2018 NFL Draft: Best Fits for Top QBs After Early Free-Agency Action
There are two kinds of teams in today's NFL. There are those that have stability at the quarterback position, and there are those that don't. The haves spend their offseasons trying to surround their signal-callers with talent. The have-nots spend theirs searching for answers under center.
Things are no different this offseason, and we've already seen a number of teams taking quarterbacks. The Minnesota Vikings landed Kirk Cousins. The Cleveland Browns traded for Tyrod Taylor. The Denver Broncos inked Case Keenum. And the New York Jets took a flier on Teddy Bridgewater. The Buffalo Bills, who traded Taylor for a 2018 third-round draft pick, signed AJ McCarron. And the Arizona Cardinals added Sam Bradford.
Did every team find its answer? Certainly not. One or two of these moves may work out in the long term. But some are bound to flop, while others are only intended as patchwork solutions.
We're going to see many of these teams taking chances on quarterbacks in next month's draft. We may also see some drafting succession plans.
While there is no slam-dunk, blue-chip quarterback prospect in the 2018 class, there are a number of intriguing prospects who appear to have the tools to be future NFL starters. We're going to examine the best of the bunch here and pair them with ideal landing spots.
To be clear, this isn't a prediction of where players will land but a look at the best fit for each one.
Josh Rosen, UCLA
New York Giants
As the most polished passer in this year's draft class, UCLA's Josh Rosen may be an ideal candidate for the Jets, who will be in need of a long-term starter if Teddy Bridgewater doesn't pan out. For Rosen himself, though, the Giants are a better fit.
The 21-year-old is ready to start right away, but he does carry flaws. He isn't the best downfield thrower, and there are questions about his attitude. Former scout and current NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks recently explained:
"Rosen's deep-ball issues aren't a huge problem, but they show up enough to make scouts question his ability to thrive in a vertical passing game. I can't complete a report on Rosen without mentioning the concerns some evaluators have about his football character and love of the game based on his outspoken nature and affluent background."
Even though Rosen isn't fiery, that doesn't indicate his level of love for the game. Just take a look at Giants quarterback Eli Manning for proof. We see him more frequently calm and steady than angry or excited.
Landing with the Giants would provide Rosen with time to work on his deep-ball accuracy. Once on the field, he'd have the advantage of the large catch radius of Odell Beckham Jr. and Evan Engram.
The other benefit is the stability of the organization. This isn't a franchise that traditionally makes rash front-office changes. Some believe Rosen is tough to coach. There can be no guarantee, of course, but the Giants should give offensive-minded head coach Pat Shurmur the time to develop a strong working relationship with Rosen.
Josh Allen, Wyoming
When you think of what it might be like to play football for the Broncos, you probably imagine the thin mountain air. Not every quarterback can thrive in such conditions, but Wyoming's Josh Allen seems custom-made for that.
At 6'5", 233 pounds, Allen is a big, strong quarterback who can sling the ball like a major league pitcher. Accuracy is a knock on him—he never completed more than 56.3 percent of his passes as a starter—but plenty place blame on his supporting cast.
"I think he and Rosen have the best pure arms in this class," ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. explained. "What he doesn't have is much talent around him. The Wyoming offense lost 47 touchdowns from last season's team, along with its center. That’s tough to overcome."
With pass-catchers like Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas on the roster, Allen would have a much better supporting cast around him.
He would also benefit from sitting behind Keenum, who proved in 2017 that he can be at least a short-term answer. Allen is more unpolished than Rosen. Extra time to learn from an experienced offensive mind like offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's—not to mention general manager John Elway's—would be good for him.
"They've got a great coaching staff, and I say that with true words," Allen said earlier this month, per Nick Kosmider of the Denver Post.
Denver shouldn't ask Allen to start right away, and he'd have people around him who could show him how to win in the NFL.
Sam Darnold, USC
USC's Sam Darnold has the combination of size (6'3", 220 lbs), arm strength and athleticism that NFL teams look for. He's a prototypical prospect.
"Going with Sam Darnold not only makes sense, but it's also what I'm hearing the team is leaning toward," Bleacher Report's Matt Miller wrote last month. "The USC junior doesn't have Josh Allen's arm strength, Baker Mayfield's playmaking or Josh Rosen's smooth stroke, but he is the best of all the traits put together."
Is Darnold ready to go right away? Probably not. He needs to learn to be more patient in the pocket and to cut down on his turnovers. The latter issue is one Browns fans became familiar with during DeShone Kizer's rookie season in 2017. Fortunately, Cleveland won't have to rush Darnold onto the field because of Taylor's presence.
Darnold has the tools to develop into one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. NFL Media's Lance Zierlein compared him to Andrew Luck.
