Top five quarterback prospects: March edition


By Chris Losey

There’s one more update to this list, but here is the March edition for my top-five quarterback prospects, which includes my pro comparisons.

I’ll also provide some of their results from the NFL combine, including their measurable and how they looked in individual drills.

  1. Josh Rosen UCLA Junior 6’4” 226 9 7/8” hand size

Rosen, already a favorite of mine, really impressed me in the media portion of the combine. He gave authentic answers and came off as intelligent, thoughtful, and honest. Rosen exuded what you’d want to see in the ‘CEO’ of an NFL franchise. His teammates, including center Scott Quessenberry, went up to bat for Rosen at the combine, dispelling the ‘insider’ rumors that Rosen is a bad teammate and locker room distraction. “I don’t know where it comes from. It drives me insane. I have a really good relationship with Josh and he’ll tell you the same thing about me,” Quessenberry said during combine interviews. “He’s a great dude, I love hanging around him and being with him and whoever gets him is extremely lucky. They’re getting a once-in-a-millennium talent in my opinion.” During the combination session of quarterbacks and receivers, Rosen had some issues with timing on short routes, but threw a beautiful deep ball on all three reps, with none of his targets breaking stride upon the catch.

40 time: 4.92  Vertical jump: 31” Broad jump: 111”  3-cone: 7.09  20-yd shuttle: 4.28

On the field, he’s the purest passer available in the 2018 draft. His footwork is impeccable, and sets a great base, with his feet always buzzing. It helped him avoid pressure by making slight adjustments in the pocket to buy more time at UCLA, despite playing behind a porous offensive line. Rosen is not a mobile quarterback, thus will not dance around in the pocket or roll out very often. He has a tight spiral on his passes and can make all the NFL-type throws. Rosen’s ball placement on his passes is excellent as well, and can fit the football into tiny windows. He has good anticipation and easily throws receivers open, something that the other top prospects can struggle with. Although he had to compete with 36 dropped passes by his receivers in 2017, he still completed 62.6% of his passes, including 63% when facing the blitz. Rosen can get in a bit of trouble when trying to play hero ball, and sometimes will fall victim to a gun-slinging mentality at times. Rosen is tall and a bit lanky, realistically playing at around 215 pounds. His has close to 10-inch hands, which help throwing the football in cold or poor weather. Rosen brings an approach similar to Green Bay Packers star, Aaron Rodgers, and will demand the best of his coaches and teammates, though his skill-set is more akin to a Matt Ryan or Eli Manning. He’s the most ready to take over a franchise and fill that ‘CEO’ type role. Perhaps what sets him apart from the rest of these prospects is his ability to read and pick apart defenses. The bottom line is that he has elite passing talent, and his intelligence and football smarts can put him over the top. The Bills should look to trade up for him come April. Rosen will most likely be selected in the top-five.

Pro Comp: Eli Manning/Matt Ryan

2. Sam Darnold USC r-Sophomore 6’3” 221 9 3/8” hand size

Darnold decided not to throw during the combine, and will show off his arm at his pro day later in March. Darnold is the favorite of many, due to his athleticism and ability to go off-script and create, which is the best in this draft. He doesn’t look like a quarterback, and is built more like a linebacker. He was impressive at the podium in the combine, giving all of the right answers. With a clean track record off the field and in the locker room, “Surfer Sam” might be the least controversial prospect in the draft, and all teams would fall in love with his laid-back, but driven personality.

40 time: 4.85 Vertical jump: 26.5” Broad jump: 105” 3-cone: 6.96 20-yd shuttle: 4.40

Darnold on the field left a lot to be desired after a fantastic freshman campaign, but still played at a high level and showed his trademark creativity. He has a better feel for the pocket than a lot of guys, and can make a play out of a broken one. Darnold does have an issue with fumbling, which some attribute to short arms, but showed toughness and had a short memory after turnovers, which showed the mentality and resiliency you’d love to see in a franchise quarterback. Darnold has a nice ability to look off defenders, is excellent when going through progressions. He has very nice arm strength and knows when to throw a touch pass and when to sling it. He did turn over the football a lot in 2017, with 13 interceptions and nine lost fumbles, which is a concern. A criticism of Darnold is his elongated release, which can aid defenders in diagnosing the throw. He reminds me a lot of Andrew Luck, though he is a lot less polished than Luck was when he left Stanford for the draft in 2012. Darnold probably should have returned to school for one more year to develop his skill set a little more, but he should eventually be an excellent NFL quarterback, and like Rosen can excel in any NFL environment (which includes outdoor/poor weather cities). He has all of the intangibles you’d want in your franchise ‘CEO’ and can turn any team around with quarterback woes. We haven’t heard a ton about the Bills going up to grab Darnold, but he’s for sure a top-10 pick in this draft, and fits what GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott like in a signal caller.

