- With the college football season at its midway point, we asked eight NFL scouts to share their top-five quarterback rankings for the 2018 draft
Over the summer, a general manager told me how stupid it was of all of us to go slobbering over what looked to be a bumper crop of college quarterbacks available in the 2018 draft. That might seem like typical, curmudgeonly scout talk. In fact, it is how a lot of those in the scouting community view the current-day, 24-7-365 coverage of the NFL draft. But this was more than that: He had a point to make, and he used the three quarterbacks everyone was talking about to drive it home.
• Sam Darnold was incredible in 2016, throwing for 3,086 yards and 31 scores against just nine interceptions, and leading a scuffling USC team to nine straight wins, capped by an epic effort in the Rose Bowl. That said, he came into 2017 with just 10 collegiate starts under his belt.
• To watch UCLA’s Josh Rosen throw a football is to see a kid who looks like he was born to do it, and he’s been talked about in an NFL context since early in his true freshman season. But faced with all that hype, Rosen leveled off severely as a sophomore, then got hurt, just as questions about entitlement and partying started to mount.
• Wyoming’s Josh Allen was the great quarterbacking discovery of 2016. His production was one thing, putting eyes on his physical ability was another. But that was just it coming into this year—he was seen as raw as they come, and making strides would be essential in proving he could eventually be as polished as Darnold and Rosen are.
You probably get it. Yes, all the potential was there for those three to head a generational quarterback class, a group that had more than one NFL fan base openly advocating tanking. Conversely, each of those three came into 2017 with far more left to prove than Andrew Luck had going into his final year at Stanford or Marcus Mariota had before his last year at Oregon.
That’s why I figured, here at the midway point of college football’s regular season, the time was right to poll experienced NFL evaluators (I got eight of them on the panel) who’ve watched these quarterbacks on where they stand now. The concept here is easy: Rank them 1-5, with five points for first place, four for second, and so on. These are the results from Monday’s polling:
1. Sam Darnold, USC (35 points, 4 first-place votes, appeared on all 8 ballots): Darnold’s been uneven this year, without question, having already matched his interception total from last year. But the feeling I’ve gotten is that scouts will cut him some slack because of the offensive line issues the Trojans are having. The biggest criticism is that he’s trying to do too much, not unlike what Jameis Winston his final year at Florida State.
2. Josh Rosen, UCLA (34 points, 3 first-place votes, 8 ballots): The Bruins are 3-3, but it’s hard to pin that on Rosen. He’s played from behind a bunch and still has the best completion percentage of his career (64.2) while throwing for 2,354 yards and 17 touchdowns through six games. That said, he’s been a little sloppy with the ball at times.
3. Josh Allen, Wyoming (23 points, 1 first-place vote, 8 ballots): Allen’s numbers are mediocre and his team is 4-2. But there’s youth all around him and scouts trust the talent. One voter put him first, and another put him in front of Rosen.
4. Luke Falk, Washington State (10 points, 6 ballots): Falk was really rolling before Friday night’s five-interception meltdown at Cal, resulting in the Cougars’ first loss. He came into that one with a 19-to-2 TD/INT ratio, and is still over 70% passing.
5. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State (7 points, 3 ballots): There’s more variance on him than any of the other quarterbacks. Is it Mike Gundy’s system and his receivers? Rudolph was second on one ballot, and didn’t appear on five others.
6. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (6 points, 4 ballots): If Mayfield were just a little bit taller, he’d probably be two spots higher on this list.
7. Lamar Jackson, Louisville (5 points, 2 ballots): The Heisman winner is as electric a runner as we’ve seen at the position since Mike Vick, and has flashed a strong arm. But inconsistency as a passer remains.
8. Ryan Finley, N.C. State (1 point, 1 ballot): The junior has a shot to be this year’s Mitchell Trubisky. Two of our eight voters conceded they needed to do more research on him.
So there you have it. And I’d remind you, as that GM reminded me a few months ago, that these things are fluid.
FIVE FROM SATURDAY
1. Let’s start with the global view: Last weekend’s chaos is what college football has over every other North American sport. The fallout from Washington, Washington State, Auburn and Clemson being upset is massive. It eliminates one team (Auburn), and puts the other three on the brink in the playoff picture. And that’s why I’m against a massive expansion of the playoffs. It would take away from these moments.
