Written By Jason Feiner
With a 26–23 victory over Georgia, Alabama took home their fifth title in a nine-year span. They benched their starting quarterback, Jalen Hurts, and turned to the arm of the unknown freshman Tua Tagovailoa. The Tide was down 13–0 at the half and needed a spark. Tua certainly delivered, as he led the Tide back with four scoring drives in the second half, including a 41-yard strike to DeVonta Smith for the game winning score.
The National Championship game displayed some of the best and most talented prospects in the country. It painted one hell of a story, and made the future of collegiate football that much more enjoyable. With College football ending and the NFL Playoffs nearing a climactic conclusion, it may be time to look ahead and review some of the upcoming prospects who have declared for the 2018 NFL Draft.
Each draft is different, and each prospect will have a chance to raise or lower their stocks in the coming months. With multiple quarterback needy teams picking inside the top ten of the draft, the quarterback prospects may be highly valued come April. Talented prospects have declared to forgo their senior season and declare for the 2018 draft. The race for the number one pick may have finally started. In the 2017 NFL Draft, we witnessed three quarterbacks (Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson) go in the top 15, two of which were drafted via trades.
This year, five QBs have a chance to go in the top fifteen of the draft; however that’s not to say each prospect is a polished and ready NFL passer. Each quarterback has their own strengths and weaknesses that each team will need to evaluate before choosing their future pick. The 2018 NFL Draft will certainly make for a hot topic over the next few months until your team goes “on the clock.”
Now, let’s take a look at the top five 2018 quarterback prospects!
1. Baker Mayfield: University Of Oklahoma
Career Stats: 48 Games Started
Passing Yards: 14,607
Completion percentage: 68.5
Yards per Attempt: 9.8
Passing Touchdowns: 131
Baker Mayfield led Oklahoma to the college football playoffs off of his Heisman winning campaign. He has been electric this year scoring from all areas of the field with 48 total touchdowns. He threw for 4,627 yards, while completing 70.5 percent of his passes at 9.8 yards per attempt. However, Mayfield’s production doesn’t revolve around one year, he has been a consistent force since his freshman year at Texas Tech (where he played his first eight collegiate games). Mayfield is the reason Oklahoma has recorded an 11–2 record, as their leaky defense hasn’t been of much help. He led Oklahoma to a blowout win over Ohio State, and an exciting nail biter against rival Oklahoma State. He boosted his stock playing in the Rose Bowl, but fell just short in a dramatic double overtime loss to number three-ranked Georgia. Mayfield accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl, which is sure to help his standing as the number one quarterback in the nation.
Mayfield has unbelievable accuracy and protects the ball, often throwing to places where only his receivers can play the ball. He has a great timing and a good release. He doesn’t have the strongest arm in the draft class, but he is capable of throwing the ball to each area of the field with good speed and velocity. He has great ball placement, and can make difficult throws seem second nature. Mayfield also possesses the ability to throw the ball while on the run with impeccable accuracy. He always has his head downfield and works through each of his progressions until he finds the best option on a given play.
Utilizing his athletic ability and quick feet, Mayfield manipulates the pocket and finds throwing lanes and creases. He has an uncanny ability to avoid the rush and can feel defenders closing in. He can extend plays with his feet and often buys second chance opportunities. He adds a dangerous aspect to each game, as a threat to take off and run on third downs. Mayfield’s accuracy and quarterback rating improve when he is blitzed; as he becomes dialed in and has shown the ability to diagnose plays before the snap.
Mayfield has two looming issues. He is undersized listed at 6’1” and 214 pounds but many scouts and executives believe he is closer to 6’ flat. Taller quarterbacks have the advantage because it is easier to see over the offensive line. He will need to adjust working under center and learn to operate a pro style offense as well. Mayfield will need to answer to his off and on-field antics before the draft. He was arrested last February and lost his role as a team captain after his unsportsmanlike behavior during their win against Kansas State.
Mayfield has been a productive player throughout his career. He has been a finalist in the Heisman race the past two years, and finally took home the honors this past season. Eight of the last nine Heisman winners have been drafted in the first round, with the lone exception of Derrick Henry falling to the second. If history stays true, we should see Mayfield come off the board on day 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Projected Round: 1
Team Fits: Cardinals, Jets, Broncos, Bengals
NFL Comparison: Russell Wilson
2. Sam Darnold: University of Southern California
Career Statistics: 24 games started
Career Record: 20–4
Passing Yards: 7,229
Completion Percentage: 64.9
Yards Per Attempt: 8.5
Passing Touchdowns: 57
The University of Southern California, led by Sam Darnold, ranked eighth in the top twenty-five collegiate teams. They finished with an 11–3 record after Darnold’s shameful three-interception performance against Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl, securing their last loss of the season and of his collegiate career. With this performance, Darnold was practically begging the Browns to pass on him in the draft at number one overall. He was off target making bad decisions through this contest; however, one game does not make the player. In 2017, he completed 63 percent of his passes for 4,143 yards and 26 touchdowns while tossing 13 interceptions. Darnold had a down year when compared to his freshman campaign, as he came on by storm in 2016.
