The 2018 NFL Draft has plenty of quarterback intrigue. We’ve got the UCLA vs USC with two star quarterbacks, and we’ve got the dramatic contrast of an undersized, productive quarterback from the Big 12 against the guy with the size and arm strength scouts drool over, but without great college productivity. Here are our Top 10 quarterbacks in the draft:
1. Sam Darnold, USC. “Best” does not mean ready right now. Sam Darnold isn’t a finished product; no QB coming into the draft after starting for two seasons (27 starts) is. But when it comes to the QB with the highest ceiling, it’s certainly Darnold. His sturdy 6-foot-4, 220 pound frame will be under intense scrutiny, but he looks thicker, almost Andrew Luck-ish. If you hear people say, “But USC QBs …” ignore them. Darnold’s stats dipped this past season (26 TDs, 13 INTs) primarily because he lost his best tackle (Zach Banner) and best receiver (Juju Smith-Schuster) to the NFL Draft. Yes, that happened to Josh Allen (Wyoming) too, but Darnold still completed 63 percent of his passes for a whopping 8.6 yards per attempt. When injuries hit the offensive line, Darnold was seeing ghosts in the pocket – go watch the Ohio State tape. I’d be shocked if Darnold didn’t go 1st overall. Doesn’t turn 21 until the summer, so it’s feasible he sits for half a season before starting.
2. Josh Rosen, UCLA. There’s a case to be made that Josh Rosen (three seasons, 30 starts) is more ready to contribute as a rookie than Darnold. Rosen did out-play Darnold head-to-head this season. He comes with more “baggage” than Darnold – nothing dramatic, and not nearly what Baker Mayfield brings – but all-signs point to Rosen being a starter for a decade in the NFL. Barring something cataclysmic here in the next few months, it’ll be a stunner if he falls out of the Top 5.
3. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma. He’ll be the most talked-about QB for the next three months. I do believe he can be successful in the NFL, but I would not draft him in the Top 10. Drew Brees went in the 2nd round. Russell Wilson in the 3rd. Dak Prescott in the 4th. There was no pressure on them to deliver. If a bad team drafts an undersized QB out of the Big 12, it probably won’t end well. Mayfield turns 23 in April, and his career to this point is the stuff dreams are made of. If he went to the right team with the right culture, I can see a Russell Wilson-type career.
4. Lamar Jackson, Louisville. Yes, Jackson is a developmental QB who will need a couple of years of work, but I actually think he has a higher ceiling than the next guy on this list because of his speed and the proliferation of college offenses into the NFL. Yes, he’s flawed because he doesn’t go through his progressions as a QB, and is quick to tuck-and-run. But his productivity – 9,000 yards passing, 4,000 yards rushing and 119 combined TDs plus his size (6-foot-3) cannot be ignored. I’d grab Jackson in the 3rd or 4th round; it’s more likely he’ll be gone by the end of the 2nd round. Worst case is he makes no progress after two seasons, but shows out in the preseason and you’re able to flip him to a team desperate for a QB.
5. Josh Allen, Wyoming. My issues with him are many, and have been laid out here and here. Weird how nobody makes an issue about Allen starting fewer games than Darnold. I wouldn’t take Allen in the 1st round, but some NFL team will. Against Iowa, Oregon and Nebraska, Allen was 48-of-96 for 427 yards, one TD and eight interceptions.
6. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State: Has the size (6-foot-5) and the look and put up astronomic stats in three years playing for Mike Gundy. Started the season as a fringe Heisman contender and had the potential to be a 1st round draft pick. Struggled in three games this season: vs Texas (0 TD passes), vs TCU (2 TDs, 53 percent completions) and vs Oklahoma (2 INTs, 51 percent completions). Lit up everyone else. I feel he’s just another Big 12 QB, and none of them have fared well in the NFL over the last decade.
7. Riley Ferguson, Memphis. Two-year starter has a great backstory, as he was out of football in 2014. That year, he was detailing cars at a dealership and working at a fence company. Back in 2012, he committed to Tennessee and arrived on campus despite the coach who signed him (Derek Dooley) getting fired. You can see the growth in his game – from three interceptions vs Mississippi in 2016 to six touchdowns vs UCLA in 2017. Threw for 7955 yards and 70 TDs in two seasons. Just turned 23 this month. Feels like a 3rd/4th round pick.
8. Luke Falk, Washington State. A concussion, a benching and a wrist injury slowed what was supposed to be a memorable senior year, but it shouldn’t take away from the fact Falk had a terrific 3-year run. Had the 2nd biggest hand size at the Senior Bowl (9 3/8). Turned 23 in December. The early-round draft chatter for him during the season is gone; should be a mid-round draft pick.
9. Kurt Benkert, Virginia. Coming out party was against Miami in November, when the Cavaliers nearly shocked Miami and Benkert threw for 384 yards and four TDs. He’s 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, and the biggest thing anyone will talk about is his cannon arm. He broke some of Matt Schaub’s records. Turns 23 in July. From a stats standpoint, he’s on par with Josh Allen – low completion percentage, low yards-per attempt.
10. Mike White, Western Kentucky. Has good size (6-foot-4, 221 pounds). Started at South Florida but transferred to Western Kentucky, where he looked like a new player for two years: 27 starts, 66 percent completions, 8500 yards, 63 TDs. A highly-touted baseball prospect in high school, he got his first start at QB as a senior – and then led his team to a State title. Will participate in the Senior Bowl and at the NFL Combine. Projected as a 5th or 6th round pick.