When I originally wrote this list, I hadn’t intended on getting to the quarterbacks that early. I had intended to hold off until after the underclassmen had declared whether or not they would stay in school or enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
However, a report by ESPN’s Jordan Ranaan changed my plans.
Ranaan reported that once the New York Giants’ season was all but lost — not coincidentally, when Odell Beckham Jr. had his season ended by a broken ankle — John Mara instructed the scouting department to start taking a very close look at the top quarterbacks in the upcoming draft.
Furthermore, on Wednesday (Nov. 28th), the Giants announced that they would be benching Eli Manning in favor of Geno Smith.
All along we suspected, if not outright knew, that the quarterback position would be in play for the Giants with a high draft pick in April. Ranaan’s report confirms the fact that the Giants are seriously looking for their next quarterback. With that in mind, here is my (current) list of the top five quarterbacks in the 2018 draft.
1 - Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
Mayfield had been creeping up my rankings since last season, and when a scout like Scot McCloughan names him as the top quarterback in the class, you take note.
Mayfield has always been a blast to watch, but what sealed it for me was his performance in the rivalry game with Oklahoma State. While Oklahoma State doesn’t have much in the way of a defense, it still managed to stop Oklahoma’s running game and figure out left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., using the mammoth left tackle’s size against him. The Cowboys briefly stopped Oklahoma’s offense cold, then Mayfield did what he does and willed his team to victory.
Mayfield has plenty of arm strength to drive every throw with accuracy, the mobility to escape pressure, extend plays, and make the defense pay for ignoring him.
On the intangible side, Mayfield is a hyper-competitive and aggressive player and a leader on his team, with good field vision and command of his offense. And put simply, Baker Mayfield is a winner. Like Deshaun Watson, winning is all he knows how to do — he just has that air about him that as long as he is on the field for you, your team has a chance.
He has also shown development in his mental processes since returning as a senior, showing greater understanding of defenses, patience, and decision making.
He isn’t without warts, and listed at 6-foot-1 Mayfield will simply be too short for many teams. Not for me, though, and his mobility helps him find (or create) throwing lanes. His competitiveness and aggression do get him in trouble as he takes a sack or throws to the wrong team trying to make a big play when a modest one will do. But, like Eli Manning or Brett Favre, as long as that spark doesn’t get coached out of him the moments of sheer magic will far outweigh the face-palms.
Interestingly, Mayfield started his college career at Texas Tech, where he won the starting job as a walk-on freshman (a first in major college football history). He later lost the starting job to now-Giants’ quarterback Davis Webb and transferred to Oklahoma.
UPDATE: Mayfield is still my top quarterback. Despite his competitiveness getting the better of himself and the now-infamous crotch grab, there still isn’t a quarterback I’d like more. Since the Bedlam game he has continued to shred opposing defenses and looks to be in position to not only go to the College Football Playoffs but also win the Heisman trophy.
With Manning (potentially) on his way out, Mayfield is probably the most NFL-ready — he would likely need coaching on himself in front of the New York media most of all. He (Mayfield) is probably the quarterback prospect most able to step in and lead the franchise.
The combination of Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. could be explosive (in more ways than one), but it would certainly be exciting and give the Giants an edge that they have rarely had.
2 - Lamar Jackson (Louisville)
This is going to ruffle some feathers, but Jackson is probably the most exciting college quarterback since Mike Vick was terrorizing defenses at Virginia Tech.
Insanely athletic, with the kind of twitch that is the envy of receivers, running backs, and defensive backs across the nation, Jackson has the ability to turn any snap into a highlight reel play. He also has one of the most impressive arms to come along in a long time, and can throw darts to any part of the field with a flick of the wrist — even without setting his base.
Jackson is going to be a divisive, boom-or-bust prospect. He is whip-thin (though visibly thickening as he physically matures) and with his penchant for running the ball and playing outside of the pocket, that could result in injuries at the next level. But while the specter of Robert Griffin III raises its ugly head, Jackson’s extreme athleticism makes it tough for defenders to get a clear shot on him. Also of concern is the potential learning curve coming in to an NFL offense. While college concepts are making their way into the NFL, Jackson would still probably be best served by going to a team with a flexible offense that caters to his strengths and can grow with him.