Throughout the 2017 season, Sam Darnold has struggled with inconsistent play; however, he is one of the best prospects in the 2018 draft class. He has shown the ability to stand strong in the pocket, and make tough contested throws to each area of the field with good zip and velocity. He has a strong arm and a very smooth release. Darnold is a very accurate passer who displays the talent to fit balls into tight windows. He has the ability to make defenders miss. He is very athletic and can slide up and out of the pocket when pressured. He is exceptional when throwing on the run and can fit the ball into tight windows while in motion.
Darnold needs to improve his decision-making and footwork. He has a good base, but he can become flat-footed. With defenders in his face, he often throws off his back foot causing the ball to hang in the air allowing defenders to break and make plays on the ball. He relies heavily on his arm strength, and forgets about mechanics; he needs to keep his knees bent while working through his progressions and step into each throw more consistently.
Darnold failed to protect the ball, as he threw thirteen interceptions and surrendered eleven fumbles in 2017. He has a total of 20 fumbles in 24 career games, which draws concerns about his hand size. Hand size is especially important for quarterbacks because they need to be able to hold on to the ball while getting hit. A player with smaller hands is more likely to fumble, and in colder weathered cities, Cleveland and New York, it bears more importance. Darnold’s 2017 season has been a rollercoaster ride. He threw for 154 yards and an interception while only completing 51 percent in the loss to Washington state; however, he bounced back in a dominant fashion with a win against Oregon State, completing 65.7 percent of his passes for 316 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception. Darnold led three-second half touchdown drives in the upset loss to Utah, and played exceptionally well in the Pac-12 championship; the rematch versus rival Stanford.
Sam Darnold is one prospect in the running to be the number one overall pick; however, with his showing in the Cotton Bowl, it makes me wonder how much he really wants to go to Cleveland. Pending on the combine and individual workouts, Darnold is a near-lock to go at the top of the draft.
Round Projection: 1
Team Fits: Browns, Giants, Jets, Broncos
NFL Comparison: Andrew Luck
3. Josh Rosen: University of California, Los Angeles
Career Statistics: 30 Games Started
Career Record: 17–13
Passing Yards: 9301
Completion Percentage: 60.8
Yards Per Attempt: 8.0
Passing Touchdowns: 59
Josh Rosen has been a standout player for the Bruins over the last three seasons; however, he has not wowed anyone on the stat sheet or by his win-loss record. In 2017, Rosen had his best season completing 63 percent of his passes for 3,717 yards and 26 touchdowns, while tossing 10 interceptions in only eleven games.
Rosen has the best mechanics in the 2018 draft class. He has a powerful arm and a natural release that can get the ball to all areas of the field. He throws a tight spiral and can fit the ball into tight windows. He has exceptional footwork, which allows him to slide in the pocket, create passing lanes and avoid the rush. Rosen combines his footwork and foot quickness to buy extra time for his receivers to work open.
Playing in a pro-style offense throughout his career will help him get acclimated to NFL system; however, he is not very comfortable while playing under center. He gets flustered after getting hit, he and doesn’t work through his progressions or look off defenders. Rosen often keys in on his first option and neglects his other options. He will tend to stare down the pass rush and throw inaccurate passes after getting hit or pressured. Rosen will often rely on his arm strength to fit the ball into tight windows, and can be caught making bad decisions. Rosen will need to become more acclimated to working under center, but his foundation and experience will certainly work to his advantage when trying to pick up an NFL offense. His leadership skills, attitude and durability have been questioned. Rosen has had multiple injuries throughout his collegiate career and missed a significant amount of time during his sophomore campaign. He was also hesitant to declare for the 2018 draft if he knew the Browns would take him with the number 1 overall pick. This could cause more concerns about his attitude and his already in question intangibles.
Rosen will need to learn to work through his progressions, and move defenders with his eyes. His production has been up and down this year, but not every loss can be attributed to Rosen. His teams roster isn’t filled with the most talented players. He threw for over 400 yards in a loss to high-powered USC and quarterback Sam Darnold. In the loss to Memphis, Rosen threw for 463 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. His two interceptions were bad decisions, both thrown into contested windows. However, the season did display a few heroics. In week 1 vs. Texas A&M, UCLA was trailing 44–10 in the third quarter, and Rosen orchestrated one of the greatest comebacks in college football history. The Bruins won 45–44 with Rosen throwing for 491 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Rosen is a favorite among teams for his footwork and arm strength. He will need to improve his field awareness and decision-making, but Rosen should go near or at he top of the 2018 draft. I would watch the Giants with this selection standing with the number two overall pick.
Projected Round: 1
Team Fits: Giants, Browns, Broncos, Jets
NFL Comparison: Matt Ryan
4. Josh Allen: University of Wyoming
Career Statistics: 25 Games Started
Career Record: 16–9
Passing Yards: 5,066
Completion Percentage: 56.2
Yards Per Attempt: 7.8
Passing Touchdowns: 44
Josh Allen is a prototypical, big-bodied passer, with great athletic ability and a strong arm. His career production has shown that he will be a work in progress and will need time to develop behind an established quarterback. Allen has shown flashes of brilliance that has put him in the conversation for a high round pick; however, he is not consistent, and his career completion percentage and interception rate are indicators that he still needs to improve in each area of his game. He has very good size, mobility, and physical talent, but he will have to improve his footwork and mechanics if he wants to be successful at the next level.
