2018 NFL Draft: Previewing the Quarterbacks

NFL Draft
Apr 15, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws a pass during the annual 2017 Spring Game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum . Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, cover32 had a weekly series in which we previewed the top NFL Draft prospects at every position. Now that football is officially underway, we decided to bring that series back, because it’s never too early to prepare for the NFL Draft.

This year’s quarterback class appears to be even better than last year’s class. And last year saw four signal-callers go in the first round! This group has a handful of potential franchise quarterbacks, as well as a few players with starter potential. While all of the top prospects in the group each have their own drawbacks, they all have certain traits that make them stand out.

Enough chit chat. Let’s dive right into these prospects.

Most Potential: Sam Darnold, USC

Ever since Sam Darnold led USC to a miraculous comeback victory in last year’s Rose Bowl, he has been the center of plenty of hype. In fact, NFL.com reported that he was the most-talked about prospect at the 2017 Combine, and he wasn’t even there.

Since then, many have pegged him to be the top quarterback in this class. While I haven’t gotten to that level quite yet, it wouldn’t surprise me if Darnold were to be my No. 1 signal-caller by the time the draft rolls around, if not sooner.

The USC quarterback pretty much has it all. He has a strong arm, he’s a solid athlete and he can make plays. He is a great decision maker who excels at reading defenses and throwing into tight windows. His ball placement, for the most part, is fantastic. And, at 6’4″ and 225 pounds, he has that prototypical size that coaches love in their quarterbacks.

One of Darnold’s biggest concerns is his throwing motion. While I don’t put as much emphasis on mechanics as others do, his should probably be worked on a bit over the offseason. He’s also prone to a handful of forced throws, as well as the occasional poorly-placed deep ball.

In all, though, Darnold is a very good prospect who has the potential to be a Pro Bowl quarterback in a few years. A team in need of a quarterback right away like the Jets or the 49ers would be a good destination for him.

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Biggest Wild Card: Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Lamar Jackson made a name for himself last year as a dynamic playmaker who could run the ball in a way that no other quarterback in the NCAA could do. In fact, one could argue that he is the most athletic signal-caller to step on a college football field since Michael Vick. This year, however, he has proven that he can pass at an NFL level, too.

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t see Jackson as a pro-level quarterback at first. I thought that he would best be suited as a wide receiver at the next level. But he proved me wrong, as he has shown significant improvement so far this year. He has fantastic poise in the pocket, and his athleticism allows him to evade pressure and extend the play with his feet. His touch, ball placement and ability to read defenses have all improved drastically compared to his 2016 Heisman campaign. The Louisville quarterback also has a strong arm, and can throw the ball into tight windows.

Jackson isn’t a finished project quite yet. He still resorts to running the ball instead of waiting for the play to develop. His deep ball is also fairly inconsistent (although that is the case with a lot of college quarterbacks). With a strong outing the rest of the season, though, he could be a legit candidate to be the top quarterback in this class. Teams like the Jaguars, Bills and Cardinals would be good landing spots for the Heisman winner.

Sleeper: Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State

Many people praise Wyoming’s Josh Allen for having superb physical abilities, but there’s another quarterback in this class with a similar skillset in a lower round.

Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald is very similar to Allen in a lot of ways. He has a pro-ready frame (6’5″, 230 pounds) and has a rocket of an arm. He can also beat you on the ground with his athleticism. Fitzgerald had 3,798 total yards from scrimmage last year, and a whopping 1,375 of those came on the run. He also added 16 rushing touchdowns to his 21 passing touchdowns.

As is the case with most athletic projects, Fitzgerald won’t be ready to start right away. He has very inconsistent touch on his throws, and he makes a couple of bad decisions here and there. Overall, though, he isn’t a bad decision maker.

When all is said and done, Fitzgerald is a project worth developing. His physical traits are among the best in the class, and his accuracy issues can be coached. Expect teams who lack a long-term answer at quarterback like the Saints, Cardinals and Chargers to give him a look.

Top 10 Quarterbacks

  1. Josh Rosen, UCLA
  2. Sam Darnold, USC
  3. Josh Allen, Wyoming
  4. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
  5. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
  6. Luke Falk, Washington State
  7. Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
  8. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
  9. Mike White, Western Kentucky
  10. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
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