Draft King Analysis|
January 19, 2018
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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With the 2018 NFL Draft early entry deadline having passed, we now know who is in and who is out. That includes a quarterback crop with some strong talent, though opinions of the pecking order vary considerably among prominent NFL Draft evaluators.
To point, yesterday saw the release of the initial 2018 mock from the well-respected Mel Kiper, Jr. at ESPN. It certainly got people talking, starting with Kiper projecting Wyoming QB Josh Allen to the Browns at #1 overall. But Kiper also noted that there is no slam-dunk top quarterback prospect, a reality that has led to a really wide open field for 2018.
More on Allen in a bit, but it's worth looking at the potential suitors -- and how free agency can affect things.
· Cleveland at #1 and #4 seems likely to select a quarterback, though they have a wealth of options if they can entice a free agent QB to sign. But the Browns are a tough sell coming off back-to-back seasons where the team went 1-31. They will likely take a QB with one of their first picks.
· At #2, the New York Giants are in an interesting spot. Eli Manning has had a long and productive career, but the clock is ticking and the Giants need their QB of the future. But they could instead sign someone like Teddy Bridgewater, who has been on a very long recovery from a knee injury but is only 25.
That might also feel like less of an implied threat to Manning, and it would free up the #2 pick to be used on a top-flight player, like perhaps Penn State RB Saquon Barkley.
· Denver at #5 is an interesting case, clearly needing a top QB but with the possibility of landing someone like Kirk Cousins or Sam Bradford in free agency. That might be the best path for the Broncos, particularly if there is hope that Paxton Lynch (long viewed as a multi-year project) might make a leap of sorts in year three with the Broncos.
· One would think the New York Jets would be in the market for a quarterback at #6, and I would suspect the team would prefer to land a QB in the draft versus dipping into free agency. Clearly the Jets are planning for the long-term, and adding a young blue-chip QB talent would seem logical, particularly if the team can convince Josh McCown (who turns 39 this summer) to return for a seventeenth NFL season.
· Washington at #14 could be in the market for a quarterback if they are unable to sign Kirk Cousins to a long-term deal. The franchise tag does not seem to be a financially viable option at this point for the Redskins, not with a roughly $34-35 million cap hit, and if Cousins leaves it would create a huge need at the position for Washington.
· The retirement of Carson Palmer has put Arizona in the QB market at #16. If they don't end up with a top free agent, they could be a threat to trade up and leapfrog other teams in the QB hunt.
· If Buffalo cuts Tyrod Taylor, they could go for a quarterback, and they have two 2018 first-round picks back-to-back at #21 and #22 which gives them all sorts of options for trading up.
Free agency typically lacks much as far as high-end quarterbacks go, but the aforementioned situation with Kirk Cousins and the Redskins could end with Cousins hitting the open market. If that happens, it will be the rare case of an under-30 QB with proven accuracy and starting experience hitting the open market.
Cousins won't be a cheap signing, whether it's staying with the Redskins or joining a QB-needy team as a free agent. But he will affect things no matter what happens.
In Minnesota, the Vikings are in a situation that is certainly unique, with three starting-caliber quarterbacks on their roster who all have contracts which expire at the end of the year. If Case Keenum leads Minnesota to a Super Bowl win in their own stadium... I mean, there is no scenario where he would be allowed to leave, right?
Teddy Bridgewater is a mystery in all of this, the youngest of the three QBs at age 25 but also coming back from a horrific knee injury in 2016 that threatened his career. Both New York teams could potentially make a play for him, albeit with very different needs for the short-term.
And then there is Sam Bradford, the best-paid journeyman of the modern era between his $50M guaranteed in 2010 before playing a snap of NFL football (a record that will stand for some time thanks to the 2011 CBA) and $18M earned in 2017 base pay alone.
In all, Bradford has earned in excess of $114 million. And as a 30-year-old QB on the open market, he stands to earn even more.
