Feels like last year we heard a ton of pre-draft talk about how the quarterback class wasn't so great. Turns out it had Deshaun Watson, who was pretty special until tearing his ACL in practice in early November. And Mitchell Trubisky ended up starting for the Bears before it was all over. Heck, DeShone Kizer started for the Browns right away ... although maybe he shouldn't have.
Anyway, that was last year. This year's quarterback draft class is the talk of the NFL town. It has been since last offseason. Seriously, at the combine last year, teams would moan about the quality of the quarterbacks in the draft and say, "But next year ..."
Well, next year is here, so how does it look? There are a couple of SoCal dudes still turning heads, a big guy in Wyoming who makes scouts drool and a Heisman-winning bad boy who may or may not be?6 feet tall.?It's a fun group, and will dominate a lot of our attention in the four months leading up to the 2018 NFL draft.
So, let's have a bit of a look at where things stand in late December, shall we? We'll include notes from ESPN NFL draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, plus insight from personnel people in the league.?
And? skip to the end here to see which teams might actually draft one of these QBs in the first round -- there are several possibilities:
Josh Rosen, UCLAJunior? |?6-foot-4, 218 pounds | 30 career starts
2017 stats:?283 of 452 passing (62.6 percent) for?3,756 yards, with 26 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; two rushing touchdowns, three lost fumbles;?67.1?Total QBR (No. 42 in FBS)
Who is this guy, and why should we care?Rosen caught everyone's attention with a 3,670-yard freshman season in 2015. NFL scouts love the way he looks in the pocket -- his footwork, throwing motion, anticipation and accuracy. After an injury-plagued 2016 season, he rebounded in 2017 with numbers nearly identical to those he put up as a freshman. Injuries set in again, though, and with Chip Kelly and a new coaching staff on the way in, it seems like a sure thing that Rosen will enter the draft. He's enough of a prospect to merit consideration at No. 1 overall -- especially if Sam Darnold doesn't come out.
Kiper's draft ranking: No. 1 QB and No. 4 overall prospect. From? Kiper's Big Board:?"I have Rosen over Darnold for now, but it's close, and things could change between now and April. ... There aren't many quarterbacks who can make the throws [Rosen] does."
McShay's draft ranking:? No. 1 QB and No.?1 overall prospect. From? McShay's Top 32: "Rosen is far superior [than Darnold] going through his progressions and has a pretty deep ball. He's a better QB right now, but that doesn't mean he will be down the line."
What does the NFL think of Rosen?"Just so natural in everything he does on the field. You watch him in the pocket and it's like he was born to do it. The way he sees the field, the way he operates the offense, just total command. If I had his kind of natural ability, I think I'd be that way too." -- NFC offensive coach.
So, now what?
Still recovering from a concussion suffered in the Bruins' final regular-season game, Rosen was held out of UCLA's bowl game. Assuming he declares for the draft as expected, Rosen will be subjected to a pre-draft process focused mainly on his injury history and some personality questions that have surfaced in media reports. It's almost certain that he will be picked at or near the top of the draft, but if it's a question between him and another highly rated guy, teams will want to check out anything negative that has come up.
Where can I find out more about Rosen?
- Aschoff: Rosen, Darnold and the battle for Los Angeles, and the No. 1 pick?(November 2017)
- Bowen: Scouting Rosen (November 2017)
- Anderson:? The education of Rosen (September 2017)
- Bonagura: Legend of Rosen grows in epic comeback against Texas A&M (September 2017)
Sam Darnold, USCThird-year sophomore? |?6-4, 225 pounds | 23 career starts
2017 stats:?303 of 480 passing (63.1 percent) for?4,143 yards, with 26 touchdowns, 13 interceptions; five rushing touchdowns, seven lost fumbles;?74.6 Total QBR (No.?22 in FBS)
Who is this guy, and why should we care?
