Wow, what an incredible way to kick off the beginning of the college football season. This first week had everything you could want and more. If you weren’t on the edge of your seat multiple times this weekend, you might belong in a trendy Young Adult novel.
The past four days have given us incredible upsets like Howard University, led by Cam Newton’s little brother Caylin, pulling off the largest upset by point spread in college football history. It gave us amazing individual performances like Josh Rosen going 19-26 for almost 300 yards and 4 TDs on the way to leading UCLA back from a 44-10 deficit in the fourth quarter (more on this performance later). It even gave us heart-warming moments that force us to remember there are things bigger than football, when the Iowa Hawkeye fans turned en masse to wave at the children watching the game at the nearby Children’s Hospital.
But as we try to put the performances we saw week 1 into context with regards to April’s NFL Draft, the prevailing theme is the quarterbacks. As it is with every draft class that has at least one dominant player at the position. This year’s class has been hyped ad naseum, and it will continue to be. A couple players really helped their draft stock this weekend, while others took a hit to theirs.
On The Rise
"Yeah but Lamar Jackson isn't a natural quartback, he just makes plays with his feet" pic.twitter.com/4iDvAufrAV
— Barstool Louisville (@BarstoolCards) September 3, 2017
Lamar Jackson: I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t see the hype on Jackson coming into the season. Even going so far to say he was “a mess” mechanically and had a long way to go before I could see anything more than a Day 3 pick. I was never in agreement with the line of thinking that said to move him from quarterback to wide receiver, but to say that I was not a fan would be an understatement.
But he was incredibly impressive in the first week of the season against the Purdue Boilermakers. The difference that I saw between Lamar Jackson on Saturday and the Lamar Jackson I saw in 2016 was almost night and day. From the very beginning of the game, you could tell that this wasn’t the same player as last year’s Heisman Trophy winner. And that’s a very good thing for his pro prospects.
The first thing I noticed about Jackson was that he seems bigger. One of the worries I had about Jackson coming into the season was that with his athleticism and willingness to make plays with his legs, he was going to get himself hurt with his slight frame. Now that he’s beefed up noticeably, I’m putting those concerns on the back burner.
As the game went on, it was impossible not to notice just how much Jackson has improved as a quarterback in the offseason. His playmaking ability was on display, of course, but that aspect of his game was never in question. The things that make a quarterback a quarterback were. 2016 Jackson had poor mechanics. He struggled to read defenses and go through read progressions. Short and mid-range accuracy weren’t in his vocabulary.
All of those problem areas were, by the looks of his performance Saturday, things he worked on heavily in the offseason. It’s easy to over-react to one game, but if Jackson can put up consistent performances like the one Saturday, he’ll make a believer out of me yet.
329 pass yards
Those are Baker Mayfield's stats … at HALFTIME. 👀 pic.twitter.com/7qPEWkzSRf
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) September 2, 2017
Baker Mayfield: There’s no quarterback likely to be in the 2018 NFL Draft class that I’ve been more harshly critical of than Baker Mayfield. At one point, I went so far as to compare him to “a slightly better Tim Tebow”. He’s a great college quarterback, and a clear leader on the field, but going into the season I questioned whether or not he had an NFL arm. Watching the tape, I didn’t see a guy who could consistently make all the throws you want from a potential first round quarterback.
After what I saw from Mayfield on Saturday, I may have to re-evaluate that stance. Not only did Mayfield continue to demonstrate his incredible accuracy with 19-20 for over 300 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he showed the kind of arm that you want to see. He made difficult throws with good velocity. He was putting the ball where only his receivers could catch it, and he was doing so consistently.
As with Lamar Jackson, I don’t want to over-react to one game. Especially one game against a weak UTEP team. But if Mayfield can show out like this next week against a significantly better Ohio State defense, I will have to eat my words.
This is an incredible effort by Josh Allen to escape the first sack pic.twitter.com/AQGBLJAZvM
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) September 2, 2017
Josh Allen: If you’ve followed me on Twitter or read my preseason scouting report, you know that I’m a Josh Allen fan. I feel like he has all the tools to be a superstar quarterback in the NFL. But that’s not to say that he doesn’t have a long way to go to put all that talent together. He showed just how far he has to come yet on Saturday against the Iowa Hawkeyes.
I’m not as down on Allen’s performance as some. I also was never as high on Allen as some. I maintain that Allen is likely the third quarterback taken in the NFL Draft, somewhere in the middle of the first round. The talk of him being “the best quarterback prospect since Cam Newton” was insane. He’s good, he’s not *that* good. He has some very glaring flaws in his game that need to be ironed out. Flaws that reared their ugly head numerous times in Iowa City.
Unlike Josh Rosen, Allen was solid through the first three quarters of the Cowboys matchup with the Hawkeyes. He wasn’t able to push the ball down the field with any success, but he was making accurate throws and had a solid completion percentage heading into the final quarter. Then the wheels completely came off. You could tell that Allen was visibly rattled, which is not a good look from one of the only highly-talented players on your roster. He was baited into making poor decisions, and ultimately couldn’t keep his wits about him to attempt a comeback like Rosen.
All that being said, just as one good quarter doesn’t erase all the bad for Rosen, one bad quarter doesn’t erase the good for Allen. The Cowboys ran into a buzzsaw on Saturday, with the Hawkeyes defensive backfield in particular playing well above expectations. As the Cowboys face teams more on their level, if Allen can show the same accuracy and poise he showed at times against Iowa, he’ll be in good shape. However, his game on Saturday does continue the alarming trend of utterly dismal performance against “Power 5 Conference” teams. He’ll have one more shot in two weeks against the Oregon Ducks. If Allen puts up a duck of a performance there, it may be time to cool the jets on first round talk.
RELATED: Josh Allen Scouting Report
Josh Rosen: “But you just said his fourth quarter performance was incredible, how do you have him in the ‘trending down’ category? Are you insane?” Maybe. But while his fourth quarter was one for the ages, there were some glaring mistakes made in that fourth quarter that could, and should, have brought the comeback to an end. To a larger point, the fact that Rosen was able to pull of the comeback shouldn’t negate the three quarters of poor play he had prior to the comeback.
Prior to leading the Bruins on the comeback trail, Rosen was 19-33 for less than 200 yards and zero touchdowns. He was visibly rattled throughout the game — thanks largely to an offensive line that couldn’t protect him — and the throws he did make were not that of a potential #1 overall selection. Even during the amazing comeback, there were plenty of things Rosen did poorly that should not be overlooked.
The first touchdown pass of the quarter, a 9-yard pass to Darren Andrews, was a desperation heave that could easily have been intercepted had a defender not fallen down. The second touchdown pass, a 42-yard pass again to Andrews, was in the hands of the defender before squirting through. The fourth, and game-winning touchdown was bobbled and should have been reviewed at the very least, if not overturned.
Rosen deserves a ton of credit for not letting the wheels fall off like Josh Allen did. He stayed composed and played very well once the line in front of him got their act together. In a vacuum, his fourth quarter performance was one of the most outstanding things I’ve ever witnessed. But I can’t let that one quarter erase the previous three. For that reason, Rosen is trending slightly down after one week.