It would seem that the Vikings would likely want to keep at least two of the three, but market demand and salary cap restrictions might make that difficult.
As for the top QB draft prospects, as noted it is a jumbled field. Next week's Senior Bowl practices (which often matter more than the game itself) will be interesting to watch for a number of key players, and it's a chance for Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield (North team) to display their respective skills in front of a gaggle of scouts and evaluators.
The Broncos (coaching the North) specifically requested to have Baker Mayfield on their side, and it will be a chance for them to find out more about Mayfield and Allen. Granted, the Broncos were well-positioned to scout Allen at Wyoming, but having Mayfield and Allen going through the same drills in the same place could provide quite the side-by-side contrast.
And that is not to slight Luke Falk and the other QB prospects taking part in the event in Mobile, but it's a rarity to have two likely first-round quarterbacks on one side of a Senior Bowl roster.
As for the top quarterback prospects, here is a quick write-up about the front-runners, listed in alphabetical order.
Josh Allen, Wyoming (6'4" 235)
Allen has near-prototype size for the position and a very strong arm. His completion percentage concerns me, as the modern NFL is riddled with the failed careers of prototype size QBs with big arms and only mediocre accuracy.
The NFL tilted sharply toward passing attacks with rule changes made for player safety reasons implemented over the past dozen or so years. But the key is execution and precision, particularly in a league where QBs like Case Keenum at 6'1" and Jimmy Garoppolo at 6'2" can excel thanks to being such accurate passers.
But it may be unfair to judge Allen too much by his sub-60% college completion percentage. Wyoming is an FBS-level team, but Allen didn't have the kind of help on offense that some of these other top prospects had. His performance this upcoming week in Mobile will be watched closely.
Sam Darnold, Southern Cal (6'3" 225)
As of this writing I have Darnold going #1 overall to Cleveland, though it's a crowded field this year with no clear consensus top prospect at the moment. Darnold is an accurate passer with quirky mechanics, though there are concerns about his decision-making and turnovers.
Over the next few months, it will be crucial for Darnold to convince teams considering him that he has the capacity for improvement at reading complex defenses. You can have the arm and the aim and the accuracy, but if you struggle with pre-snap misidentification you put yourself at a major disadvantage at the NFL level.
Lamar Jackson, Louisville (6'2" 200)
It could be easily argued that Jackson is the most intriguing of the top-tier quarterback prospects in this draft. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner is an incredible athlete, an exciting player with the potential to break a big play on any given down.
He was north of the 60% completion rate side of the ledger this past season, with 25 TDs against only six interceptions. But the big question with Jackson is: does he have the physical frame to handle the physical grind of the NFL?
Jackson's pro day should provide some eye-popping stats, though Kiper (and others) have suggested that some team might look to use Jackson as a wide receiver, or at least consider that as a Plan B in case things don't work out with him as a quarterback.
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (6'1" 220)
An elusive player with strong accuracy, Mayfield is a solid QB prospect, albeit one with below-standard height and average arm strength. There are many who believe his fundamentals need work, particularly with his footwork. But he is also a proven winner who threw only six interceptions against 43 touchdown passes this past season.
The fact that Mayfield completed north of 70% of his pass attempts over each of the past two seasons is a very encouraging stat. And what he lacks in arm strength he makes up for with great touch.
I'm quite bullish on Mayfield's pro chances, and he will have the chance to show off his skills this upcoming week in Mobile.
Josh Rosen, UCLA (6'3" 220)
In the right system, Rosen should really thrive. He has the mechanics and the strong arm and the accuracy. But his injury history is a concern, including the two concussions he sustained this past season. And there are questions about how he might mesh with teammates with his outspoken and opinionated personality.
I recommend that you read this 2016 piece by Matt Hayes of Bleacher Report about Rosen and his outspoken ways.
Rosen in the New York media market would really be something, and it could easily end up happening with either the Giants or the Jets.