Two preseason games is a minuscule sample at best, yet the five rookie quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the 2018 draft are under the microscope all the same. A first-round investment at quarterback tantalizes fans with the possibilities of what could be the next great young gunslinger. With all of the rookies playing with the backups, back-end roster players, and will be cuts it is unfair to judge them solely on a few preseason performances. To be fair to us speculators, no matter how high the development ceiling – natural talent stands out. With the season right around the corner the hype around these rookie quarterbacks taken in the first round has never been higher and yet none of them may play a down come week 1.
Baker Mayfield flashed at times in the first preseason game demonstrating the type of athleticism, awareness, and accuracy needed to make it at the NFL level. While many worried how he would handle NFL pressure, Baker managed to sit in the pocket and complete passes despite shotty offensive line play in front of him. Todd Haley utilized spread formations to protect Mayfield throughout the game so it will be interesting to see more of Baker under center going forward – he handled his snaps under center just fine but having first-team defenses right in your face is a lot different than second and third-teams. Baker’s natural feel for the game is undeniable and demonstrated this in part in the third quarter of the first preseason game with a beautiful rollout throw to Calloway that was perfect. Mayfield built on his performance in the Brown’s second preseason game, looking comfortable and in control in the pocket. Mayfield’s poise and accuracy will make it difficult to quite calls for him to start if the Browns struggle at all early on. Tyrod looked as though he should maintain the starting role as long as Hue Jackson doesn’t get desperate. As good as Mayfield looked there is no reason to expect him to start anytime soon with the Browns still healing after going 0-16 last year – in part because Hue Jackson thrust a project rookie quarterback into the starting lineup.
The second quarterback taken in this year’s draft Sam Darnold looked most impressive of all the rookies and most likely to have a chance at starting early on. Darold was accurate and in control of the game the entire time he was under center. Darnold would benefit greatly getting snaps with the first team, as good as he appeared his ceiling is yet to be tapped into. Darnold executed beautifully in the red zone working through his progressions quickly and making the right reads. Most interesting is cornerback Josh Norman’s praise of Darnold saying “this kid just doesn’t make mistakes.” Cornerbacks are notoriously hard on quarterbacks so praise from a corner of Norman’s caliber is nothing to ignore. While Darnold has looked good he hasn’t been asked to do much so it is difficult to confidently project off of this small preseason sample. All the same, the Jets should be hopeful as it appears they have finally found their quarterback of the future. Just how soon should that future come is the question with a roster lacking in talent on the offensive side. With a few project receivers, an average at best offensive line, and a general lack of playmakers the Jets don’t have much to put around Darnold to help him succeed early on. With plenty of cap moving forward the future may be bright in New York for the first time in a long time, but the Jets likely won’t be competing for the playoffs this year whether they have Darnold under center or not. The possibility of a young defense taking a step forward under defensive-minded head coach Todd Bowles could make the Jets a threat but carrying a rookie quarterback and a lacking offense will be a tall task.
Josh Allen truly has a cannon of an arm but is just as inaccurate as advertised. Every Josh Allen pass feels like a coin flip as to whether it will be beautiful or less than ideal. Allen flashed bits of athleticism and strength mixed with goofiness. In the third quarter, while being sacked Allen made one of the worst decisions with the football anyone could make as he attempted to lob it down the field while being spun down by the defense. Allen truly looks like the third quarterback on this roster at the moment, yet with A.J McCarron injured Allen is automatically the number two and closer to starting than any of the other rookie quarterbacks because he is on a bad team. The Bills announced that Allen will start the third preseason game so the Bills may let him learn on the fly after all. Allen continued to flash potential in the second preseason game as he had a good feel for pressure and managed a few nice throws while rolling out. Allen went into the draft a controversial top prospect as he embodied everything an older generation of football evaluators loved, and simultaneously everything – excluding his arm strength – that the current generation rejects. In his time on the field since the draft, Allen has put on display all of these traits, good and bad alike. While the addition of Corey Coleman is a bonus, it is difficult to see how a Josh Allen led Bill’s offense will fair well against competent starting NFL defenses. Everything seemingly hangs on what happens with LeSean McCoy and his legal situation.
Josh Rosen was solid in his first preseason game in the moments he wasn’t getting destroyed by a defense coming seemingly unblocked by the offensive line. Rosen flashed at times but also made a poor goofy throw while going down that makes for questionable awareness. In the second game playing higher on the depth chart, Rosen put on a beautiful show. Even passes that ended up incomplete were perfectly thrown. The offensive line continued to struggle but Rosen showed why he was such a coveted prospect. Displaying arm strength, accuracy, and the ability to make quick reads the Cardinals should be excited about their future under center. Rosen could start, it all depends on how long Bradford lasts in front of him. Given the lack of talent on the offense besides David Johnson and an aging Larry Fitzgerald sitting Rosen for the season isn’t a bad idea, but is Bradford healthy enough to make it past the first game of the season?
Lamar Jackson is every bit the athlete as advertised however his passing abilities make him a project in the works. While the national media has been slow to catch on, local media in Baltimore has been dispelling the idea of a quarterback controversy for quite some time. Jackson got a head start on the other quarterbacks with the extra preseason game getting to play in the Hall of Fame game. Despite the extra practice, Jackson looks the most like a multi-year project of the five rookie quarterbacks. Jackson is inconsistent at best, one moment he’s spinning away from defenders dazzling coaches and teammates alike, and the next throwing a wobbly, inaccurate pass. Jackson has admitted that the NFL is faster, but has yet to show that he truly understands it as he continues to take vicious hits throughout the preseason. Against the second-string Colts, one of the league’s worst defensive teams, Jackson struggled to complete passes and took numerous hits that are best avoided even during more important regular season games. During the final two minutes of the first half Jackson finally connected on a few passes and showed off his highlight reel speed. Jackson began the second half by marching down the field capping off the drive with a beautiful throw to 4th-year receiver Chris Moore in the end zone. The potential for Jackson is great but he still looks to run too early. Joe Flacco is widely criticized for checking the ball down, at times Jackson will avoid the check down to run and takes a bigger hit than any quarterback should be taking – especially in the preseason. Jackson has struggled as a passer through three outings with a completion percentage below 50%. Jackson is still raw and needs time to develop behind Joe Flacco and RG3.
With the Bills announcing Josh Allen the week three preseason starter he may end up starting week one of the regular season whether he is truly ready or not. Through the season the pressure will mount on the coaches to start these guys, but it may be the coaches that hold out the longest that end up with the best quarterbacks. While the Browns have the talent to support Mayfield, the other four find themselves in situations with lower-tier skill position players and/or questionable offensive lines. Sitting, practicing, and developing over the course of a season and giving these teams a chance to build around their young quarterbacks going forward is an unpopular idea among most fans, but for a lot of these young quarterbacks, it certainly couldn’t hurt.