With the NFL Draft coming quickly, naturally, there’s a sizeable ongoing debate regarding the best college recruits and their potential in shifting to professional sports. One position in particular: Quarterbacks have dominated the buzz surrounding the 2018 draft class. While the QB position is the one fans get most excited about, this year has the perfect storm of multiple highly talented QBs entering the draft, as well as teams at the top of the board who are in desperate need of one. In no particular order, we wanted to focus on Baker Mayfield – Oklahoma, Josh Allen – Wyoming, Josh Rosen – UCLA, and Sam Darnold – USC. More specifically, we wanted to give you a unique perspective on their path to playing in the FBS, their respective collegiate careers, and the football programs each QB represented. We’ll conclude with a comparison of the four QBs where we’ll look at what makes each unique, as well as any similarities the four share.
Baker Mayfield is entering the 2018 draft coming off his best collegiate season that culminated into him winning the Heisman Trophy, as well as being named the AP Player of the Year. He was additionally recognized as the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and a First-team All-American for the second time in his college career. Baker leads the Sooners to an impressive 12-1 record in the regular season of his senior year but fell slightly short of a national title as the Sooners lost in the Rose Bowl to the Georgia Bulldogs in double overtime. Many people may already know this because the nuances paved the way for the “Baker Mayfield Rule” to be implemented, but he was recruited by (and played one season for) the Texas Tech Raiders before transferring to Oklahoma, where he started out as a walk-on.
The Oklahoma Sooners football program has a long history of both excelling in collegiate football at the highest level (they’ve officially claimed seven national titles) and producing NFL superstars like Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray, Trent Williams, and many more. Another impressive aspect to the Sooner success Mayfield’s senior year was their first-year head coach, Lincoln Riley, who was succeeding legendary coach Bob Stoops after his retirement. Riley, just 34 years old, had previous experience at East Carolina University as an Offensive Coordinator for four years and Assistant Head Coach for one year before becoming the Offensive Coordinator for Oklahoma in 2015. After just two seasons as the Offensive Coordinator at the Big 12 powerhouse, he was hired as Stoops’ successor. The clear takeaways related to Mayfield, judging by his three-year stint at Oklahoma, are that he’s incredibly talented, he’s a fierce competitor, and he has the potential to develop into an NFL franchise QB. Mayfield’s size (6’0, 215 pounds) and some off-field issues, including an arrest for public intoxication and disorderly conduct, are likely to be the two biggest question marks for NFL scouts.
Josh Allen had a very different path than Baker Mayfield or any other QBs on this list. When Allen proactively and aggressively sought to play NCAA DI football, he was not offered a scholarship by a single FCS top-level or second-tier school. It’s worth noting at the time Allen was 6’3 and weighed about 180 pounds, but that was not the main catalyst for his widespread dismissal during the recruiting process. According to Mark Schlabach of ESPN, Allen didn’t attend enough recruiting events and just didn’t put himself out there enough to draw national interest D1 interest (an excellent real-life example for any athlete looking to compete at a high-level). He was also knocked down as a prospect because he played multiple sports; he had a 90 mph fastball and was the leading scorer on his high school basketball team. Finally, Allen worked a lot of hours on his family farm and helped his mother with the restaurant she operated in Firebaugh, CA. Ultimately, Allen did not receive any D1 scholarship offers, the best offer he got was from San Diego State, who guaranteed him a walk-on spot but no playing time. Allen was forced to start his career at Reedley College, a junior college. After eventually earning the starting job midseason, Allen threw for 25 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He also grew to 6’5 and weighed 210 pounds by the end of his freshman season at Reedley. Allen then sent out a mass email to every head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and quarterback coach in FCS, but only received a scholarship offer from Eastern Michigan and Wyoming (Mark Schlabach, ESPN). Eastern Michigan subsequently withdrew their offer to Allen after he took an official visit to Wyoming, so Allen went on to sign with the Cowboys.
After breaking his collarbone and missing nearly all of the 2015 season, Allen’s breakout year at Wyoming came in 2016 where he threw for over 3,200 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. After contemplating declaring for the draft in 2016, Allen ultimately returned to Wyoming for his final season in 2017. In 11 games (3 fewer than he played in 2016), Allen threw for over 1,800 yards, 16 touchdowns, and six interceptions. He entered the 2018 NFL draft with an official height of 6’5 and weight of 240 pounds.
The Wyoming Cowboys are not known as a powerhouse D1 football program by any stretch. The current head coach, Craig Bohl, has been in his position at Wisconsin since 2014; before that, he was the head coach of North Dakota State from 2003 to 2013. In Allen’s final two seasons, the Cowboys finished 8-6 and 8-5, losing in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2016 then winning the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2017. Wyoming is not known for developing NFL-ready athletes; Allen would be the first Cowboy since 1976 to be drafted in the first round. While his collegiate stats are not particularly impressive and his throwing accuracy is a concern, Allen has the ideal physical size for an NFL QB and his arm strength is among the best in this year’s draft class.
Josh Rosen is opting out of his senior year to enter the 2018 NFL draft after having a great year with the Bruins in his 2017 junior season. Rosen was a five-star high school recruit from Southern California; he started for UCLA in their first game of his freshman year. In 2015, Rosen was selected as the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year and earned All-American honors that same season. Rosen’s 2016 season was cut short when he suffered a shoulder injury, eventually having surgery to repair soft-tissue damage (Ben Bolch, LA Times). Rosen recovered for the 2017 season, having his best statistical year at UCLA. In 11 games he threw for almost 3,800 yards, 26 touchdowns, and ten interceptions. That same year, Rosen broke the UCLA Bruin’s school record for most passing yards in a single season. While Rosen had a successful career at UCLA, the Bruins never made a substantial impact on the national level during his time there. After finishing 6-7 in 2017, Rosen’s final year at UCLA, they fired head coach Jim Mora and replaced him with former NFL head coach Chip Kelly.
While UCLA is not known to be an exceptionally successful D1 football program (their only national title came in 1954), a lot of Bruins have been selected high in the NFL draft and went on to have successful NFL careers. It’s safe to say the most famous of them being NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, who was selected 1st overall and went on to win 3 Super Bowls. Jim Mora, who was head coach during all of Rosen’s years at UCLA, was a former NFL head coach for the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks. But because UCLA is not considered a national title contending football program and they don’t play a completely traditional, NFL-style, offense Rosen will have to work hard in transition. Aside from that, Rosen has all the features you’d want in an NFL QB. He’s widely known for his intelligence and toughness (Randy Harvey, Houston Chronicle). After throwing for 491 yards and four touchdowns against Texas A&M in the first game of his junior year, A&M’s coach said of Rosen “We knew he was smart. But the thing I was impressed with was his toughness. We hit him and hit him a lot, and he got better. It’s not supposed to work that way, especially in the fourth quarter”. His size isn’t an issue either; Rosen entered the 2018 NFL draft with an official height of 6’4 and weighed 218 pounds.
Sam Darnold is entering the 2018 NFL Draft after a redshirt sophomore season where he led USC to an impressive 11-3 season, ultimately ending in a loss to The Ohio State Buckeyes in the Cotton Bowl. After redshirting in 2015, Darnold started the 2016 season as USC’s backup quarterback. Following a disappointing 1-2 start to the season, first-year head coach Clay Helton made Darnold the Trojan’s starter. After losing a close game to the Utah Utes, the Trojans didn’t lose another game the remainder of the season with Darnold as the starter. He was named the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, as well as being honored with the prestigious Archie Griffin Award. Though Darnold had a rocky start to the 2017 season, where he matched the number of interceptions he had in 2016 in the first six games, he led USC to a Pac-12 Conference championship victory. He finished the 2017 season with over 4,100 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, five rushing touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
The USC Trojans football program is undoubtedly one of the best in the country. The Trojans have claimed 11 official national titles, as well as 39 conference titles. Their record of 34-18 in bowl games gives them the highest all-time postseason winning percentage for schools that have 25 or more bowl game appearances (Unnamed Writer, USCTrojans.com). They also excel in developing NFL-ready professional athletes. As of 2017, 502 Trojans have been selected in the NFL Draft, 80 Trojans were first-round draft picks, and 12 Trojans have been inaugurated into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Daniel Wilco, NCAA.com). The USC football head-coaching job is one of the most prestigious in college sports. Their current head coach, Clay Helton, worked his way up through the ranks of USC’s organization before getting the top job. Helton joined the Trojans in 2010 as the Quarterbacks coach. In 2013 he got promoted to Offensive Coordinator, as well as serving as the interim head coach for a brief period. The same thing happened in 2015 when Steve Sarkisian was fired, but the Trojans ultimately removed the interim tag making Clay Helton their head coach for the 2016 season. When asked about Darnold’s NFL future in a recent interview for the NY Post, Helton said, “I can’t think of a better guy to start off an organization and be your quarterback than Sam Darnold.” He continued, “I’ll say this: There’s no more fierce competitor in football than Sam Darnold. In my 24 years, I’ve never been around a guy that competes harder and has no fear of competition. He’s also a guy that does not worry about popular opinion”. Darnold has the physical size (6’3, 220 pounds), the intangibles, and proven success in a pro-style offense at USC. Darnold is the youngest QB on this list, but while he’s only 20 years old and started just one full year at QB for the Trojans, his upside is very clear.
What Makes Mayfield, Allen, Rosen, & Darnold Unique?
One of the toughest obstacles for a talented QB to overcome, regarding convincing NFL scouts of their ability to make an immediate and long-term impact, is size. Of the four, Baker Mayfield is apparently at a disadvantage. Mayfield has publically addressed his size, and at the 2018 NFL Combine, he had this to say: “Height doesn’t matter. If you want to say anything else, I’ve got three years of tape you can watch. Height didn’t matter at that point. I think I’ve got less batted balls at the line of scrimmage than all the other guys here. I’m pretty sure I’m shorter than them.” His off-field incidents are infrequent; NFL scouts don’t seem to think he’s likely to turn into the next Johnny Manziel. Going from a walk-on to a Heisman Trophy winner is incredibly impressive; NFL teams are having a tough time balancing Mayfield’s talent and intangibles with his physical size.
Josh Allen enters the draft from the least established FCS program of the four; his raw stats are the least impressive of the four QBs too. But there’s no doubt he’s NFL-ready when it comes to size and physical ability. While his throwing accuracy has been a concern, his arm strength has been impossible to ignore. Ryan Flaherty, Nike’s Sr. Director of Performance, praised Allen’s arm strength telling NFL Network “Josh Allen has one of the most incredibly gifted arms I’ve ever seen in my life and I’ve been around a lot of quarterbacks.” Flaherty has done pre-draft workouts with NFL QBs like Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz, and more (John Breech, CBS Sports). In the same interview, Flaherty was asked if he’s ever seen an NFL draft prospect with a “better arm,” to which he replied, “no, never.” He has a great story, some level of success at an FCS program, and his potential upside is undoubtedly intriguing.
Josh Rosen has everything NFL scouts are looking for in a potential franchise quarterback. He has the size, he’s tough, and he’s knowledgeable. Rosen also has the most college playing experience, aside from Mayfield, on this list; he’s put up solid numbers for multiple years at a very respectable NCAA D1 program against fierce competition. One potential negative for Rosen is UCLA’s lack of success on the national level with him as their starting QB.
Rosen’s Pac-12 rival quarterback Sam Darnold is similarly the complete package. He has the size, the intangibles, and he’s a winner. He played for the USC Trojans; their school records relating to players getting drafted and having successful NFL careers speak for themselves. Darnold’s age and experience likely won’t be viewed as a negative, if anything NFL teams may feel that gives him more time to develop into an elite NFL franchise starter.
In conclusion, NFL teams in a position to take one of these four quarterbacks have their work cut out for them. Mayfield is coming off a Heisman Trophy season where he nearly led the Sooners to the NCAA championship game, but will NFL scouts agree that he’s proven his height doesn’t matter? Allen enters the draft from Wyoming, a subpar D1 program, which was the only one to make him a scholarship offer ultimately. He hasn’t faced the same competition as the others, nor has he put up the same numbers, but does the upside in his physical ability and arm strength outweigh that? Rosen looks great on paper, he’s widely known for his intelligence both on and off the field, but can he consistently lead an NFL team to wins even though he wasn’t able to at UCLA? Darnold’s tenure as USC’s starter, though short, was very impressive. His throwing accuracy is easily attributable to USC continually shifting receivers and other offensive personnel during his 2017 season. The most likely question for Darnold will be if NFL teams prefer him to the Heisman Trophy winner Mayfield, the potential in Allen’s physical upside that can’t be taught or coached, or the all-inclusive game and intelligence of Rosen.
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Posted on April 26, 2018 in All Things Sports
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