2. It seems as if ex-Bucs and Bears coach Lovie Smith will soon be fighting for his job. He’s 2-10 in the Big Ten since arriving at Illinois and has lost six straight conference games. Worse, Rutgers came to Champaign on Saturday and snapped its 16-game Big Ten losing streak on the Illini’s home field. The Scarlet Knights were coming off a 56-0 home loss to Ohio State.
3. Syracuse coach Dino Babers got plenty of attention for how he and the Orange celebrated upending Clemson, but he deserves it for more than that. He developed Josh Gordon, Terrance Williams and Kendall Wright as Baylor’s receivers coach, and Jimmy Garoppolo as Eastern Illinois’ head coach, and it seems like that formula’s starting to carry over nicely in Central New York.
4. Bryce Love’s numbers look like someone was putting the old EA NCAA Football game on “freshman” mode and trying to get him the Heisman. Through seven games, Love has 1,387 yards and 11 touchdowns on 135 carries (10.3 yards per), and he has averaged more thatn 7.5 yards per carry in each of Stanford’s seven games. The tailback put on another show in the Cardinal’s 49-7 win over Oregon on Saturday, with 147 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. The 5' 10", 196-pounder true junior, by the way, will be draft eligible.
5. In the spring, Bleacher Report named LSU junior CB Donte Jackson the fastest player in college football (Jackson later said, “I agree 100 percent with that”). He looked it at the end of Saturday’s win over Auburn. Jackson was all over the place. And given his tools (he says he runs a 4.24 40), and the history of Tiger DBs in the pros, he’s absolutely one to watch down the stretch.
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
2. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
4. Derwin James, S, Florida State
5. Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
6. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
7. Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
8. Bradley Chubb, EDGE, N.C. State
9. Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
10. Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
It seems unfair to drop Landry after BC upset Louisville, but I’m moving Chubb up after he came back from a grotesque finger injury to break up a pass on the next series . . . Allen goes up a spot, too, with signs that he’s getting he’s starting to turn the corner with a new team around him . . . The knock of Fitzpatrick is that his ceiling is limited, but the corner/safety has continued to do a little bit of everything for Nick Saban.
Top of the Class:
1. Sam Darnold, USC (27-50, 358 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT vs. Utah): Darnold showed an ability to lift the guys around him—a critical quality—in bringing USC back from a 14-point deficit and leading three drives that covered more than 85 yards. His stock is steady right now.
2. Josh Rosen, UCLA (20-34, 219 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs vs. Arizona): Rosen got knocked around and threw three interceptions, then responded after the game that he “just didn’t play well, at all.” Watch him talk to the press postgame. His frustration is visible.
3. Josh Allen, Wyoming (18-26, 208 yards, TD, INT vs. Utah State): There were some great signs of progress here. Allen was hit a lot and kept coming, and his second effort on a goal-line keeper for the Cowboys’ first score showed the kind of grit coaches want in their field general.
Helped Himself: Clayton Thorson, Northwestern. Here’s a new name that I heard discussed in an NFL context for the first time. The Wildcat junior took a beating against Penn State but bounced back this week, throwing for 293 yards and a touchdown in a convincing win over Maryland. Yes, there were two picks in there, and he’s had interception issues all season. But the tools are there, and the next couple games—at home against Iowa and Michigan State—should be interesting tests.
Hurt Himself: Luke Falk, Washington State. I’ll start with this: Falk wound up higher on my above quarterback list than I thought he would, and the former walk-on is a fantastic story. Thing is, he can’t afford to have too many sideways efforts like he did on Friday night, with an average Cal defense picking him off five times and keeping the Cougars out of the end zone all night.
Saquon Barkley vs. Michigan (ABC, Saturday, 7 p.m.): The Penn State junior has been kept (relatively) in check in his last two games (36 carries, 131 yards, which includes a 53-yard touchdown) and things won’t get easier the next two weeks. The bad news: Penn State’s offensive line has been inconsistent. The worse news: Michigan’s defensive line is among the nation’s best, and the Nittany Lions have Ohio State’s even more fearsome front on deck. So what becomes of Barkley on the two biggest stages he’ll have all year? It should be fascinating to find out.
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