First-round QBs face daunting proving ground ahead
Arlington, Texas — Now that the Great QB Grab of 2018 is over, what’s ahead for the five first-round quarterbacks selected might be more daunting than getting selected on opening night of the draft.
When NFL teams get desperate at the position, they tend to reach. Or mortgage portions of their future. Or sometimes simple blow it.
Of course, in many other instances, they nail it, from top overall selections Eli Manning, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck to wise lower picks on the first night such as Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and, yes, Aaron Rodgers.
It really is a crapshoot.
“Everybody’s draft board is set up differently, and when I recite to you all the best available player in this draft for the Cleveland Browns organization, this was the best available player,” general manager John Dorsey said of taking Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma to begin proceedings. “What he brings to this organization, I couldn’t be more excited to have him. Those other guys are really good quarterbacks, too, but I just felt that this was the best fit for this organization moving forward.”
As the New York Jets felt with Southern California’s Sam Darnold; the Buffalo Bills with Wyoming’s Josh Allen, for whom they traded up five spots with Tampa Bay to get; the Arizona Cardinals with Josh Rosen of UCLA, also by using a trade, with Oakland; and the Baltimore Ravens, who concluded Round 1 with — you guessed it — a deal with Philadelphia so they could grab 2016 Heisman recipient Lamar Jackson of Louisville.
Five QBs, the most since the 1999 draft and second to the epic 1983 first round that produced three Hall of Famer quarterbacks (John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino) of the six QBs selected.
On Thursday, as the five teams with new signal callers looked ahead, all they saw and spoke about was sunshine and success.
“We feel he has a very, very bright future,” Jets GM Mike Maccagnan said of Darnold, “and really when you put the whole thing together with quarterbacks, you analyze them from an ability standpoint, you analyze them from a character standpoint, and then you see what you think they can grow into, and we felt very good about Sam from that standpoint.”
So what are the challenges ahead for these five potential franchise quarterbacks?
History certainly plays a role here. Since re-entering the NFL in 1999, the Browns haven’t had anything more than stopgap QBs. That’s almost two decades of searching, with the last two seasons’ record of 1-31 as abysmal as it gets.
Enter Mayfield, who eventually should beat out newly acquired veteran Tyrod Taylor, if not immediately.
Dorsey adeptly evaluated the pros about Mayfield:
“It is a combination of things. I talk about hand size; he has 9 6-8th (inch) hands. … That is good for the elements in November and December. He has feet to extend the play. He has really good accuracy. He has a quick release. He has a strong arm. His efficiency in the red zone offense is uncanny.
“You know what else separates him? He is hungry. He wants to be a really good football player, and he is going to be a really good football player.”
Mayfield also is short for the position at just over 6-foot. He has to adjust to the pro-style offense of coach Hue Jackson. He must show he can take the kind of hits college players couldn’t deliver but the pros do regularly.
And while teammates adore him for his leadership skills, there’s also a cockiness and borderline rebelliousness that can take a player (and team) in several directions, not all of them positive.
Size is no issue with Darnold. Nor are arm strength or competitiveness.
Like Mayfield, he can sit behind a veteran, Josh McCown, who is a good teacher, though that won’t be for too long, either.
What must be cured is Darnold’s penchant for turnovers and sloppy plays.
“Obviously, we don’t want turnovers on any level,” coach Todd Bowles said, “but we think his upside and his ability far outweighs the turnovers. And sometimes just trying to do too much, sometimes trying to make the wrong reads and things he can learn from. Getting to know him, we think those things can be corrected, and I know just talking with him personally those things can be corrected.”
Allen might have a higher ceiling than any of the QBs taken Thursday. He’s tall and solid and won’t be bothered by fall and winter weather in Western New York. He’s smart, had a sensational offseason to boost his draft stock, and throws a terrific deep ball among the many spirals he unleashes.
Allen also comes from the Mountain West, not the highest level of college conferences, and his career completion percentage is a mere 56.2.
“We just think his makeup is going to help him work on his flaws,” GM Brandon Beane says. “We like a lot of his strengths. And that’ll be part of our job here is to accentuate his strengths and work on his fundamentals and the things that his so-called weaknesses are.”
Buffalo has veteran AJ McCarron, an infrequent starter with Cincinnati before the Bills brought him aboard this year.
All three of Arizona’s 2017 quarterbacks were gone, most notably the retired Carson Palmer. Although the Cardinals signed Sam Bradford in free agency, it’s conceivable Rosen will win the starting job. Indeed, many NFL personnel people rated him the most ready QB for the pros.
Rosen certainly has an edge, which cuts two ways. His competitiveness and desire to outdo anyone and everyone can be a major plus. It also can backfire and lead to impatience and bad decisions.
He’s also had some injury issues, including a concussion.
“To make a difference, you’ve got to be different,” new coach Steve Wilks said. “I love his personality. He’s wired the right way.”
In some ways, this is as intriguing as any first-round selection.
Baltimore’s starter, Joe Flacco, is diametrically opposite in style to Jackson. Where Flacco is anchored to the pocket, Jackson is a dynamo outside of it. Where Flacco is lead-footed, Jackson is a flash. Jackson’s creativity with the ball works best in a different type offense than Flacco’s strong-armed, tradition manner.
Like Mayfield, Darnold and possibly Allen, Jackson has the luxury of sitting behind a solid vet — and a Super Bowl winner, don’t forget — and learning the NFL game. His biggest challenge, a huge one, is adapting to a totally different scheme from the one he ran in college.
“Joe Flacco is our quarterback. That’s the thing that you got to remember,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Lamar is going to have a chance to develop.”