NFL Draft: Buyer beware at quarterback

The 2018 NFL draft class features talent and intrigue at quarterback ... but also major questions

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Need a quarterback? Looking to the 2018 NFL draft for help?

If the answer for both of these are yes, then we feel obligated to give you both the good and bad news.

First, the good: There are a lot of them. They come in different sizes, shapes, levels of experience, backgrounds and types of offenses run. Athletically speaking this appears to be a very good group overall. And arm-talent-wise, there are a few who could blow your hair back.

But now, the bad: Not all of them are going to make it. For all the hype, even dating back to last year’s draft when it was said that the 2018 crop would be better than the 2017 group that featured three picks in the top 12 overall selections, it does feel like a bit of a downer to where we are now.

Yes, that’s still the case even knowing that quarterbacks could be the first and second overall picks in the draft. The Cleveland Browns pick first, and they circle back with the fourth overall selection. The New York Giants have Eli Manning for now but could use the No. 2 overall pick on his eventual successor.

Even assuming the Indianapolis Colts are fine with Andrew Luck’s health and will not pick a QB with the third pick, there still are many quarterback-needy teams selecting shortly thereafter. After the Browns at four, there are the Denver Broncos (fifth pick), New York Jets (sixth), Cincinnati Bengals (12th), Washington (13th) and Arizona Cardinals (15th) in the top half of Round 1 alone — not to mention other teams that could trade up into that range. Remember, the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans were not bashful about going up to get Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, respectively, after starting Draft Day 2017 with a selection in the bottom half of the first round.

There certainly could be strong interest in this year’s top prospects. For right now, there is little consensus in the draft community about who those players are. But we spoke to two college scouting directors prior to the Senior Bowl who figured that four — UCLA’s Josh Rosen, USC’s Sam Darnold, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and the mystery man, Wyoming’s Josh Allen — could figure into that range.

“We wouldn’t be taking Allen in that [top 15] range, but the traits are there,” the NFC scouting director said. “At least with [Darnold], there’s a higher level of competition. And don’t use the excuse that [Allen] lost all his [teammates] to the draft last year. So did [Darnold].”

Allen returned to Wyoming despite four of the Cowboys’ best players moving onto the NFL, including his starting center, wide receiver, tight end and running back. All four were on NFL rosters this season while Allen returned to school and saw a down tick in his production.

Darnold’s numbers for the Trojans also were a bit off of his brilliant redshirt freshman season in 2016, but not that dramatically. Still, it was a bit concerning that he didn’t take a step forward this past season, even with the losses of three-fifths of his offensive line, including both his starting tackles, and leading receiver Juju Smith-Schuster.

Rosen also had his share of ups and downs in the third-year junior’s three years of starting at UCLA. He never won as many games as many expected, has suffered myriad injuries, carries questions about his commitment and demeanor and might not fit perfectly in every locker room. But won’t some team drool over his traits — strong arm, confidence and field vision — when it comes down to it?

“Yeah, but you can’t just draft traits,” said the AFC director, whose team has done extensive work on this year’s QB class and could be in the market to take one in the draft. “You have to have the right fit with the [head] coach, the offense and make sure you trust [Rosen’s commitment]. Is he the guy you want to go to war with? I’m not sure. That’s a question you better answer before April 26.”

Rosen and Darnold are perhaps the closest things to top-10 locks in this draft, with Rosen viewed as the more NFL-ready of the two. Allen could go that high because of his rare arm and athletic gifts alone — or he could tumble. His production, namely a career 56 percent completion rate, is a concern. His erratic play is another worry, and teams must factor in Allen’s developmental time when they draft him.

The Chiefs took Mahomes with the 10th overall pick and only gave him one start last season, in the meaningless Week 17 game. That could be Allen’s best hope: to go to a team picking in the upper part of the draft that has a starter in place but needs a long-term option. Otherwise …

“This league will eat him up and spit him out fast if he’s thrown in there right away,” the NFC director said. “I’ve heard the [Matthew] Stafford comparisons, but the difference was that Stafford had 40 games in the SEC and was 21 when he came out.”

Stafford did complete a mere 57 percent of his passes at Georgia, but there was upward progression with each season — to a mark of 61.4 as a junior before he declared for the draft. And as the director pointed out, Stafford’s age was seen as a positive. Allen, however, started for only two seasons in the Mountain West, barely improved his completion percentage over that time and saw his yards per attempt dwindle from 8.6 in 2016 to 6.7 last season.

Mayfield clearly is the wild card. He is an elite competitor, carries an underdog mentality, can really spin the ball, has good athletic and scrambling ability and possesses the instincts for the position. But his height, hovering around 6-foot, is a worry for some; other evaluators are more concerned about his on- and off-field demeanor, which has rubbed some the wrong way.

After the top four, there is intrigue. Perhaps when we look back at this class in four or five years, we’ll be shocked at which players went high and which ones slipped. Like this class or not compared to the 2017 group, but it’s hard not to argue that there are more draftable QB prospects than the 10 who were drafted last year.

Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph has NFL-caliber tools. Louisville’s Heisman-winning QB, Lamar Jackson, might only appeal to certain teams, but he has great playmaking potential. Both of them could be top-50 picks, and there could be teams interested in the first round.

Western Kentucky’s Mike White, Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, Washington State’s Luke Falk, Memphis’ Riley Ferguson, Troy’s Brandon Silvers and a few others at the position have chances to be drafted. Depth-wise, this might be an above-average group.

But is there a sure-fire star? A Luck-caliber prospect? It doesn’t appear so. Every one of the top prospects have some serious warts they must address, but that still might not dissuade teams from taking as many as a half dozen of them in Round 1.

“Every year, we say,” the AFC director said. “Every year, it happens, even in the bad years. [Quarterbacks] naturally get pushed up the closer we get to Draft Day. This year will be no different. We won’t have anything close to [four to six with] first-round grades on them, I can tell you that much.”