An Analysis of the Most Hyped QB Draft Class of the Decade

The offseason that followed the Eagles victory over New England in Super Bowl LII was one of the wildest in recent memory. Many teams underwent major remodeling projects, and despite a backup QB being the hero of the big game, every team had their eyes on obtaining a “franchise quarterback”. The 2018 NFL draft will forever be known as the second iteration of the “Year of the Quarterback”, with an endless bounty of riches at the position. From January to May, every day was dedicated to researching as much information as I could for this unprecedented draft, which promised to change the landscape of the NFL as we had known it.  

At this time last year, the Cleveland Browns held the number one overall pick in the draft. The consensus about the 2018 draft class was that there were the top 5 quarterbacks in the group (Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson) who were all “franchise quarterbacks”, and two others (Mason Rudolph and Kyle Lauletta) whose names were occasionally mentioned as potential first rounders as well. The pure hype surrounding this draft was unlike anything seen in the past decade. It seemed as if almost every team was in the market for one of these “franchise quarterbacks”, and the comparisons to the 1983 draft class (which included Hall of Famers John Elway, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly) were being thrown around casually.

For a long time it seemed as though the Browns were going to be selecting between rocket-armed Josh Allen, a player who looked like the ideal QB made in a lab, and Sam Darnold, a player whose toughness and talent drew comparisons to Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford, and Andrew Luck. However, on the day of the draft, a rumor began circulating that the team was considering selecting Heisman winner Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma with the top pick. Mayfield, standing at an even six feet tall, had been knocked by many analysts for being undersized and for playing in what was virtually an Air Raid offense under Lincoln Riley in Norman. Despite some analytical stats that placed him well above the rest of the passers in the class, experts were skeptical about Mayfield’s chances in the NFL, as he drew as many Johnny Manziel comparisons as he did Russell Wilson comparisons. Yet the Browns went on to take Mayfield, as his infectious attitude and tremendous collegiate career were enough to drown out the criticisms of him. This set off a wild chain reaction for the next three days of the draft, with teams scrambling to get their hands on one of these special prospects before it was too late.

The Giants may or may not regret their decision at number two overall, as they selected Saquon Barkley, a player who would go on to win the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Barkley was described as a “generational” talent and was in consideration for Cleveland at number one overall. However, despite Barkley’s success, many fans have grown frustrated that the team passed on taking a quarterback with such a high pick, in one of the most flush quarterback drafts of all time. It does not help the Giants’ cause that this year’s draft included several other really successful running backs, including Sony Michel, Kerryon Johnson, and Nick Chubb, the latter two being drafted after the Giants second selection of the night. So due to this choice, the debate becomes this. Who would you rather have? Barkley and offensive lineman Will Hernandez, or potentially Sam Darnold and either Chubb or Johnson? The opinion of this choice will really be decided depending on whether the Giants are able to select a quarterback of the future in the 2019 draft. Given Eli Manning’s putrid play these past few seasons, ignoring the quarterback position with such an opportunistic draft position could really come back to haunt the franchise for the next decade.

In the weeks prior to the draft, the Jets had made a trade with the Indianapolis Colts to move up from the sixth pick to the third pick. I believe that they were moving up thinking that they would get to choose between Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen, with Darnold sitting at number one on their board. Due to the bizarre, unexpected sequence that included the Browns taking Mayfield and the Giants passing on a QB, Darnold fell right into the team’s hands, and they had that selection card up to the stage within a couple minutes. My analysis of the situation was that the Jets either knew the Giants would not be taking a QB, or had three quarterbacks that they were considering, and would be comfortable taking any of the three. Regardless, it really seemed as though the team got the guy they really wanted, and the New York media rejoiced at the selection.

Fast forward to pick five, where Denver, a team that had been missing a QB since Peyton Manning, was expected to take either Josh Allen or Josh Rosen. Instead, general manager John Elway rather swiftly sent in a card with the name of the draft’s top pass rusher Bradley Chubb on it. At the time this selection came as a shock given the fact that the team was entrusting a very expensive band-aid named Case Keenum to be the signal caller for 2018. Perhaps, after blowing their 2016 first rounder on super bust Paxton Lynch, Elway decided to just take the best player available at pick five, and worry about drafting a QB in another year. With two teams that were expected to take one of the big five passing up on selecting a QB, many teams began making calls to move up for the remaining three “franchise passers”.

With the first trade of Draft Day, the eager Buffalo Bills, a playoff team that had just traded former pro bowl quarterback Tyrod Taylor, moved up from pick twelve (acquired in a separate trade with Cincinnati) to pick seven via a trade with Tampa Bay. With this pick, they selected mercurial prospect Josh Allen, who in the previous days had come under scrutiny after some questionable tweets from his adolescence had been unearthed (I have a theory that the Dolphins are responsible for that). Despite the controversy, Allen was still worthy of a top 10 pick to the Bills, and for the first time since Doug Flutie (sorry Tyrod, Fitzmagic, Drew Bledsoe, Trent Edwards, and J.P Losman, actually no not you Losman) in 1998, there was real hope surrounding the quarterback position in Buffalo.

