Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Ranking and Grading the Rookie QB Class of 2018

As week 17 draws to a close, and with the postseason now upon us, I think it is time to evaluate the rookie quarterbacks taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. This list will evaluate and rank the starting QB's this past season, the five players in particular: Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, and Josh Allen.

5. Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals.

I feel like this might be biased, considering I was never high on Rosen talent wise while also not being a fan of his attitude and ego. Rosen's rookie campaign seemed really lackluster, although he didn't have much of a team around him in all fairness. His two top receivers were a declining Larry Fitzgerald and rookie Christian Kirk who hit injured reserve after week 13. It's definitely still too soon to "throw in the towel" on him, many players who have poor rookie seasons went on to become great players. Hopefully these 13 games helped him gain some experience as a starter. In those 13 games, Rosen completed 199 of his 359 passes for a 55.4% completion percentage, threw for 2129 yards with 10 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. These are not the stats you necessarily want your starting quarterback to have, but he gets the rookie pass here. I expect him to have a bit less of a leash next year, but it seems the Cardinals are high on Rosen and feel comfortable having him as the franchise QB.

Shining moment: Driving the Cardinals down the field in the final minute to defeat the 49ers 18-15 in week 8 - I think this was the biggest lesson and moment for Rosen this season and it's a trait that an elite quarterback needs to possess: the ability to put together a game winning drive in the final minutes.

Biggest blunder: Blowing a 14-3 lead against the Chicago bears in week 3 after Sam Bradford was benched in favor of him - Now, I understand it was his first ever regular season game and it was also against the best defense in the NFL this season, but the Cardinals had the Bears on the ropes and chose to turn to Rosen to close out the game. Rosen didn't put up any points and watched the Bears score 13 unanswered points to win 16-14. Again, it was a tough defense, but they put him in with a comfortable lead and Rosen just wasn't able to hold on to it.

Overall grade: D+

4. Sam Darnold, New York Jets.

Darnold began the first game of his career on a sour note. On the first pass attempt of his career, he threw an awkward pass across the field that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. In his first game though, that would be the only mistake he made, settling in to pound the Lions in the season opener 48-17. Darnold put up a better stat line than Rosen, while not having a much better receiving corp: that consisting of Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa. Darnold completed 239 of his 414 passes for a 57.5% completion percentage while throwing for 2865 yards with 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. A good plus mark for Darnold is that his TD/INT ratio was over 1, a measure I take into account when evaluating QB's (especially rookies). The Jets remain very optimistic with Darnold as their QB of the future, much like Arizona does with Rosen. I think Darnold had an average rookie year and didn't do much to make me think less of him, nor did he do much to feel like he raised his stock. Still, like Rosen, the future is still bright in his young career and I expect some improvement next season.

Shining moment: Leading a final minute GW drive to defeat the Bills 27-23: Now, I know it's the Bills and that the game probably didn't carry much meaning, but I value game winning comeback drives, especially in rookie QB's.

Honorable mention (shining moment): Overcoming an opening pass pick-6 on the first throw of his career, settling in to throw 2 touchdowns to beat the Lions 48-17.

Biggest blunder: A three game stretch with a 47.2% completion percentage, 196 Pass YPG, with 2 TD's and 7 INT's. Now, granted, two of these three games came against elite defenses (Vikings and Bears). Darnold also would go on to miss 3 games after this dues to injury, so he may have not been playing at 100%. Nevertheless, these stats are very poor over a three game stretch, especially for a starting QB.

Overall grade: C+

3. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills.

While Allen's starts are no flashier than Darnold or Rosen, he came off as a different type of QB than the other two. In the end though, Allen's 5-6 record as a QB tops Rosen's 3-10 and Darnold's 4-9. Stats can look good on paper, but nearly finishing with a .500 record with the team that the Bills had this year speaks volume. Allen had even less to work with than Rosen or Darnold when it came to receiving corps as well, with Zay Jones and Robert Foster being his top targets. Allen finished completing 169 of his 320 passes for a 52.8% completion percentage, threw for 2074 yards with 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Again, not very flashy stats..and to be frank, he probably has the worst stat line of the starting rookie QB's. I think Allen has an interesting future ahead of him, and I think he exceeded expectations this year, as he was more of a raw talent coming out of the draft and was not necessarily NFL ready.