Darnold couldn't beat out Max Browne as a redshirt freshman in 2016, but when Browne was benched after three games, people in the NFL took notice. There was at least some can-he-do-it-again sense about Darnold early this season, after a dazzling 31-touchdown, nine-interception 2016 season and a fantastic? Rose Bowl performance against Penn State. Some early-season struggles in 2017 pointed to the concerns NFL evaluators had (and still have) about his footwork and some of his decision-making.
But those same evaluators recognize that USC was affected negatively by graduation and injury issues this season, and the way Darnold has played since Halloween has affirmed what scouts love about his abilities and makeup. It's not certain he will even come out -- and some in the league believe he could benefit from another year in college. But if Darnold does enter the draft, the overall package of potential and college performance makes him a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick. He went first in McShay's debut?mock draft.
Kiper's draft ranking: No. 2 QB and No. 5 overall prospect. From Kiper's Big Board: "I think Darnold has a chance to be special, and I believe in his talent long term. Darnold has a big frame, makes quick decisions and is an accurate, natural passer."
McShay's draft ranking:? No. 2 QB and No. 3 overall prospect. From McShay's Top 32:?"His accuracy is terrific and he has special intangibles, but there is definitely a question now as to if he'll declare for the draft."
What does the NFL think of Darnold?"He's got everything you look for -- size, arm strength, accuracy. Could stand to clean up some mechanical stuff, but that's going to come with time. He looks the part, and that matters when you're trying to sell your fan base on a young guy with growing pains. He'll show enough to get people excited." -- NFC front-office official.
So, now what?
All eyes are on Darnold's next move, as he has until Jan. 15 to decide whether to declare for the draft. It's no sure thing he will. As a third-year sophomore, he could potentially return for two more seasons at USC.?Darnold denied a rumor last month that he might return to USC if Cleveland has the first pick. And he was asked about the Browns again before the Trojans' bowl game. "Whenever I come out to go to the NFL, I think I'd be honored to play for any team," Darnold said on Dec. 27.
Where can I find out more about Darnold?
- Aschoff:? Rosen, Darnold and the battle for Los Angeles, and the No. 1 pick?(November 2017)
- ?Bowen:? Scouting Darnold?(November 2017)
- Anderson:? Should USC be worried about Darnold??(September 2017)
- Knight: Darnold returns to L.A.'s most glaring spotlight (August 2017)
- Miller: The hype for Darnold has just begun (January 2017)
Josh Allen, WyomingFourth-year junior? |?6-5,?233 pounds |?26 career starts
2017 stats: 152 of 270 passing (56.3 percent) for?1,812 yards, with 16 touchdowns, six interceptions; five rushing touchdowns, two lost fumbles; 51.9 Total QBR (No.?76 in FBS)
Who is this guy, and why should we care?
Allen? didn't have any FBS offers out of high school and had only two after a freshman season at?Reedley College. But he landed at Wyoming and became the starter in 2016, and fans of the draft might remember his name from the time when ESPN's Adam Schefter said?after the 2017 draft: "There was one personnel director who told me this week that you can put it in the books, Josh Allen will be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft next year."
Scouts look at Allen as a high-end talent, but it's all projection. He has tremendous size and a huge arm, and he made plenty of plays in 2016, when Wyoming had a strong veteran team around him. His numbers didn't show any improvement this season, but his coaching staff and the NFL scouting community seem to blame that on the deterioration of the rest of the Cowboys' roster due to the departures of so many of his weapons prior to the season. What scouts and evaluators see with Allen is elite potential -- the kind for which you're willing to overlook little things, such as a poor season at Wyoming.
Kiper's draft ranking: No. 3?QB and No.?11 overall prospect. From? Kiper's Big Board:?"Allen is super raw, but he can really sling it. ... I think Allen's numbers will be much better in an NFL offense with NFL players."
McShay's draft ranking:? No. 3 QB and No. 15 overall prospect. From? McShay's Top 32:?"He has an elite arm and frame and can make every throw. The postseason process will be key for him."
