The quarterback class of the 2018 NFL draft was thought to be a stout one. Full of elite prospects and those with chips on their shoulders, it was hyped to be the most stacked since the 2005 draft class that gave us three potential Hall of Famers.
One year later, with up to six of them having played meaningful minutes, we might want to pump the breaks on that proclamation. Yes, it is still early, but living up to expectations has not been easy. There have been some surprises, no doubt, but let us take a look at the 2018 first-round quarterback class one year later and see what we have in them so far.
Baker Mayfield - First Overall Pick, Cleveland Browns
In a move few had seen coming, the Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield out of Oklahoma with the first pick in the draft. Mayfield was fresh off winning the Heisman Trophy after a successful season, with a 70.5 percent completion rate, 4,627 yards passing, 43 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. Under head coach Lincoln Riley, he soared to heights few walk-on recruits had ever seen, but his height and lack of athleticism were thought to hold him back. The Browns did not seem to mind and made him their franchise quarterback.
It took until week three for Mayfield to get on the field, but he showed the league that he deserved his selection spot. He totaled 3,725 yards passing and set a rookie record 27 touchdown passes while starting just 13 games. He did have 14 interceptions, which is far more than he
had in college, but that was to be expected for a rookie. In the next offseason, the Browns made a blockbuster trade for Odell Beckham Jr. that gave Mayfield a true superstar at wide receiver. Coming into the 2019 regular season, the Browns carried more hype than they ever
To say they have not lived up to that hype would be an understatement. No team has been a bigger let down than the Cleveland Browns. Sitting at 6-10, they have underwhelmed in almost every conceivable way. Beckham has not been the receiver he was in New York. The defense-with all its young talent-has not been able to stop anyone. The offensive line is in shambles. New head coach Freddie Kitchens barely finished one season before getting canned. Despite all the negatives facing the Browns, perhaps nobody has suffered quite like Mayfield.
In year two, Mayfield threw 21 interceptions to only 22 touchdowns. According to Next Gen Stats, his 59.4 completion percentage is 3.8 points lower than his expected 63.2 completion percentage. His once pinpoint accuracy is nowhere to be found. Of course, he has an uphill battle every Sunday with one of the worst lines in football and his head coach not doing him any favors, but the regression is real. For him to recreate his 2018 season, some serious changes need to come in the form of a new offensive system. Hopefully, new head coach Kevin Stefanski can restore and improve upon Mayfield's rookie season.
Sam Darnold - Third Overall, New York Jets
The New York Jets traded the farm-their own first-round pick, two second-round picks and a 2019 second-round pick-to move up to the third overall pick to draft Sam Darnold. Many predicted Darnold to go first overall to Cleveland, but with their selection of Baker Mayfield, the Jets wasted no time in selecting Darnold.
His stats were respectable-a 63.1 completion percentage rate and 4,143 yards passing, but an average 26 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. What he lacked in eye-popping stats, he made up for in build; sitting at 6-4, 220 pounds and a rocket for an arm, he had the tangibles to be an NFL quarterback.
His rookie season played out how a typical rookie quarterback does. Under defensive-minded head coach Todd Bowles, he started 13 games with a 57.7 percent completion rate, 2,865 yards passing, 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Darnold had a penchant for turnovers in college, and that has not stopped in the NFL. He certainly had flashes of stardom, but with little around him and conservative game plans, Darnold did not find continued success.
Bowles was let go in the offseason and replaced with Adam Gase. Gase brought the reputation of a ‘quarterback whisperer’ and an offensive guru, which was thought to be the key in unlocking Darnold’s potential. Couple that with signing free agent running back Le’Veon Bell, Darnold was thought to finally have the support needed to succeed. There was real confidence going into this season, but just as quickly as the year kicked off, their season went off the rails.
Darnold was diagnosed with mononucleosis (mono) after week one. The disease, jokingly known for getting by kissing someone in high school, limited Darnold to 13 games in 2019. The 13 games could be labeled as deceptively impressive. The stat line (61.9 percent completion rate, 3,024 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions) won't jump off any page, but the impact Darnold had on New York cannot be ignored.
With Darnold, the Jets went 7-6. Without him, New York mustered seven points per game while dropping three consecutive games. Finishing 2019 7-9, the Jets have many holes to fill on their roster but starting quarterback is the least of their worries.
Josh Allen - Seventh Overall, Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills have been another team desperately searching for their next franchise quarterback, and in 2018 they made the moves to get him. They traded one of their first-round picks and two second-round picks to move up the seventh overall spot and selected Wyoming’s Josh Allen. Allen’s stats from his junior year did not stand out, with an anemic 56.3 percent completion rate, 1,812 yards passing, and 16 touchdown passes thrown, but he was built like a truck: 6'5 and 233 pounds with a cannon for an arm. In a cold-weather city like Buffalo, this was thought to be vital to success.