With the dominoes beginning to fall into place, another aggressive GM decided to strike, as Arizona’s Steve Keim traded up to pick ten via a trade with Oakland. The Cardinals organization was in a state of flux, as coach Bruce Arians had retired as well as starting quarterback Carson Palmer. To rejuvenate the fanbase, Keim went and selected the best available signal caller, UCLA’s Josh Rosen. Rosen was once considered a clear cut future number one pick in the draft, as he had displayed a special skill set and a sharp football mind. The pro comparisons for Rosen were pretty complimentary, as they included Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Matt Ryan. The biggest concerns surrounding Rosen from an on-field basis were his lack of mobility and his injury history at UCLA. There also existed, these very strange concerns that scouts had about him, including his being raised in an upper-class Jewish family, his status as a millennial, and his Anti-Trump political opinions. None of these had anything to do with his ability to be a successful NFL quarterback and felt a lot like the league’s concerns about the now boycotted Colin Kaepernick. Despite his strange pre-draft evaluations by some scouts, others felt as though Rosen was the most pro ready of the bunch, and the Cardinals must have bought into the thinking of those scouts, as they valued him enough to draft him with the 10th pick.

With four of the five big names accounted for, the 2019 draft turned into “Lamar Jackson watch” as the remainder of the night was highlighted by images of Jackson waiting patiently to hear his name in the green room. Several teams had been linked to Jackson, as the former Heisman winner was being hyped up as the second coming of Michael Vick. Like Vick, Jackson was uncontainable as a runner while also possessing a great arm and leadership ability. For whatever reason, Jackson experienced the proverbial “fall” that we see at least one high profile player suffer in every draft. Several teams that were once linked to drafting a QB including the Dolphins, Bengals, Ravens, Patriots (twice!), Chargers, Jaguars, and Steelers passed up on Jackson as he waited for what seemed like an eternity. There was a point where it really seemed like we were going to see the Lamar Jackson pick when the New Orleans Saints traded up to pick 14, only to select UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport. Before announcing the pick, the analysts on ESPN were already talking about the potential of Jackson in the Saints offense and Drew Brees’ potential impact teaching him. In hindsight, how awesome would it have been to see Lamar Jackson doing all the Taysom Hill stuff we saw this year? Jackson’s wait finally came to an end when Baltimore traded up to Philadelphia’s pick to take him, and legend has it that if you were residing in the Mid-Atlantic region at that moment, you could hear the faint cry of a dejected Joe Flacco.

One of the biggest storylines from Day 2 of the draft was surrounding the top two remaining QBS, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta. Both players were longtime starters in college who had shined during the Senior Bowl, and both were rumored to be potentially selected as the heirs to Tom Brady and Drew Brees. With several QB needy teams still in the mix, many expected Rudolph and Lauletta to get selected rather quickly. In a less star-studded QB draft, both players might have been first round picks. Rudolph profiled as a typical pocket passer, as he had a strong enough arm and solid accuracy, and also had put up some dazzling numbers in college and displayed great leadership ability. Lauletta, while not having the strongest arm, had some tremendous accuracy and mobility, and his quick release (as well as his small school background) drew comparisons to Jimmy Garoppolo. Lauletta’s background as a former lacrosse player and son of a military family led many to believe he would be coveted by Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Instead, both players lasted well into the middle rounds of the draft, interestingly enough being selected by two of New England’s biggest rivals in the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers. While Eli Manning appeared unfazed with the team’s selection of Lauletta, Ben Roethlisberger gave some rather hostile quotes during minicamp regarding his thoughts about the Rudolph selection.

In the months that followed the 2018 NFL Draft, seven franchises were left gushing over their shiny new quarterbacks of the future. In Cleveland, Baker Mayfield was placed in a position battle against veterans Tyrod Taylor and Drew Stanton and would soon find himself stuck in the middle of a power struggle between head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Down in the Meadowlands of New Jersey, one New York club put their rookie in a constructive competition against veteran/glorified quarterback coach Josh McCown and former first-rounder Teddy Bridgewater, a hard-working player doing his absolute best to work back from a devastating injury. The other New York team essentially told their rookie that he was to back up Eli Manning and gave him a chance to compete for a roster spot against Davis Webb (a third-round pick the year prior) and veteran Alex Tanney. A few hundred miles north of Jersey, the Bills put their freak of nature rookie in a very winnable competition alongside former Bengal A.J McCarron and one of the all-time greatest quarterbacks in league history, Nathan Peterman. In Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the two rivals elected to have their respective rookies take a seat behind each franchise’s all-time best player at the position. Lastly, out in the desert, the Redbirds placed Josh Rosen in a competition with former number one overall pick Sam Bradford and one of the longest necks in the league, Mike Glennon. By the end of the season, five of the seven rookies would the starter for their respective team, some thriving more than others.

