2018 NFL Draft: Sam Darnold, Josh Allen lead polarizing QB class

1. Sam Darnold*
Southern Cal
6-3, 220, 40 time: 4.85
Projection: First round

Darnold is a cinch to become the sixth redshirt sophomore quarterback to be drafted in the first round. Scouts swoon over his intangibles and bloodlines – grandfather, Dick Hammer, played basketball at USC and was on the Olympic volleyball team, while Sam’s father, Mike, played football at Redlands College. Darnold redshirted behind Cody Kessler and Max Browne in 2015 and become the starter in 2016. Darnold completed 67.2 percent of his passes as a freshman, starting nine games, with 31 touchdown passes and nine interceptions. Ball security and decision-making became concerns for scouts observing Darnold as a sophomore, when he had 24 total turnovers, including 13 fumbles. He was still the All-Pac-12 first-team quarterback (coaches) in 2017 with 4,143 passing yards and 26 touchdowns.

A pro-ready passer with the arm strength and pocket presence to survive a flawed wind-up release. Likely to be in the running for the No. 1 overall pick and considered a lock in the top-10, Darnold could benefit from a season on the sideline to perfect his footwork and sync a throwing motion that can tip defenders to the intended target. Darnold plays with grit, can deliver the ball on time from a moving pocket and was praised by college coaches and teammates for his natural leadership traits.

With 21 fumbles in 27 career games at USC, scouts are split on whether improving technique on his drop back will help Darnold curb the issue. His process can be sped up by pressure, but Darnold generally responds with clutch throws under duress. Decision-making could improve with NFL coaching. Could thrive in an up-tempo system that accentuates his instant trigger and velocity.

2. Josh Allen*
6-5, 237, 40 time: 4.75
Projection: First round

From the farm to JUCO and Wyoming to the NFL?

That’s the current trajectory for Allen, who has gone from afterthought to potential top-five pick. Reedley Community College was the only program to offer Allen a chance out of high school, and Wyoming was the only FBS program to offer a scholarship after a year at the JUCO level.

Following a redshirt season in 2015, Allen put himself on the NFL radar in 2016 with 3,203 passing yards and 35 total touchdowns. He returned for the 2017 season, but his top two rushers and three top receivers did not, and Allen’s production and on-field play dropped.

He finished with 1,812 passing yards and 21 total touchdowns in 2017, while also missing two games due to a right shoulder injury. Allen still declared early for the 2018 NFL Draft, and scouts are excited about his physical traits.

Elite physical tools can help mask other deficiencies, which is the case with Allen. He has outstanding size, athleticism and arm strength to deliver strikes to all levels of the field. Allen uses athletic feet to buy extra time and move with agility within the pocket, stressing the defense with his movements. He shows an understanding of touch, adding velocity or taking some off his fastball as needed.

Allen tends to rely too much on his arm to do the work, which leads to spotty mechanics and over-striding. That messy, inconsistent technique consequently affects his accuracy.

Allen is undeveloped from a mental perspective, telegraphing throws and not making whole-field reads, but his physical traits, coachable attitude and potential will be enough to earn a spot in the top half of the first round.

3. Baker Mayfield
6-1, 215, 40 time: 4.84
Projection: First Round

From two-time walk-on to Heisman Trophy winner, Mayfield’s prospect snapshot is entirely unique.

He had few options out of Lake Travis in Austin, Texas, and decided to walk on at Texas Tech. Mayfield was pressed into immediate action and had 15 touchdowns. With no scholarship offer from the coaching staff and an uneasy relationship with coaches, Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma. He became the Sooners’ starting quarterback as a sophomore in 2015 and showed steady improvement the past three years, culminating with his Heisman Trophy season as a senior. Mayfield completed 70.5 percent of his passes in 2018 with 4,627 passing yards, 43 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Preseason grades on Mayfield placed him in the middle rounds, but with each brilliant performance, doubts were erased and scouts came around to the idea of the Heisman Trophy winner landing in the first round of the 2018 draft. Mayfield is a snap passer with enough arm strength. His calling cards are competitiveness and above-average accuracy. His placement on throws outside the hashes allow only his receiver to make a play. He thrived against suspect Big 12 defenses, but his play didn’t see a dramatic drop off vs. SEC (Georgia) or Big Ten (Ohio State) defenses.