Wyoming’s top prospect won’t wow anyone in the statistical area. Allen completed 56 percent of his passes for 1812 yards at 6.7 yards per pass. He threw 16 touchdowns to six interceptions in eleven games after suffering a shoulder injury and missing the final two contests of the 2017 season. Allen played well in a few games this year, but overall had a poor statistical showing. He failed to live up to his potential and has significant room to grow. In Wyoming’s week one loss to Iowa, Allen only completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 174 yards and 2 interceptions. In three separate contests (Oregon, Hawaii, and Air Force) he failed to throw for 100 yards. However, when playing the lowly Gardner Webb football team who went 1–10 during the 2017 season, Allen showed off what could be his high potential. Allen completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns. He failed to play up to his higher-level opponents, but slaughtered his lower level prey including a quality game vs. Utah State. He completed 69 percent of his passes for 208 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He also added a rushing touchdown in this cool October game.
Allen will need to correct his mechanics, decision-making and accuracy troubles, but he has displayed his skill set utilizing his size, athleticism and toughness. Allen’s individual and combine results will be of big importance when considering his draft stock. Different NFL executives see Allen as a much different prospect. Some believe he needs to produce better, and others have fallen in love with his size, strength and potential. Allen has excellent athletic and physical talent to eventually become a starting quarterback in the NFL, but he has a long road ahead of him and will need to improve in various areas.
Josh Allen is an athletically gifted player with possibly the highest ceiling of any quarterback in the 2018 NFL Draft class; however, he has a steep ladder to climb if he wants to be successful at the next level. He is a first round prospect who has a lot of potential to be a starter in the future.
Projected Round: 1–2
Team Fits: Chargers, Cardinals, Giants, Bengals
NFL Comparison: Blake Bortles
5. Lamar Jackson: University of Louisville
Week 10: Lamar Jackson works through his progressions and looks off the safety before throwing a perfectly placed ball to the corner of the end zone
Career Statistics: 38 Games Started
Career Record: 24–14
Passing Yards: 9,043
Completion Percentage: 57.0
Yards Per Attempt: 8.3
Passing Touchdowns: 69
Rushing yards: 4,132
Yards Per Carry: 6.3
Rushing Touchdowns: 50
Lamar Jackson is an explosive playmaker capable of gaining chunk yards at will. He can move well in the pocket, and has the long speed to be dangerous as a scrambler. He has been the most electrifying player in collegiate football over the past two seasons, creating highlight reel footage throughout each game. He can avoid defenders with ease, changing directions in a flash. Jackson completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,660 yards with 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He averaged 6.9 yards per rush, while accumulating 1,601 yards on the ground. He added 18 rushing touchdowns to his point total this season as well.
Teams have needed to put spies on Jackson to avoid any big plays via his legs; however, they haven’t been too successful over his career. This also opens up the field as an extra player drops out of coverage. He will need to improve as a passer, as he struggles with his accuracy and footwork. He throws with a narrow base, and fails to slide or bounce his feet. Jackson utilizes his speed, agility and acceleration in order to avoid the rush and other defenders. He needs to step into each throw more consistently and throw with his whole arm. He has displayed a very powerful arm, as Jackson can throw the ball to all areas of the field with just the flick of his wrist. When he steps into his throws, He can fire the ball and hit his target with good accuracy. He displays a remarkable touch while passing, but he often does not put enough zip on shorter or intermediate routes allowing defenders to make pays on the ball.
Jackson is a very lanky player; his frame and play style raise concerns regarding his durability as he enters the next level. He will need to gain weight in order to remain durable. He fights for yards on each play and will need to slide on a more consistent basis to avoid injury risk. Jackson has received great reviews from his teammates and coaches regarding his leadership and character.
Jackson set college football on fire, as he captured the Heisman trophy in 2016 on the back of 51 total scores. He is dangerous in open field, and is a big play waiting to happen. He has been producing throughout his career, and finished third in the voting for the award in 2017, behind (running back) Bryce Love, and (quarterback) Baker Mayfield. Heisman winners have generally gone in the first round; however, pending the combine and individual workouts, he may join Derrick henry (former Heisman winner) as a second round pick.
The Cardinals have solely relied on the arm and leg talent of Jackson. He will have a learning curve, and will have to adapt to a pro style offense. He will need the right system and the right coach to succeed. He is a work in progress, but has a lot of potential. Jackson can be found to leave the pocket early and run with the ball before looking downfield. He displays a run-first mentality, one that will have to change if he wishes to be successful. If Jackson can improve as a passer, the League may be in trouble.
Projected Round: 1–2
Team Fits: Cardinals, Jets, Bengals, Bills
NFL Comparison: Mike Vick