Baker Mayfield

Once Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were disposed of, Baker really thrived in Cleveland, thanks to his offensive coordinator (now head coach) Freddie Kitchens. Mayfield posted record-setting statistics, as he threw for 3,725 yards and 27 touchdowns while completing 64% of his passes. Down the stretch, Cleveland was playing as good as any team in the league, and very nearly knocked off the Ravens in Week 17 in what was a must-win game for Baltimore. With Baker leading the charge, the Browns went 7-8-1, a major improvement from their last two seasons, during which they had accumulated exactly one victory.

Essentially, Mayfield was exactly what he had shown himself to be in the pre-draft process. The arm strength, accuracy, and mobility which he had displayed during his college days at Oklahoma translated seamlessly to the professional game. The concerns about his ability to throw over taller defenders and sense pressure were mostly put to bed thanks to his quick release and excellent ability to read the defense. While he had his spats during the season, Mayfield proved himself to be a true leader on and off the field. He was a beacon of hope for a once miserable franchise in Cleveland, and the future of the Browns looks bright as ever thanks to him. It is fair to say that after one season at least, the Browns made the right choice in 2018. It really seemed like the team needed a player like Baker, who would not stand for losing, and possessed the charm and marketability as a star to really draw the fans to the team.

Sam Darnold

   “Broadway Sam” was a sensation in the New York media in the days following the team’s season-opening demolition of the Detroit Lions. Darnold had moments during his rookie season where he looked like a future star, especially during a game late in the season against the playoff-bound Houston Texans, where Darnold nearly engineered a comeback thanks to some incredibly placed throws. The trait that really shone the brightest for Darnold as a rookie was his ability to throw on the run. At times it seemed as if he was better throwing the ball while moving than standing in the pocket. His biggest pre-draft concern was his footwork, which occasionally would cause him to throw some bad interceptions this year, but with some tutoring from new head coach Adam Gase, Darnold can iron out those issues.

   While Darnold’s rookie season did not go as smoothly as Mayfield’s he still showed why the team selected him with the third overall pick, as he threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 17 touchdowns. His 57.7% completion percentage looks bad on paper, but given the injuries to almost all of the team’s skill players and to Darnold himself, he never got a fair shot at being efficient in 2018. There’s nothing that says Darnold couldn’t have put up similar numbers to Mayfield should he have been the number one pick instead of Baker. With the amount of cap space the team has this offseason, they must improve Darnold’s weapons and his protection. Making these improvements, in conjunction with some proper coaching for Darnold, could turn the Jets offense into one of the best in the league in no time.

Josh Allen

Oh, Josh Allen. To this day you remain a mystery. Depending on who you asked before the draft, they might have told you that Allen was the greatest quarterback prospect of all time or they might have told you he was the worst abomination of a prospect they had ever seen and that he had B-U-S-T written all over him. Both of those opinions carried a lot of weight before the draft, and that remains true even after his first season in the NFL. Allen was, as Stephen A. Smith would say, “more of a runner” during his rookie campaign. He broke a record for rushing yards in a three-game that was previously held by the NFL’s quintessential mobile quarterback Michael Vick. When he wasn’t throwing gorgeous deep throws 20 feet over Kelvin Benjamin’s head, Allen was rumbling down the field like a 6’5 Adrian Peterson. It seemed like Buffalo really wanted to redshirt Allen in 2018, unfortunately, they failed to acquire a competent bridge quarterback as McCarron got hurt and was subsequently traded, and Peterman was just an abomination. Thus, Allen was thrust into the starting role before the conclusion of the team’s opener against Baltimore, and as the starter he had his ups and downs, to say the least.

   The stats were not pretty for Allen in 2018, as he was already criticized during the pre-draft process for his terrible accuracy, and those very same issues followed him into the NFL. Completing just 52% of his passes with only 10 passing touchdowns, Allen was far from the best passer in the league as a rookie. Were it not for his running ability, Allen would’ve had one of the worst seasons for a rookie QB in recent memory. There’s still hope for Allen becoming a more accurate and effective passer, as the Bills should surround him with better receivers and a better line in the next couple of offseasons. The talent is there for him to be a really special player, and the leadership qualities you look for in a starting QB are just as present as his physical traits. A couple of significant victories for Buffalo this season came against Minnesota early in the season, and against Jacksonville later on. In both games, Allen did what he had to do to grind out victories, despite being surrounded by one of the worst offensive casts in the NFL. Another offseason of coaching and the addition of some pieces to the receiving core and offensive line could do wonders for Allen’s development and should be worth monitoring in 2019.

