Which California QB tops our rankings?
The 2018 NFL Draft is set for April 26-28, so you still have time to get ready with the Athlon Sports 2018 Draft Guide. With 526 players ranked and needs outlined for every NFL team, it has everything you need.
Here's a sneak peek at our top five quarterbacks in this year's NFL Draft:
1. Josh Rosen
CLASS: Jr. HEIGHT: 6’4” WEIGHT: 220
STRONG POINTS: Rosen (above, right) arrived at UCLA with a reputation as one of the most gifted pro-style quarterback recruits of the past decade, and his tape shows that the hype was ultimately warranted. The ball appears to explode out of his hand; he throws with a quick, simple motion and generates the velocity to consistently fit throws into tight windows. He’s willing to hang in the pocket, and he uses sound footwork to move within it. He consistently holds the ball high and in position to throw. He’s accurate at all levels and shows advanced ball placement, especially on back-shoulder throws, and he does a nice job manipulating safeties with his eyes, yet another one of his advanced quarterbacking traits. UCLA’s offense frequently required multi-progression, full-field reads; he put the team on his back multiple times despite an underwhelming supporting cast.
WEAK POINTS: Pressure can throw Rosen off his game; he doesn’t have the mobility to threaten as a runner, and his arm strength and accuracy suffer when he gets forced off his spot and has to throw on the move. He’s sometimes too confident in his arm, putting the ball in danger more often than he should. He is not a threat with his legs, in the read-option game or on scrambles. He’s outspoken and has a reputation as a beat-of-a-different-drum type of guy, which will be a turn-off to some old-school coaches.
SUMMARY: A prototype for any team running a traditional drop-back passing game, Rosen has a chance to be a Day 1 starter. If he lands in an environment that can handle his big personality, he has the potential to develop into a true franchise passer.
FINAL GRADE: 1st round
2. Sam Darnold
CLASS: R-So. HEIGHT: 6’4” WEIGHT: 225
STRONG POINTS: Darnold shows outstanding poise inside the pocket, feeling pressure and moving with nuance as he keeps his eyes upfield. He has the raw arm strength to deliver the ball with accuracy even from a muddy pocket. When he’s comfortable with what he’s seeing, his accuracy and ball placement are outstanding, especially on in-breaking routes. His greatest strength is his ability to extend the down, improvising and making plays outside the pocket. He’s a natural athlete, flexible and strong through his core. He excels when delivering the ball on the run, throwing with velocity and accuracy.
WEAK POINTS: A starter for only a little more than a season- and-a-half at USC, Darnold remained unpolished by the end of last season. He saw a lot of disguised coverages from Ohio State in the Trojans’ 24–7 Cotton Bowl loss, as he was consistently overwhelmed by the more sophisticated looks — the kind of defensive looks he’ll see regularly at the next level. Further complicating his ability to step in immediately is a need to improve his mechanics; Darnold has a long, loopy, baseball-like delivery and consistently holds the ball too low when in the pocket. Overall, he has a tendency to be careless with the ball, both as a passer and with securing it in the pocket.
SUMMARY: Bust potential exists for Darnold if he is rushed or falls into the wrong coaching hands. He would really benefit from a redshirt season, as a lot of his issues last year were a result of having never seen certain defensive looks, combined with the fact that opponents had a full offseason to prepare for him. (He had been promoted to starter four games into his redshirt freshman year and seemed to have caught some opponents by surprise.) If properly developed, he’s a potential franchise QB.
FINAL GRADE: 1st round
3. Josh Allen
CLASS: R-Jr. HEIGHT: 6’5” WEIGHT: 230
STRONG POINTS: If you were to build a quarterback in a lab for the modern game, the result would look similar to Allen. He has the size and a monster arm to match — he might have the best pure arm in the NFL the moment he’s drafted. He’s also remarkably limber and flexible for a big man, able to make power throws from awkward angles and on the run, to the left as well as to the right. The velocity on his downfield throws is rare, and his power does not suffer when the pocket gets muddy. He’s also mobile enough to be involved in designed run plays.
