Draft Class Heroes: Rookie Quarterback Class Spreading Their Wings

Photo: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

You know the drill. Tuesday morning means one thing, and one thing only...it's time for the third edition of Draft Class Heroes!

I've been focused on the 2019 wide receiver class in my first and second DCH columns, so much so that I haven't taken much time to acknowledge the NFL talent showing out in preseason right now, particularly the first-year quarterbacks.

Today, that changes.

Draft Class Superheroes of the Week: 2018 Quarterbacks

When four NFL teams decided to select a quarterback in the top ten picks of the 2018 NFL Draft, the preseason became must-watch television. That sentiment has only increased with each of the first couple weeks of action, as Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen have all been varying degrees of impressive.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns

For my money, Mayfield has consistently been the best of the four, showing complete command of the Browns offense, comfortability in a messy pocket and the arm to make throws with perfect placement into tight windows. His touchdown throw to Antonio Callaway in Week 1 of preseason action was one that had me out of my seat due to the otherworldly accuracy of the throw.

That type of play continued for Mayfield the next week, despite less help from his friends. Mayfield was under constant duress, but found a way to free up and make plays in adverse conditions. He'll continue learning when he can take chances, but Browns fans have to ecstatic.

Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets

Everyone wants to see Darnold put the ball down the field more, but he can only throw what offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and the defense are giving him. "Wow plays" are awesome, but Darnold is proving that he has a mastery of the details right now, making smart decisions, accurate reads and showing impressive accuracy.

That breakdown from the best quarterback mind in the media realm, Mark Schofield, says it all. Darnold hasn't been quite as impressive as Teddy Bridgewater, but he's playing at a high level with incredible comfortability for a rookie.

Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills

Speaking of comfortability, Allen has been a pleasant surprise in preseason action. I think he's been the most inconsistent of the top four, but still far more composed than I expected to see. He's not taking foolish risks with the ball, and although his internal clock and recognition of pressure pre-snap still need work, his pocket movement and poise have allowed him to make some excellent plays down the field.

Allen will get a chance to work with the first team this week, before starting his first NFL game on Sunday in Week 3 of preseason action. He's got a legitimate chance to start Week 1 of the NFL season, albeit by winning the job in the weakest quarterback room in the league. Good start for Allen in Buffalo.

Josh Rosen, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Rosen's first start was complete madness. Protection was a nightmare, he played with backups against the Chargers starting defense for awhile and at least four times the Cardinals' center couldn't even get the snap to him. Despite the complete nightmare for a rookie seeing his first NFL action, Rosen still made some good throws.

He also made some potentially costly ones, and harnessing in his aggression was a key focal point for his second performance. With better play around him, Rosen put forth arguably the top performance of any rookie passer this preseason, showing pinpoint accuracy and that there should be no concerns whatsoever about his arm strength.

This window is non-existent, yet Rosen laced it in there with nobody open. Special quarterbacks can throw receivers open and make something out of nothing with their arm when the supporting cast can't do it on their own. Rosen showed some high quality stuff in his second career outing, and I'm very excited to see how he builds off of it.


1. Christian Kirk, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Rosen was excellent, but Kirk was also exceptional for Arizona last week, reeling in four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. He worked the middle of the field like a pro, hanging onto Rosen's laser for a touchdown despite a defender draped all over him. There might be some real chemistry developing between the two, which should get Cardinals fans amped up for the future.

2. John Kelly, RB, Los Angeles Rams

If the Rams have their druthers, Kelly won't see the field much in 2018, as Todd Gurley will be on it consistently. But if he's called upon, I think everyone will find that the Rams came away with quite the steal when they nabbed Kelly in the sixth round.

Most of his blocking hasn't been pretty, but Kelly has found a way to average over four yards per carry, while looking natural in a receiving role as well. He's one of those rare physical backs who can still win with his eyes and feel as a runner, while finishing his runs with a healthy utilization of the truck stick.

P.S. I'd have mentioned Raiders RB Chris Warren here, but Kyle Crabbs covered the stud rookie from Texas this past weekend.

3. James Washington, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Two games into the preseason, and Washington might have three of the top five catches since the action kicked off a few weeks ago. After a slow start to training camp, Washington is catching everything thrown his way, even if the passes aren't very accurate.

Washington still has his concerns as a receiver prospect, namely speed and separation ability as a route runner, but he's been an absolute monster in contested catch spots, something Pittsburgh desperately needs in their offense.

Villain of the Week: Rob Ryan, "Analyst", Fox Sports 1

Even when they're out of the public eye, long since cast aside in favor of people who actually know what they're doing and aren't constantly in the middle of unnecessary drama, one of the Ryans will find a way to draw attention to himself.

This week it is Rob's turn to be a buffoon, spouting the following quote on Fox Sports 1's Speak for Yourself on Monday, during a discussion about whether Baker Mayfield can be the guy to change the culture in Cleveland.

"They got the first and the fourth round picks - errrr - first and fourth picks. 'Awesome! Who'd they get? Barkley and that Josh Allen kid?' Can they get a do-over? Because that's what they should have done...I don't see the redeeming quality of Baker Mayfield. 50 percent completion in the preseason, that's not gonna really wow you. Only like one of his throws even went down the field past ten yards....I think with Tyrod Taylor, (the Browns) are gonna prove they're not dysfunctional. But if they put this kid (Mayfield) in, they're gonna be dysfunctional."

Whew. That's a lot of stupid to take in at once, so feel free to give yourself a minute. That's about 60 seconds more than they should ever give Ryan on the air again.

Is the former defensive coordinator entitled to his opinion? Sure. But he should try being at least semi-factual when he expresses it.

Mayfield has actually completed 54.5 percent of his passes, which is about seven percentile points higher than Josh Allen's first preseason outing in Buffalo. And while Allen did elevate his overall percentage to 56.3 percent in his second preseason game, it was the Bills' rookie who was dinking-and-dunking, not Mayfield. Allen averaged just 4.6 yards per attempt in his second game, while Mayfield was at 5.8. In Mayfield's first game, he actually averaged over ten yards per attempt, throwing the ball downfield a ridiculous percentage of the time. Allen averaged 6.1.

While it may be convenient for Ryan's narrative to say Mayfield only threw the ball past ten yards once, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Mayfield has taken seven shots 20 yards or more down the field over the first two weeks of preseason action, tied for fourth among all quarterbacks who have taken at least one dropback this preseason (thanks Pro Football Focus Elite).

If you move to 10 or more yards, almost half of Mayfield's attempts have gone that distance. He and Rosen have easily been the most aggressive rookie quarterbacks down the field this preseason.

In case you were wondering, Allen has attempted five passes of 20 yards or more, completing one, while Mayfield has gone 3-7. Whoops. And we haven't even talked about how outdated using raw completion percentage as a meaningful statistic is, especially over such a small sample size of 32 throws.

Nice try, Rob. Would you like a do-over? Sorry, we don't actually see the "redeeming quality" in giving you that opportunity.

In the lair this week...

  • Piece on Drew Lock comes out later today...I think he *can* be QB1, but I'll tell you what he needs to do to get there
  • Top 5 SEC tight ends drops on Wednesday...I think there is a first rounder in the conference, and another player who could be a top four tight end in the class.
  • What school truly deserves the title of #DBU? I examine the facts on Thursday, as well as tell you why the top ACC edge rusher may not be who y'all think.
  • Friday I've got top five SEC offensive tackles, and Sunday I'll wrap up my top five series with the best interior offensive linemen in the class.

Written By:

Jon Ledyard

Former Senior NFL Draft Analyst