Josh Rosen

Rosen had a rough go of things in 2018, as the Cardinals fielded one of the league’s worst offensive lines, and were also one of the most poorly coordinated offenses. Steve Wilks appeared to be clueless as to how to run an NFL offense and the playcallers he employed (former Chargers coach Mike McCoy and his 1,000 play playbook, later former Jaguars draft bust Byron Leftwich) were out of touch with today’s game. It did not help that Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, two players with superstar upside, played as if they were wearing cement boots all season. You can chalk Rosen’s rookie year up to a combination of him not being as pro-ready as the scouts said, his coaching being extremely subpar, and his weapons/protection being below average.

Rosen completed just 55% of his passes as a rookie with just 11 touchdowns on the year. He did not have the gaudy rushing numbers of Josh Allen to boost his poor passing stats, and thus many looked upon him as a bust after just one year. With the addition of former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, Rosen has a good chance to put his doubters to shame, especially with future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald returning for another go around. He had a handful of moments as a rookie that gave us a glimpse of his potential, with a season sweep of division rival San Francisco and a victory over Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field. It would not be surprising to see Rosen to a Jared Goff-esque leap under Kingsbury in his second year, especially if the Cardinals spend money to improve the offense in free agency.

Lamar Jackson

Following an injury to longtime starter Joe Flacco, Jackson took over as the Ravens starting QB midseason, leading the team to a 6-1 record in his starts. Jackson was on the tightest leash of any rookie quarterback, as he was tasked with leading a team with playoff aspirations. The offense designed for Jackson was built so that he had to throw the ball as little as possible. This bizarre strategy resulted in Jackson running the ball enough in just seven starts, to break the NFL record for rushing attempts in a season. Fans, analysts, and even other coaches were baffled by Jackson usage, and even more, baffled by the success of the team running what was essentially a Wishbone offense.

   Jackson’s success was the toast of the league until an abominable performance in his first career playoff game against the Chargers. Jackson was historically bad, completing less than 50% of his passes and turning the ball over four times. Were it not for some garbage time stats, Jackson would have finished with even worse numbers. His performance was so bad that some fans called for Flacco to enter the game. Despite this shortcoming, Jackson had a pretty successful rookie year, and we can only hope the Ravens let him throw the ball more in his first full season as a starter in 2019. Jackson should stand to benefit from the suspected overhaul Baltimore is planning for its receiving core, as it intends to let veterans John Brown and Michael Crabtree go. The biggest benefit that Jackson had compared to the rest of the rookie QB clas  was his offensive line. I believe that if any of the other players in this article had the line that Jackson had, they would have fared much better this season.

Mason Rudolph

Rudolph competed with Josh Dobbs for the number two QB spot on Pittsburgh’s depth chart this season and ended up losing that position battle. For most of the games this season, Rudolph was listed as inactive, which gives us an almost nonexistent sample size to analyze. While it remains to be seen whether Rudolph is in fact, the heir apparent to Big Ben in the Steel City, there is still hope that he can be a future franchise QB. General Manager Kevin Colbert did tell the media after the draft that the team had Rudolph “up there” with the top five QB prospects. Whether or not Rudolph becomes something in this league really hinges on his development behind Roethlisberger and Dobbs. With the recent behavior of Big Ben, there is a chance that he will talk his way out of town, opening up an opportunity for Rudolph to start. Until that day, we will put Rudolph on the back burner, as the sixth wheel on a figurative pentacycle.

Kyle Lauletta

Lauletta had a similar rookie season to Rudolph except his was a bit more discouraging. Lauletta was inactive for most of the team’s games and was unable to beat out journeyman Alex Tanney for the number two spot on the depth chart. While it was understandable for Pittsburgh to stick with Roethlisberger this season (he led the league in passing yardage) the Giants stuck with Manning despite some downright awful numbers and multiple dud games. Whether this speaks more to the franchise’s commitment to Manning or its lack of trust in Lauletta is the big debate, and their belief in Lauletta will be revealed in the upcoming draft as the team has been linked heavily to Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins. If Lauletta really is the team’s quarterback of the future hinges directly upon what the team does with that sixth overall pick. Drafting a QB signals the end of the Kyle Lauletta era before it even started, but passing on one renews hope in the former Richmond QB.

   I am very interested to see what will happen with each of these seven players, as they will be forever linked by this special draft. There will always be those what-if questions. What if the Browns had chosen Allen? What if the Patriots really did move up to pick two and drafted Baker? What if Lamar Jackson went to New Orleans after all? These hypotheticals will be a topic of debate for NFL historians for the next fifty years, and the outcome of this draft will shape the future of the league unlike any class in the last thirty years.

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