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Assessing Top QBs From the 2018 Class Four Years Later

Assessing Top QBs From the 2018 Class

As the 2022 NFL Draft approaches, front offices will look at previous decisions to improve their chances of hitting on a draft selection. First-round selections have what is referred to as a fifth-year option, where their team can pick up or decline a player’s option.

Having five years of salary control is crucial, especially for a quarterback with how high new extensions have been at the position. In the first round in 2018, five quarterbacks: Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson were all taken.

Let’s revisit these draft selections and how their careers have played out thus far.

Baker Mayfield

In what was somewhat a surprise on the night of the draft, Baker Mayfield was the first overall pick in 2018. Just hours before the Browns made their selection, one sportsbook had Mayfield at 25-to-1 odds. An undersized signal-caller at 6’1”, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner has been somewhat productive since entering the league.

In the past four seasons, he ranks fourth in PFF’s big-time throw percentage (6.1%), 11th in passing yards (14,125), and 12th in passing touchdowns (92). Despite this statistical success, he has had his woes as well. He leads the league in interceptions (56) and batted passes (46) since the beginning of his NFL career.

Last January, Mayfield led Cleveland to its first postseason victory since 1994. This had many fans calling for a contract extension for the quarterback. However, The 33rd Team’s founder Mike Tannenbaum did not agree with this when asked on ESPN’s Get Up. “They have to move on from him right now… he is not good enough by any standard.” Tannenbaum went on to say “you cannot win a championship with Baker Mayfield in the AFC,” strengthening his stance on the Oklahoma product.

Cleveland looks to have agreed with Tannenbaum, acquiring Deshaun Watson as their new starting quarterback. A player like Mayfield would be expected to be traded in this situation, but teams appear to be deterred by his higher than $18.8M guaranteed 2022 salary.

Only a few suitors exist that can pay his salary and view Mayfield as a significant upgrade worth acquiring at Cleveland’s asking price. If he isn’t traded, the Browns will have two players in the top-20 highest QB cap numbers in 2022 – and the only reason Watson doesn’t rank higher here is that his guaranteed salary in 2022 is just over $1M.

Although the Browns likely have their franchise quarterback in Watson, it doesn’t diminish the fact they drafted Mayfield and were unable to have him fill this role. It only adds insult to injury that some quarterbacks on this list have turned out better than Baker Mayfield has in Cleveland.

Sam Darnold

When the Jets traded with Indianapolis for the third selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, New York was unsure which quarterback they would be selecting. However, most outlets, including those from Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and NFL Network, believed Sam Darnold should be the top QB drafted.

Sitting behind Cleveland and their Metlife Stadium foes in the Giants, the Jets could have been forced to take their third-ranked QB prospect. Instead, they were able to select Darnold—giving them what they believed would be their franchise savior.

This did not end up being the case as Sam Darnold’s first pass was an interception returned for a touchdown on Monday Night Football in Detroit. Although the USC prospect did bounce back in that contest and thump the Lions in his NFL debut, the rest of the way has not been smooth sailing. Since entering the league, Darnold has thrown the second-most interceptions (52), which trails just Baker Mayfield.

After going 2-10 with New York in 2020, Darnold was dealt to Carolina to compete for their starting quarterback spot. Although he turned heads in his first three games with the Panthers, winning each contest while throwing nearly 900 yards and just one interception, this hot streak quickly skidded to an end. In the next six contests, Darnold threw ten interceptions which resulted in a 1-5 record for Carolina.

If the season were to start today, Darnold would be in line to start for the Panthers, playing on his fifth-year option. However, Mike Tannenbaum’s mock draft has Carolina selecting Kenny Pickett as the new quarterback for the franchise. Whether Sam Darnold continues to be a starting quarterback in the NFL or takes on a backup role, it is safe to say he has not yet lived up to the expectations of being drafted third overall.

Josh Allen

The most polarizing prospect in the 2018 Draft, Josh Allen appeared to most teams as a strong yet inaccurate arm from Wyoming, almost built with the frame of a tight end and the grit of a middle linebacker. Many analysts believed his accuracy would be an issue when transitioning to the NFL, which included 33rd Team member Greg Cosell’s input.

“[Allen] has to develop more touch and pace as a passer to reach the consistency that is demanded in the NFL.” Cosell added what most of these analysts thought as well is that he has “undeniable physical skills,” which references his sturdy frame and incredible arm strength.