What does the NFL think of Allen?"Coaches are going to see this guy and imagine everything he can be, and they're going to be all over their front offices to take him. He's just really raw, so you have to make sure he goes to a place where the coaching is solid and knows what he needs. The talent is all there." -- AFC front-office official.
So, now what?
After a strong showing against Central Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl?-- three touchdown passes in the first quarter, and no turnovers -- Allen announced his intentions to enter the draft. He instantly becomes one of its most talked-about prospects. The sense in the scouting community is that Darnold and Rosen are a 1-2 in some order (probably that one) and Allen slips slightly toward the middle of the first round, though possibly still in the top 10. There will be questions about Allen's readiness to start right away at the NFL level, but some people will convince themselves it's worth a shot because he's such a specimen.
Where can I find out more about Allen?
- ?Bowen:? Scouting Allen?(November 2017)
- Schlabach: Meet the NFL draft darling who couldn't get a college scholarship (August 2017)
Baker Mayfield, OklahomaFifth-year senior? |?6-1,?220?pounds |?46 career starts
2017 stats:?262 of 369 passing (71.9 percent) for 4,240 yards, with?41 touchdowns,?five interceptions;?five?rushing touchdowns, zero lost fumbles;?93.0 Total QBR (No.?2 in FBS)
Who is this guy, and why should we care?Come on. You don't know who Mayfield is? He just won the Heisman Trophy, for goodness' sake. And it's ... well, it's not the first time he has been in the news this year. Mayfield is the interloper on this list -- the scrappy guy who crashed what looked like a big three and made it a big four. His numbers are basically in line with what he put up last season, but doing it again after losing teammates such as? Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine and Dede Westbrook to the NFL plus his performance in big games have thrust him into the first-round conversation.
Kiper's draft ranking: No.?4 QB and No.?13 overall prospect. From? Kiper's Big Board:?"I love him on the field -- he's not afraid to take shots downfield, and he has an underrated arm -- but his size is going to be a question until he gets in front of scouts at the Senior Bowl [he hasn't said whether he'll attend] or the combine."
McShay's draft ranking:? No.?4 QB and No.?27 overall prospect. From? McShay's Top 32: "The issue for him is that he doesn't have the ideal measurables of an NFL starter, and he doesn't have an elite trait to compensate, like Russell Wilson's scrambling ability or Drew Brees' accuracy."
What does the NFL think of Mayfield?"If he measures under?6 feet [at the combine], that's going to make it tough for a lot of people to get on board. There's just not a lot of track record of guys at that size having success. But at the same time, you're going to be afraid of missing the next Russell Wilson, because what you have here is leadership and competitiveness on a unique kind of level." -- NFC coach.
So, now what?Mayfield and the Sooners have a Jan. 1 date with Georgia in the Rose Bowl (5 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN)?in a College Football Playoff semifinal game. Win that and Mayfield will take on the Clemson/Alabama winner in the CFP National Championship?on Jan. 8 (8 p.m. ET ESPN/WatchESPN) in Atlanta. Obviously, success in the playoff would only help Mayfield's case, which is built mainly on his performance in huge moments. Coaches and general managers will want to ask a lot of questions about Mayfield's well-publicized maturity issues along with his size, but barring some unforeseen off-field revelation, it's tough to see him slipping out of the first round.
Where can I find out more about Mayfield?
