Now that the 2017-18 college football season is over and Alabama is the national champion (again), it’s officially NFL draft season. BetOnline has a prop that should appeal to many football fans: Who will be the first quarterback selected in the 2018 NFL draft? Here are the odds (as of January 9, 2018, 12:15 am ET).
- Josh Rosen (UCLA), -120: Profile
- Sam Darnold (USC), +150: Profile
- Josh Allen (Wyoming), +600: Profile
- Lamar Jackson (Louisville), +1200: Profile
- Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), +1200: Profile
- Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), +2000: Profile
- Will Grier (West Virginia), +2500
- Luke Falk (Washington State), +3300
- Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State), +5000
Grier is one of the underclassmen who have announced their intentions to return to school. Falk is a spread-system quarterback whose efficiency has decreased over the past three seasons (7.7 adjusted yards per attempt in 2015; 7.5 and 6.8 AY/A in 2016 and 2017). Fitzgerald is an underclassman who has accuracy issues (55.4 percent completion rate) and is unlikely to declare for the draft, given that he suffered a significant ankle injury near the end of the season. They all effectively have no chance of being the first passer drafted in 2018.
Let’s look at the remaining six.
Josh Rosen: Junior | 6’4″ and 218 Pounds | Born February 10, 1997 (Age: 20)
From a player-centric perspective it makes sense for Rosen to be the favorite.Rosen is a no-doubt first-rounder and he’ll play the entirety of his rookie campaign at the young age of 21. Over the past 25 years, only six first-round quarterbacks have finished their rookie campaigns at the age of 21.
- 2015: Jameis Winston, No. 1 pick
- 2009: Matthew Stafford, No. 1 pick
- 2009: Josh Freeman, No. 17 pick
- 2005: Alex Smith, No. 1 pick
- 2001: Michael Vick, No. 1 pick
- 1993: Drew Bledsoe, No. 1 pick
Basically, whenever a young strong quarterback prospect is available, he’s historically been selected at the top of the draft. This year there are three quarterbacks who will be 21-year-old rookies. Of the trio, Rosen has the best blend of collegiate experience (three-year starter in a Power Five conference) and passing ability (60.8 percent completion rate).
It might not, however, make sense for Rosen to be the favorite if we focus on what the Browns might do with the No. 1 pick. The Browns seem likely to take a quarterback first overall, but new general manager John Dorsey has a history of scouting and drafting quarterbacks who don’t look like Rosen. Dorsey’s quarterbacks tend to be boom/bust projects — even his first-rounders — whereas Rosen is the prototypical pro-ready prospect. On top of that, before he was hired Dorsey reportedly labeled Rosen as a “stay away” prospect while Rosen “expressed concern about winding up in Cleveland” before declaring (per ESPN’s Adam Schefter). Based on how Dorsey reportedly views Rosen and how Rosen views the Browns, it doesn’t seem likely for him to be the first quarterback drafted.
How I’m leaning: No
Sam Darnold: Redshirt Sophomore | 6’4″ and 220 Pounds | Born June 5, 1997 (Age: 20)
Darnold looks like a future NFL starter: He has the size and winning record (21-6) to appeal to GMs and he’s the youngest professional passing prospect ever. In the entire history of the NFL, never before has a quarterback been 20 years old when drafted (Pro Football Reference). Just a two-year starter in the Pac-12, Darnold might benefit as a young professional if he begins his career as a backup to a veteran. Dorsey has shown in the past that he’s not opposed to drafting first-round quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes II) who need time to develop. In fact, Dorsey might even prefer quarterbacks like that. A promising player with strong college production (64.9 percent completion rate, 8.7 AY/A), Darnold seems highly likely to be selected in the top five, maybe even the top three. The primary question is whether there’s another quarterback who seems likely to appeal to Dorsey more.
Also, this isn’t relevant, but it’s notable: Darnold’s grandfather (the aptly named Dick Hammer) was the Marlboro Man. If you were an NFL GM, would you pass up the Marlboro Man’s progeny?
How I’m leaning: Maybe
Josh Allen: Redshirt Junior | 6’5″ and 240 Pounds | Born May 21, 1996 (Age: 21)
Oh, baby. Allen looks like the type of quarterback Dorsey tends to like. Dorsey is old school. When evaluating passers, he doesn’t care what the numbers say: He wants guys he thinks can play. If a quarterback has a massive arm but struggles with accuracy or consistency, that doesn’t matter. If a guy had to transfer schools for some reason, that doesn’t matter. If a guy played for a non-Power Five institution, that doesn’t matter. If a guy is raw and needs time to develop on the sideline, that doesn’t matter. Dorsey seems to be almost single-mindedly focused on upside: Potential value guides his quarterback decisions much more than positive expected value, and he’s had tremendous success with quarterbacks who statistically look undraftable. Dorsey likes his quarterbacks the way witches like frogs — with warts — and Allen’s warty. Per ESPN’s Ian O’Connor and The MMQB’s Peter King, multiple industry insiders expect the Browns to draft Allen with the first pick.