It is worth noting that we know that the Giants have had credentialed scouts at two of Louisville’s games thus far this season.
UPDATE: Jackson has continued to improve as a pocket passer. His tendency to use his legs as a weapon is dangerous — just look at the injuries that Cam Newton, Marcus Mariota, DeShaun Watson, and Aaron Rodgers have suffered — but he has the potential to be a dynamic player.
3 - Sam Darnold (USC)
The presumptive top QB on many lists (including ESPN’s), personally, I think Darnold should stay in school. Should he come out at the end of this season, he would have less than two seasons of starting experience under his belt. I will always say that quarterbacks, in particular, should stay in school as long as they can — the greater maturity and experience are assets going into the NFL.
Darnold is a red-shirt sophomore, and to paraphrase my mother, he isn’t done cooking yet.
However, the upside with Darnold is impressive. He has the prototypical build, athleticism, and arm strength that will get NFL evaluators drooling. Darnold is capable of absolutely incandescent play, such as in the 2017 Rose Bowl, but his decision making is questionable. He has 11 interceptions to 22 touchdowns on the season, completing 63 percent of his passes, down from 67 percent (31 TDs to 9 INTs) the year before.
UPDATE: There is continued talk that Darnold is leaning towards going back to school. I still feel that another year (or two) of development on the field is best for him. At this point it looks more like Eli Manning might be playing elsewhere, and if so, Darnold would be without the planned mentor.
4 - Josh Rosen (UCLA)
Mechanically, Rosen might be the most pure quarterback of the bunch. He has prototypical size, athleticism, and nearly pro-ready mechanics to go with efficient play. He already shows solid habits and consistently drives his throws from his legs, giving him plenty of power to make every “NFL” throw. If you could draw up an NFL quarterback, he would look a lot like Rosen
However, he, like Darnold and Jackson, is young. A true Junior, Rosen won’t be 21 until a month before the scouting combine. As with Darnold, I would tell Rosen to stay in school for his senior season. The added experience and maturity gained by another year in school will only help him.
He also has an injury history that NFL teams need to check out. Rosen missed most of his sophomore season to a shoulder injury which required surgery and has recently missed time with a hand injury and concussion.
Ranaan notes that Marc Ross, the Giants’ VP of college scouting, personally went to UCLA to scout Rosen earlier this season.
UPDATE: Rosen is once again injured, now with an injury history that includes shoulder surgery, a hand injury, a concussion, and an “upper body” injury all to cause him to miss time over the past year. Those issues will need to be checked out. Also, with Chip Kelly becoming UCLA’s new head coach, it’s possible that Rosen might elect to stay and play in what will likely be an explosive offense.
5 - Ryan Finley (NC State)
Something of a surprise addition to the list, but Finley jumped off the screen to me while scouting Bradley Chubb (and the rest of that awesome NC State defensive line). Finley is more of a prototypical “Pocket Passer” than players like Mayfield and certainly Jackson, relying on a cerebral approach to the game and a quick release to move his offense. Finley has the look of a field general, playing with remarkable efficiency. He has completed 65 percent of his passes, and thrown just three interceptions so far this season (none in the first seven games).
As with Lamar Jackson, we do know that the Giants have had credentialed scouts at two of NC State’s games so far this season.
UPDATE: The fifth position on this list is fairly fluid. Mason Rudolph is probably the “safest” and most Pro-ready player and could easily go in this spot.
Rudolph has “NFL” size and has been very productive at Oklahoma State. However he lacks the arm talent of his in-state rival, and can be a bit slow to process. Arm strength is FAR from a quarterback’s most important trait — things like mental processing, accuracy, decision making, and leadership are all more important. However, considering the challenging conditions in the Meadowlands in November, December, and January, the ability to throw through a cold wind has to be taken into consideration.
Other names to watch
Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), Josh Allen (Wyoming), Clayton Thorson (Northwestern), Luke Falk (Washington State)