Mayfield benefited from a strong offensive line, although the ability to improvise and thrive when facing the unrehearsed helps set him apart. He doesn’t run a 4.5 40-yard dash but uses his legs and instincts to create. His super-competitive nature, which led to moments some teams viewed as immaturity, will lead to heated discussions in NFL draft rooms around the league.

Most general managers see the type of field general other players want leading the team. With his lack of size and sometimes unorthodox skill set, Mayfield is not be for every team, but he has the talent to be start in the NFL.

4. Josh Rosen*
6-4, 226, 40 time: 4.92
Projection: First Round

Rosen, the top prep recruit in the country coming off of a high school state title, signed with UCLA and was first true freshman in school history to start the season opener at quarterback. After a promising first season, Rosen started the first six games as a sophomore before suffering a season-ending tear in muscle in his throwing shoulder. He returned in 2017 and had an up-and-down junior season during which head coach Jim Mora Jr. was fired. Rosen was second-team All-Pac-12 despite missing the bowl game and a regular-season contest with Kansas State due to concussions.

Rosen looks the part and is very natural as a pocket passer. Has a set-up, footwork and throwing mechanics, moving very efficient from snap-to-throw. Was a nationally ranked youth tennis player and footwork reflects that training. Rosen has enough arm to spin balls to all levels of the field and excels when adding touch to his throws. Because of some talent gaps, carried much of the offense on his right shoulder which prompted overaggressive decisions and poor mistakes.

Bright and has natural football instincts, the ability to read defenses and deliver dimes in tight coverage. Some have questioned his mindset and Rosen will need to sell himself to a franchise to be given the keys to an offense.

The greater concern is the past injuries, most notably multiple concussions in 2017 that took him off the field. Just 21 years old, Rosen (Feb. 10 birthday) could take an NFL redshirt and benefit from learning the ropes as a pro. Some red flags suggest Rosen has a bust factor. He rates as the top pure pocket passer in the 2018 draft class.

5. Lamar Jackson*
6-2, 216, 40 time: 4.42
Projection: First Round

The numbers are tough to fathom: Consecutive 3,500-yard passing and 1,500-yard rushing seasons? Jackson was the first in college football history to achieve that feat. He was also the first underclassman to top 7,000 career passing yards and 3,000 career rushing yards.

Jackson ran away with the Heisman Trophy in 2016 with 3,543 passing yards, 1,571 rushing yards and 51 total touchdowns. And he surpassed several of his sophomore year numbers as a junior in 2017, finishing with 3,660 passing yards, 1,601 rushing yards and 45 total scores. Bottom line: he was a touchdown machine in college, averaging 3.7 per game after becoming the full-time starter as a sophomore.

The most electric quarterback prospect since Michael Vick, Jackson is an explosive athlete and moves at speeds that are noticeably different than everyone else on the field. It is easy to get excited about his highlight reel runs, leaving defenders in his dust. But NFL teams and their evaluations will focus more on his development as a passer, which is why there are so many varying opinions in the scouting community.

Jackson, who never reached 60-percent completions in any of his three seasons in college, has shaky body and base mechanics, which alter his tempo and accuracy as a passer. There are no questions about his arm strength, firing unforced fastballs with a simple throwing motion, but he is a very streaky downfield thrower, hitting his man in stride or missing by 10 yards (without much in between).

Jackson is a first-round athlete with impressive leadership skills, but it will take a creative offensive coordinator willing to open up the playbook to get the promising quarterback comfortable with the speed of the NFL.

