As we foray into the new year, NFL franchises without postseason opportunities are feverishly preparing for April's draft. For those in need of a starting quarterback, the preparation process is exponentially intensified under the largest of microscopes.
The pool of college quarterbacks is quite diverse. You've got your traditional pocket passers (Josh Rosen, Mason Rudolph), ones with excellent dual-threat capabilities (Lamar Jackson), physical specimens (Josh Allen, Sam Darnold), and undersized overachievers with chips on their proverbial shoulders (Baker Mayfield).
With that said, the trio of Darnold, Mayfield, and Rosen are garnering the most hype as potential franchise-type signal-callers.
This piece will analyze the respective strengths and perceived weaknesses of each player. At the very end, we'll offer our opinion as to which quarterback we feel is the surest bet to succeed on the next level.
Darnold entered the season with plenty of buzz. Coming off of an exceptionally strong Rose Bowl performance versus Penn State, many had pegged Darnold to become the next great quarterback to hail from USC.
However, there have been some aspects of his game which leave a lot to be desired.
- Playmaking ability
- Physical Tools
Darnold possesses prototype size for the position. A sturdy 6'4", Darnold has the height to survey opposing defenses from behind the line of scrimmage. He's also a handful to bring down when being pressured from all angles.
Though he doesn't appear to be a fluid athlete, Darnold is a much better athlete than given credit for. He routinely evades pressure -- often keeping his eyes downfield in the process. There have been countless times where 'sandlot football' has been employed by the gunslinger. As the play breaks down, Darnold will buy himself time with his legs. He then is adept at pushing the ball downfield for a big play.
From a character standpoint, there are absolutely no red flags. Unlike prior USC quarterbacks, Darnold is a quiet individual with an understated confidence. There's been nothing to suggest anything in the way of off-the-field issues when it comes to Darnold's past or present.
- Taking care of the ball
- Arm strength
Darnold doesn't 'wow' anyone with arm strength. It shouldn't be categorized as overly poor. However, Darnold's arm isn't to the level of some of his competitors. This may have to do with an elongated throwing motion. Darnold can get away with this deficiency to an extent on the college level. Though with much tighter windows to throw into on the next level, it could become a problem.
The most concerning issue plaguing Darnold is his proclivity for turning the ball over. In two years as the USC starting quarterback, he's turned the ball over 35 (!) times (22 interceptions, 13 fumbles). When trying to make a play with his feet, Darnold has a tendency to be a bit cavalier with the ball in his hands. Whether it's a momentary lapse or the simple fact in having smaller hands, the fumbles have become an alarmingly big problem.
He's eligible to come back for another year. With that said, many expect Darnold to make the leap to the NFL. There's definitely an argument to be made about Darnold needing to polish his game further. A team like Cleveland likely would rather have an attractive ball of clay to mold as opposed to Darnold returning for one more season.
Mayfield is one of the most polarizing prospects in all of College Football. The reigning 2017 Heisman Trophy winner ended his season in dramatic fashion -- as his Oklahoma Sooners lost a 54-48 overtime thriller to Georgia in one of the playoff semifinal contests.
- Elusiveness in the pocket
Mayfield plays with a gigantic chip on his shoulder. As such, his fiery personality is often front and center when on the football field. There have been many times in which he's willed Oklahoma to hard-fought victories. A natural leader, teammates gravitate towards his exuberant energy levels.
From an accuracy standpoint, Mayfield is brilliant. He completed 70.5-percent of his pass attempts this season. Last year, Mayfield connected on an eye-popping 71-percent of his throws. His vision for a smaller quarterback is quite good. Additionally, there's a decisiveness for what Mayfield wants to do with the ball in his hands. Rarely does he force the ball into situations which could prove costly.
Most impressively is Mayfield's presence within the pocket. Pressure seemingly doesn't rattle the Texas native. He demonstrates a calm, composed demeanor when going through his progressions and scanning the scene downfield. Duly, Mayfield is excellent in using his feet to give himself more time in the pocket to throw. This includes side-stepping oncoming defenders, and also scrambling forward for positive yardage.
