NCAAF, NFL

Let’s Talk Quarterbacks

The NFL draft is by far the dumbest and greatest annual sports tradition in the United States. The entire premise of the NFL Draft revolves around watching college football and ruthlessly picking apart the flaws of 20-something year old college students, right down to the size of their hands. At the end of the entire process, you watch Roger Goodell read names off a card. It’s dumb, but I watch it every year because it’s the NFL draft and that’s what I do.

This year is no different except for the fact 5 different quarterbacks could be drafted in the first round, the most since 1999 (Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper, and Cade McNown.) Does this mean this is a great quarterback class? Not necessarily. Generally speaking: Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson are considered “first round” NFL talents.  Of these five quarterbacks, each one comes with a certain set of risks that jeopardize their NFL careers.

 

Sam Darnold

While no one can quite agree on who the top quarterback in this class is, Darnold consistently ranks towards the top.  The former University of Southern California quarterback came into last season with Heisman-level hype and was considered the top quarterback prospect in this class.

Unfortunately for Darnold, he never quite lived up to that hype as USC faded from the College Football Playoff conversation following a 49-14 drubbing at Notre Dame. Darnold wrapped up his college career with a fine, but not great performance in the USC’s 24-7 loss to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl.

Pros: 

Darnold is fairly elusive, but he’s certainly not going to create plays with his legs like other quarterbacks in this class can. Instead, Darnold uses his legs to extend plays and find the open receiver. He has the arm to make big plays and could play week one in the right situation.

Cons:

I’m not usually one to base assessments on the eye test alone, but I was rarely impressed with Darnold  when I watched him at USC. He struggled with accuracy from time to time and while he could make some incredible throws, he struggled to hit open receivers. He’ll have to improve on this before he can reach his ceiling.

Best Case Scenario Comparison: Philip Rivers

Philip Rivers is a great quarterback. He doesn’t have much playoff success but he’s one of the best quarterbacks of his generation. There were a few quarterbacks I could’ve gone with here including Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roesthlisberger. What each of these quarterbacks have an elusive trait that allows them to make big plays. Philip Rivers isn’t particularly quick but he knows when to tuck the ball and run and he has a big enough arm to make the throw.

Realistic Scenario: Tony Romo

I don’t know if Tony Romo ever got his fair due as a quarterback, largely because of his postseason failures in Dallas. Darnold has a lot of the same traits as the former Eastern Illinois University star: a big arm but interceptions will always be part of his game. That all being said, I think Romo is the fairest comparison for Darnold.

Worst Case Scenario: Rex Grossman

I think we were all robbed of the “Is Rex Grossman an elite quarterback” when the Bears lost to the Colts in Super Bowl XLI. It’s pretty apparent Grossman was carried to the Super Bowl on the back of a great Bears defense and really wasn’t a great quarterback. I don’t think Darnold will be quite as mediocre as Grossman, but it’s probably the most accurate “worst case” scenario for him. For this to happen, Darnold would have to enter a brutally bad situation, have a front office that refuses to give him protection or weapons to work with and Darnold just keeps tossing interceptions.

 Draft Prediction: New York Giants 

While I think Darnold would be a nice fit for the Browns, I think the Browns go another direction (see below.) Meanwhile, the Giants are looking to find a replacement for Eli Manning. There are a few ways the Giants could go here including running back Saquon Barkley from Penn State, defensive lineman Bradley Chubb from North Carolina State, or even another quarterback like UCLA’s Josh Rosen. Instead, I think the Giants go with Darnold here. He fits a type that NFL GMs tend to covet and I think Darnold gets the nod, but will have to battle Eli in training camp for the starting job.

Josh Rosen

I think Josh Rosen is the best quarterback in this year’s draft, even if his college head coach doesn’t. Rosen came into the season with a fair amount of hype, but not Darnold level hype. UCLA never quite got off the launch pad, limping to a fairly disappointing 6-7 record that ultimately cost Jim Mora Jr. his job. While I’m a fan of Rosen’s game, I would’ve really liked to see him try out Chip Kelly’s system this year at UCLA.

I also think the critiques of Rosen’s outspoken attitude are fairly ridiculous. Rosen has opinions, we all have opinions. This entire article is based off my own opinion. There is nothing wrong with Rosen voicing his opinions.

Pros:

Barring an injury, Josh Rosen will almost certainly start week one. I think he’s that talented and can beat out veteran competition. That includes situations like the New York and Arizona, where Eli Manning, Sam Bradford, and Mike Glennon look like temporary solutions at best. Rosen’s talent can shine through the cracks.

