Taking a Look Back to the 2018 First-Round QBs
The 2019 NFL Draft has come and gone, and saw 3 quarterbacks selected within the first 32 picks.
It was a night in which the expected occurred, such as reigning Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray going to the Arizona Cardinals first overall. The shock value was delivered, when the Giants took Duke signal-caller Daniel Jones at 6. The best value pick was made when Dwayne Haskins fell to the middle of the first round right into the Redskins lap (back to the bench, Case).
Before examining what 2019 has in store for that group, let’s take a look back at the quarterback class of last year. A class that included some of the most promising young passers in the same draft class since 2004. This is when the likes of Manning, Rivers and Roethlisberger all entered the league.
The 2018 NFL Draft saw a whopping 5 first-round quarterbacks selected, tying the most selected in the round since 1999. Leading the charge was Oklahoma standout Baker Mayfield, who was nabbed at number 1 overall by Cleveland. The pick was a surprise of sorts, considering speculation was rampant around USC passer Sam Darnold being the consensus first selection, but in the eleventh hour the Browns deemed Mayfield to be their guy and he did not disappoint.
Relieving Tyrod Taylor due to injury during a week 3 TNF affair against Sam Darnold’s Jets, Mayfield rallied the Browns for a come from behind 21-17 victory. All told, Baker made his mark during his inaugural campaign and closed out 2018 with a 27:14 touchdown to interception ratio, 3,725 yards, and while completing 63.8% of his passes. He ultimately secured PFWA Rookie of the Year honors.
Mayfield’s counterpart, Sam Darnold, in that battle against the Jets wasn’t as dominant statistically in his rookie year but, was certainly impressive in his own right.
Darnold appeared in 13 games last season, missing 3 contests as he nursed a foot injury. But he put up a respectable 17:15 touchdown to interception ratio last year. While he threw for 2,865 yards and completing 57.7% of his passes. The Jets saw growth in their young QB, despite modest numbers. This was a satisfying takeaway, considering the draft capital in the form of 2 second round picks they sacrificed in a trade with the Colts to move up 3 spots in order to get their guy.
Like the Jets, the division rival Bills moved up in a draft-day deal with the Bucs to secure the opportunity in drafting their target, Wyoming’s Josh Allen. The cannon-armed Allen was widely viewed among league circles as a first-round selection, but was definitely going to be a project pick considering his makeup needed some fine-tuning.
With the inept Nathan Peterman not getting the job done, the Bills quickly turned to their hopeful franchise QB by week 2 and the performances confirmed the perception; he wasn’t ready. Allen struggled in his first NFL go-around, as he led the Bills to a 5-6 record along with a touchdown to interception ratio of 10:12, 2,074 passing yards, a 52.8% completion percentage, and 8 fumbles. Although Allen struggled through the air, he did show an ability to makes things happen with his legs. He led the league with eight rushing touchdowns among quarterbacks on 631 rushing yards.
Josh Rosen heard nine names called ahead of his before the Arizona Cardinals, temporarily, drafted him as their franchise quarterback. Rosen’s precipitous fall in the draft was surprising, considering he was viewed as the most NFL ready passer coming out of UCLA. But his nagging injury history and questionable character were probably the driving forces in why the Cardinals were able to land him at 10.
In his first season in the desert, Rosen quickly found his way onto the field due to the ineffectiveness of the oft-injured Sam Bradford. Playing on a bad team, while operating under suspect play calling primarily due to an underutilization of All-Pro running-back David Johnson, Rosen performed at an average level and finished his first NFL campaign with and 11:14 touchdown to interception ratio, while throwing for 2,278 yards, and completing 55.2 % of his passes in 13 starts.
His stay in Arizona would last only his rookie season though, as the writing was on the wall for his departure amid the drafting of Kyler Murray. With the enigmatic multi-sports Phenom new coach Kliff Kingsbury publicly displaying his affinity towards as a player who would fit perfectly within his offensive system. Rosen was subsequently dealt to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for their second round selection in this year’s draft, as well as Miami’s 2020 fifth-round pick.
The last quarterback selected in the first round of the draft, with the last pick pick of the round, was another Heisman Trophy winner in that of Lamar Jackson to the Baltimore Ravens. Jackson, the previous Heisman Trophy winner in 2016 before Mayfield claimed the award in his last season at Oklahoma, was not drafted without his share of criticism. Coming out of Louisville labeled as another mobile quarterback, some front offices viewed him as true NFL talent. But, some viewed him as one that would be probably better suited for a position change at the pro level. Baltimore’s selection of him in the draft, signaled Joe Flacco’s tenure as a Raven was nearing its completion and the organization introduced Jackson as his heir apparent.
