Finding a franchise quarterback isn’t just about talent. Often times, it may have as much to do with pairing as it does with the talent of the player himself. Take Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, the top two picks of the 2016 NFL Draft, for example.
Neither is a perfect player, but both are enjoying sensational sophomore campaigns, and it has to do with how they fit with their respective teams. Goff is a vertical passer with a quick release, and, as such, Los Angeles Rams’ head coach Sean McVay’s fast-paced spread offense has done wonders for him. Wentz, in turn, is a talented pre-snap processor with a big arm and a willingness to throw into tight windows. Thus, he has found success throwing to bigger-bodies receivers like Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins on intermediate isolation routes.
Fit is critical for a quarterback, and it goes beyond just skillset. Culture, influence, and supporting cast are all important, and could make or break how a quarterback fits with his respective team. So, here are the best player-team pairings for the top six quarterbacks in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft:
— Kevin Brown (@nfldraftnik) November 14, 2017
1. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma: Cleveland Browns
At a glance, calling the Cleveland Browns the top landing spot for any quarterback seems ludicrous. This past April, the Browns were gifted a potential franchise quarterback midway through the second round of the draft in DeShone Kizer, but they have all but wasted his season. Head coach Hue Jackson set Kizer up to fail all year by crafting an offense reliant on low-percentage passes to an undermanned receiving corps, and then only exacerbated Kizer’s struggles by benching him every time he did indeed fail. So, it is safe to assume that neither Kizer nor Jackson hold a spot in the Browns’ long-term future.
Enter Baker Mayfield. Although being drafted by the worst team in the league, likely with a new head coach, is never ideal, Mayfield is the draft’s top quarterback, and, thus, belongs on the team that needs him most. Mayfield is a pinpoint accurate passer, which should alleviate much of the frustration from Kizer’s inconsistencies. Furthermore, Mayfield is especially adept at buying time to throw, in and out of the pocket, which should make him an asset with a corps of receivers that struggles to separate. Although he needs time to grow, especially in the way of consistent footwork, Mayfield has the talent and charisma to finally pull Cleveland out of its doldrums, and if he is taken high in the draft, it would force the Browns’ to truly center their franchise around him long-term.
2. Lamar Jackson, Louisville: New York Jets
For all the talk of tanking prior to the season, the Jets have far outplayed their expectations. Although 4-6 is no masterpiece, it is a far cry from many of the narratives that went around in August, and this relative success is due in large part to the work of head coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator John Morton.
Even though the Jets’ offensive weapons are young and raw, Bowles and Morton have been able to maximize them by employing Air Raid concepts, even from under center. WR Robby Anderson, for instance, sometimes struggles with releases off press, so Morton has routinely hid that by putting Anderson in motion pre-snap to get him in space faster, enhancing Anderson’s value as a deep threat. This, in turn, has allowed for quicker, simpler reads for QB Josh McCown, and a more efficient offense as a whole.
Now, imagine replacing the aging McCown with Lamar Jackson, the prolific, strong-armed dual-threat Heisman winner out of Louisville. Jackson is a phenomenal anticipator of throws, and has advanced eye manipulation skills to go with a hefty arm and a quick release. When such a skillset is paired with receivers like Jermaine Kearse, who thrives on intermediate crosses and post routes, it could lead to a quick-hitting offense that would be utterly unstoppable down the middle of the field. Additionally, by running zone reads and triple options with running backs Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire, the Jets could pose a formidable rushing threat with Jackson at the helm.
3. Sam Darnold, USC: Los Angeles Chargers
Philip Rivers’ entire career seems like a disservice to such a phenomenal player. Despite the accuracy and anticipation that Rivers has boasted in year after Pro Bowl-caliber year, the Chargers have done little but regress around him. So, perhaps, it would be best for both parties if the Chargers simply moved on to a new face of the franchise. In Sam Darnold, the Chargers would be getting a similar player to Rivers, but younger and spunkier. With a similar wonky delivery and deadly intermediate accuracy, the pairing of Darnold and crisp route-runner Keenan Allen would light up AFC West secondaries.