6. Mason Rudolph
Oklahoma State
6-4 5/8, 235, 40 time: 4.90
Projection: Second round

Born into a football family – his father, Brett, played linebacker at North Carolina – Rudolph was a finalist for South Carolina’s Mr. Football Award as a senior in high school. An injury forced him into action at Oklahoma State during what was supposed to be a redshirt freshman year, and he went on to start 42 games for the Cowboys.

Rudolph was uber-productive in coach Mike Gundy’s fast-paced offense, throwing for 4,091 yards, 28 touchdowns and four interceptions as a junior and 4,904 yards, 37 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a senior. A foot injury kept him from taking part in the Senior Bowl, but he attended anyway to participate in measurements and interviews, before participating fully on the field at the Scouting Combine.

With a large frame and a good-to-very-good arm, Rudolph is built in the mold of a classic pocket passer. He has the strength to attack all parts of the field while displaying above average mechanics and accuracy, including an advanced feel for touch on vertical throws. He can also slide and maneuver effectively in the pocket, occasionally shedding would-be sackers with strength.

However, Rudolph doesn’t have the mobility to routinely evade pass rushers or threaten defenses with his legs, and his throws can lose energy when he’s forced to operate from a muddy pocket. He also played in a system that relied heavily on screens, slants and verticals, raising questions about whether he can process quickly and deliver with anticipation against more complex defenses at the next level.

7. Mike White
Western Kentucky
6-4 5/8, 224, 40 time: 5.09
Projection: Third-Fourth round

Once pegged as a potential MLB pitcher, White became the Florida Class 3A Player of the Year in high school before heading to South Florida. After struggling as a freshman and sophomore with the Bulls, he transferred to Western Kentucky and sat out 2015 before taking the reins in 2016.

White dazzled in his first year as the Hilltoppers’ starter with 4,363 passing yards (10.5 per attempt), 37 touchdowns and seven interceptions. After taking a step back as a senior (4,177 yards on 7.5 per attempt, 26 TDs and 8 INTs), White impressed at the Senior Bowl, going 8-of-11 passing for 128 yards and a score through a quarter of work before Kyle Lauletta stole the show and claimed game MVP honors.

With good size and an excellent arm, White has the tools that scouts look for in potential starters. His accuracy improved during his senior season, and when he gets hot, he can carve up defenses with zippy precision. White is also willing to hang in the pocket, step up and deliver with bodies around him.

Plenty of polish is needed, however. White’s accuracy remains inconsistent and he rarely throws with proper touch, often sailing fastballs over receivers’ heads on vertical throws that demand a higher, softer trajectory. He also tends to lock onto receivers and stall in his progression at times, making him a beat slow to deliver.

Skeptics will point to the disastrous results in White’s toughest college test (at Alabama in 2016), but others will see a piece of clay worth molding.

8. Luke Falk
Washington State
6-3 5/8, 215, 40 time: 4.85
Projection: Fourth Round

A lifelong Tom Brady fan, Falk has patterned his game after No. 12, which shines through in his rotational delivery. After a redshirt year in Pullman, Falk played in five games in 2014 before taking over full-time in 2015.

He was remarkably consistent as a redshirt sophomore and junior, posting 4,561 yards (7.1-yard average per attempt), 38 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2015 and 4,468 yards (7.1 average), 38 scores and 11 picks in 2016. Falk struggled as a senior while suffering a concussion and reportedly playing with a broken left wrist, getting benched at times and averaging 6.7 yards per attempt with 30 touchdowns and a career-high 13 interceptions.

Falk impressed coaches and scouts on and off the field during Senior Bowl week, but missed the game to attend former teammate Tyler Hilinski’s funeral. He did take part in the throwing drills at the Scouting Combine.

Tall but with a limited arm, Falk makes hay with sharp mechanics and precision accuracy. Given a clean pocket, he consistently works through progressions and delivers with great ball placement. He throws a very catchable ball and shows a great feel for touch when needed.