- Anderson:? College football's brightest star hits the game's biggest stage (December 2017)
- Trotter: The trash-talking, flag-planting, TD-making genius of Mayfield (December 2017)
- Kiper: How Mayfield projects as an NFL prospect (December 2017)
- ?Bowen:? Ranking best NFL fits for Mayfield?(December 2017)
- Harvey: Mayfield's unconventional route to the Heisman (December 2017)
- ?Bowen:? Scouting Mayfield?(November 2017)
- Trotter: Mayfield's legend grows with swaggering win over Ohio State (September 2017)
- McGee: All eyes are on Mayfield (August 2017)
- Keown: All Mayfield needs is hate (August 2016)
- Trotter: How Mayfield became an intramural legend at OU (December 2015)
Lamar Jackson, LouisvilleJunior? |?6-3, 210 pounds | 33 career starts
2017 stats:?241 of 399 passing (60.4?percent) for?3,489 yards, with 25 touchdowns, six interceptions; 17 rushing touchdowns, three lost fumbles;?85.9 Total QBR (No. 3?in FBS)
Who is this guy, and why should we care?Jackson is, of course,? last?year's Heisman winner, and he is a unique prospect due to his remarkable abilities as a runner and a passer. He has eclipsed both 3,400 passing yards and 1,400 rushing yards for the second straight season, and to watch him is to watch a quarterback who can dominate a college game in multiple ways. Defenses have to account for him differently than they do any other quarterback because of his elite speed and dynamic running.
Kiper's draft ranking: No. 7 QB. From? Kiper's take on the Heisman finalists:?"From the NFL scouts I've talked to, I think teams are going to ask Jackson to work out as a quarterback and a receiver. They want to see if he could make the transition if he didn't develop enough as a QB."
McShay's draft ranking:? No.?7 QB and No.?88 overall prospect. From? McShay's preseason scouting report:?"Jackson needs to continue to improve his accuracy as a passer. That's the bottom line. Right now, he's a phenomenal college quarterback mostly due to his running skills and athleticism."
What does the NFL think of Jackson?"The physical abilities are off the charts. Huge arm, incredible speed. Just an athlete, plain and simple. You'd like to see more consistent accuracy from the pocket, but that can be cleaned up with some work on his mechanics. The big concern is whether he can hold up if he does as much running at the next level." -- AFC front-office official.
So, now what?Jackson probably will run a 40-yard dash time at the combine that will be unheard of for a quarterback, and teams will spend the next couple of months trying to figure out what to do with him. If you bring him in, how much work do you have to do to refine his pure passer abilities? Can he help you in the meantime? Will you have to curb his running in order for him to survive in the NFL? And if you curb his running, does that limit his upside as a high draft pick? There has been at least some chatter about the possibility of a position change if it doesn't work out at quarterback, but his performance at that position in college surely merits a serious look before teams decide to move on and make him a wide receiver. He and Louisville will take on Mississippi State at noon ET on Dec. 30 in?the? TaxSlayer Bowl.
Where can I find out more about Jackson?
- Bowen: Scouting Jackson?(November 2017)
- ?Kiper: How Jackson projects as an NFL prospect (December 2017)
- Hale: Is college football ready for Jackson 5.0? (September 2017)
- Adelson: Why the reigning Heisman Trophy winner needed a reinvention (August 2017)
- Adelson: Jackson literally had spring football homework (April 2017)
- Adelson: Behind the scenes of the best weekend of Jackson's life (December 2016)
That's an impressive group. Any other quarterbacks to keep an eye on?Oh, yeah. For starters:
Headed to the Senior Bowl in late January, Rudolph brings size (6-5) and a ton of experience to go with his impressive college numbers. Some scouts wonder whether he's a player whose supporting cast makes him look better than he is.
Luke Falk, Washington State
The former walk-on set all kinds of school and conference passing records at Washington State. Seen by many as a?Day 3?pick, Falk could sneak into the third round with a strong showing in the pre-draft process. There are concerns about arm strength and a thin frame, but scouts love his accuracy.
Riley Ferguson, Memphis
He moved up in the eyes of many with his on-field performance, but Ferguson also comes with concerns about size and durability at the next level.
