Baker Mayfield tops list of most pro-ready quarterback prospects
Quarterbacks are all the rage heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, with a number of teams in dire need of a franchise player at the position. The clock is running out for teams to decide who to take off the board, so I’m examining which quarterback prospects could be Day 1 starters.
Having gone through the process myself in 2002 — as the eventual No. 1 overall pick for the then-expansion Houston Texans — I know how much goes into being “pro ready” by August. These prospects will hit OTAs and minicamp in just over a month, and they must be prepared to lead and show teammates that they are 100 percent ready to play, understand the position and win.
Here’s how I see some of the quarterback prospects stacking up heading into the 2018 NFL Draft:
DAY 1 STARTER
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
A lot of people aren’t crazy about Mayfield’s somewhat cocky confidence, but I have to disagree. I like to see this type of attitude from a quarterback, and I loved his comment at the combine about being the one to right the Browns‘ ship. The main thing to look at with polarizing players is their relationship with teammates. Take Jay Cutler, for example. He’s a polarizing quarterback, and there are mixed feelingsfrom his teammates about how he carries himself. The difference for Mayfield, though, is his teammates love him. I’ve never heard anything bad from his locker rooms, and he elevates the level of play when he’s on the field. The Heisman Trophy winner certainly did some questionable things at Oklahoma that I’m sure he’d want to take back, but my concerns about his off-the-field antics aren’t big enough to where I wouldn’t draft the kid.
I think Mayfield will do everything he can to learn the playbook, lead a diverse locker room and win in the NFL. Of the top quarterbacks in this draft class, Mayfield’s experience and production at Oklahoma set him apart. You can see he truly loves the game by the passion he brings. That’s something I look for, because I know the sacrifice and dedication it takes to have a career in the league.
Josh Allen, Wyoming
The Wyoming product has more arm talent than anyone in this class, displayed by the enormous heaves he made during his pro day. He’s a natural thrower and can do anything he’s asked to do from a physical standpoint. I’ve seen him make insane throws in college, and I remember one specifically. With a defender at his feet, Allen stepped up in the pocket, slid back out to the right and effortlessly whipped the ball 35 yards down the middle of the field, splitting the two safeties. His feet weren’t set, and his throw was right on the money. No other quarterback in this class makes throws like this, and Allen does it often. If he’s in the right system, he can be plugged in come Week 1.
Allen’s leadership skills are off the charts. At the combine, I noticed Allen was the leader of the quarterback pack. His personable manner was easy to see as others rallied around him. He reminded me of Jameis Winston, commanding attention with his persona and getting the rest of the QBs and receivers going.
HIT OR MISS
Josh Rosen, UCLA
From a skills standpoint, Rosen could start Day 1, but I have him in this category because I honestly don’t know if he’s interested in football. It’s that simple. Despite all the reportsand debate about this, I still think if he’s drafted to a place where he feels smarter than the offensive coordinator or doesn’t feel challenged, I’m not sure what you’re going to get.
I’ve been in the film room separately with both Rosen and Eli Manning, the smartest football player I’ve been around. They have very similar mental abilities, and Rosen is already at the level Eli was halfway through his career. When you get to the NFL level, players have to spend a ton of time on the sport, and you have to really love it, because it demands a lot. I know Manning loves the game and genuinely enjoys figuring out what defenses are going to do on second-and-10 and other situations. If Rosen is willing to do that, then he could be great. If he’s not, by default, he’ll be just another guy.
Sam Darnold, USC
I’ve said this time and time again. I love Darnold and think he could be the best quarterback to come out of USC. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s only 20 years old and needs to learn behind a veteran. He’s started 24 games in two seasons at USC, and I’ve seen him be reckless with the football, something that can be corrected in time. Darnold has all the upside of any first-round quarterback, but it’ll be essential for him to learn study habits, leadership qualities, how to take care of the football and how to be a professional before he steps out for a regular-season snap.
Lamar Jackson, Louisville
I thought Houston coach Bill O’Brien was wise to cater his offense to Deshaun Watson‘s abilities last year. The Texans immediately became one of the best in the league with Watson at the helm. If the team that drafts Jackson does the same, it will have a lot of success, because he’s even more dynamic than Watson, believe it or not. The only thing I get concerned about: At the combine this year, Jackson struggled to really feel comfortable, while Watson last year made the entire QB workout look easy. Jackson wasn’t comfortable with drops, and his inconsistent footwork doesn’t always put him in the proper position to make a throw — and he missed some throws on the outside, which will be a pick every time in the NFL.
With RPOs increasing on the NFL scene (SEE: Nick Foles in the Eagles‘ postseason run), Jackson could excel tremendously. But if he’s not in the right system or with the right coach, we might never hear about him. And if a team moves him to wide receiver, it’s a definite waste of his talent. Stick to Jackson’s strengths, and he can knock it out of the park.
Tanner Lee, Nebraska
Lee reminds me of Michigan quarterback Tom Brady. Before you have a coronary, just hear me out. Not the G.O.A.T. Tom Brady that we now know, but the young guy who I remember watching in the Orange Bowl from my grandfather’s living room. Lee has that same confidence, good footwork and accuracy. Yet, there’s a reason Brady was selected in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft. He didn’t do anything from a physical standpoint that made you say, “Oh, he’s going to break the defense down or put a lot of pressure on these guys or throw it 85 yards.” He didn’t do anything really well, and Lee is the same way. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by Lee at the combine, as he was able to put different trajectories on the ball and throw with good velocity.
Since the combine, I’ve talked to a handful of offensive coordinators and QB coaches, and they’ve all pegged him as one of the top three quarterbacks in this class. My guess is, he’s flying under the radar because he had average numbers in two years at Tulane and another at Nebraska. I could see Lee in a Jimmy Garoppolo situation in two or three years if he’s developed properly. If he gets a chance to showcase his ability and takes advantage of the opportunity, he’ll be snatched up and made somebody’s franchise QB.
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
The Oklahoma State product reminds me of Ben Roethlisberger, but without the sneaky athleticism. Rudolph is a big, physical guy (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) who throws a consistent ball. That said, he needs a clean pocket to execute. If he’s moving around too much, his accuracy diminishes. A quarterback must be able to make something out of nothing and go above and beyond the Xs and Os to start in this league. If Rudolph can mature and get reps, he could blossom into a starter.
Follow David Carr on Twitter @DCarr8.