The five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft will forever be compared to each other, especially with all five playing in the AFC with three coming from the same division. With the somewhat meaningful portion of preseason now behind us, we have our first opportunity to measure some of the growth expected of this talented group of passers entering their sophomore campaigns.
The emphasis of this week’s 6-Pack is to detail some of the early signs of progress from these quarterbacks and detail what steps were taken by their respective organizations to better surround them in Year Two.
I hope that this column has become a staple for you each week, but just in case you are new, 6-Pack Thursday is my weekly brain dump on six football-related things that involve the NFL, College Football or NFL Draft.
Let’s crack this thing open
2018 Preseason: 35/61, 57.4%, 501 Yards, 8.2 YPA, 2 TD, 1 INT, 88.2 Rating
2019 Preseason: 15/32, 46.9%, 149 Yards, 4.7 YPA, 1 TD, 1 INT, 57.9 Rating
The best rookie quarterback from the 2018 Class has been the worst so far this preseason, experiencing steep declines in completion percentage, yards per attempt and rating. It’s not of any real concern but ideally, Mayfield would have played well as expected and enter a season of high expectations firing on all cylinders.
There’s quite a bit different for Mayfield and the Browns in 2019. Including interim Gregg Williams, Mayfield is now on his third head coach. With Freddie Kitchens now Cleveland’s leader, Todd Monken has been brought in as the offensive coordinator which should add plenty of creativity to the plan.
Cleveland did make arguably the splashiest move of the offseason, trading for superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham to give Mayfield a premiere target in the passing game. Beckham’s presence should make Jarvis Landry even more effective while growth is expected from Rashard Higgins and David Njoku. Kareem Hunt should be a quality backfield mate to Nick Chubb who was sensational as a rookie.
When considering efforts to make things better around Mayfield in Year Two, the Browns came up empty when improving the offensive line. Bringing in Beckham came at the expense of parting with Kevin Zeitler who is one of the league’s best guards. Greg Robinson is again expected to be Mayfield’s blindside protector who has mostly had a disappointing career.
In addition to Mayfield maturing and becoming more comfortable as an NFL quarterback, the hope for growth in Year Two is centered around better weapons and coaching. With that said, the offensive line remains a question mark.
Expectations are the highest I've ever seen them for Cleveland and the promise of Baker Mayfield is the primary fuel.
2018 Preseason: 29/45, 64.4%, 244 Yards, 5.4 YPA, 2 TD, 1 INT, 83.9 Rating
2019 Preseason: 17/25, 68.0%, 211 Yards, 8.4 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT, 120.6 Rating
Darnold had the best preseason this year and it’s not particularly close. After a strong rookie preseason, he still grew in completion percentage, yards per attempt and significantly jumped up in passer rating. The early signs of his marriage with Adam Gase are encouraging, and Darnold hasn’t even taken the field with Le’Veon Bell.
With Bell and Ty Montgomery, Darnold’s backfield has been significantly upgraded while slot receiver Jamison Crowder can be a reliable chain-mover if he can stay healthy. The additions of Crowder and Bell can pay big dividends for Darnold given his style of play. While he is certainly capable of making throws down the field and on the move, Darnold is very intelligent at finding completions and keeping the offense on schedule. A savvy route runner with great ball skills that can uncover quickly in Crowder and one of the NFL’s premiere receiving backs in Bell help Darnold do that at an even more efficient rate. Mix in vertical threat Robby Anderson, alpha receiver Quincy Enunwa and budding star tight end Chris Herndon and there is a lot to like about Darnold’s weaponry.
While it didn’t come the way many anticipated, New York managed to improve its interior offensive line by trading for Kelechi Osemele and luring Ryan Kalil out of his brief retirement. If you had the Jets making those two moves, please claim your prize. While the interior offensive line received upgrades, the tackle tandem of Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell is less than inspiring.
While Gase’s resume in Miami is concerning, there’s a lot to like about Darnold in Year 2. If there’s any quarterback that is primed to unseat Mayfield as “best in class”, it’s Darnold. Every arrow points in the direction of him being a superstar if he can eliminate ball security issues.
2018 Preseason: 24/44, 54.5%, 210 Yards, 4.8 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT, 82.6 Rating
2019 Preseason: 18/28, 64.3%, 217 Yards, 7.8 YPA, 0 TD, 0 INT, 87.9 Rating
Growth from Josh Allen? Can twitter handle it? (it can’t) Bad news for the Allen haters of which there are many, he’s played quite well this preseason. Year over year, Allen’s completion percentage took a major jump as did his yards per attempt while improving his passer rating.