Pro comp: Andrew Luck

3. Lamar Jackson Louisville Junior 6’2” 216 9 ½” hand size

Jackson is a special talent with a rocket arm and can be considered one of the best athletes to play the position in a long time. His passing motion is excellent, and has an exceptionally quick release. Jackson has a nice ability to look off defenders and won’t lock onto his first read. His footwork is okay, but has a great football mind and has very good upper mechanics. The talk of Jackson being a wide receiver is utter lunacy, and the same garbage followed Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon and Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams early in their careers. Jackson has drawn comparisons to Michael Vick due to his dual-threat ability and exceptional athleticism, but I believe Jackson is a much better passer. Jackson has elite leadership skills and has absolutely no character concerns, unlike some guys on this list. He threw in combine drills, though he did not do any kind of testing. Jackson has a narrow base, which can affect his passes negatively, and has to work harder in his drop back than those with a wider base. There’s no question he has room for improvement, but he has been very coachable and has gotten leaps and bounds better as a passer since early in his Louisville career. He will still be able to use his exceptional rushing talent to open things up for him through the air, similar to how Deshaun Watson played in his electric rookie season in 2017. Jackson also gets better as the situations call for it, which is also comparable to Watson, whom I love. He could get into trouble in his career if he doesn’t keep developing his passing skills and relies too much on his rushing ability, which saw the downfall of guys like Robert Griffin III. As it comes down to it, Jackson has the chance to be an excellent NFL quarterback, as he has shown the drive to improve, leadership ability, and the mentality that you want from your franchise ‘CEO’. Jackson should be targeted by Buffalo in the event they choose not to trade up into the top-five, as he is projected to be selected from picks 20-32.

Pro comp: Deshaun Watson

4. Josh Allen Wyoming r-Junior 6’5” 237 10 1/8” hand size

Allen is the most frustrating guy in this group, as he has one of the best physical skill sets that we’ve seen in a draft in a while, and has drawn comparisons to Carson Wentz and Ben Roethlisberger. Allen was the biggest beneficiary of his performance in the combine, as he looked sharp and prepared. He was a slightly different guy that we’ve seen all year at Wyoming and at the Senior Bowl practices, where he couldn’t take off any mustard on his passes. Allen will say all of the right things, and has been on quite the journey in college. Allen had a hard time getting recruited out of high school, so he played the 2014 season with Reedley College, a small junior college in California. He then spent the next three years at Wyoming, with his most successful year being 2016, where he threw for 3,203 yards in 14 games, and connected on 28 touchdown passes. Allen regressed statistically in 2017, though some can be attributed to a poor supporting cast.

40 time: 4.75 Vertical jump: 33.5” Broad jump: 119” 3-cone: 6.90 20-yard shuttle: 4.40

When you look at Allen, you see the prototype NFL passer. He’s of similar size to Roethlisberger, but he’s built better and is much more athletic. When you see him on the field, he looks similar to Wentz, and has the same powerful arm and rushing ability. Allen is perfectly suited for cold/poor weather teams, due to his overall size, arm strength, and hand size, which at over 10 inches will allow him to grip and throw the football better in sub-freezing temperatures. He took snaps under center in college and was asked to read the entire field, unlike some college passers only read the field in halves. Allen sets a fantastic base in the pocket, and although his footwork can improve, his drop back looks effortless. His arm is an absolute cannon, and he can make every kind of throw. Unfortunately, the same arm can get him into trouble, as he launches some rockets when he doesn’t have to. Allen’s timing can also improve a lot, and he doesn’t have a ton of touch on short or intermediate throws. During the Senior Bowl practices, he rocketed a few easy cross patterns, which resulted in incompletions and interceptions. Allen has to be coached to reign it in a little bit, and needs to play smarter at times instead of resorting to hero ball. Allen’s career completion percentage is 56.2, and many question his accuracy. He will rely on elite arm talent while he develops the rest of his game. Ideally, he’d sit behind a bridge starter in order to process the speed of the NFL game, and develop his mechanics, which are not up to par with his potential. He can eventually be a very good NFL starter, and has a chance to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player if all goes well in his career. Allen is far from the perfect prospect, but teams will fall in love with his physical abilities and potential. The Bills would do well to select him, but will have to develop him, as he could flounder if forced into the spotlight right away. His ideal size and arm strength would be a perfect match for post-September games at New Era Field. They may have to trade up for Allen, but there is a chance he could fall to pick 21.

