The 2018 NFL Draft Is Quarterback Crazy and May Ruin Careers and Lives

Thursday night’s NFL Draft is more interesting than just about any I’ve seen, simply because of the widespread quarterback frenzy that’s making team general managers crazy.

The risk factor is extremely high. Pick the wrong quarterback, and the blunder could paralyze your franchise for years. It could cost you your job. It could make you the butt of jokes, well, forever.

“You draft a quarterback high, and you’re wrong? It sets you back, because then what happens, you become one of those teams — they’re in quarterback hell,” New York Giants GM Dave Gettleman said recently. 

Make the right choice, identify a true franchise quarterback, and he can transform a hopeless, clown-show team into a champion.

The stakes are high.

And yes, we’re talking about you, John Dorsey. The new GM of the Cleveland Browns. In possession of the first overall choice in the draft. And the No. overall selection. Dorsey will open the door to the 2018 quarterback market and set the forces of history in motion.

There’s added intrigue, and danger,  for several reasons:

There’s no John Elway or Peyton Manning standing in the wings, waiting as the clear-cut No. 1 overall choice. There is nothing close to a consensus. The presumptive five top quarterback prospects have been inspected, dissected. They’ve been praised in glowing terms. They’ve been braised in criticism. Every attribute, every flaw. You don’t see Heads of State undergo this much scrutiny when they run for election, or reelection.

The opinions are fragmented.

No, make that bipolar.

SAM DARNOLD,  USC… 

 HE’S  the safest bet, the closest thing to a sure thing. A great kid, mature for his age. Oozing with talent, a born playmaker. Seems to raise his game when his team needs to rally…

WRONG! Darnold is unreliable, error-prone, makes awful decisions with the football, and will be a turnover machine as evidenced by his 22 interceptions and 21 fumbles (16 lost) in 27 starts at USC. And in the NFL, USC quarterbacks always let you down.

BAKER MAYFIELD,  OKLAHOMA… 

Mayfield is the most accurate passer in this draft, the only quarterback who can make all of the throws, the best passer under pressure, a strong leader incredibly competitive. Pro Football Focus has Mayfield rated No. 1, across the board.

STOP IT! Baker Mayfield is too short, he can’t control his emotions, he’s screwed up off the field, and can’t be trusted. And how long has it been since a Big 12 quarterback achieved greatness in the NFL? Since 1997, NFL teams have drafted 24 Big 12 quarterbacks … and none have been selected for a single Pro Bowl. When Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Blaine Gabbert, Geno Smith, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Vince Young are the conference standard-bearers, why is there so much hype over Mayfield? In the past 12 drafts, NFL teams have picked eight Big 12 quarterbacks in the first round. And unless Patrick Mahomes (No. 10 overall in 2017) becomes a star in Kansas City, it’s an unimposing group.

JOSH ROSEN, UCLA …

Rosen is the most polished of the quarterbacks. The smartest. Learns everything quickly. Thrives on being challenged. Enjoys studying film and finding weaknesses in opponents. The most NFL game-ready quarterback for Week One. Especially ideal to run a West Coast style offense. Has the most complete skill set. Draft him. Plug him in. Instant starter …

NO! NO! NO! Josh Rosen missed several games with a shoulder injury in 2016. He had two concussions in 2017. He’s a spoiled rich kid who grew up in Beverly Hills. He’s had the easy life. He’s never been hungry. Football isn’t important to him. He talks about politics. He’s smug. As one anonymous NFL quarterbacks coach told NFL.com , “To me, he’s Jay Cutler and Jeff George. I just can’t get past that in my head. I think he’s going to do whatever he wants to do. I don’t think he’s going to listen to anybody. He always thinks he has the better answer, has the better way. Yeah, his film is really good. I just don’t think he’s going to mesh well with your team and do the things that you want him to do.”

JOSH ALLEN, WYOMING ….

If you could design a quarterback and have the QB assembled to physical perfection, you’d have Allen as the prototype. He’s big at 6-feet-5 and 237 pounds. He moves very well. He’s an exceptional athlete. When he throws the football, it makes a sizzling noise as it spirals through the air. The power in Allen’s right arm makes NFL scouts go faint. Physically, he is the quarterback of their dreams. If you like Carson Wentz, the No. 2 pick in 2016, then you will love Josh Allen.

LAUGHABLE! Allen’s accuracy is horrible. Pro Football Focus rated him 35th in adjusted completion percentage, 42nd in adjusted completion percentage under pressure, 48th in accuracy against the blitz, and 34th in accuracy in throws of 20+ air yards. And you cannot — repeat, cannot –teach accuracy. A 56 percent completion percentage for Wyoming? If you liked JaMarcus Russell — the No. 1 overall choice in 2007, and an epic bust — you will love Josh Allen.