"Darnold has the tools to thrive in any system and doesn't have to have perfect protection to succeed," Zierlein wrote. "His floor is solid starter, but he has the ceiling to be one of the top-tier quarterbacks in the game as he gains more experience."
While the Browns are far from a stable franchise, Darnold is the kind of competitor who won't be afraid to take on the challenge. He has the mental and physical toughness needed to succeed in Cleveland.
The team, in return, can offer Darnold the pieces he needs to succeed (yes, really). Even without left tackle Joe Thomas, the Browns have the foundation for a strong offensive line. They also have enticing pass-catching options such as wide receivers Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry, running back Duke Johnson and tight end David Njoku.
Lamar Jackson, Louisville
The addition of AJ McCarron means the Bills won't have to start a rookie quarterback right away. While McCarron has shown he can win at least a few games in the NFL, he isn't a proven long-term starter. This may be why he was one of the last quarterback dominoes to fall this offseason.
While Louisville product Lamar Jackson has yet to reach his potential as a passer, he does have skills that could allow him to take over for McCarron sooner rather than later. He possesses the same combination of passing and rushing ability that allowed Robert Griffin III to lead the Washington Redskins to the playoffs as a rookie in 2012.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott has spent much of his career around dual-threat quarterbacks, and he knows what they're capable of.
"I've been around kind of those style of quarterbacks. Donovan McNabb, Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor," McDermott said, per Matthew Fairburn of NewYorkUpstate.com. "I'm familiar with what comes with those style of quarterback, both the positives and some of the drawbacks of that style probably more than most coaches in this case."
The Bills should be familiar with the kind of player Jackson can become. Jackson, in turn, is familiar with the Buffalo offense.
"Jackson ran the Erhardt-Perkins offense at Louisville," Fairburn explains. "That happens to be the same offense Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is schooled in."
Jackson should have little trouble running Daboll's offense, and he should be able to become a star in it.
On a recent episode of The Simms & Lefkoe Podcast (warning: link contains NSFW language), Bleacher Report's Chris Simms touted Jackson as the draft's best quarterback prospect.
"You get to see everything," he said. "... Played against big-time talent. Seen him step on the pedal and throw the 100 mph fastball. [I've] seen him throw the touch. Seen him be durable. ... There's no questions about Lamar."
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
New Orleans Saints
If you like confidence and statistical production, then Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield is your quarterback in this year's class. The 2017 Heisman Trophy winner racked up some gaudy numbers in the Sooners' wide-open offense, and he wasn't shy about hiding his passion.
Sometimes Mayfield went over the line, and he's had to address off-field concerns.
He also lacks ideal NFL size (6'1", 215 lbs, with 9 ¼" hands) and comes from a spread offense.
"Spread quarterbacks have had limited success as have small quarterbacks," Zierlein wrote. "Mayfield falls into both categories and has to prove he can transcend those perceived deficiencies on the next level."
Drew Brees also had to adapt his playing style in order to succeed at the NFL level. He has figured out how to create the passing lanes to make up for his lack of ideal height (6'0"), and head coach Sean Payton knows how to put him in position to do so.
In New Orleans, Mayfield would get the chance to learn under Brees.
"I would love that," Mayfield said, per Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com. "To be able to learn under [Brees] for however long he plays, I'd love that [and] to get a chance to be in New Orleans, a good franchise."
Let's not forget the Saints also have young weapons such as Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, who could grow alongside Mayfield.
It wouldn't be fair to say Mayfield can be the next Brees. However, the Saints have the scheme and the people in place to put him in a position to succeed.
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Does Oklahoma State product Mason Rudolph have some warts as a player? Sure. So did Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when he came out of the draft in 2004.
This isn't to suggest Rudolph can be the next Big Ben. But it's fair to point out the Steelers provided Roethlisberger with a strong support system and a winning culture early, which allowed him to work through his NFL adjustment.
Pittsburgh is in position to do the same for Rudolph, and it can afford to let him learn behind Roethlisberger for a season or two.
At 6'5" and 235 pounds, Rudolph has the size to withstand the physicality found in the AFC North. While he isn't the strongest thrower in this class, he has adequate arm strength and does a good job of seeing plays develop.
While not everyone views Rudolph as a top-tier prospect, he's the top-ranked signal-caller on CBSSports.com.
Would Pittsburgh consider pulling the trigger on Rudolph in the first round? The Steelers have met with him, so there's at least interest on their part. Rudolph also seemed intrigued by the idea.
"I told them how much I loved playing on that unbelievable field. It was a cool experience," he said, per Chase Goodbread of NFL.com.
Pittsburgh would give Rudolph at least a year to develop, and he'd be surrounded with enough talent that he wouldn't need to carry the team early on.