Additionally, although Darnold’s deep ball is still a work in progress, Darnold is not afraid to take shots, so an accuracy-erasing wideout like Mike Williams would do well for Darnold’s development. Finally, with the way Darnold navigates through tight pockets and briskly scans the field, he could actually succeed early in his career in spite of a poor offensive line, much like Jameis Winston did in his first season for the Buccaneers.
— UCLA Nation (@UCLA_Nation) November 12, 2017
4. Josh Rosen, UCLA: Pittsburgh Steelers
Fairly or unfairly, whenever Rosen’s name comes up, it comes up in the context of coachability issues. When UCLA’s head coach, Jim Mora, is quoted as asking Rosen, “Do you want to be Johnny Manziel or Tom Brady?” it comes off as extremely telling. So, unless Rosen aces his combine interviews, he will have to be drafted by a team willing to gamble on a prickly personality to remain in the first round.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, who are in the market for a quarterback with Ben Roethlisberger already mulling retirement, could be such a team. They have long been able to get the best out of fiery, even dirty players like LB Ryan Shazier and S Mike Mitchell, and were able to corral the immaturities of RB Le’Veon Bell, so having Rosen in the locker room should not pose a problem.
If this is the case, the Steelers would be getting a strong-armed, mechanically sound passer with a quick post-snap process and a willingness to take shots, eerily similar to long-time New York Giants quarterback, Eli Manning. Assuming that the Steelers’ dominant offensive line will be at least somewhat able to mask Rosen’s tendency to drop his eyes under pressure, Rosen could turn out to be a bona fide steal if he falls to Steel City in the late 20s.
5. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State: New England Patriots
Over the years, the Patriots have extremely transparent about their “type” at quarterback. Whether it be Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, or even Tom Brady, the Patriots have always preferred cerebral, anticipatory passers with advanced pre-snap and post-snap skills, accuracy to all fields (particularly outside the numbers), and sound decision making, even if it comes at the expense of arm strength or raw talent. Brissett showed off such a skillset last season after Jimmy Garoppolo went down, and has taken advantage of it on the Indianapolis Colts, posting a solid 86.7 passer rating through nine starts.
Rudolph largely follows the same mold. Although his arm is somewhat lacking, which hinders his ability to make tight window throws, as a four-year starter, Rudolph knows where to go with the ball, and he can create windows for himself in spite of a weak arm by anticipating and throwing receivers open. Furthermore, Rudolph has sound, albeit slow, footwork in the pocket, and can buy time for himself and create throwing lanes. If a few years sitting behind Tom Brady leads to mechanical improvement that strengthens Rudolph’s throwing arm and hastens his mobility, he could feasibly develop into a viable NFL starter, and possibly even an adequate successor to the GOAT.
6. Josh Allen, Wyoming: Carolina Panthers
Once rumored to be a Brett Favre-level talent, worthy of a top-10 pick and anointment as a franchise QB, Wyoming’s Josh Allen has fallen back down to Earth this season with an alarming 56.2% completion percentage and carelessness with the ball. However, even considering just how woefully raw Allen is in terms of football I.Q. and accuracy, he is still an intriguing talent, well worth being picked in the third or fourth round. On the Panthers, Allen would be the perfect backup to Cam Newton, and could even be a potential successor if Newton’s shoulder injuries don’t halt.
Much like Newton, Allen has a cannon for an arm. Whether on the run or from the pocket, Allen can physically hit just about any deep shot or tight window. More interesting, however, is Allen’s uncanny ability to extend plays. Although it could simply speak to the caliber of pass rushers in the Mountain West Conference, there have been times when Allen has looked as though he simply cannot be brought down, shaking off half a dozen rushers on a single play. Though he may be unlikely to become an NFL starter, Allen is a unique player, and could really flourish as the understudy to another dynamic, athletic quarterback.