The 2018 NFL Draft is rife will highly touted quarterbacks that are elevating their programs and ready for some hopeful AFC laggard to pin their franchise hopes on. The teams likely to hold the #1 pick are all in desperate need of a signal-caller (with uncomplicated politics). The odds a QB is first off the board are real high, like Josh Gordon high.
Below, we run through the quarterbacks most likely to be taken first overall. An important note: NFL teams scout quarterbacks in much the same way colleges scout them. They want to see a big arm, a big body, some vision and anticipation, and don’t care much about the rest. They don’t particularly care about which state championship you won or how many yards you amassed at a lower level. If collegiate wins and achievements mattered to the NFL, Deshaun Watson would have been picked over Mitch Trubisky every time. It’s thus important not to get wrapped up in comparing those accolades, a mistake I make almost every year.
Josh Rosen, UCLA
Junior Josh Rosen has been the #1 quarterback in his class since his senior year at St. John Bosco. He’s got an incredible arm, the cleanest mechanics in this group, and is able to make throws that most college QB’s simply can’t. Unfortunately, he’s also played for three offensive coordinators in three years, starred on a UCLA team that cannot reliably spell “running back,” and was injured against Arizona State last year. His draft stock has somewhat declined since his remarkable first season, and he’ll hope to reassert himself in 2017.
If anything, you know what you’re getting when you draft Rosen. He throws the ball singularly well, even when under pressure, even when being tackled, and rarely makes mistakes. He’s the rare stud QB recruit who lived up to his billing, and he’s given UCLA exactly one five-star’s worth of quarterbacking for the last two years. He isn’t exactly going to light the NFL scouting world on fire, but he’s a known quantity.
Odds to be #1 draft pick: 3/1
Sam Darnold, USC
Sam Darnold did set the world on fire when he took over as starting quarterback at USC. Darnold’s mechanics aren’t as clean as Rosen’s, but his record is much better: he hasn’t lost a game since last September, torched a few really good opponents along the way, beat Washington on the road, and won a Rose Bowl game that was easily the best game of the year. His Trojans are now almost even money favorites to win the Pac-12.
Darnold is a big guy (USC lists him at 6’4 and 225 pounds), he throws the ball with equal parts power and touch, and he was able to work through progressions and make good decisions against tough defenses. He did all that in his first season as a starting quarterback, and in doing so, presented scouts with something they crave: potential.
Odds to be #1 draft pick: 7/2
Josh Allen, Wyoming
It’s alright, we forgive you. Occasionally NFL scouts will get all hot under the collar about some kid you’ve never heard of from a school you didn’t even know had a football program, and this year it’s Wyoming’s Josh Allen. Allen was overlooked in recruiting because of a late growth spurt and a multi-sport schedule that stopped him from attending the circuit of camps that features most California quarterbacks. He’s now listed at 6’5 and 230 pounds and makes great television tearing Mountain West opponents to pieces. Allen is also coached by Craig Bohl, the same coach who gave us Carson Wentz, the small-program-to-NFL-stud that scouts are trying to find again in Allen.
The negatives: he doesn’t have a quick release (ProFootballFocus ranks it as the fourth slowest), doesn’t complete enough of his passes (56%), and struggles against better competition. Throwing five picks against Nebraska doesn’t bode well for his professional prospects. With a good season, a good performance against the better teams on this schedule, and an impressive combine, Josh Allen could find himself in the conversation for #1 overall.
Odds to be #1 draft pick: 8/1
Luke Falk, Washington State
Washington State’s quarterback has put up truly gaudy numbers in the last two years. He threw for 4468 in 2015, 4561 yards last year, and 38 touchdowns in both years. He did this with surprising efficiency, floating around a 70% completion rate and a decent QB/INT ratio the whole time. He did this despite not having a nuclear arm or huge strength; he’s a rare Air Raid quarterback that wins with anticipation. Scouts are always nervous about Air Raid quarterbacks — that system simply doesn’t translate into the NFL — but if anyone of them is going to be successful at the next level it’s Falk. He’s also got oodles of “poise,” a trait the very successful Carson Wentz invented in 2016.
Odds to be the #1 draft pick: 10/1
Lamar Jackson, Louisville
I want to talk about Lamar Jackson because he’s a great illustrator of some of the foibles in NFL scouting. Jackson scored 51 touchdowns last year against some of the toughest competition in college football, won the Heisman trophy, and was nearly the consensus best player in the nation. Lamar Jackson was impossible, a sight to behold, a rare look into the future of what football can be.
He’s also at the top of precisely zero draft boards. The NFL generally doesn’t like mobile quarterbacks (unless they’re Andrew Luck) and places a premium on measurables that can baffle a college football fan. Josh Allen’s height and weight are more important to NFL scouts than Jackson’s touchdowns or offensive production. They have identical completion percentages, and Jackson’s TD/INT ratio is almost twice as good, yet Allen’s the one getting the hype. This is because Jackson’s “only” 6’3, weighs 211 pounds dripping wet, and doesn’t fit the mould of tree-like passers the NFL prefers and produces.
Odds to be #1 draft pick: 12/1