LAMAR JACKSON,  LOUISVILLE …

He won the Heisman Trophy in  2016, then came back in 2017 and produced another prolific, outstanding season in his duel-threat capability to deliver passing and rushing  yards. A dynamic  runner and passer who never gives up on plays. Pro Football Focus has Jackson rated No. 4 in this QB Class, behind Mayfield, Darnold and Rosen. PFF cited his No. 3 grade in passing when under pressure, and a top 10 rating on intermediate throws. PFF concluded: “While he’s not the cleanest passer in the class, Jackson has showed enough with his arm that he can make plays at the next level, and when paired with his incredible athleticism, there’s an offense to be built around Jackson’s game. He’ll miss his fair share of throws, but he can make up for it with enough arm to make special throws downfield. It may take a creative offensive mind, but Jackson can be an exceptional option in the designed run game while opening up bigger pass windows to ease the burden of his inconsistent accuracy. ”

YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING!  Jackson has plenty of detractors; Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian said Jackson should change positions and play wide receiver.  Critics assail Jackson’s accuracy and complain that his dual-threat game doesn’t form a foundation for long-term quarterback success in the NFL. But what about Deshaun Jackson? Doesn’t Lamar Jackson play in style similar to the Houston Texans’ second-year quarterback? That premise is rejected by Lamar Jackson skeptics, who insist that Deshaun Jackson can operate a pro style offense — and Lamar Jackson cannot. And typically uptight NFL people seemed bothered by Jackson’s decision to go without an agent and hire his mother as his business manager. (Why that is, I have no idea.)

OK, what can we expect on Thursday night?

Four quarterbacks are certain to taken in the first round. Lamar Jackson is a likely first rounder, but given the variance of opinions, it’s conceivable he’ll slip into the early second round. The first round could include a sixth quarterback, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph.

If that happens — six quarterback off the board in Round One — it will reawaken memories of 1983. The most famous QB Class of them all. Six were drafted in the first round:  Elway (1st), Todd Blackledge (7), Jim Kelly (14), Tony Eason (15), Ken O’Brien (24) and Dan Marino (27.)

Elway, Kelly and Marino made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But Blackledge didn’t turn out to be Kansas City’s second coming of Len Dawson. Eason helped the 1985 New England Patriots reach the Super Bowl where they were squashed by the famous Chicago Bears defense. O’Brien was a solid enough QB for the New York Jets, and even made it to a couple of Pro Bowls. But he wasn’t Joe Namath. And by the way … how amazing is it to look back and realize that five quarterbacks were drafted ahead of Marino?

The 2004 Class was a good one: Eli Manning (No. 1), Philip Rivers (4), and Ben Roethlisberger (11th.)

It’s funny how the 2012 QB Class looks now. For a while it looked like one of the better groups, with Andrew Luck picked No. 1 by Indianapolis, RG III going second to Washington, and Tannehill getting off to a promising start in Miami after the Dolphins picked him 8th overall. But all three quarterbacks have been knocked back — or out — by injuries.

The 2011 Class depends on Cam Newton; he was tabbed No. 1 overall and seemingly was heading to sensational career after winning the league MVP award in 2015 for leading Carolina to a 15-1 record and the NFC title. But Newton’s play has eroded the last couple of seasons, and we’re not sure if he’ll regain elite status. The other quarterbacks drafted in Round One in 2011? Don’t wince: Jake Locker (8th), Blaine Gabbert (10th), and Christian Ponder (12th.)

There have been some brutal QB classes…

2007:  JaMarcus Russell (Raiders, No.1), Vince Young (3rd), Brady Quinn (22.)

2002: David Carr No. 1 overall (Houston), Joey Harrington (No. 3, Detroit).

Other than Donovan McNabb, who had a solid career, the 1999 QB Class (first rounders) was pretty much a mess: Tim Couch (Cleveland) No. 1 overall; McNabb (2nd), Akili Smith (3rd), Daunte Culpepper (11th), and Cade McNown (12th).

It’s hit or miss. You’d think that NFL teams would be more precise in their quarterback evaluations, but it it isn’t an easy process.

Since 1984, there is a long list of busts and flops among the many quarterbacks drafted in the top 10: Ryan Leaf, RG III, Heath Shuler, Andre Ware, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Mark Sanchez, JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, David Carr, Tim Couch, Akili Smith and Kelly Stouffer.

There were 54 quarterbacks drafted in the first round from 1998 through 2017 and just five have won a Super Bowl: Peyton and Eli Manning, Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco. And of the 33 quarterbacks chosen among the top 10, only Peyton and Eli have won Super Bowls. 

This isn’t a matter of every QB bust being an example of scouting stupidity. Even the smartest of NFL scouts and general managers have whiffed on their quarterback selections.

And just a reminder that Tom Brady was the 199th player drafted in 2000. And six quarterbacks were selected ahead of him: Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger, and Spergon Wynn.

No team drafted Kurt Warner.

In six or seven years, we’ll be able to review the Class of 2018 and see if any of these quarterbacks  are on career trajectory that will lead them to Canton — to a gold jacket, and induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And it will take less time to identify the flops … the JaMarcus Russell or Joey Harrington of this group, if there is one.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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