After failing to surround Allen as a rookie, Buffalo was very aggressive in making sure his supporting cast gave him a chance to succeed in 2019. First and foremost, Buffalo made substantial improvements to the offensive line. Making Mitch Morse the highest paid center in league history, Buffalo signed a total of six free agent offensive lineman including Spencer Long, Jon Feliciano, Quinton Spain and Ty Nsekhe. Buffalo traded up in the second round for Cody Ford and made a clear commitment to making sure Allen has better protection in Year Two.
General manager Brandon Beane also brought in receivers that mesh with Allen’s strengths and the necessary evolution of the passing game in the form of John Brown and Cole Beasley. Brown provides Allen with a speedster to stretch defenses while Beasley is a separation specialist that Allen can work in rhythm with while challenging the short to intermediate areas of the field. Frank Gore and Devin Singletary bolster the Bills’ running back stable. Buffalo also invested multiple draft picks on young tight ends Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney who have showed promising flashes this preseason in addition to signing veteran Tyler Kroft.
In addition, Buffalo made position coach changes at offensive line, wide receiver and quarterback - Ken Dorsey takes over as Allen’s quarterback coach who helped groom Cam Newton from 2013-2017.
Everything that needed fixing and upgrading around Allen has occurred, setting the stage for major growth as a sophomore.
2018 Preseason: 16/29, 55.2%, 148 Yards, 5.1 YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT, 80.8 Rating
2019 Preseason: 28/45, 62.2%, 352 Yards, 7.8 YPA, 0 TD, 1 INT, 77.3 Rating
The only thing that remains the same for Josh Rosen in Year Two is that his jersey number is the same No. 3. Now a member of the Miami Dolphins, Rosen finds himself in a situation that appears more stable than in Arizona. General manager Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores are working to change the culture and build a sustainable winner in Miami.
You won’t examine Miami’s depth chart and be impressed, but the direction of the franchise is worth buying into. And while the offensive line has holes, there are two quality young pieces in left tackle Laremy Tunsil and third-round pick Michael Deiter. Mike Gesicki is an insanely gifted athlete at tight end and the wide receiver corps is lacking star power but is underrated, featuring several good route runners and guys that can win post-catch in Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant. Kalen Ballage and Kenyan Drake form a versatile backfield duo and both are terrific athletes.
More than anything, Rosen is in a much better system under the direction of Chad O’Shea who brings the Erhardt-Perkins offense to South Beach. In Rosen’s rookie season, his offensive coordinator was fired after seven games.
While the gains are modest, he’s had some really impressive moments with pocket mobility and accuracy this preseason. A clear direction moving forward in Miami will pay dividends for Rosen and give him a chance to succeed.
2018 Preseason: 34/68, 50.0%, 408 Yards, 6.0 YPA, 3 TD, 1 INT, 77.3 Rating
2019 Preseason: 10/16, 62.5%, 117 Yards, 7.3 YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT, 105.5 Rating
The Ravens are cooking up something different offensively, which makes sense given the unique skill set Jackson offers. Toss your traditional measures out the window when it comes to Jackson - he’s capable of orchestrating an offense that is difficult to defend.
While it’s tough to extrapolate much from Jackson’s preseason statistics on account of a small sample size, there is substantial growth in completion percentage and rating.
The weaponry around Jackson is fascinating. Having a clear commitment in being three deep at tight end, Baltimore brought back Nick Boyle to pair with 2018 1st round pick Hayden Hurst and 2018 third round pick Mark Andrews who was very impressive as a rookie.
But then there’s all this speed that the Ravens surrounded Jackson with. Added this offseason:
- Seth Roberts - 4.44 40-yard dash
- Marquise Brown - no official 40 but there’s no doubt it would have been in the 4.3’s
- Miles Boykin - 4.42 40-yard dash at 6033 and 220 pounds
- Justice Hill - 4.40 40-yard dash
Mark Ingram was signed to anchor the rushing attack, adding to Gus Edwards who looked strong as a rookie last season. Even sixth round pick Trace McSorley provides Baltimore with a highly athletic quarterback that could be used in a gadget role.
I don’t know exactly how the Ravens plan on piecing everything together schematically, but the possibilities are endless and this unit promises to be a headache for opponents.
Now that Joe Flacco is out of the way, this is Jackson’s team and he’s now had a full offseason to prepare as the starter. This should lead to more comfort running the offense and being “the guy”.
I can’t wait to see Jackson and this offense in 2019.
2019 First Round Quarterbacks
For comparison purposes, here are the raw statistics for 2019’s crop of first-round quarterbacks through three games.