Cons:

That being said, Josh Rosen’s injury past is as checkered as anyone’s in this draft. Multiple concussions and shoulder injuries cost Rosen time at UCLA. One more concussion could theoretically end his career. I really hope he avoids a major concussion and goes on to have a long, successful career but the risk is certainly there.

Best Case Scenario: Aaron Rodgers

Between Rosen’s ability and his personality, I see a lot of Aaron Rodgers in the former UCLA Bruin. Rodgers was ridiculously talented at Cal despite not having a great surrounding cast and was criticized, perhaps unfairly, for his personality. Rodgers also had the benefit of sitting on the bench for several years and falling into a great situation with the Packers who have an offensive minded head coach in Mike McCarthy. There’s obviously no guarantee Rosen will have the same fortune.

We’ll never know what would’ve happened to Rodgers or Alex Smith had Rodgers gone to San Francisco, a team far removed from their heyday with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice and several years away from their brief renaissance under Jim Harbaugh. If Rosen finds the right location and stays healthy, there’s little reason to sleep on Rosen’s potential.

 

Realistic Scenario: 2017 Jared Goff

For Jared Goff, the “right situation” came in his second year in the league. After the Rams jettisoned long-time head coach and all-time football guy Jeff Fisher, the newly relocated Los Angeles Rams hired Sean McVay. The impact was immediate for Goff, who finally looked like the quarterback the Rams traded significant draft capital for in 2016.

For Rosen, finding a scenario with a young, hungry, offensive minded head coach would be like hitting the jackpot. Rosen has the ability to make plays happen, he just needs someone who can put him in the best situation to succeed.

Worst Case Scenario: 2016 Jared Goff

However, Rosen could end up in a situation like Jared Goff and Mitchell Trubisky did with Jeff Fisher and John Fox, respectively. Goff and Trubisky were stifled by a lack of offensive creativity and head coaches desperate to hold on to their jobs. Neither Goff nor Trubisky were offered much of an opportunity to succeed in their rookie campaigns.

If Rosen lands in a situation with a coach on the hot seat or a defensive minded head coach, he might not be afforded the same opportunity to succeed as he should.  As ex-Rams Jared Goff, Case Keenum, and Nick Foles know, it pays to be in a good coaching situation.

Draft Prediction: Buffalo Bills (Trade)

For a team that finally broke its playoff drought last season, the Bills did so without a lot of production from the quarterback position. Tyrod Taylor was out of favor with the Bills front office. How bad was it? The Bills started Nathan Peterman over Taylor in a game against San Diego last year. That decision nearly cost the Bills a playoff berth. Now Taylor is gone, leaving only Peterman and AJ McCarron to battle it out for the starting job this season. The Bills have struggled without a true “franchise quarterback” since Jim Kelly retired after the 1996 season.

The Bills do have two first round picks, making them likely candidates to trade up for a top quarterback. If Rosen is their guy and lasts on the board past the top four, you can bet the Bills will be calling every other GM in the top 10 asking to trade up. For the sake of this scenario, let’s say the Broncos agree to trade down, giving the Bills a top-5 pick to use on Rosen.

Josh Allen

I’m not sure there’s been a more polarizing quarterback prospect in the past decade like Josh Allen. Allen indulges most of draft twitter’s worst impulsive: he’s a raw prospect with a huge arm who played in a weak conference with a weak surrounding cast. The problem with Allen is that he neither tore up the Mountain West Conference nor did he play particularly well in his games against Power 5 opponents like Nebraska and Iowa.

There’s no reason why Allen can’t succeed, but it’s hard for me to really believe in him. We’ve seen quarterbacks from “small” schools succeed in the NFL before. Carson Wentz probably would’ve won the MVP last year if not for an unfortunate knee injury he suffered late in the season. But apart from the fact Wentz and Allen both played Iowa in college, there are few similarities between Allen and the former North Dakota State star.

Pros:
The one thing Allen has going for himself is incredible arm strength. No one can deny that. Bust or not, Josh Allen will probably end up as the best NFL quarterback in Wyoming football history.

Cons:

Like Tom Savage and Brock Osweiler before him, Allen will have a challenge on his hands translating that arm strength into making accurate passes. Allen also struggles staying composed in the pocket. Allen tends to get happy feet in the pocket and rushes out. It’s one thing to leave the pocket to buy some time, quite another to rush your decision making unnecessarily. A large part of being a quality NFL quarterback is remaining calm under pressure. Allen hasn’t shown that ability. Of all the quarterbacks listed here, I think Josh Allen has the biggest bust potential.