- Off-the-field concerns
- Lack of experience in a pro-style scheme
Mayfield's attitude has come into question on many occasions. We've seen the flag plant on the middle of Ohio State's field. This isn't that big of a deal -- though the crotch grab from the sidelines isn't what any program or franchise wants its starting quarterback to showcase. This is especially the case for an NFL investing millions of dollars upon the potential face of the franchise. Mayfield's off-the-field incidents involve charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and fleeing/evading arrest.
There's a fine line between playing with an edge and operating with mass amounts of immaturity. Mayfield seems to teeter on this line quite frequently. Many will point to Russell Wilson and Drew Brees for justifying the potential selection of Mayfield in the first round. Wilson and Brees are anomalies when it comes to quarterbacks excelling with a smaller stature. One has to wonder whether Mayfield's lack of height and size will hurt him on the next level. Brees and Wilson both have an uncanny combination of gigantic hands and exceptional arm strength. This doesn't appear to be the case with Mayfield.
Lastly, Mayfield has put up video game-like numbers in a hybrid spread offense. Many of these principles don't translate schematically on the professional level. Will he struggle in consistently taking snaps from under center? We've seen other college quarterbacks from spread systems (Jared Goff) literally have to learn how to take a snap from under center. It's a valid question to ask going forward.
Much like Mayfield, Rosen's been known to ruffle more than a few feathers with his outspoken nature. No one's ever questioned his immense talent. There's very few on the collegiate level possessing Rosen's arm ability.
However, Rosen is a quirky character. He -- perhaps more so than any other big-time prospect -- needs to be placed with a complementary fit. Putting Rosen in Cleveland might not end well from a long-term standpoint.
- Arm strength
Of the three, Rosen is the most pro-ready. He's got ample experience playing in what many deem to be a pro-style scheme. Rosen's as comfortable taking the ball from under center as he is sitting in the shotgun. From an arm strength standpoint, Rosen can sling it effortlessly to all parts of the field. The ball flies off his hands with considerable pop.
Many will point to a lack of winning on Rosen's resume -- though one has to realize that he was playing behind arguably the country's worst offensive line for multiple years. Protection was shoddy (at best). This caused Rosen to force things downfield merely out of necessity.
Rosen is a supremely intelligent individual. He routinely questions coaches on play calls and schematic design. Rosen has also been known to digest dense playbooks wonderfully well. Rarely will there be a situation in which Rosen fails to know the responsibilities for each and every teammate on a given play.
- Lack of athleticism
- Outspoken nature
- Injury history
Rosen isn't a statue in the pocket -- though no one will confuse him with Michael Vick. He doesn't possess the play-making ability of Darnold or Mayfield as a runner. This sometimes leaves Rosen susceptible to blitzes in the pocket.
There have been a number of injuries cropping up on Rosen throughout his collegiate career. As a sophomore, his season was ended five games in due to a shoulder ailment. This past year, he endured multiple concussions -- which caused him to miss parts of three games.
Perhaps Rosen's biggest knock is his mouth. We've spoken about his vast intelligence for a person his age. Sometimes, this outspoken nature has a tendency to get him in trouble. He's often viewed as a controversial figure. Unafraid to speak his mind, Rosen could rub franchise personnel the wrong way with a "non P.C." response to a question. He's an authentic article, and won't be compromised by the vanilla nature of many media scrums.
Mayfield appears to be a step behind both Rosen and Darnold in terms of the draft pecking order. Since the start of this year, Rosen and Darnold had been jockeying for the top spot within this draft.
Darnold hasn't declared his intentions yet -- though it's widely assumed he will forgo the remainder of his college career. Rosen is more of a sure bet to enter the draft. While Darnold is a better athlete and playmaker on the run, Rosen's game translates much better to the next level.
He's got a leg-up on arm strength, and is wickedly accurate with throws down the field. Darnold struggles far too much with turnovers, and truthfully could use an extra year to further refine his skills. While Rosen can be a bit brash, there's a misconception about who he is as a person. There's no doubt he can lead a franchise into the future based upon his polish as both a football player and as a leader.
Image Source: Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports, Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports, Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports, Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports