See the rest of the Top 10 series here.
As with every year and every draft class, the level of scrutiny at the quarterback position is always intense, and it is no different this time around. There’s a lot of diverse talent and differing skill sets, and no one prospect is free of flaws. As a result, there’s wildly differing opinions from fans, media and pros alike. One thing is for sure, it’s going to be fun to see how it all plays out in April and in the seasons to come. Here’s just one more opinion on the group:
1. Josh Rosen, UCLA. Grade: 1st Round
6’4”, 226lbs. Junior. 2017: 62.6%, 3756 yards, 26 TDs, 10 INTs, 2 rush TDs.
Rosen is the ideal prototype of a pocket-passing quarterback, arguably the best prospect in that sense since Andrew Luck as a passer. A perceived issue however, that’s been widely discussed around the media and from draft fans, is character and motivation.
Some see a Cutler-type, however, from a personality perspective, there could be some similarities to Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has been known as difficult at times, but it doesn’t affect his ability to lead and succeed on the field. Several of Rosen’s teammates have also come out and vouched for Rosen as a person and teammate, and reports are that he has been impressive during interviews so far.
A lot of the supposedly controversial moments are overblown and a lot of his statements that have been discussed may be blunt but are not unreasonable opinions. I know that I don’t want to be looking back in five years at the most talented QB prospect in years if he has indeed been a hit in the NFL and regret my grading based on a few overblown moments in the media.
Where there might be more concern is in fact his durability, having struggled with injuries that have hampered him, including a lengthy recovery from a concussion to end his final collegiate season. Those questions are more pertinent than the character questions.
Rosen excels as a traditional pocket passer, and though not as big as Josh Allen’s, has a strong arm that can make all the required throws, doing so with easy, natural, ideal throwing mechanics and technique. He combines that with instinctive field vision, decision making and overall football IQ. He’s had to learn from three different offensive coordinators in three seasons with the Bruins.
While not the most mobile of quarterbacks, he runs play action and bootlegs/naked bootlegs efficiently. Rosen can take chances with some dangerous throws that risk being jumped and picked off, a prime example being a poor decision to throw back across the middle for an INT in the loss to Memphis this past season, one of ten in 2017.
Experienced under center and with some pro-style concepts, Rosen has smooth and efficient footwork from a clean pocket. With accurate ball placement to every level, he can hit the tightest of windows, anticipates well and throws his receivers open rather than having to see them open. The timing of his throws is as impressive as any part of his passing game and shows some outstanding touch on throws that just require floating in; he can vary the velocity with no less accuracy.
The ranking of the top quarterback prospects in this class is a hotly debated one, and there’s valid reasoning behind listing any of the top four at the head of the list. All come with positives and questions, but Rosen holds the position here.
2. Sam Darnold, Southern California. Grade: 1st Round
6’3”, 221lbs. Redshirt Sophomore. 2017: 63.1%, 4143 yards, 26 TDs, 13 INTs, 5 rush TDs.
Outstanding physical measurables with a big frame, strong arm, and dangerous on the move, Darnold has elite-level creativity when the play breaks down and can find a play from nowhere, keep the play alive, escape trouble, extend plays. Mentally strong, he’s a real winner, gamer, who bounces back after making mistakes.
There’s no doubt that he’s still developing his defensive reads, understanding and recognition of coverage, which results in some poor plays and a few too many interceptions (13 in 2017) and forces too many balls that just aren’t there. Still, reading the D and interceptions were two critiques of Deshaun Watson that saw him marked down by some, myself included, and similarly is another playmaker who may overcome that.
Additionally, there’s an element in his play and mistakes in 2017 of trying to do too much, feeling like he had to win it on his own, forcing things. Once he scales that back to some degree, take what’s there, he should thrive more. Driven, determined and with a winning mentality, Darnold regularly comes up clutch in situations where he needs to step up and make things happen.
His progression work needs to improve. He’s often shown a tendency to take off on the run if his first read isn’t there. Part of that may simply be that it worked at the college level; he’s good at it and utilized his athleticism successfully. He will need to transition more to working through his reads at the NFL level. He certainly has plenty of developing to do but has some rare traits and intangibles to encourage that he can progress with time and put in the work; he unquestionably has huge upside.
Darnold does have a slightly unusual and lengthy throwing motion which is commonly cited negatively. The quickness of his release is there however, and while not the most conventional, his mechanics work for him, generates plenty velocity, has good ball placement and can make throws to every level. The deep ball accuracy is inconsistent but is capable of some impressive completions down the field.
While his progression work is a bit of a question mark, he does keep his eyes downfield when scrambling. He steps into his throws well from the pocket with sound footwork. Darnold shows poise and strength in the pocket, able to shake off and duck out from arm tackles when the pass rush is closing in, tough to bring down. However, poor ball security when the pass rush closes has led to far too many lost fumbles. 2017 was far from perfect, but he remains a gifted prospect.
3. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma. Grade: 1st Round
6’1”, 215lbs. Redshirt Senior. 2017: 70.5%, 4627 yards, 43 TDs, 6 INTs, 5 rush TDs, 1 rec TD.
A prospect some will love, some will not, and has had his controversial moments, most notably a 2017 off-season incident involving alcohol and the police. He’s had some moments on the field too, particularly against Kansas, with the infamous crotch grab and swearing after the game. That was instigated by the Kansas team though for not shaking his hand before the game, then taking cheap shots at him and dirty plays.
Some might not like the fire and the reactions to provocation, but that’s who he is, part of what makes him a winner, and personally have no problem with it. He’s passionate, fiery, and his teammates will love him. He raises the play of those around him; others gravitate toward him as a leader.
Some have raised Johnny Manziel comparisons, citing size, creativity and perceived “character questions” with Mayfield, but don’t agree for the most part. Mayfield is a much harder worker, more driven to succeed, improve himself, put in the work, study opposition and film; it just does not feel like an appropriate comparison.
Mayfield wins with a good arm that has improved as a senior, his gamer mentality and creativity. The arm strength is good, plenty zip, has more than he’s often given credit for. There’s an exceptional ability to extend the play, escape pressure, to create from nothing when the play breaks down.
With good reason, he had some day two and mid-round grades entering the year, but has greatly improved his overall game as a senior, from his decision making and running of the offense, to his technical elements and arm traits. His accuracy and timing are superb; he can get into a zone where he seemingly can’t miss. Decisive, Mayfield doesn’t hesitate to let fly. He has a quick, compact and efficient throwing motion.
He may work in an offense that gets critiqued for preparing for the next level, but can see him working through his progressions very quickly within the system, and helped himself with his work during the Senior Bowl and Combine. Mayfield isn’t the prototype, but it would be dangerous to doubt him.
4. Josh Allen, Wyoming. Grade: 1st Round
6’5”, 237lbs. Redshirt Junior. 2017: 56.3%, 1812 yards, 16 TDs, 6 INTs, 5 rush TDs.
Hugely polarizing as a prospect, with much of the discussion centered around the combination of size, build, athleticism and that ridiculously good arm, versus the questionable numbers and the disappointing performances against top opposition faced (Nebraska, Iowa and Oregon). People who like him saw what they wanted at the Senior Bowl, yet so did his detractors.
Allen receives plenty comparisons to Carson Wentz; not perfect, but somewhat fair in the sense of the physical build and playing in the same offense with some translatable pro-style concepts. Blake Bortles and Cam Newton are also brought up that have certain points of relevance. Count this writer as one of those who has their doubts but respects the potential.
In terms of the numbers and the very poor completion percentage, just watching a few games of Wyoming in 2017 tells a key part of the story. That offensive line was a sieve, and the lack of receiving talent was a factor. He’s also not constantly throwing stat-inflating bubble screens. In some of his poorer performances Allen was left running for his life, then having to chuck it up regularly after the Cowboys fell behind early.
That said, there’s some concerning decision making, forcing the ball, inconsistencies and poor ball placement. He flashes between errors, tantalizes then frustrates. The arm never fails to impress though, and can pull some crazy plays out of nowhere, including down the field. For all the check-down artists prevalent today, Allen is going to take chances, stretch the field, play aggressive football. He’s a gamer, driven to win; he appears to have good intangibles.
Allen plays strong in the pocket and his frame makes him tough to take down. His footwork factors into his inconsistent accuracy and needs to work on his lower body mechanics, something he is reportedly focusing on since the season ended. Where his feet are a big plus is when pulling the ball down and taking off on the move, an area in which the comparisons to the QB’s listed above are very valid.
Even Allen’s most avid fans in the scouting world, both media and NFL staff, recognize that there is a lot of work and progress required. Equally, even Allen’s most vehement doubters must recognize the ceiling to his potential is as good as anyone. He’s risky, and as this placing among the QB class suggests I have my doubts too, but someone could take that risk in the first few picks.
5. Lamar Jackson, Louisville. Grade: 2nd Round
6’2”, 216lbs. Junior. 2017: 59.1%, 3660 yards, 27 TDs, 10 INTs. 1601 rush yards (6.90 YPR), 18 TDs.
There might not be a more polarizing prospect in this draft class, let alone simply among quarterbacks. It’s unlikely that anything written in these notes will change anyone’s minds, which are mostly locked in by this point. Still, we press on. Either way, when and where he is drafted will be a fascinating storyline, not just in a month’s time but over the years to come.
A breakout sophomore star and resulting youngest ever winner of the Heisman Trophy in 2016, his 2017 season was arguably better from a scouting perspective, with some definite improvements, if still very much a work-in-progress in many areas. He appeared to have added a little more bulk to a previously slight-looking frame, potentially with room to add more. Given some concerns on accumulating hits at the NFL level with a continuation of his dynamic play on the move, that’s encouraging.
It was slightly disappointing not to see a little more freedom in Jackson’s throws at the Combine, as on film, the ball is released downfield with the simplest, seemingly innocuous flick of the wrist that launches deep. The downfield accuracy is highly inconsistent to say the least, but there’s no doubt that there’s the ability to make pretty much any throw and to create a big play when it’s needed.
Consistency is a significant issue in his passing game in general. There’s inconsistent footwork and overall lower body mechanics that contribute to many of the off-target throws. In addition to being erratic down the field, he regularly makes his receivers work hard to bring in many straight-forward short to intermediate throws. As useful as his ability to run bootlegs or scramble is, he fails to execute more often than not throwing on the run. He could be a very frustrating player with plenty errors and turnovers interspersed between successes.
Jackson is undoubtedly a unique athlete with a rare burst of acceleration, lethal on the run and capable of exploiting holes and space in the open field like few others. The potential of continued improvement as a passer combined with the dynamic athleticism on the run could create nightmare scenarios for defensive coordinators and players alike. Conservative play and mistakes out of fear are possible factors on any snap. It’ll be interesting to see how and how soon DC’s will find adjustments and ways to counteract his game as he builds film to break down.
For someone with such hype and attention around him, there appears to be a level-headed personality. Others in his situation can and have let it affect them negatively in a variety of ways, but Jackson seems to have kept good perspective, and even now as others in this quarterback class are front and center in the media, Jackson has just been quietly working behind the scenes for the most part.
6. Mike White, Western Kentucky. Grade: 2nd Round
6’5”, 224lbs. Redshirt Senior. 2017: 65.7%, 4177 yards, 26 TDs, 8 INTs, 6 rush TDs.
A two-sport star in both baseball and football, it appeared for a while in high school that his future lied with the former, before excelling in his final year at that level on the gridiron. White endured a tough time after being thrown into the fire early with South Florida, but has since grown dramatically as a player and prospect over two years as the starter for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, and in this writers opinion, an under-rated member of this diverse 2018 QB class, despite his outstanding Senior Bowl performance.
White ticks off plenty boxes in terms of measurables, with a big frame and a strong arm, reflective of his days as a fastball pitcher. He has the velocity to make all the requisite throws, showing solid footwork in his drops and stepping into his throws. White has good mechanics with a compact motion and a tight spiral. His timing and anticipation are impressive, combined with overall accuracy to hit receivers in stride, including good deep ball accuracy to complement the big arm. He can adjust velocity without an impact on his ball placement.
There’s a comfort and control about his presence in the pocket. He sees the field well, is quick to make his reads and release the ball on time, reliable as a decision maker. White trusts his eyes and shows some subtle touches with the ability to use his eyes to manipulate the position of safeties. His two productive seasons came with two different head coaches and offensive coordinators, handling the changes well. His 2017 required him to do it all with a practically non-existent run game that had defenses keying almost exclusively on him, yet handled that well.
The former Hilltopper is far from the most mobile of quarterbacks, but can do enough in terms of buying some time and allowing plays to develop. Ultimately though, he is not a duel threat, even if after three seasons without a running touchdown, he contributed better as a senior with six in his final year. He takes too many sacks and has had some issues holding onto the football, resulting in fumbles. While very polished from a clean pocket, he has shown some issues handling pressure as the pocket closes around him.
7. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State. Grade: 4th Round
6’5”, 235lbs. Senior. 2017: 318/489, 65.0%, 4904 yards, 10.0 YPA, 37 TDs, 9 INTs, 10 rush TDs.
Rudolph has his draft fans and it’s entirely possible that a team likes him enough to take him in the first round. This grading clearly suggests strong feelings against such a move, and have held fast on a mid-round grade throughout the last two seasons on the Cowboys quarterback. To sum it up simply, I see him as a career backup at best, and therefore not warranting a day one or day two selection.
He has factors in his favor. Rudolph has experience on his side with three seasons as a starter, albeit with J.W. Walsh earning red zone responsibilities in 2015. He’s dealt well with at times having a lack of a running game and offensive line in the early parts of his career. From a size perspective, Rudolph looks the part with a tall and well-built frame.
The production numbers in the Oklahoma State explosive and statistic-friendly offense has been impressive that reads well. While the receivers in question are often running wide open, he's had good consistency in terms of completing the deep ball.
All that said, the lower body mechanics and footwork are a major concern and contribute to streaks of very poor ball placement, and regularly alternating between short-hopping balls well in front of receivers or sailing it well out of reach over their heads on overthrows. Rudolph may have a big frame, but he lacks the arm to match, with below average velocity overall. His praised deep balls are generally floated in and when they require driving, he’s consistently unable to do so.
While he doesn’t make too many critical errors and resulting turnovers, neither does Rudolph impress much with his anticipation and timing, and generally needs to see receivers already open rather than throwing them open. Progression work is minimal, either failing to move on from his first option, or doing so too late. Pocket presence and feel for pressure is a concern also, regularly failing to recognize when the pass rush is closing in.
8. Kyle Lauletta, Richmond. Grade: 4th Round
6’3”, 222lbs. Redshirt Senior. 2017: 64.9%, 3737 yards, 28 TDs, 12 INTs, 4 rush TDs.
There’s some apparent momentum and media hype around the small school quarterback following a nice showing in the Senior Bowl game, despite looking relatively mediocre through the week of practices themselves. His mostly positive pre-draft process continued by showing some good athletic traits to go with his solid build at the Combine, even if some of his limitations as a thrower followed in the positional workout.
Lauletta has started the majority of the last three seasons for the Spiders, though missing the 2016 FCS playoffs due to a torn ACL in the regular season finale. A two-year team captain, he is reportedly a well-respected teammate, and is considered to have many of the desired intangibles in terms of work ethic and leadership qualities that will endear himself to coaches, and could see him drafted a little earlier than perhaps his overall skill set might warrant.
He shows deliberate and repeatable footwork from the pocket and is solid in his drops, even though he played from the shotgun a lot for Richmond. He has experience under center as well though, and looked competent in that respect at both the Senior Bowl and Combine.
There is a lack of ideal arm strength which limits his upside and ability to make every throw, and may not fit every system at the next level. He really has to work his upper body to generate enough velocity, particularly when attempting shots deep, and overall has a long release.
The ball tends to come out of his hand in a clean, tight spiral. He shows good anticipation and timing on his throws, routinely hitting receivers in stride. There’s a lot to like in the overall accuracy and the intelligent ball placement that is regularly evident on film. Lauletta executes slant passes very well, hits receivers on the outside shoulder and the fade well, where only his receiver can have a shot at it on the sidelines.
His limitations are helped by his decent poise, control, and seeing the field fairly well. That said, he does have his moments of staring down defenders and making questionable decisions with the pocket closing around him. That's reflected to some degree in the number of picks he's thrown over the course of his college career, averaging close to one interception per game for his career.
