Normally at this time of year I am commissioned to concoct a way-too-early mock draft for the following year. I don’t typically mind, and there are some years where I wind up showing some prescience in forecasting half the players in the first round.
Not this year.
I am refusing to write a 2018 NFL mock draft until at least the week before the college season kicks off. That hasn’t stopped others however, and the initial mock draft crop bothers me more than it probably should.
I can’t help it. I see all these quarterbacks trumpeted as top-notch talents, supposedly making the QB class of 2017 look like the bottom of a crowded bird cage. I sat down to watch these QBs for the first time with a real scouting eye, to see if having three quarterbacks in the top 4 picks--as several mock drafts have right now--really makes sense.
Most mocks have some combination of USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Wyoming’s Josh Allen in the top 5 picks. Interestingly, most of those mock drafts also have Cleveland, Chicago, the Los Angeles Rams and New York Jets all in the top-5. All four have spent either a first or second-round pick on quarterbacks in the last two years.
There is such an unrealistic disconnect here. There’s no way the Rams or Bears can invest in a new QB so soon; the Rams gave up draft picks which became Jack Conklin, Corey Davis and Derrick Henry in Tennessee, not to mention a few others, to draft Jared Goff No. 1 in 2016. Chicago blew a third-round pick to move up one spot to take Mitchell Trubisky No. 2 last month.
Cleveland owns two firsts in 2017, their own plus Houston’s, the price for the Texans to move up and take Deshaun Watson. They have a second-round rookie in Deshone Kizer and a third-round pick in 2016 in Cody Kessler already on the roster. The Jets have second rounders in Christian Hackenberg (’16) and Bryce Petty (’15) after dumping Geno Smith (’13).
Even if all those teams wind up picking as high as they are projected, and I have my doubts about Cleveland and Chicago being that bad again, none of those regimes can justify any more QB investment. For any of those teams to scrap any progress made with any of their current QBs, that’s an admission of abject failure. People who like to keep their jobs typically don’t make such an admission so readily.
Then there are the QBs themselves. I started watching them with more of a scouting eye in the past few days. I had a baseline familiarity with Darnold, Rosen, Allen, Lamar Jackson from Louisville, Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State and Luke Falk of Washington State but hadn’t really broken them down as prospects other than Falk, whom I expected to declare in 2017.
My initial takes on each, from a scouting perspective:
Sam Darnold--he’s the real deal. Big arm, clean mechanics, natural thrower with both touch and placement. He handles pressure quite adeptly, and that he’s just a redshirt sophomore in 2017 makes it even more impressive. He still needs polish on his deeper outside throws and at reading linebackers in coverage, but I see why many consider him worthy of being No. 1 overall despite his precocious age and lack of experience. Darnold is the only one who would have been in my top 4 QBs this past draft if all were eligible, and my initial inclination is he would have been atop the list above Patrick Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky and Deshone Kizer.
Josh Rosen--I’m not seeing the inherent greatness. Two things stand out right away. First, he’s built too much like Goff, slender and unimpressive. I think his arm is better than Goff’s; his deep throws keep their zip better, but it’s not much of an advantage. Secondly, Rosen does not have field vision or anticipation. He has to see it before he throws it.
Rosen is eerily reminiscent of a player who was a fixture in the top 5 overall of most mock drafts at this point last year: Miami’s Brad Kaaya. He wound up being taken in the sixth round by a Detroit Lions team which hopes he never has to play.
Josh Allen--the Wyoming gunslinger is nothing if not exciting, and that has definite appeal. The arm strength, when he sets up and uses proper weight transfer and shoulder rotation, is outstanding. He’s also a very good athlete who can make things happen with his legs. The problems arise with his decision-making and his overdeveloped sense of valor.
Like Rosen, he’s not a very good anticipatory passer yet, though there are glimpses here and there. His ball placement is handily the worst of the group, and it would have been among the very bottom of the QB class of 2017 too. He misses high, he misses late, he misses behind and he misses hitting his receiver in stride way too often. Then there’s this abomination:
No. 1 overall pick though... pic.twitter.com/TdFWW5bgdL— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) May 8, 2017
Allen makes so many forced throws and regrettable choices. As I’ve said repeatedly now on podcasts and social media, he reminds me a great deal of Tyler Thigpen with some Paxton Lynch thrown in for good measure. Thigpen went 1-10 in his one season as Kansas City’s starting QB. Unless Allen dramatically improves--and he has the ability to do so--he won’t fare much better. And I say that as someone who genuinely liked Tyler Thigpen coming out of Coastal Carolina.
Lamar Jackson--he’s in the dual-threat category, and like many of those players he’s better at running than throwing at this point in his young career. Like Rosen, he appears to have a slight frame and not much meat on his bones. It’s more concerning for a player with Jackson’s style. Like Allen, he takes a lot of big hits as a runner but also as someone who holds onto the ball trying to make plays outside the pocket as a passer too.
His ball placement is slightly above Allen’s on shorter and intermediate throws, but not as good deep down the field. Inside the pocket, he tends to rush his reads or wait too long. If Jackson can get comfortable and patient, he’s gonna be real good in the NFL. I liked Marcus Mariota at the same point more but I can see Jackson evolving into that caliber of player.
Mason Rudolph--the Oklahoma State big man has size, strength and confidence. Rudolph spins a very clean ball to all levels of the field. What stood out most is how consistently he makes the right choice based on both his pre- and post-snap looks. He doesn’t ever seem rushed or panicked, and he doesn’t play “hero ball”. There are times when I wish he would take shots into tighter windows, but my early impression is that I definitely prefer him to all but Darnold so far. There’s some Matt Ryan to his game.
Luke Falk--in the Cougars’ simplistic point-and-shoot offense, Falk does both those things quite well. His quick release and outstanding ball placement and timing on throws out to about 15 yards is NFL-ready. He stays in rhythm and hits receivers in stride better than anyone, including Darnold.
There is a catch, of course. He often threw to open receivers, or against vanilla zones and isolated coverages. When the field shrunk or when teams with more aggressive and talented defenses like Washington and Colorado took things away, Falk struggled. He has some mobility but also could stand to add some muscle.
Some others on my watch list for the next few days:
Logan Woodside, Toledo
Kenny Hill, TCU
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Austin Allen, Arkansas
Nick Stevens, Colorado State
Brogan Roback, Eastern Michigan
Wilton Speight, Michigan
Until I get more comfortable with the class as a whole, you’re going to get watch lists and initial impressions instead of mock drafts here. Forgive me for not feeding the hype machines…