Let me just start this post off by proclaiming that this quarterback class is the best we have seen since the Elway-Marino class of 1983. That class featured three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in the first round(Jim Kelly also went in the first round that year) and this class has a chance to equal that. I’m not guaranteeing that the top three quarterbacks will be Hall of Famers, but they have that kind of potential if things go right at the next level.
This class is top heavy with a strong middle and good depth at the bottom. In my top 10 I have 3 QBs I know will be franchise players, 2 more than could be franchise QBs, two wildcards that could be starters or not get drafted at all and three quarterbacks who project to be outstanding backup quarterbacks in this league for a long time.
This list will change throughout the draft process, as will any pre-season draft ranking list at any position. Some guys get hurt, some unknowns show great growth and some of the top guys completely fade out. I remember thinking that Christian Hackenberg was going to be a top 5 pick going into his final season at Penn State, but now I wonder why he is still in the NFL.
Top 10 NFL Draft QB Prospects, Pre-Season Edition
1) Sam Darnold/USC- Darnold would have been the first pick in the draft last April had he been eligible and decided to come out. He’s dictating how NFL teams at the bottom of the league are running their teams now. The Jets spent very little in the offseason, the Bills are stockpiling early round draft picks and the Browns elected not to take a quarterback in the first round despite having three first round picks.
Darnold doesn’t have the best footwork or the strongest arm, but he’s very mobile, very accurate and mentally he is miles ahead of anyone else we have seen at this stage since Andrew Luck. His footwork will keep getting better with more reps and his arm strength isn’t an issue, he just doesn’t have the cannon that Josh Allen has.
I would be shocked if Darnold isn’t the first overall pick next April. Talent wise he’s about equal with Josh Rosen and he may not be the athlete or have the cannon that Allen does, he’s more accurate and plays against stiffer competition. What’s going to set him apart is his demeanor on the field and character off it. Coaches will love this kid and the GM that spends the first overall pick on Darnold will sleep easy that Thursday night.
2) Josh Rosen/UCLA- Rosen has the best mechanics of any quarterback in this draft. His feet are always set on every throw and he can throw accurately off so many different platforms(he has to playing behind that OL).
He reminds me a lot of Matt Ryan. He’s skinnier than you would like, but the mechanics, arm strength, accuracy and ability in the face of the pass rush all scream FRANCHISE QUARTERBACK. If he can stay healthy this year he will make a legit case to be the number one pick.
3) Josh Allen/Wyoming- Think Brett Favre with a bigger frame and more athleticism. That’s what you are getting with Josh Allen and come next April, it will be the best bronze medal ever awarded. Unless Rosen struggles to stay healthy again this year, it’s likely that Allen will be the third quarterback taken and that speaks more to how great this class is than anything else.
Allen makes throws that should be impossible to make. He can chuck the ball 55 yards down the field, on the run, with precision. He forces a defense to defend the entire field because he has the arm strength and athleticism to roll out to his right and hit his man on the other side of the field. John Elway used to be a master of this and Allen is well on his way. I can’t wait to see what he can do at the next level with some actual speed at wide receiver.
4) Lamar Jackson/Louisville- Whatever team drafts Jackson needs to have a plan with how they are going to mold the offense around him. He’s a great athlete with a laser arm, but he’s lean and comes from a spread offense. The Titans did a great job of molding their offense around Marcus Mariota as he developed and it’s led to him becomes a proven franchise quarterback heading into his third season.
Obviously Jackson isn’t the same quarterback Mariota is, but the point remains the same. Jackson has franchise potential if you can gradually expand the playbook for him. He’s got a really high ceiling and is a pretty driven player, but just needs the right situation at the next level. It will be interesting to see how he develops as a pocket passer in what is most likely his final season in college.
5) Luke Falk/Washington State- Falk reminds me a little bit of Kirk Cousins, at least in terms of his ceiling. He has above average mobility and pretty average arm strength. He has enough arm talent to start at the next level, he’s just not ideal in a climate like Buffalo or Cleveland.
What he lacks in elite arm strength he makes up for with a quick release and very good accuracy on his intermediate throws. I’d like to see his deep ball improve this season and see him make quicker decisions against pressure.
6) Max Browne/Pittsburgh- Browne will hopefully get the chance to start a full season for the first time since high school. He could beat out Cody Kessler or Sam Darnold at USC, but he took advantage of the graduate transfer rule and finds himself in a great situation at Pittsburgh. He plays in arguably the toughest football conference in the ACC and his non-conference schedule includes Oklahoma State and Penn State, although that Cowboys defense probably helps his draft stock.
I watched his tape in two mop-up duty games and one start at USC and I saw a quarterback with a big arm that hasn’t learned how to take any heat off the ball just yet. I don’t worry about his feet, arm strength or velocity, but his accuracy has been pretty erratic so far.
7) Matt Linehan/Idaho- I see a lot of Matt Moore in this kid’s game and that’s not a bad thing. He’s mobile, accurate on the run and poised under pressure. He was solid early against Washington last year, but a bad call and a turnover took away two touchdowns on the same drive and his Vandal squad got blown out against the nation’s second best defense.
He won’t wow you with his physical tools, but he can definitely elevate an offense and it doesn’t hurt that his dad is a successful offensive coordinator in the NFL.
8) Wilton Speight/Michigan- Speight’s growth this year will be probably the most important of anyone on this list. He has a 6’5, 240 pound frame, he’s elusive and he has a big arm. He can buy time and throw the ball pretty accurately to the outside on a lot of quick outs. It also helps that he’s starting his second full season in a pro style offense from a coach who has developed Josh Johnson, Andrew Luck, Jake Ruddock, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick.
Two things drive me crazy with Speight, however. One, his deep ball has the power but is usually way over the head of his receiver, which allows defenses to play closer to the line of scrimmage. And two, he has zero feel for the pass rush. Right now he is very turnover prone because of these two things. Defenses can play tighter coverage and he rarely knows when he is about to get smashed from behind. If he an improve on those two areas then I think he has a chance to go on day two of the draft, not later on day 3 as he projects right now.
9) Mason Rudolph/Oklahoma State- Most people will see this ranking and think I either have a bias against Oklahoma State or that I’m crazy. Rudolph does a lot of things well. He has a big arm, a ton of straight line speed for his size, he’s accurate throwing the ball deep and he’s great at getting the ball up high where only his target can catch it on one-on-one throws.
Rudolph is in fact, a big statue who can’t move well side-to-side and goes down right away on first contact. He doesn’t buy himself extra time against the rush and will really struggle if his protection isn’t solid. His heavy feet is a huge limitation going forward, plus he plays in a simplistic spread offense that will require a huge learning curve at the next level.
10) Jarrett Stidham/Auburn- This kid is a total wildcard this season. In 2015 he made and finished one start for Baylor, accounting for 5 total touchdowns. He got hurt in his next two starts and transferred after the mess that was created with that garbage culture at Baylor. Last year he was at McLennan Community College where he did not play football.
He’s already been named the starting quarterback for Auburn this season, but he’s only completed one start since high school and hasn’t played a meaningful football game for almost two years. He’s a long, athletic dual-threat with an impressive arm, but he’s a total wildcard at this point. I could see him wowing scouts and climbing up into the second round or falling out the draft altogether.