Is the 2018 NFL Rookie Class of Quarterbacks the Best in a Decade?

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By Patrick Pierce

The quarterback position is one of the most important in major professional sports. Without a top QB, NFL franchises feature a diminished chance of competing for a championship. Part of the miracle of the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl win in 2017 was Nick Foles stepping up as one of the few backups to lead their team to victory. The last backup to pull this feat off was none other than Tom Brady.

A lack of consensus clouded predictions for the 2018 draft, partly because of an usually deep crop of rookie QBs emerging from outstanding college careers. At least half of the signal callers drafted in the 2018 first round will be called upon to start this season. None of the teams with rookie starters have a great chance to make the NFL playoffs, according to odds from CanadaSportsBetting.ca

Winning now isn’t an option for most of these talented QBs. Teams like Buffalo, Cleveland, Arizona and the Jets will focus on development, with the hope that their pick will emerge as an elite leader from the outstanding class of 2018.

cleveland Browns josh-gordon

Baker Mayfield – Cleveland Browns

College: Oklahoma

A quick look at Baker Mayfield’s college bonafides reveal one of the most productive, decorated quarterbacks in NCAA history. Last year he took home the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell and Davey O’Brien Awards while securing a Big 12 Championship along and qualification for the College Football Playoff. He broke his own NCAA record for passing efficiency rating with a 70.5 completion rate at 11.5 yards per attempt.

Despite an impressive college resume, Mayfield’s been tagged as being in the Doug Flutie mold because he’s slightly undersized and benefitted enormously from Oklahoma’s scheme. Baker will need to learn how to run an NFL offense while reading elite defensive coverages designed to exploit his weaknesses. Neither of which will be guaranteed under the tutelage of the Browns coaching staff.

Mayfield will face an uphill climb to fulfill his promise as a first overall pick. Criticisms of his size and long ball accuracy ignore his demonstrated accuracy and fierce competitive spirit. If Mayfield becomes a dedicated student of the sport and channels his fire into productivity, he will have a major impact in the pros.

sam darnold

Sam Darnold – New York Jets

College: USC

Darnold shot to college fame with an incredible freshman performance at USC. As a rookie, he threw 31 touchdowns against nine interceptions, completing 67.2% of his passes for a rating of 161.1. A slight dip in 2017 didn’t lower his standing as a prototypical prospect. There’s a good chance that the Browns will rue the day they passed up on this obvious top tier talent.

The highest rated QB in the draft, early expectations list him with obvious Pro Bowl potential. Rosen might be considered the most NFL ready QB, but Darnold’s arm strength, poise in the pocket, accuracy and ability to read the field show the most upside over the next few years.

Early training camp reports suggest that Sam’s learning well, making a notable leap when allowed to practice with the first team. Unless he suddenly regresses or undergoes injury, Sam will have a shot at starting in Detroit during week one.

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Josh Allen – Buffalo Bills

College: Wyoming

Allen’s 56.2% completion rate over 27 games with Wyoming doesn’t match up well against his competition in the 2018 draft. The Bills bet that over the long term, his towering frame and cannon arm will help him evolve to the highest level. At 6’5”, Allen enjoys the distinct advantage of hovering above the pocket fray.

Part of the reason Buffalo invested an early first-round pick in Josh would revolve around the poor receiving corps he worked with in college, along with an ability to play through inclement weather. Easing into the NFL with one of the most conservative offensive schemes in the league should lessen the learning curve.

The irony in this case revolves around the fact that Allen’s wicked arm strength will require adjustment to the short game. Instead of whipping every pass, he needs to develop a lighter touch. If Josh Allen acquires the footwork necessary to throw while in motion, he could turn into a lite version of Carson Wentz.

Josh Rosen – Arizona Cardinals

College: UCLA

Rosen may not feature the athletic upside of other rookie QBs in the class of 2018, but he’s the second-highest rated because scouts believe that he’s the most prepared to accept the responsibilities of a starting role. When the Arizona Cardinals drafted him 10th overall, Josh brashly claimed that “there were nine mistakes ahead of me.”

Josh will need to put in a lot of work to live up to his prediction, especially against talent like Sam Darnold, Saquon Barkley and Bradley Chubb. After the retirement of Carson Palmer, Josh will have a genuine opportunity to leverage his intelligence and level-headed leadership into success at the NFL level.

Rosen doesn’t have the ridiculous arm strength of Darnold and Allen. Baker Mayfield had the best accuracy stats, and Lamar Jackson may be the type of quarterback who averages 280 yards in the air and 60 on the ground. Josh Rosen will need to fortify his frame to prevent injury and gain additional strength, increasing the zip on his long ball. A healthy and hearty Rosen could elevate his game to Pro Bowl level in a few years.

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Lamar Jackson – Baltimore Ravens

College: Louisville

Lamar might have the highest ceiling of all rookie QBs due to his electrifying speed and playmaking. Similar to elite rushing quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Randall Cunningham, Lamar Jackson extends broken plays and punishes defenders who leave open rushing lanes.  During his three years in Louisville, Jackson earned an astounding 10 rushing TDs of 40 yards or longer.

Jackson features a strong arm with an efficient delivery, enabling quick passes while scrambling. Unfortunately, his accuracy did take a hit when forced to toss in motion, an issue which elevated his turnover totals throughout his college career. Similar to Rosen, Jackson should invest in adding muscle and heft to his frame, which will help prevent injuries.

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Perhaps the most humble of all first-round draft picks, Lamar and his family celebrated his 2016 Heisman Trophy without involving the media, preferring to focus on improving his craft. Jackson also earned the Davey O’Brien and Maxwell Awards, along with ACC Player of the Year. If Lamar learns to leverage his speed strategically, Jackson could become the best of this group.

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