The Reference Guide: 2018 NFL Draft Quarterback Prospects

As we enter Week 3 of the 2017 college football season, the draft-eligible quarterbacks continue to garner the nation’s focus and attention. From polarizing play to dazzling performances, the most recognizable position in sports has produced spirited debates for those manning such post at the collegiate level. With that being said, let’s take a deeper look at some of these players we should expect to see on Sundays.

Lamar Jackson (Louisville)

After winning the Heisman Trophy at just 19 years old last season, Jackson was unceremoniously left off both the first and second preseason All-American teams as voted on by the Associated Press. Nevertheless, the junior has already surpassed 1,000 total yards and amassed eight touchdowns in just two games in a start to the season very similar to 2016’s early tear through competition.

Jackson has squarely put himself atop the Heisman rankings yet again, and with a win over Clemson tomorrow, Louisville should find themselves within the top 10 of the AP Poll. Many in the Twitter-sphere and world of anonymous NFL scouts have suggested that Jackson’s talents and athleticism are greater than his skills as a passer, ultimately suggesting he should move to wide receiver. Those individuals are flat out wrong. Contrary to what these experts utter, head coach Bobby Petrino’s offense is structured around multiple three-man reads and full-field progressions that highlight Jackson’s cerebral approach to the game and his ability to decisively process what he’s seeing.

There’s simply no way to dispute Jackson’s brilliance, and although there is room for refinement in a few minor areas of his games, his growth as  a player between his freshman and junior campaign has been remarkable. Jackson is the king of the hill right now and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to suggest he can’t become the class’ top prospect at the position.

Josh Rosen (UCLA)

The enigmatic Bruin has ignited the ire of fans and NFL executives alike for his stances on school and perceived arrogance; the most amusing aspect of his off-the-field “antics” are the comparisons to Johnny Manziel. Because one can accurately draw parallels between a known drug abuser who unquestionably enjoyed his time off the field more than he did on it and an incredibly intelligent individual who hails from an equal background and enjoys playing his sport more than he does going to class.

Rosen and the Bruins’ start to the 2017 was an inauspicious one at best, finding themselves down 44-10 during the third quarter. The deficit was no match for the star junior quarterback who missed all but four games of the 2016 season after requiring surgery on his throwing shoulder as Rosen threw four fourth-quarter touchdowns to spark a major comeback. The following week, UCLA walked all over Hawai’i as Rosen was incredibly efficient.

UCLA’s continued success will play well into Rosen’s desire to declare for the NFL early and challenge to be the first quarterback selected. The well-built, intelligent quarterback throws the ball as smoothly and efficiently as any in the country, and possesses the blend of power and touch to place the ball wherever his fleet feet dictate. Expect Rosen’s progression to follow an upward path and further the debate between he and Jackson as the draft’s top quarterback prospect.

Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)

The college football world was shocked by the summer retirement of Sooners head coach Bob Stoops. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley was then promoted, and Oklahoma hasn’t looked back since, lead by the spark that is Mayfield. His energetic on-field performance has been the driving force behind Oklahoma’s 2-0 start that was recently capped by a dominant performance over the then-number two Ohio State Buckeyes.

Many are going to look at Mayfield through the Johnny Manziel lens, and it’s easy to understand why. Despite his size-or lack thereof-Mayfield is an elite escape artist who can extend plays and improvise when things hit the fan, no sign of trouble too big for his level of play-making. He can generate spikes in velocity when he needs to drive the ball to the deeper portions of the field and his ability to remain on-schedule with timing concepts keeps the offense in rhythm. Conversely, there is room for Mayfield to further refine his game from a footwork and processing standpoint. Should Oklahoma run the table, don’t be surprised to see Mayfield holding the Heisman Trophy in December.

There is certainly more Mayfield tape to be seen, but he’s rich in talent in the necessary areas of the position to suggest he could be a top-50 pick.

Sam Darnold (USC)

Just a redshirt sophomore, Darnold took the entire sports world by storm last season when he was handed the reigns to USC’s offense. Following a close road on the road against a top-25 Utah team, the Trojans reeled off nine straight victories that was capped by an electric defeat of Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Darnold was thrust into the national NFL spotlight and widely regarded as 2018’s top quarterback prospect.

The presumed number one overall pick has been noticeably underwhelming in his early 2017 action. Many of his issues from the previous season still persist as he has yet to play like a true top pick.  Darnold’s unconventional, loopy windup is the focus of his play and some are quick to support the notion that it isn’t an issue in the same manner that it was for the likes of Kevin Hogan and Blake Bortles, but such a windup naturally manufactures a downward trajectory that will put some throws in the dirt. Most notable is Darnold’s sloppy and unrefined footwork that makes his ability to throw from sound platforms and maintain throw-readiness increasingly difficult.

For all the negatives surrounding Darnold, it’s easy to juxtapose a slew of positives. He has NFL size and plus athleticism to extend plays, pick up first downs with his legs and make the requisite throws on the move. There is NFL power and strength in his arm to uncork vertical shots and drive the ball to the deep areas of the field, all while maintaining the proper timing and rhythm. Darnold would grade somewhere in the late-first/early-second round range for me at the moment, but it’s reasonable to suggest he will hear his name called in the first come April.

Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State)

Now in his third season as the starting quarterback, Rudolph supplanted former Cowboy passer and first round pick Brandon Weeden as the program’s all-time leader in passing yards a week ago. He is also just nine attempts away from surpassing Weeden’s 195 consecutive passes without an interception. The Cowboys are 2-0, widely considered the nation’s most explosive offenses and a legitimate pick for the College Football Playoff with Rudolph at the helm.

Standing 6’4,” 230 pounds, Rudolph is built for the NFL strains. While he doesn’t have an upper-echelon arm, Rudolph shows enough power to attack across the field and the right blend of zip and anticipation to attack underneath windows. That, in addition to his understanding of how where the throwing lanes will be based on leverage, allows his weapons to generate yards after the catch. He travels the pocket with active feet that keep him throw-ready and he’s noticeably nuanced in his ability to connect his eyes and feet.

Rudolph’s NFL potential is a mixed bag of opinions primarily because of how clearly his accuracy deteriorates on throws down the field, relying on stud receiver James Washington to bail him out on a number of throws. There have also been a number of mechanical deficiencies in Rudolph’s game that hinder his ability operate at the optimal level of effectiveness. His draft stock will likely adjust multiple times throughout the season.

Josh Allen (Wyoming)

Another pre-2018 Draft darling, Allen has garnered loads NFL attention after his play last season and even drew a comparison to Cam Newton. The athletic passer stands 6’4,” 233 pounds with an NFL-level arm and the unique ability to make plays beyond what such size would suggest, but like Darnold, Allen has yet to play like the first overall pick that he was unfairly labeled.

Wyoming’s first game of the 2017 campaign came on the road against a tough Iowa team that held Allen in check and exposed some of his continued weaknesses. His propensity to swing his lead leg open beyond the desired placement creates sporadic release points and was the catalyst for a number interceptions and throws that should have been intercepted. It’s not uncommon for Allen to throw before his feet are properly set and balanced, leading to errant throws, and his decision-making as a whole is both underwhelming and not at the expected level of a top-rated prospect.

Allen will continue to draw buzz for his incredible arm talent and ability to make plays, two factors that help ease the transition to the NFL level. His strengths as a whole tend to translate well, but it’s unwise to suggest Allen would and should be the top pick in the 2018 draft.

Others to Watch

Austin Allen (Arkansas)

A talented, but relatively unknown quarterback, Allen is a very intriguing option to could sneak into the end of Day 2. He impressed in 2016 and there’s reason to believe that his 2017 season will see his progression take his game to another level.

Will Grier (West Virginia)

The Florida transfer was handed the reigns to the Mountaineers offense and he looks to take them to the next level. Grier is a talented athlete who can slide and adjust in the pocket and extend plays with his feet. There is room for growth and improvement before a definite stance on his NFL future can be made, but the tools are at his disposal.

Trace McSorley (Penn State)

Darnold’s Rose Bowl counterpart was also terrific in said game as he capped a breakout season, forming a lethal backfield duo with all-world running back Saquon Barkley. McSorely is another electric passer who can threaten defenses with his legs and hit them with big shots down the field. Much like Grier, his NFL future will require a deeper look as the season progresses.

Jarrett Stidham (Auburn)

After transferring from Baylor, the athletic, live-armed quarterback quickly his presence felt around the Auburn program. He was a flash in the pan with the Bears and it came as no surprise that many in #DraftTwitter were serious fans of his game. Stidham needs to work through some mechanical flaws, but the untapped potential is rising to the surface.

Chase Litton (Marshall)

We finish with the most unheralded quarterback mentioned, but it shouldn’t take long before draft fans are enamored with Litton’s skill set. He enters his third season as the starting quarterback for the Herd and has displayed both the mental and physical aspects necessary from an NFL passer. Expect Litton to be a fast riser.

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