Although some draft analysts compare Allen to Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz as a big-bodied non-major conference prospect, he was a horribly inaccurate college passer, completing (from first to last season) 49.0, 56.0, and 56.3 percent of his passes in his three years as a starter — and his first campaign was at Reedley Community College. Think about that: Allen didn’t complete even 50.0 percent of his passes at junior college. With a 70.6 overall grade, Allen is Pro Football Focus’ lowest-rated quarterback out of the passers who have a realistic chance of being drafted. Based on what he’s done since graduating from high school, Allen is barely a viable prospect. If selected No. 1 overall, he could turn into one of the biggest busts of all time: This sounds weird to say, but that’s why Dorsey might draft him. It doesn’t matter if the numbers suggest that Allen is the next Jake Locker (54.0 percent completion rate). What matters is that Dorsey tends to like boom/bust quarterbacks, and that’s what Allen is.
How I’m leaning: Yes
Lamar Jackson: Junior | 6’3″ and 211 Pounds | Born January 7, 1997 (Age: 21)
Jackson looks less like a Dorsey quarterback than Allen, but he still might appeal to the Browns GM. Just last year Dorsey drafted the dual-threat Mahomes with the No. 10 pick, and Jackson — the youngest Heisman winner in history at the age of 19 — is one of the most productive running passers ever. The third of the 21-year-old quarterback prospects, Jackson is raw as a passer — he completed just 57.0 percent of his career attempts — but he was a three-year Power Five starter who rushed for an outrageous 4,132 yards. While some people might compare Jackson to Deshaun Watson (67.4 percent completion rate), the more accurate comp is Vick (56.0 percent completion rate), who retired from the NFL with six top-12 fantasy finishes and a 61-51-1 record as a starter despite his limitations as a passer.
Right now, Jackson is being hyped as a fringe first-rounder. Even if Dorsey were to like Jackson most among the quarterbacks, it’s hard to imagine him taking Jackson first overall when he would almost certainly still be available with the fourth pick, which the Browns acquired from the Texans last year. Additionally, in Dorsey’s history are more passers who look like Allen than Jackson. It’s possible that Dorsey could select Jackson at the top of the draft — there are worse prospects than a 21-year-old Heisman-winning quarterback with difference-making ability as a runner — but in a vacuum Jackson is unlikely to beat out Rosen, Darnold, and Allen.
How I’m leaning: Maybe, but probably not
Mason Rudolph: Senior | 6’5″ and 230 Pounds | Born July 17, 1995 (Age: 22)
Rudolph is a Bryce Petty-esque Big 12 spread-system three-year starter with accuracy (63.2 percent completion rate) and productivity (9.9 AY/A), but he’s currently projected by most draftniks to be a low-end Day 2 or high-end Day 3 selection. Rudolph is a fine prospect, but his real odds of being the first quarterback selected are significantly worse than Jackson’s.
How I’m leaning: No
Baker Mayfield: Redshirt Senior | 6’1″ and 220 Pounds | Born April 14, 1995 (Age: 22)
There are reasons to dislike Mayfield — he’s a small fifth-year spread quarterback with a high-maintenance personality — but he’s no Johnny Manziel. Mayfield is the only player in the 14-year history of ESPN’s Total QBR metric with two seasons above 90.0. A four-year starter and Heisman winner, Mayfield had an absurdly elite mark of 11.9 AY/A in his three final seasons. He improved each year, posting a 6.3 AY/A as a freshman, 10.4 as a sophomore, and 12.3 and 12.9 as a junior and senior. With a 96.2 overall grade, Mayfield was PFF’s No. 1 offensive college football player in 2017, ranking first with an 82.6 percent adjusted completion rate, 134.8 passer rating on throws of 20-plus yards, and 105.3 passer rating under pressure.
A gritty player who walked on twice (first at Texas Tech and then at OU), Mayfield has earned everything he’s gotten. If Dorsey looks at Mayfield and sees a gutsy competitor who can sling the ball, lead a team, and maybe become the next Russell Wilson, it’s possible he could draft him No. 1 overall just to be sure he doesn’t miss out on his guy. I don’t think that’s likely since the Browns have the No. 4 pick, but it’s possible.
How I’m leaning: Maybe, but probably not
Ranking the Potential No. 1 Quarterbacks
Keeping in mind that the Browns control the top of the board, here are my rankings for the six highlighted quarterbacks (from most likely to least likely to be the first passer drafted).
Just to be clear, I don’t think Allen should go first, but I expect he will. Of the cohort, Darnold and Mayfield are my favorites. Keep an eye out for my total quarterback rankings.
Photo Credit: Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports