QB Draft Series: Grading the Prospects

Okay, so, for some of you, this may be the only part about this you care about. For others, this may be the least interesting. Either way, let me just set some ground rules…

  1. These are my opinions. It is based on what I look for in a QB in 2018. This can change as the NFL evolves, and somebody who has the ideal skillset for the 2018 NFL may not have it for the 2023 NFL. As it is difficult to project how the NFL may change, this may be a good idea or a terrible one, but I believe it is an important factor that should not be ignored.
  2. Highly rated prospects will fail and low rated prospects will succeed. That is the nature of the projection game. There is no such thing as a 100% chance of success or a 100% chance of failure. The goal is to be more right than wrong. Keep this in mind not just with me, but with any rankings you see. If somebody is given a 20% chance to succeed and succeeds, it doesn’t mean the ranking was bad, it means that something that happens one in every five chances happened.
  3. While I did chart one game each for the “big 5” and watched multiple games of each QB, I am also using Benjamin Solak’s charting because I did not have time to go as in-depth as he did. Note that his charting does not include every game of every QB (and in some cases includes very few), and I have factored that in where relevant. Because I have spent significantly more time with the big 5, I am doing significantly more in-depth reports on them.
  4. I used age 20 season stats because age is a significant factor in quality of season and there is a much stronger relationship between age and quality than experience and quality. As every guy here had an age 20 season, this was the most fair way to present the stats. Also keep in mind that rushing stats include sacks, because college football doesn’t separate them.

Lamar Jackson, 6’2 216,  21.3 years old, age 20 season: 59.1% – 8.5 Y/A – 6.3 TD% – 2.3 INT% – 232 rush attempts, 6.9 ypc

Positive Scouting Report – Lamar Jackson is a special prospect, one that defies easy categorization. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2016 and was a finalist in 2017 leading a consistently overmatched Louisville squad to a 17-9 record over his final two seasons. As a passer, Jackson showed mastery over a pro-style system, often being let down by his receivers rather than his arm. Jackson’s precision on his accurate passes may be best in the class, perfectly leading receivers on screens and slants. However, his accuracy suffers (especially throwing outside the numbers) due to footwork issues which will need to be cleaned up at the next level. As a runner, Jackson is a truly elite prospect, one of the best pure runners to come out of college at any position in a long time. He is incredibly difficult to bring down in the open field, has the vision to burst through holes, and won’t be caught from behind often. A team willing to embrace Jackson’s talents could have a bona fide superstar on their hands. Jackson has never missed a game due to injury.

Negative Scouting Report – Teams looking for a pure pocket passer may not like what they find in Lamar Jackson. While he can technically make every throw, his inconsistency, especially to the outside, may drive a coach crazy. It will definitely lead fans and coaches alike to want plays back. His footwork will need to be significantly refined, as he is often caught between being ready to run and being ready to throw. It remains to be seen whether playing behind better protection could help in that department. As a runner, while he could go barreling into defenders at the college level, learning to slide would behoove him at the next level. While there is no evidence that injuries are more common for running QBs, the fact is that Jackson does get significant value from his running, and any injury hampering that ability could have a big impact.

Low comp: Mike Vick // Mid comp: ? // High comp: ?

It is hard to find comparisons for Lamar Jackson. He is a truly unique prospect, a likely mid-tier QB combined with a top-tier runner. If you do not value QB rushing, Jackson will not be the prospect for you, but QB rushing is very positively correlated with winning, and Jackson has the perfect skillset for elevating teams and making plays that truly no other player can make. It is hard to see a true fail-case for Jackson absent injury – his biggest pitfall is ending up in the situation Marcus Mariota found himself in the past 3 years, with an anachronistic OC forcing him into a system ill-suited to his abilities. A team willing to build around Jackson could pay off huge.

Draft value: Top 3 overall

Baker Mayfield, 6’0 215, 23.3 years old, age 20 season: 68.1% – 9.4 Y/A – 9.1 TD% – 1.8 INT% – 141 rush attempts, 2.9 ypc

Positive Scouting Report – Baker Mayfield is one of the most productive QBs in college football history. He combines fiery leadership with an arm that misplaces very few passes. He doesn’t always throw with as much zip as he could, but he does a fantastic job anticipating receivers coming open and throwing the ball at the right time for whatever power he does put on it. He can make plays on the run, keeps his eyes downfield at all times, adjust his arm slot while retaining accuracy, and everything else you want from a QB. While he is not a guy you will call designed runs for, he has enough juice in his legs to make plays if a lane opens up or he finds himself scrambling. The biggest question marks with Baker come from his relative lack of adversity in college. He played behind one of the best offensive lines throwing to elite talent against Big 12 defenses. That is a perfect storm for a QB, and it remains to be seen if he can replicate his numbers in less ideal circumstances.

Negative Scouting Report – The question everybody wants to know is: can Baker be Baker when he’s not facing Big 12 defenses? The worst games of his Oklahoma career came against Tennessee, Clemson, Ohio State (2016), and Georgia. This is always the question with Big 12 QBs and some have answered it better than others. Baker’s o-line gave him plenty of time to pick apart weak defenses, and his skill position talent was always great. This meant that Baker was often throwing to wide open receivers, and while he was consistently accurate, he was often not as precise as he will need to be at the next level. He also has issues floating the ball, especially on deep passes, and with being a little too lackadaisical with both footwork and armwork. As he never took snaps from under center, he will have to prove he can do it at the next level. His height could affect him when his throwing windows are not as big at the next level.

Low comp: Colt Mccoy // Mid comp: Alex Smith (2014-2016) // High comp: Drew Brees

Mayfield is the definition of a safe prospect. While there are some valid concerns about his level of competition and ability to operate against tighter defenses, the fact of the matter is that even his bad games would be considered average or better by many QBs. His truly bad throws are extremely rare, always putting the ball in a spot his receiver can catch it. As he becomes more refined, he definitely has the ability to ascend to the next level. As a first round pick, he will have every opportunity to prove himself.

Draft value: Top 5 pick

Sam Darnold, 6’3 221, 20.9 years old, age 20 season: 63.1% – 8.6 Y/A – 5.4 TD% – 2.7% INT – 75 rush attempts, 1.1 ypc

Positive Scouting Report – Sam Darnold can do it all. While “all” also includes throwing interceptions and fumbling, it also includes plays that evoke images of Aaron Rodgers. Darnold has a strong arm that puts a ton of zip on the ball, especially to intermediate areas. The one thing that really comes to mind when watching Darnold though is raw. Darnold shows significant flashes of elite, top level talent – ability to escape the pocket, throw on the run or from the pocket, top tier arm talent, ability to read a defense – he is not nearly as consistent as you’d like for an NFL QB. As the youngest QB in this draft class, this is something that should resolve with age.

Negative Scouting Report – Darnold certainly has a strong arm, but he is not ready to unleash it in the NFL. He constantly tries to do too much, leading to numerous killer turnovers. He has a looooong delivery and stiff hips which significantly affects his throws to all areas of the field and sometimes causes balls to be delivered slow or late. While the top tier talent is undeniable, that underlying current that he is not there yet should not be ignored. If these issues don’t resolve, he will be nothing more than a tantalizing talent unrealized.

Low comp: Mark Sanchez // Mid comp: Kirk Cousins (2016-17) // High comp: Aaron Rodgers

Darnold is an unfinished prospect who should probably sit for at least two years, and for that reason, I have to drop him down a peg – QBs on rookie contracts represent the best value, and losing some of that value definitely matters. That being said, if he hits his ceiling, he can be a top 5 QB in the NFL, all the raw talent is there, it’s just a matter of developing it, helping him to learn what he can and can’t do and seeing if some of the mechanical issues can’t be ironed out. My biggest concern is that he is rushed into action too soon, develops bad habits, and never reaches his full potential.

Draft value: Top 10 pick

Josh Rosen, 6’4 226, 21.2 years old, age 20 season: 62.6% – 8.3 Y/A – 5.8 TD% – 2.2 INT% – 50 rush attempts, -1.9 ypc

Positive Scouting Report – Josh Rosen looks every bit the part of a franchise QB. Prototypical size, clean mechanics, touch, zip. He makes you go wow seemingly once a drive. Ran a pro-style system including taking plenty of snaps from under center and shows no major footwork issues. Rosen struggles under pressure and provides very little with his legs as his -154 rushing yards at the college level indicates, but Rosen’s athleticism tested better than he showed on the field, giving hope that he can develop those abilities more at the next level. Give Rosen a clean pocket and let him work and the results should be good.

Negative Scouting Report – For somebody who is often referred to as “the most pro-ready” QB prospect, his tape has a lot of glaring flaws. One thing you can’t take away from Rosen – in a clean pocket, throwing to an open first read, Rosen absolutely shines. He has every bit the look of a franchise QB. However, Rosen has shown significant deficiencies in reading a defense and going through progressions when his first read is not open. More complex defenses and better coverage at the next level could cause Rosen problems. Rosen also really struggles under pressure and on the run, showing far too much panic and far too little ability to navigate the pocket and open field. These could all be reasons why he struggled so badly in the red zone. On a good team, Rosen will be great. On a bad team, Rosen could really, really struggle. There are also concussion concerns that cannot be ignored.

Low comp: David Carr // Mid comp: Carson Palmer // High comp: Matt Ryan

It’s somewhat tough to project Rosen, because contrary to the seemingly-accepted wisdom, he’s not pro-ready. He hasn’t really learned how to navigate the pocket. He makes truly terrible decisions in far too many situations. My big concern with Rosen is how much value he brings above an average QB. That is, Rosen will absolutely succeed behind a good line, throwing to good receivers, in a good scheme. But that describes many QBs. Any team drafting Rosen highly will be doing so in hopes that either his mental processing significantly improves or that their team will be good enough that it won’t matter. Injuries will always remain a concern due to his statute-like nature and history of concussions, which should be factored in as well. Still, that base level of arm talent and mechanics is awfully tantalizing and provides a somewhat high floor, so it’s not all risk here.

Draft Value: 1st-2nd round

Kyle Lauletta, 6’3 222, 23.1? years old, age 20 season: 61.6% – 9.2 Y/A – 4.9 TD% – 3.8 INT% – 78 rush attempts, 1.5 ypc

Scouting Report – Do you like Baker Mayfield? Do you not have a top 10 pick in this draft? Why not take a look at Kyle Lauletta. There’s not a ton of game tape available for him, but what is available shows a guy who is ready to be an NFL backup on day 1 with potential to successfully operate a classic pro-style scheme relatively quickly. He has clean, consistent, repeatable mechanics that drive the ball to the right spot on time. His big limiting factor is his lack of true NFL arm strength. Is it possible that he adds a bit more zip with NFL strength and conditioning? I don’t know, but if he can, he’s a much more intriguing prospect. He has functional NFL athleticism but will need time to adjust to NFL game speed. Overall, there’s a lot here to like as long as you’re not looking for a big arm.

Draft Value: 2nd-3rd round

Mason Rudolph, 6’5 235, 22.8 years old, age 20 season: 62.3% – 8.9 Y/A – 5.0 TD% – 2.1 INT% – 67 rush attempts, -0.5 ypc

Scouting Report – As is the case with many Big 12 QBs, Rudolph is difficult to evaluate because his offensive talent was far superior to the defensive talent and because the scheme was very QB-friendly. Rudolph adds to that by being extremely inconsistent. When he looks good, he has plenty of zip (although it somewhat dissipates going to the outside) and decent accuracy, though he struggles with ball placement – his receivers help him out significantly. When he looks bad, especially under pressure, his ball can wobble and die. He has a big body and good strength, using those to his advantage to navigate the pocket and pull free of grabbers. He also does a better job using his eyes and head to both go through reads and move defenders than is typically seen in the Big 12. Rudolph is unlikely to ever be a great starting QB, but he has enough tools and talent to be a backup with starting upside.

Draft Value: 3rd round

Josh Allen, 6’5 237, 21.9 years old, age 20 season: 56.0% – 8.6 Y/A – 7.5 TD% – 4.0 INT% – 142 rush attempts, 3.7 ypc

Positive Scouting Report – Josh Allen throws the ball really, really hard. Allen’s package of tools comes along only once every few years. His upside if he can harness everything is immense. Watching his tape, there are plenty of examples of elite and wow plays and his highlight reel is special. While inconsistency is a concern, a few years of NFL coaching should be able to iron out the wrinkles and turn him into at least a functional QB with continuing upside. Allen has a long way to go to become an NFL QB, but if you could build a QB from the ground up, these are the physical tools you would choose.

Negative Scouting Report – Josh Allen throws the ball really, really hard. Whether he should or not. Whether his man is open or not. Whether he knows where the ball is going or not. Ultimately, Allen is an extremely raw prospect who brings size, athleticism, a cannon arm, and very few actual QB skills. He has not shown any ability to read a defense or go through progressions. He does not have good pocket presence and panics under pressure. While the tools are great, everything else is lagging so far behind that it’s hard to see him succeeding.

Low comp: Logan Thomas // Mid comp: Cardale Jones // High comp: Carson Wentz

Reading the draft profiles of Thomas and Jones should give a good idea why those are his comps. Both guys were in a similar mold – huge athletes with cannon arms and questionable QB skills. Logan Thomas is now a tight end. Jones is already on his second team, although they appear to like him and he may still have a future in the league. While I gave Allen a High comp, his chances of reaching it are simply extremely low. Allen simply has not shown any QB skills beyond getting plenty of zip on his passes and his development will take a long time. Even if he pans out, it will likely be long after his rookie contract.

Draft Value: 4th-5th round

The Rest

I have not done more than skim most of the rest of the QB prospects, but none of them particularly caught my attention. These guys all project as 5th round or later. Luke Falk is typically the highest ranked QB I did not cover, but he is simply below average in every facet of the game. While many random QBs are taken in later rounds or picked up in UDFA, trying to project them is largely an exercise in futility, as their NFL future will fully come down to the situation they find themselves in.

Conclusion

Thus ends my 2018 NFL Draft QB Series. If you enjoyed, you can follow me on twitter @BusterDucks. Next up – the 2018 NBA Draft Series!

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