Allen’s rookie season kicked off, and his play resembled that of a rookie: a 52.8 completion percentage rate, 2,074 yards passing and only ten touchdowns to 12 interceptions. He had difficulty doing pretty much everything a quarterback is required to do to succeed. His redeeming grace, which was not even predicted by scouts, was his running ability. He was able to tuck it and run to high levels of success. In those 12 games he played, he rushed for 631 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. This running threat forced defenses to adjust and allow him to find his rhythm in the passing game as the year went on.
Adding John Brown and Cole Beasley this year in free agency, he was expected to make the leap in is passing attack. While a 58.8 percent completion rate is a definite progression from his rookie season, it still leaves a lot to be desired. His running ability continues to keep defenses honest, so the passing lanes should remain desirable. The Bills’ have a stout defense and lethal pieces on offense. Their ceiling wholly depends on Allen reaching his, and a playoff appearance in year two only bolsters Allen's career trajectory.
Josh Rosen - 10th Overall, Arizona Cardinals
Josh Rosen was another case of the falling quarterback in the draft. Having the pedigree and stats in his last year at UCLA-a 62.5 completion percentage rate, 3,717 yards passing and 26 passing touchdowns-he was thought to compete with Sam Darnold for the number one overall draft pick. However, his perceived lack of passion for the game led to him lasting till the tenth pick, as the Arizona Cardinals traded their first, third and fifth-round picks to the Oakland Raiders to select him.
His rookie season was one to forget. Surrounded by perhaps the least talent in the NFL and subpar coaching staff, Rosen posted a 55.2 completion percentage rate, 2,278 yards passing, only 11 passing touchdowns to 14 interceptions. Their below-average offensive line led to Rosen being sacked 45 times and never allowed him to develop any amount of confidence. They ended the year as the NFL’s worst team and secured the first overall pick in the following year's draft.
Oklahoma’s quarterback Kyler Murry exploded onto the scene, and the Cardinals saw something special in him. So special that they selected him number one overall. This left Rosen on the sidelines, and before too long traded to the Miami Dolphins. Also lacking talent from top to bottom, Miami eventually turned to Rosen during the season, and the results have not been great: a 53.2 completion percentage rate, 567 yards passing, and only one touchdown pass to five interceptions. His completion rate is even worse when compared to his 65.5 expected completion percentage-a league-leading -12.3 points worse, according to Next Gen Stats. Rosen would eventually return to the bench after a 0-3 record as a starter.
It is easy to look at Rosen’s first two years and call them a wash considering that he has been placed in two of the worst situations back-to-back years. Arizona was not ready to compete last year, and Miami was actively tanking this year. He will most likely be out of a job again once the Dolphins select their franchise quarterback in the 2020 draft. Whether he gets another chance to compete for a starting job and attempt to reach his potential remains to be seen.
Lamar Jackson - 32nd Overall, Baltimore Ravens
There was perhaps no more highly contested prospect coming into the draft than Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. Having already won the Heisman Trophy in 2016, he once again set the college world on fire with 3,660 yards passing and 27 touchdowns, but also 1,601 yards rushing and 18 rushing touchdowns. Whether this dual-threat production translated to the next level was a hot-button issue before the draft. Jackson’s critics seemed right as 31 picks had been made, and he was not one of them, but the Ravens traded back into the first round to snag him
Joe Flacco was still the starter in Baltimore, so Jackson was used sparingly in his rookie season at first with wildcat formations. Jackson’s name was called to start in week 11 when Flacco developed a hip injury, and he would not give that job back. The Ravens would go 6-1 the rest of the way with Jackson. His passing was a work in progress with a 58.2 completion percentage rate, 1,201 yards passing and only six passing touchdowns. What shined was his running ability, as he led all quarterbacks with 695 yards rushing and an average of 43.4 yards per game.
The Ravens moved on from Flacco and went all-in on Jackson for his sophomore campaign. They drafted speedster receiver Marquise Brown in the first round to improve a lackluster receiving group but would continue to game plan around Jackson’s running ability. Thus far he has made improvements in the passing game with a 66.1 completion percentage rate, 3,127 yards passing and a league-leading 36 passing touchdowns. His running is still what makes him special, as he ran for an NFL record 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns.
Already the most successful quarterback of his draft class, Jackson continues to polish his passing skills and maintain his lethal running attack. With one MVP already on his award shelf, Jackson will have a chance to be one of the next decade’s defining quarterbacks.
*preview photo credited to NFL.com
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