Best Case Scenario: Brett Favre

Ok, a LOT would have to happen for Allen to turn into the second Favre. I make this comparison based solely on Allen’s arm strength and if Allen finds an offensive mind like Mike Holmgren, then anything is theoretically possible.

Realistic Scenario: Jay Cutler

Like Alfonso Soriano, Jay Cutler fell victim to some massive expectations in Chicago. Cutler had the potential to make some great throws, but had the unfortunate habit of throwing interceptions at inopportune times. Cutler never really got past those interceptions in his time as a Chicago Bear until Adam Gase came to town for one season. Allen has the arm strength to make throws, it’s just a matter of throwing to the right team.

Worst Case Scenario: Kyle Boller 

Like Allen, Kyle Boller wowed scouts with his arm talent, but struggled to translate that into production. Scouts excused Boller’s poor completion percentage on a poor surrounding cast at Cal and Boller was the third quarterback drafted in the first round of the 2003 draft, behind Carson Palmer and Byron Leftwich but ahead of Rex Grossman.

Boller struggled for most of his career and only played a full season once, in 2004. In total, Boller threw 54 interceptions and only 48 touchdowns. It would take something of a catastrophe for Allen to play as poorly as Boller did, but it’s within the realm of possibility.

DRAFT PREDICTION: Cleveland Browns

The Browns have been looking for a quarterback since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999. It’s not hard to believe GM, John Dorsey could fall in love with Allen’s arm strength and take a chance on him over Rosen and Darnold.

There’s been quite a bit of noise coming from Northern Ohio saying the Browns are debating Allen and Darnold. In 2016, the Browns traded out of the spot the Eagles used to draft Carson and in 2017, they traded out of the spot the Texans used to draft Deshaun Watson.

It’s hard to imagine the Browns will pass up a chance to land a franchise quarterback for third year in a row. Allen is certainly the riskiest choice and could either provide the Browns an answer for their quarterback question or he could cost Dorsey his job.

Baker Mayfield

If not for Josh Allen’s presence, Baker Mayfield would be the most polarizing quarterback in this year’s draft. To some, he’s the next Drew Brees or Russell Wilson, to others, he’s the next Johnny Manziel. Mayfield’s Heisman campaign was as impressive as any we’ve seen in recent years and Mayfield was able to attack a very good Georgia defense in the Rose Bowl, coming within arm’s reach of the College Football Playoff National Championship game in January.

Pros:
Mayfield boasts a wealth of physical talent that allows him to make plays. While he doesn’t have the greatest arm in the draft, his combination of arm talent, running ability, and accuracy makes him an intriguing prospect. The Big 12 isn’t a defensive minded conference in the same way the Big 10 and the SEC are but Mayfield’s talent shined last season.

Cons: 

Mayfield’s outspoken nature earned him plaudits from some and criticism from plenty others. The NFL is no stranger to outspoken players, but Mayfield’s personality could wear thin on executives, coaches, and other players. Then again, that same personality could help him establish himself as a leader in the locker room as a rookie.

Some GMs may be more worried about Mayfield’s height more than his personality. Historically, there has been a bias against “short” quarterbacks in the NFL despite the recent successes of Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.

Best Case Scenario: Ben Roesthlisberger 

It might be tempting to comp Mayfield with other undersized quarterbacks and I nearly went with Drew Brees here but I think Roesthlisberger’s willingness to run makes him a suitable comp for Mayfield. They’re both big armed quarterbacks with the ability to make most of the throws they need to. Mayfield can run but he’s not quite on the same level as Russell Wilson in that regard.

Realistic Scenario: Jim McMahon

Like Mayfield, McMahon earned quite a bit of criticism during his playing days for his outspoken antics, but the comparison shouldn’t end there. Like Mayfield, McMahon played an aggressive style on the field, not afraid to tuck the ball and run or make a risky pass downfield. For McMahon, that aggressiveness likely cost him a few years of his career as injuries ravaged McMahon’s career following 1985. McMahon wasn’t a great quarterback but he did well enough to consistently start for playoff caliber teams.

