defenses one by one after this year. 

Josh Allen is the only one of the bunch I don’t see becoming a franchise quarterback.

Featured image credit: Siandhara Bonnet/The Daily