WEAK POINTS: Allen is exceedingly raw. Although some of his on-field struggles in 2017 surely had much to do his weak supporting cast at Wyoming (the Cowboys lost numerous starters at skill positions and weren’t in a position to reload), Allen is far too erratic as a thrower. He has issues with timing and ball placement, which leads to turnovers because of his willingness to try to fit in tight-window throws. He will also force downfield throws and had trouble reading the more advanced defensive looks he saw from Power 5 opponents. Because of his injury issues last year, teams might be hesitant to use him as a runner despite his big frame.
SUMMARY: He’s the draft’s biggest boom-or-bust prospect. A good QB coach might be able to slightly improve Allen’s accuracy, but he’s probably at least a year away from being ready to get under center in an NFL game. Still, for teams that want to establish the downfield passing game to complement a run-heavy, ball-control approach, the physical package doesn’t get any better than this.
FINAL GRADE: 1st round
4. Baker Mayfield
CLASS: R-Sr. HEIGHT: 6’0” WEIGHT: 220
STRONG POINTS: The Heisman winner showed complete mastery of Oklahoma’s offense, a spread attack that put more multi-progression reads on his plate than a typical college offense. He has a good feel for finding throwing lanes, along with a quick release and good zip and accuracy on shorter and intermediate routes. He has tremendous, natural feel as a playmaker when forced to extend plays, with enough athleticism to escape a heavy rush and the ability to burn defenses on improvisational plays. While his arm doesn’t match some of the other top prospects in this class, it’s certainly adequate. Although he received a brief benching last November for a lewd gesture during a game, he is not Johnny Manziel — Mayfield has high football character, will devour a playbook and is devoted to his craft.
WEAK POINTS: Drew Brees and Russell Wilson remain outliers as successful NFL quarterbacks who don’t surpass 6'0". Mayfield will need either a strong interior line to prevent pressure up the middle to create throwing lanes or a creative play-designer to get him into space (or, preferably, both). His arm is good, but he’s not a high-velocity thrower when the pocket gets muddy. He’s also often too quick to escape the pocket when he doesn’t have to. Teams will look closely at his off-field concerns, including a 2017 arrest for disorderly conduct.
SUMMARY: Mayfield brings a gunslinger mentality, athleticism and confidence bordering on cockiness. He will certainly be knocked down on a few boards due to character concerns. But in a system heavy on timing throws and an offense comfortable with his improvisation skills, he is a starter and possibly a star.
FINAL GRADE: 1st round
5. Lamar Jackson
CLASS: Jr. HEIGHT: 6’3” WEIGHT: 210
STRONG POINTS: Electrifying with the ball in his hands, Jackson is in the Michael Vick class as a runner with the straight-line speed to outrun angles as a home run hitter. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner also made significant progress as a passer over his three seasons under Louisville coach Bobby Petrino. He shows a willingness to hang in the pocket and work through his progressions. The ball explodes out of his hand, and he has great feel for gauging downfield throws. He’s also a high-velocity thrower who can power the ball downfield.
WEAK POINTS: Jackson needs to improve on sloppy footwork that often affects his accuracy on short and intermediate throws. He misses a lot of layups. There’s also the question of how involved a team will want its quarterback to be in the run game. Jackson has a slight frame, and durability has to be factored in.
SUMMARY: Not for everyone, but a team can build complexity into its run game with him. He’s not quite there as a passer, but he’s shown a willingness to learn and adjust. If a QB coach can keep him on pace, Jackson is potentially a special player.
FINAL GRADE: 1st/2nd round
Other QBs that could get drafted: Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State; Riley Ferguson, Memphis; Kurt Benkert, Virginia; Luke Falk, Washington State; Mke White, Western Kentucky; Tanner Lee, Nebraska; Kyle Lauletta, Richmond; Matt Linehan, Idaho; Jeremiah Briscoe, Sam Houston State; J.T. Barrett, Ohio State; Kyle Allen, Houston