The league has it all wrong. The 2018 NFL draft will come back to haunt every team that chose a quarterback in the first round not named Lamar Jackson.
Baker Mayfield was the number one overall draft pick by the Cleveland Browns. Without any deep analysis, that in itself should tell you that something is clearly wrong. From Tim Couch to DeShone Kizer, and everyone in-between, Cleveland has not gotten the quarterback position right this century. That’s right, not since before the year 2000. Both coach Hue Jackson and Paul Depodesta (Browns’ Chief Strategy Officer) have played a more recent hand in the missteps of Cleveland’s draft board, notably dismissing Carson Wentz as NFL-ready two years ago. Since then, Wentz has helped lead his team to a Super Bowl title. As for all of the Mayfield comparisons to both Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, it seems a bit premature for a guy that has not even seen the field.
Though Mayfield’s college stats were phenomenal, his skillset may be no better than a Case Keenum at the professional level. While Mayfield is by no means a terrible quarterback, he does seem to require the right system for his talents to truly shine. With the more experienced Tyrod Taylor in the fold, Mayfield will likely need an injury or pressure from upper management to see the field this season. Even then, with all-world talents like wide receiver Josh Gordon catching passes, Mayfield could appear to be better than he actually is.
Meanwhile, in the New York Jets camp, quarterback Sam Darnold (3rd overall draft pick) is in a battle for the starting position with Teddy Bridgewater. This is red flag number two for a quarterback selected in the first round of the 2018 draft. Simply put, the mere optics of Darnold being in a quarterback battle with Bridgewater doesn’t look good. In case you’ve not paid close attention to the NFL over the past several years, Bridgewater isn’t very good. Maybe it’s due to his fragility and injury history.
We get that all rookies need a grace period to come up to speed, but the news we’d rather hear coming out of the Jets camp is that, “Darnold is our guy!” Another year at USC probably would’ve been good for Darnold, but with New York’s lackluster offense, he’ll at least get a chance to see the field and get a feel for the game. Hopefully sooner, rather than later. With that said, Darnold likely falls more in the Blake Bortles category than the Andrew Luck category.
Josh Allen, the seventh overall pick by the Buffalo Bills, might have more upside than both Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold. Although he often plays with what seems like rushed progressions, Allen has a Brett Favre-like arm in terms of strength, and the comparative grit of Matthew Stafford. The only downside for Allen is that he’s with an organization that has stocked young quarterbacks for the past several years. For that reason, Allen will have to surpass Bills’ Nathan Peterman in order to see the field. However, it seems that head coach Sean McDermott is only partial to Peterman for the time being. There’s a good bet that Allen’s name rings more longevity than both Mayfield and Darnold.
This brings us to the 32nd overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft, Lamar Jackson. Much like Stephen Curry was overlooked by the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves (twice!) in the 2009 NBA draft, many teams will regret not drafting Jackson. The obvious fear is that teams see a running quarterback, and automatically think Robert Griffin III. However, if you study Jackson’s tape closely, he’s much more willing to stay in the pocket than people give him credit for. Jackson should be more closely compared to Deshaun Watson than Griffin. However, unlike Watson, Jackson’s build and speed is more comparable to a young Michael Vick. There’s much to fear with a player like Jackson, who can hurt the opposing defense in multiple ways, even when he struggles.
The Baltimore Ravens got it right in drafting Lamar Jackson. First, it’s the end of the road for quarterback Joe Flacco, and has been for some time. While backup quarterback RGIII is just that, a backup, Jackson possesses the opportunity to start almost immediately. In fact, it will likely be difficult for coach John Harbaugh to keep Jackson on the bench should Flacco struggle in any capacity. It’s quite possible that we could see a replay of the mishap that the Houston Texans made last season, when they chose to roll out Tom Savage ahead of Deshaun Watson, only to realize that the future was sitting on their sideline. Just as the Ravens may quickly learn what they have in their young draft pick, so will the league. It’s Jackson, not Mayfield.