Pro comp: Roethlisberger/Jake Locker

5. Baker Mayfield Oklahoma Senior 6’0” 215 9 ¼” hand size

Mayfield, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, has been the unexpected first round quarterback candidate after putting up gaudy statistics in 2017. In the combine press conferences, Mayfield was bold and brash as ever, saying that he’d be the one to turn around the Cleveland Browns. “First things first, they’d get a winner…If there’s anyone who would turn that franchise around, it’d be me,” Mayfield said. He also said he was the most accurate quarterback in the draft “by far”, which one can point to his excellent completion percentage of 71 percent. During combine drills, he disappointed with a poor 40-yard dash time, running close to that of Rosen and Darnold. While not as good an athlete as advertised, he impressed on short and intermediate passing routes, showing plenty of zip and excellent placement on his passes. His deep pass attempts left a little to be desired, as they hung in the air and the receivers broke stride on all three attempts. Overall, he looked very sharp and well prepared, and only elevated his draft stock.

40-time: 4.84 Vertical jump: 29” Broad jump: 111” 3 cone: 7.00 20-yard shuttle: 4.28

On the field, Mayfield plays with a massive chip on his shoulder, presumably due to being a two-time walk on player for both Texas Tech and Oklahoma, and his short stature as a quarterback. He is excellent at extending plays and finding open targets. He has excellent reaction time and has what some scouts call a “twitch” in his game. Mayfield has command on the field and doesn’t take his foot off of the gas pedal. There is a fire to his game that teams will fall in love with, and he works exceptionally hard at his craft. He’s very quick in the pocket, and has nice arm talent and a pretty pass. His coaches and teammates at Oklahoma rave about him as a leader and teammate. With Mayfield, you take the good with the bad. He’s been plagued by issues on and off the field, which are largely attributed to cockiness and immaturity. Just last year, Mayfield was arrested and charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest, with a police video to go along with it. That’s not exactly face-of-the-franchise-type behavior. Mayfield also had multiple incidents on the field that would come into question, such as his infamous crotch-grab and ‘f-bombing’ of Kansas Jayhawk players this past fall, and another involving Baylor players during pregame, in which he was caught on camera saying “You forgot who daddy is, I’m going to have to spank you today!” While Mayfield’s actions are applauded by some fans, teams should look at this behavior as a red flag. He may be able to get away with this in college, but it will not fly with NFL players. According to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, Mayfield was described as turning off a few teams due to his diva-like attitude. Mayfield will need to work on that side of his game as he makes the transition into the pros. Other than that, it is a bit difficult to analyze how well Mayfield will make the jump from college to the NFL due to the wide-open offenses and pillow-fight defenses in the Big-12 conference. On most of the film I watched, he made a lot of plays while having a ton of time to move around and be creative, due to his stellar offensive line, a luxury he may not have at the next level. Out of the top-five guys, his situation was hands-down the best, and had a bevvy of playmakers to work with. When pressured, his effectiveness drops, and he can take unnecessary sacks due to his desire to extend plays. In the Air Raid-type spread offense, passing lanes are generally wide open, with receivers gaining massive separation, which in turn is why quarterbacks always put up gaudy statistics in this system (see Mason Rudolph). Still, he dominated the competition at Oklahoma, and one cannot fault him too much for excelling in his situation. His size will not matter too much, but he isn’t a great athlete like Russell Wilson, so it doesn’t make up for his stature. Still, he has enough arm talent and competitive drive to be a nice starter in this league, and has been compared anywhere from Drew Brees to Case Keenum. I liken his game to Colt McCoy at Texas, but with a much better arm and hunger for the game. He’s jittery in the pocket, and light on his feet, which will buy him more time if he ends up behind a poor offensive line. He’d most likely excel in more of a warm weather environment or a dome, due to his stature and skill set. That being said, he still can play well in a colder environment, but there is no sample size. The Bills could definitely select Mayfield if they can overlook the character concerns and he could play very well for them in they cater the offense to his strengths, something that has worked wonders for guys like Deshaun Watson and Dak Prescott. Mayfield could very well be the top pick, or he could fall to pick 21, but the market may indicate a trade up if the Bills really wanted him.

Pro comp: Colt McCoy/Doug Flutie

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