Shining attribute: For Allen, I'd like to showcase his rushing/scrambling ability. I think this is one area that sets him apart from the other rookie QB's (except #2 on this list). After returning from his shoulder injury, Allen ran for 5 TD's over 6 games while averaging 79.3 rush YPG over that stretch. This gives Allen some versatility and I hope he continues to use this, as it is becoming a rare trait with QB's being protected more in today's game.

Shining moment: Dominating the defending NFC North Champion Minnesota Vikings 27-6. Allen walked into US Bank Stadium and put up 27 points on a top 5 defense and made them look silly, accounting for 3 TDs (2 rushing) while backing up a stout Bills defense.

Biggest Blunder: The completion percentage: If one thing needs to improve with Allen, it's the completion percentage. His low number of air yards per attempt shows he isn't necessarily airing it out too much either. 52.8% is very poor for a starting QB, but the Bills also need to give Allen more weapons on offense.

Overall grade: B-

2. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens.

Jackson started out being just a utility player getting probably 10-15 snaps a game, I never expected Jackson to actually start this season and NEVER would I had expected him to perform as well as he did. Jackson took over as the starter for the Ravens in week 11 after Joe Flacco was dealing with a delicate hip injury that could incur long-term damage. Jackson took the reigns and absolutely thrived as the starter. While Jackson's stat line is not at all impressive: 99 for 170 for a 58.2% completion percentage with 1201 yards with 6 Touchdowns and 3 Interceptions, he did one thing like Josh Allen did, win games. Jackson brought back the old-fashioned "ground and pound" style offense, one that dominated time of possession, one that whittled down opposing defenses with 6-10 minute drives ending in points. That's the type of football I love, and the Ravens proved that it still works in today's game. Jackson never threw more than 25 passes in any start, but still never scored less than 20 points in a game thanks to a stout run game featuring him, Gus Edwards, and Kenneth Dixon.

Shining Moment: Going 6-1 as a starter, sending the then 4-5 Ravens to an AFC North Championship: Jackson did something I'm sure that no one expected him to do, and that's win 6 of his 7 games as a starter. His one loss wasn't even a bad loss, an overtime loss against the #1 seed in the AFC Kansas City Chiefs. Jackson's mobility (like Allen) is what makes him a threat, and now the Ravens have a solid QB of the future, and as long as they run an offense that compliments Jackson's ability like they have, Jackson will win plenty of games in his career.

Biggest blunder: NOT STARTING HIM SOONER.. this blunder doesn't even go against Jackson, I think Flacco has had too much slack over the years, and now they have a reason to can him. Logically though, I wouldn't have started Jackson over Flacco (at least not this year), so the injury to Flacco was really a blessing in disguise.

Overall Grade: A

1. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns.

If Mayfield didn't play for the Browns, maybe Lamar Jackson would have the #1 spot. Mayfield already looks like the Browns' best draft pick of the last 20 years. Nothing that I seen from Mayfield this year could possibly spell bust, as he nearly led the Browns..YES THE BROWNS to a winning record in 2018 and they might've been closer to the playoffs this year than you think..*cough*..Zane Gonzalez...*cough*. Baker has the Browns now looking brighter than ever before. Baker by far had the best stat line of the starting rookies this year: 310 for 486 for a 63.8% completion percentage going for 3725 yards with 27 Touchdowns and 14 Interceptions. Those are some great stats for a rookie, especially the near 2-to-1 TD/INT ratio. Mayfield easily exceeded my expectations this year and easily has the highest potential of these five. After seeing him play this season, I would say he has top 10, even top 5 QB potential, and he will be the Browns' building rock for years to come.

Shining moment: Enduring a head coach and offensive coordinator firing: Mayfield played amazingly through the firing of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley midseason. This is a big deal too, as doing this in the middle of the season would cripple and ruin most rookie QB's. It didn't faze Baker though, who took well to Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens offensive schemes and didn't seem to miss a beat while doing so. Mayfield also went 6-7 as the Browns starter this year, including a 5-2 finish over the last 7 games of the season.

Biggest blunder: not firing Hue Jackson sooner. I found very few flaws in Mayfield's game, and none that were extremely pressing. That being said, I had to attack something that suppressed his playing ability: one Hue Jackson. When you go 1-31 over your first 2 seasons with a team, I find it all too shocking that you don't get canned right there. The Browns chose to give Hue Jackson a third season to redeem himself with a new rookie QB, but he just couldn't get past differences with then OC Todd Haley and groom his new QB properly. The decision to fire Hue Jackson may have been the turning point for the Browns and they should stick with Gregg Williams as the Head Coach going forward.

Overall Grade: A+

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