The 2018 NFL draft is dominated by its quarterback class, with as many as six signal-callers expected to be drafted in the first round. There's a real chance four of the first five picks will be quarterbacks. Furthermore, there is no consensus No.1 prospect in the class. That makes this year's draft more unpredictable than most. It has also resulted in massive amounts of hype, with this year's class often compared to the 2004 class that produced Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
Don't believe the hype. The 2018 class is more about quantity than quality. There is no surefire elite prospect like Andrew Luck. The closest thing is UCLA's Josh Rosen, but there are durability and off-the-field concerns, both fair and unfair, in his case. On the other hand, this class has the potential to produce 5 high quality NFL starters and that is not common. But let's examine the prospects one by one.
The QB most often ranked atop the class is USC's Sam Darnold. He has all the tools: a plus arm, really good athleticism and good accuracy. He played at a pro-style offense, has experience in big games and he was well-liked by his teammates and coaches. However, he also has mechanical issues. His delivery is unconventional, with the ball almost going down to his waist and his footwork, can get sloppy, especially on deeper drops. Furthermore, he was extremely turnover-prone in college with 22 interceptions and 20 fumbles.
The QB who is widely expected to go No.1 is Wyoming's Josh Allen. Allen is a prototypical QB talent: tall, strong and athletic, with a cannon for an arm. However, I have some serious reservations about him. First, he has been inaccurate throughout his college career (56% completion percentage). Second, he grew up in California, so he played high school football in the spotlight, yet he was never considered an elite prospect. He did not get much interest from high profile college programs and ended up playing in Wyoming. In his college career he doesn't have that signature game or achievement so he's all projection. Yes, he has the tools to succeed in the NFL but why hasn't he had more success until now?
Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield is a very polarizing prospect: some compare him to Tom Brady, and some to Johnny Manziel. Mayfield is a tenacious competitor who despite not having ideal traits (not very tall, average arm and athleticism) has had a very successful college career including the highest individual honor, the Heisman trophy. He is also a very accurate passer, especially on "push" throws down the middle. On the flipside, detractors point to his obsessive competitiveness and a lack of self-control that has caused him to go way beyond the line on and off the field and fear NFL veterans will be able to bait him. They also wonder whether he wants to be a great NFL player or a celebrity. Finally, there are concerns about how his production, which was achieved in the Air Raid system, which greatly simplifies the QB's decision-making process, will translate in a pro-style offense.
The only prospect that is even more polarizing than Mayfield is Louisville's Lamar Jackson. Jackson has amazing athleticism and an incredibly strong arm (his balls have great zip despite the fact he usually throws off-platform). Some have called him an improved version of Michael Vick, and Michael Vick himself was one of those people. He also had a stellar college career in Louisville's pro-style offense, including a Heisman trophy. Yet he also has flaws: he is a bit underweight for a running QB at 210 pounds, and there are concerns about his mechanics (very sloppy footwork) and football IQ. His evaluation is further complicated by the bias against athletic black QBs,to the point where it's really hard to understand whether the concerns about him are legitimate or not.
Finally, there is UCLA's Josh Rosen. Rosen is by far the most talented and natural thrower of the ball in his class. He also had a really good career in college and has all the traits a pocket QB requires: a smooth,effortless throwing motion, a strong arm (not as strong as Allen's or Darnold's, but strong enough to make all NFL throws with ease), good accuracy, placement and anticipation in his throws. However there are two concerns with Rosen. First, he hasn't been very durable, missing several games in college with injuries, including two concussions. And second, Rosen might be an odd fit in the NFL. He comes from a wealthy and educated family (his father is a world-renowned surgeon) and grew up in an affluent California community. When some of his peers were dealing with the harsh conditions of the streets, Rosen was one of the most promising tennis prospects in the United States. He is also very intelligent, with many and varied interests. As a result, he has struggled to bond with his team-mates, and also to deal with football coaches, who are used to kids for whom football is a lifeline and will therefore obey their coaches without question. Jim Mora, Rosen's college coach said Darnold would be a better fit in Cleveland because of his "blue collar mentality" and that Rosen is "a millennial", who "wants to know why". Such comments are very rare from college coaches shortly before the draft. But it is indicative of Rosen's intelligence and sense of humor that his reaction was to tweet "Why?". To me he is by far the best prospect in the class. Furthermore, while I understand that he doesn't align with the current structure of an NFL team, it's the teams that need to change. The NFL's values do not really align with those of millennials and that is the greatest threat to the league's future. If it can't fit in Rosen despite his obvious and enormous talent, then that is not a good sign at all.
Most analysts rank the five prospects presented above as follows:
Analysts believe that the Browns will select Allen with their No.1 pick because of his higher upside compared to Darnold.
My ranking of the prospects is the following:
The tie between Mayfield, Darnold and Jackson is due to the fact that they each have one flaw which may turn out to be crippling in the pros; Emotion control (Mayfield), Ball Security (Darnold) and learning an offense (Jackson). If they overcome that, they each have the tools to be successful in the NFL and which one is better becomes an issue of scheme fit (Darnold for a traditional offense, Mayfield for West Coast, Jackson for a dynamic double threat offense with many running looks and playaction).
Allen, the presumptive No.1 overall pick is in my opinion by far the worst of the bunch, because while he looks the part, he has never been a consistently great quarterback at any level in his playing career. I could be wrong, some of the concerns about Allen are very similar to the concerns about Carson Wentz and he turned out fine. However Wentz grew up in North Dakota, so it's easier to explain why he was not more highly thought of at a younger age. I feel Allen is an extremely risky bet and if the Browns go ahead and draft him as expected, there's a real chance their QB decisions in the three years between 2016 and 2018 (trading out of the Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson picks and then drafting Allen) might be remembered as the worst sequence of blunders in the history of the NFL.