Worst Case Scenario: Johnny Manziel

Until Mayfield takes the field, the comparisons to Manziel will continue to percolate. It’s not much of a stretch to compare Mayfield and Manziel. Both are undersized Heisman winning quarterbacks with some history of misconduct off the field and massive chips on the shoulder. I don’t expect Mayfield to burn out in quite the same manner like Manziel, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Draft Prediction: Miami Dolphins

Adam Gase needs a quarterback to work with. Gase earned his head coaching job by revitalizing the careers of Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler and the tandem of Gase and Ryan Tannehill seemed promising at the time. Tannehill had a strong 2016 season but suffered an injury during Week 14 and missed the Dolphins’ Wild Card round loss to Pittsburgh.

Tannehill then missed all of 2017 with an ACL tear. While Gase said Tannehill would be the Week 1 starter, there are serious questions about Tannehill’s longevity in Miami. The opportunity to draft and groom a Heisman winning quarterback might be too tempting for Gase and the Dolphins to pass up.

 

Lamar Jackson

You could certainly make the argument that Lamar Jackson was better last year than in 2016, when he won the Heisman. For Jackson, the problems at Louisville seemed to be with his coaching and surrounding cast. Even still, Jackson is a better passer than many would give him credit for and played in arguably the best conference in all of college football.

Pros:

Teddy Bridgewater was electric at Louisville. Lamar Jackson was even better than Bridgewater in almost every area of the game. It’s not out of the question to say Jackson might be the best dual threat quarterback since Michael Vick’s peak. At times, it felt like Jackson was straight out of a video game, Madden 04 to be exact. In terms of pure athleticism, it’s hard to beat what Jackson brings to the table.

Cons:

The problem with dual threat quarterbacks is that they don’t tend to last very long in the NFL. For Jackson, his slight build may scare some teams off. Robert Griffin III was a completely different quarterback after his knee injury and we still don’t know what Teddy Bridgewater will be like once he returns from his knee injury. Even Michael Vick was beginning to slow down before his legal issues. With this in mind, teams will be very cautious dealing with Jackson.

Best Case Scenario: Madden 04 Michael Vick

In the history of video games, there’s perhaps never been a figure as complete and dominant and Madden 04 Michael Vick. His speed set him apart from everyone else in the game. If playing as the Falcons wasn’t off limits, it certainly should’ve been. Now, it’s probably unfair to compare an actual athlete to a video game but that’s how Jackson looked at Louisville. He was sublime and I don’t think we’ve seen a player on Jackson’s level in terms of speed and athleticism since Michael Vick’s peak.

Realistic Scenario: Teddy Bridgewater

Teddy Bridgewater was considered a top prospect until his pro day when concerns over his hand size and decision to wear gloves deflated some of his draft stock. The Minnesota Vikings, meanwhile got over those concerns and traded back into the first round to grab Bridgewater. Was Bridgewater as transcendent as Vick? Not really, but he was a very valuable quarterback when he was on the field. However, a serious knee injury improbably changed both Bridgewater’s career and the trajectory of the NFC. While I think Jackson is a better version of Bridgewater, I still think this is a fair comparison.

 

Worst Case Scenario: Robert Griffin III

It’s really unfair to call Robert Griffin III the worst case scenario when he was so electric for such a brief period of time in Washington. But the supernova that was RG3’s peak comes with a whole slew of “what if?” questions. So the worst case scenario is really more about the injury risk Jackson has with being a dual threat quarterback .

Draft Prediction: Second Round

You may be wondering why I included Lamar Jackson in this post when it was based around quarterbacks who could be drafted in the first round, only to project Jackson in the second round. But while I do think Jackson is a first round talent, I have my doubts that NFL GMs are willing to take such a risk with their first round pick.

Maybe the Bills or Cardinals are unable to trade up for another quarterback and draft Jackson in the first round. I could even see a scenario unfolding where Jackson falls down the draft boards and someone trades back to the first round to draft Jackson like the Vikings did with Teddy Bridgewater. For now, I’ll stick with Jackson becoming the steal of the draft in the second round.

Conclusion

Is the NFL Draft the most overhyped sporting event of the year? Probably, but it continues to pull massive audiences every year for a specific reason. People love football and the offseason is long and dreadful.

Could each of these quarterbacks turn in solid, productive careers? Theoretically yes, but it’s just as likely only one or two of these quarterbacks reach their lofty ceilings. One of the inherently flawed aspects of the draft process is that an individual’s success is so often decided by their surrounding cast, regardless of their own talent.

Who knows? Maybe a Mason Rudolph or Luke Falk turns out to be the real steal of this draft. After all, Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson were 4th and 3rd round picks, respectively. Keep it here on Party Foul Sports for all your NFL Draft coverage.

 

 

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