Issues arise when the pocket gets muddy, requiring Falk to throw off-platform and exposing his lack of zip. Too often he attempts ambitious throws that his arm can’t make, leading to turnovers. Falk also shows a tendency to lead defenders to his target with poor eye discipline.

With proper coaching, Falk might have the accuracy and maturity to become a starter in the Kirk Cousins mold, but many will see him as a product of Mike Leach’s system with backup-level talent.

9. Kyle Lauletta
6-3, 217, 40 time: 4.81
Projection: Fourth round

A talented lacrosse player in high school, Lauletta blossomed into a legitimate quarterback recruit his final season at Downingtown East. Quarterback is in his blood – his dad played the position at Navy and his older brother at Bucknell.

Lauletta received nibbles from FBS programs and a few programs offered him a scholarship, but he elected to sign with FCS-level Richmond. Lauletta became the starter as a sophomore and his production improved each season, becoming the first passer in school history with multiple 3,000-yard passing seasons. He had 3,737 yards and 28 touchdowns with 12 interceptions as a senior.

For a quarterback with mediocre arm strength, he better be above average in other areas to compensate.

The former CAA Offensive Player of the Year doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, but he understands touch and pacing of his throws, getting the ball out on time and making smart decisions. He is a decent athlete outside the pocket and buys himself more time with his feet.

Lauletta will bird-dog receivers and force the ball to his first read, but more times he finds the vulnerable matchup and extends drives – which is something he did in the Senior Bowl game en route to MVP honors in the game.

10. Kurt Benkert
6-2 5/8, 218, 40 time: 4.95
Projection: Sixth Round

Benkert began his collegiate career at East Carolina and was set to start as a redshirt sophomore in 2015, but a torn ACL ended his season before it began. After losing the job in 2016 — and having earned his degree in three years — he transferred as a graduate to Virginia, where he threw for 2,552 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 10 starts.

Benkert built on those numbers as a senior (3,207 yards, 25 TDs, 9 INTs) but averaged only 6.3 yards per attempt and finished under 60 percent in completion rate for the second consecutive year. He flashed playmaking ability at the Senior Bowl but was otherwise uneven in Mobile.

Benkert’s size, arm and athletic ability are all above average for the position, helping him produce many explosive plays outside the pocket. When he gets hot, he can carve up defenses with tight-window throws and then create off-schedule plays down the field.

But with the highs come major lows, often in the same game (see 2017 at Miami; 384 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 5 sacks). Benkert’s mechanics and accuracy go through erratic stretches, and he rarely works smoothly through progressions to find open targets. He repeatedly locks onto receivers and gets antsy when they aren’t open, often dropping his eyes to look for pressure. His pocket movement is unpredictable at times, leading to bad sacks and turnovers.

Benkert has tools and playmaking ability to get excited about, but he needs a sturdier foundation to build upon.

11. Chase Litton
6-5, 232, 40 time: 4.94
Projection: Seventh Round

A three-star recruit out of Florida, Litton passed for 8,000 yards and 64 touchdowns and scored more than 1,000 career points as a basketball player in high school. He passed on a chance to remain in-state with Florida Atlantic for chance to play immediately at Marshall, but only after spending the 2014 season working exclusively with a quarterback coach.

Litton started the final 11 games and posted a 9-2 record in 2015. He went on to play in 34 games for the Thundering Herd, posting 8,335 yards and 72 touchdown passes in three seasons but also had 31 interceptions.

Litton left Marshall with one year of eligibility remaining, and it’s no surprise he’s ready to bet on himself. He receives a high competitive grade but also plays with a fearlessness that gets him in trouble, trusting his arm to get the ball through tight windows rather than taking advantage of weak spots in the defense. Accurate short and has the touch to deliver when the pocket shrinks, but Litton is not an accurate deep ball passer.

Litton is tall with a clean release and quick trigger but is limited as a passer outside the pocket. His ability to spark an offense and the overall arm talent make Litton a solid developmental option and could lead to a lasting opportunity as a backup in the NFL.

–Field Level Media