“Next year” is a phrase that is said by every single NFL fan every single NFL season (besides Patriots fans). This saying is most common as it pertains to the NFL Draft and, specifically, the quarterback position. Rewind a year, and you’ll remember the same draft analysts who sung the praises of passers like Jared Goff and Carson Wentz and then states following the draft “ya, but wait till the next draft class”. Next year, Deshaun Watson, one of the most decorated passers in college football history, will make the NFL his new playground. Next year, Deshone Kizer, a Cam Newton-clone, will run over NFL defenders with the same ferocity as Boogie. So, what does “next year” hold, this year?
Next year’s class has been touted by many as the strongest QB group seen in over a decade. Wow, can you imagine that? People are actually comparing this to the illustrious 2004 class! The passers who graduated into the NFL that season have resumes that speak for themselves, with some like Eli Manning, going on to quarterback their respective teams to multiple Super Bowls. And yet, some scouts say that this draft class “could be even better”. This idea sounds crazy…but could it be true? Who is really coming into the NFL next season? Two California boys and a quarterback from…Wyoming?
Let’s start with Josh Rosen. The quarterback playing under former NFL boss Jim Mora has been highly touted by this same ex-NFL head coach for his entire tenure at UCLA. Possessing good size (6”4) and an athletic skill set, Rosen shows strong “base” physical tools, such as above-average arm strength and decent accuracy when it comes to short and intermediate throws, but has been unable to perform consistently at the collegiate level following an extremely promising freshman season. We’ve heard this story before: Christian Hackenberg, a former five star recruit from Penn State, dealt with similar consistency issues following a hopeful first season as a starter for the Nittany Lions, and then failed to live up to the immeasurable hype that was placed on his shoulders. Largely drafted in the second round based on potential alone, Hackenberg has been startlingly disappointing for the New York Jets, failing to show any semblance of the passer that scouts dreamed of him becoming. While I don’t see many specific shared mechanical flaws between Hackenberg and Rosen (such as a long release and weakness in blitz pickup/recognition), I do wonder how a quarterback of his perceived skillset could struggle so mightily. Rosen’s off-the-field behavior is also questionable. Not that he has had a ton of trouble with the law, but Rosen has been characterized as being somewhat of a wildcard in terms of his behavior, especially when it comes to social media. Despite these factors, I suspect Rosen will be selected in the first round, even with a subpar season. Teams reach for quarterbacks, and he will not be an exception. However, he has a ways to go to catch the two passers ahead of him in my early draft rankings.
When it comes to Sam Darnold, I understand the hesitation. A USC quarterback entering the NFL as a highly touted prospect? Where has that gone wrong before? Pretty much every former Trojan outside of Carson Palmer has disappointed once they’ve reached the pros. So, why is Darnold different? Scouts have compared Darnold’s athletic ability to that of Tony Romo, incredibly high praise when considering that Romo’s strengths in pocket control, movement within the pocket and overall awareness largely helped lead to his inclusion on the “Mount Rushmore” of Dallas Cowboys’ quarterbacks. Darnold, who didn’t even start the year as the starting quarterback for USC, culminated a strong debut season with a five touchdown performance in the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately, Darnold must now deal with significant losses on the offensive side of the ball. With teammates like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Zach Banner moving on to the pros, it will be up to Darnold to carry a USC team that has eyes on the College Football Playoffs. Outside of a long release, there exists relatively few irreparable holes in Darnold’s game, lending credence to the idea that he, like the top ranked quarterback on my board currently, could be a top five draft pick.
Finally, we get to Josh Allen, a quarterback from the Wyoming Cowboys of all places. Allen proves the notion that has been highlighted by scouts time and time again: if you can throw the football, the NFL will find you no matter where you are… just ask former North Dakota Bison, Carson Wentz. Allen has been compared to Wentz for some time now, and not just because of their similar prototypical build and solid athleticism for their size. Craig Bohl and Brent Vigen, two coaches on the Wyoming staff, orchestrated the development of Wentz during the current Philadelphia Eagle’s tenure at North Dakota and now work with a similar prodigy in Allen. Conducting a pro-style system with a similar poise and maturity to the former Bison, there is no question that Allen will enter the league as the most pro-ready of the three quarterbacks highlighted. In addition, Allen’s athleticism and Joe Flacco-like arm strength have led many to rate him even higher than Carson Wentz as an NFL prospect. What’s even crazier is that the issues that will absolutely surround Allen in the lead up to the NFL Draft will be nearly identical to that of Wentz: inexperience and lack of snaps. Allen, according to College Football Reference, has only attempted 379 passes in his career thus far, putting him on a trajectory to match Wentz’s 612 before he entered the NFL. Additionally, despite dominating his level of play, Allen has not competed with the highest caliber of talent in the Mountain West Conference, so pro scouts will most definitely key in on the early parts of Allen’s season as the Cowboys take on difficult tests against Iowa and Oregon. When evaluating top quarterback prospects however, at least from my perspective, projection is everything, and the physical tools, mental capability and likely trajectory of Allen’s career lend credence to the idea that we could be looking at a Wyoming Cowboy as the future 1st pick in the NFL Draft, and perhaps more importantly, the number 1 quarterback on my board in a historic draft class.
Teams like the Cardinals, Saints, and Steelers will now, due to the advancing ages of their current passers, be forced to join the bottom-of-the barrel franchises in paying close attention to the college quarterback landscape. What these teams will find, however, is opportunity and cut-throat competitiveness amongst one another. “Next year” has a strong QB draft class in terms of depth as well, no doubt about it, as passers like Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State show significant promise. However, the competition to get to one of the three crown jewels of the group will be fierce, and you can bet we’ll be hearing about them early and often as the College football landscape kicks into gear. Welcome to “next year”, NFL.