So, which teams might draft quarterbacks in the first round?Oh, how much time do you have? Here's a start, with some help from the Football Power Index's projected draft order:
Projected draft picks:?Nos. 1 and 5
They could pick any of these guys they want. And they need one. DeShone Kizer?appears to be far away from being a consistent NFL quarterback, if he ever will be, and Cleveland has been looking for answers at this position seemingly since the days of Bernie Kosar. New GM John Dorsey will surely make quarterback his top offseason priority.
New York Giants
Projected draft pick:?No. 3
The Giants still have a shot to pick No. 2, which could put them in position to draft Eli Manning's successor. Their quarterback depth chart features Manning and completely untested 2017 third-rounder Davis Webb. They could move on from Manning after this season and turn it over to a couple of young guys, or they could keep Manning if they think whichever QB they pick here isn't ready to start.
Projected draft pick :?No. 8
AJ McCarron could be an Andy Dalton successor, but McCarron also could be an unrestricted free agent. If a new coaching staff wants to make changes in Cincinnati, Dalton could be on the outs, and the Bengals could be looking for other options.
Projected draft pick :?No. 9
They are two years removed from taking Paxton Lynch in the first round and still apparently no closer to an answer at this position. With Trevor Siemian having flopped, Lynch unable to stay healthy and Brock Osweiler being ... well, a bit tough to trust, Denver could look for an answer in the top 10.
New York Jets
Projected draft pick :?No. 10
Here's another team, like Cleveland, perpetually searching for answers at QB. The Jets got a lightning-in-a-bottle year from 38-year-old Josh McCown,?but Bryce Petty hasn't shown much, and they haven't had any kind of look at Christian Hackenberg. They could bring back McCown to mentor their pick.
Projected draft pick :?No. 11
Will Carson Palmer retire? Will Bruce Arians? Will Larry Fitzgerald? Talk about uncertainty. Arizona is teeming with it. The Cardinals haven't addressed Palmer's successor in either of the past two drafts, which is a bit of a surprise.
Projected draft pick :?No. 13
The Fins could bring back? Ryan Tannehill, but money isn't an issue if they were to release him. Assuming Jay Cutler resumes his TV career, Miami could be on the hunt.
? Washington Redskins
Projected draft pick :?No. 14
If Kirk Cousins leaves as a free agent, Washington is stuck with Colt McCoy.
Los Angeles Chargers
Projected draft pick :?No. 16
Like? Drew Brees?and? Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers is getting up there. And the Chargers don't have a replacement on the roster.
Projected draft picks :?Nos. 17 and 24
It sure doesn't look as if the Bills are sold on Tyrod Taylor. And while they believe in Nathan Peterman to a certain degree, they also could jump if they find someone they like better in this intriguing class.
Projected draft pick :?No. 22
Joe Flacco's contract leaves the Ravens on the hook for at least another year or two, but the backup situation is woeful, and if you find a guy you like, it's never the wrong time to take him.
New Orleans Saints
Projected draft pick : No. 26
Drew Brees?is eligible for free agency, and while there's no reason to think he's going anywhere, he will turn 39 in January. The Saints could look for a successor.
Projected draft pick :?No. 28
The way Blake Bortles is playing makes it look as if the Jags will keep him around. But that doesn't mean they'll ignore other options if he reverts to old form. He is signed only through 2018.
Projected draft pick :?No. 29
You know you will hear that Ben Roethlisberger?retirement talk again this offseason. You know you will.
Projected draft pick :?No. 30
Things are going well with Case Keenum. Heck, Minnesota could end up winning the Super Bowl with him and signing him long term. But the fact is that Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford are all unrestricted free agents, and there?is loads of long-range uncertainty about this position in Minnesota, regardless of how well the Vikings are playing now.
New England Patriots
Projected draft pick :?No. 32
Their backup situation isn't what it was a year ago when they had Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett behind Tom Brady. And while he doesn't play like it, Brady is 40 years old. It's not crazy to imagine the Pats dipping their toes into this water. And remember: New England got San Francisco's pick at the top of the second round in the Garoppolo trade.