Jackson was ultimately called upon late in the year to step in for Flacco amid a hip injury suffered in a week 9 loss versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. He would go on to keep the starting quarterback job, even upon Flacco’s return, leading the Ravens to a 6-1 record down the stretch, enroot to clinching the AFC North. Jackson’s dual-threat ability was prominently responsible for the team’s success during Flacco’s absence. Even though, his numbers through his first seven NFL starts appeared rather pedestrian (6:3 touchdown to interception ratio, 1,201 passing yards and, a 58.2% completion percentage). Facing the Los Angeles Chargers in the Wild-Card round, Jackson struggled. In which, despite a late effort to tie things up, the Ravens fell short 23-17.
Heading into 2019, all five NFL teams are anticipating sophomore leaps from each of their young passers, respectively.
Mayfield’s Browns look like a much improved team and are gearing up to challenge Jackson’s Ravens for AFC North supremacy. Taking a flier on Chiefs former Pro-Bowl back Kareem Hunt, after security video footage from February 2018 was released revealing Hunt getting into a physical altercation with a young woman, the Browns shocked the sports world by finalizing a trade with the New York Giants for All-Pro receiver Odell Beckham Jr. With Beckham Jr. now in the fold, as well Hunt upon his eventual return from his eight game suspension, the Browns have amplified an offense that already featured quality playmakers. Such as, the aforementioned Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, and incumbent running-back Nick Chubb (who enjoyed a fine rookie season with 996 yards on 192 carries).
Sam Darnold’s growth is only expected to progress from here on out as well. Considering the organization prioritized building their off-season plan around making things easier in 2019 for their young signal-caller. That all began with the hiring of the offensive-minded Adam Gase as their new head-coach (and maybe permanent general manager considering the shit show that transpired a few days ago). He was brought aboard to bring Darnold along based on his reputation of being a quarterback whisperer, although nobody could really help Ryan Tannehill. In addition to adding pro-bowler Kelechi Osemele to the offensive-line and slot-receiver Jamison Crowder as key piece to re-tooled offensive attack in 2019, the Jets provided Darnold with the biggest fish of them all; free agent running-back Le’Veon Bell. These additions, along with budding homegrown talents like Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and Chris Herndon; the Jets are aiming to clinch their first playoff berth since 2010.
The Bills don’t figure to be much of a factor in 2019, nor do the Dolphins. However, year 2 for both Josh Allen and Josh Rosen figures to be just as just as important as it will be for Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. Expectation-wise, Josh Allen’s accuracy problems need to improve to further justify the Bills commitment to moving up in the draft to acquire him.
In Miami, the middling production of Josh Rosen needs to improve substantially as well, at least enough to justify the Dolphins sacrificing the picks they sent to Arizona to bring him into the fold. Considering the fact the Dolphins dealt incumbent quarterback Ryan Tannehill away to Tennessee and failed to capitalize on bringing in one of the several veteran quarterbacks who became available in trade. Thus, they had to settle for journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and the pressure is on for Rosen. The reason being, is because if Rosen goes into training camp competing for the starting gig with Fitzpatrick and underwhelms, Miami will have a bigger problem than a scarce QB room.
Lastly, Lamar Jackson needs to build off the strong start to his career he established in 2018, But, he must do more to quiet his doubters. Jackson’s running ability will help but, the league has seen a number of quarterbacks with a similar skillset like his before and have developed a formula on how to contain them. You don’t have to look farther than Jackson’s own teammate and backup quarterback, Robert Griffin III. Whose flame shined bright early but, he also blew out extremely quick. Joe Flacco was dealt away because of the emergence of Jackson, and even though the decline in Flacco’s play was prevalent, he still was an accomplished veteran at the position who isn’t all that far removed from leading those Ravens to a Super Bowl title. It is only year 2 for Jackson, but an improved passing efficiency needs to become a more dynamic part of his game or Baltimore may be on the outside looking in. Leaving them questioning whether they may have moved on from Joe Flacco a year too early.
2019 has a new class of young signal callers but, tons of eyes will still be focused on these sophomore passers and whether they’re going to build upon their successes. As well as waitin to see if they can improve upon the deficiencies that they displayed in each of their rookie seasons.