He's an excellent athlete with ability on the move and has quickness in his good sized frame to escape the pocket. Runs tough, is not afraid to take a hit, and keeps good mechanics when throwing on the run. All that said, he is not the most composed in general when the play breaks down and forced to scramble, getting a little panicked.
9. Luke Falk, Washington State. Grade: 5th Round
6’4”, 215lbs. Redshirt Senior. 2017: 66.9%, 3593 yards, 30 TDs, 13 INTs.
After originally joining the Cougars as a walk on and taking a while to earn an opportunity late in his second season with the team, Falk has gone on to maximize his time working from Mike Leach’s air raid offense to become the Pac-12’s all-time leading passer and breaking multiple conference records.
While the offensive system comes under scrutiny in terms of next-level projection, the positives of sheer number of reps passing the ball is not to be knocked, and WSU have added more of a run game over the past couple seasons than they often have had in the past.
Falk has good height for the position, if a little slightly built for his frame. Given how many hits and sacks he took over his college career, that is a definite concern. While some of that is the focus of the pass rush, many are on Falk, who can hesitate and invite some of those hits. More worrying still, is evidence that hits start to get to him as the game progresses, letting it affect his game.
There’s plenty to like about his polished upper body mechanics, with a quick release and clean spiral. While the nature of the passing game he runs contributes to the completion rate, he’s generally reliable on short completions. Though light on his feet, his footwork and base are less consistent, and has his moments of not stepping into his throws and struggling for intermediate to deep ball placement.
Falk is often praised for his decision making, anticipation and timing. However, that was often not the case in 2017, with the regular season finale against rivals Washington a clear example, in which he threw three picks on bad decisions, throwing dangerously into triple coverage, throwing back across the middle of the field, and the third from failing to recognize a linebacker dropping into coverage.
A significant limitation for Falk at the next level, is one of the weaker arms among the draftable quarterbacks in this 2018 class. He regularly offers opportunities for defensive backs to jump routes on throws that lack the required velocity.
10. Chase Litton, Marshall. Grade: 6th-7th Round
6’5”, 230lbs. Junior. 2017: 60.0%, 3115 yards, 25 TDs, 14 INTs, 1 rush TD.
Despite being a three-year starter for the Thundering Herd, it was a little bit of a surprise to see Litton declare early for the draft, despite a fairly disappointing year that saw him throw a career-high 14 interceptions and whose game film suggests he may have benefited from another year in college purely from a football perspective.
He had some early success, winning nine of 11 starts in 2015. A concussion and shoulder injury cost him a couple games in 2016 before starting each contest in his final season as a junior. While the quality of his receivers and drops may factor in, he finishes his three seasons with a 60.7% completion rate.
The former 3-star recruit has the look of a pro quarterback with a big frame, good arm strength and enough tools all round to work with and potentially develop. There’s likely a wide deviation between his potential ceiling and potential floor. Primarily a pocket passer, Litton is not a mobile quarterback; limited when required to leave the pocket and a minimal threat on the run.
Litton trusts his arm and his ability to make most throws, perhaps a factor in the picks thrown. Willing to take shots down the field, he takes a lot of chances and makes too many questionable decisions. He has a bad habit of staring down receivers that good defensive backs take advantage of. While he may have plus physical traits, the mental side of his game does not match up currently. Litton looked the part in the favorable setting of the Combine where he could show off his physical traits without highlighting the issues in his reading of the game.
He regularly releases the ball into double and triple coverage, either not recognizing the coverage or simply failing to adjust or move on to his next target in the progression. Progression work overall appears to be limited, and his reading of the field and overall vision/football IQ is questionable at best.
He has the arm to fit the ball into some tight windows and to reach its target deeper down the field in stride. Capable of hitting receivers at any level or area of the field and when it goes right, can result in some impressive-looking completions, including to the sideline and deep. He completes short passes and quick outs well thanks to the velocity on his passes and sufficiently quick release.
Overall, the passing game in terms of accuracy and ball placement can be frustratingly inconsistent. He can deliver the ball too short or too high and make receivers work hard to bring in an off-target throw. Footwork and lower body mechanics are often the source of the letdown in accuracy, not fully stepping into his throws efficiently, regardless of whether under pressure or playing from a completely clean pocket. Given that he'll have to transition to more drops from center rather than shotgun, will add a level of challenge to improving the footwork overall.
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