Allen’s accuracy struggles continued at the NFL level, completing 52.8% and 58.8% of his passes in his first and second years in the league, respectively. However, he spent the 2020 season proving everyone wrong, describing his turnaround as “unprecedented.” Josh Allen was so incredible that he was second in MVP voting in this 2020, and the Bills won the AFC East for the first time in 25 years.

Known now around the league as a star quarterback, Josh Allen has proven himself as one of the top at the position; Greg Cosell even wrote an article about how he could end up as the best QB in the NFL. Seeing these comments and improvement over the past few seasons, the 25-year-old is certainly in the discussion for the MVP in this upcoming season. Buffalo took a risk when selecting Allen seventh overall in the 2018 Draft, but this looks to have paid dividends for the Bills given their gunslinger’s excellence.

Josh Rosen

When UCLA’s Josh Rosen was chosen tenth overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Cardinals and he felt like he would be the signal-caller in Arizona for an extended period. Rosen felt so confident in this, he told reporters on draft night “there were nine mistakes made ahead of me.”

As it has played out, Rosen looks to have been the wrong selection in 2018, currently with the lowest weighted career approximate value of every first-round selection, per Pro-Football-Reference. Arizona felt strongly enough about moving on from Rosen that they drafted Kyler Murray first overall in the ensuing year, a rarity in NFL history.

Since his rookie season with the Cardinals where he won just three of his 13 starts, Rosen has started only three games. Bouncing around from Arizona to Miami to Tampa Bay to San Francisco, the former UCLA Bruin now has found himself in Atlanta. With the Falcons, Josh Rosen has thrown just one pass resulting in a touchdown; but, this was an interception returned by linebacker Kyle Van Noy for a touchdown. His last offensive touchdown was in 2019 with the Dolphins. That’s a long time for a Top Ten pick less than four years ago.

Rosen’s career has not gotten off to the start he had hoped for, and he has been the least productive quarterback of the first-round bunch from 2018 by a large margin. He now finds himself as a backup quarterback, hoping to get a chance to step into the game and show his skills if called upon.

Lamar Jackson

After the Ravens made a draft day trade with the Eagles, they went on to select Lamar Jackson with the final pick of the first round. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner and former Louisville Cardinal was an electrifying QB prospect entering the draft. Instead of staying patient and hoping he would fall to the second round, Ozzie Newsome chose to move up to get Jackson. This gave the Ravens the option for a fifth year under contract, which they exercised, which has been crucial for both sides as he looks to be waiting until next off-season to negotiate an extension.

Jackson has lived up to expectations and then some in his young NFL career, winning MVP in just his second season in the league. This MVP was historic as he was just the second player in league history to win the award unanimously. He has set numerous Baltimore and NFL records in the past four seasons, many of which combine his passing and rushing abilities.

Since being drafted, he ranks seventh in total rushing yards in the NFL behind six running backs—all of whom have over 100 more rush attempts than him. His six yards per carry lead all players with at least 150 rush attempts since 2018, an incredible feat. During the same time frame, he ranks in the top-five in first down runs, runs of at least ten yards, and total rush yards before contact.

The drafting strategy could be in play for a team this April, seeing as it has worked for the Ravens in not having to extend Jackson yet. The Lions currently own the 32nd pick, and they could select a QB here to succeed Jared Goff. Mike Tannenbaum’s mock draft on ESPN agrees with this idea, where he has Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral being selected by Detroit with the 32nd pick. Having another year with Corral or another QB under center could be useful for the Lions down the road, and it makes the last selection in the first round all the more valuable.

A Glance into the Future

Looking ahead to the 2022 NFL Draft, finding a quarterback may be the objective for some franchises. These NFL organizations attempt to find players who can play this position for the foreseeable future. This must be strategic.

“You need to stick to your board as reasonably as possible,” says Tannenbaum. Leading up to the draft, teams create a board of players they are interested in drafting, ranked in order of how they are viewed by the team.

Taking a quarterback simply because the player plays the position is an unwise approach unless a team thinks highly of their abilities. “Mistakes are made when decisions are made for need instead of sticking to the board.” Although it could be seen as a smart move to take a chance on a signal-caller, doing so on a player ranked significantly lower on a team’s board than their draft selection could be a flawed process.

Teams have been preparing for the NFL Draft for almost a year now, and although fans and media outlets will give their feedback on how successful the picks were, this is purely speculation. Players’ success may not be clear until years down the line, especially when it comes to the quarterback position. Only time will tell which quarterbacks taken from April 28th-30th will help their teams long-term.

All information provided by PFF, unless otherwise noted

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