Every year is, in essence, the year of the quarterback when it comes to the NFL draft. Having the right quarterback means so much, and teams that lack one are so desperate to get one that each year’s draft is an exercise in figuring out whether that primary need can be addressed. On draft night, a quarterback of promise is lifted above a player at another position with comparable or, quite often, superior talent.

But only every once in a while do circumstances coalesce to truly make it The Year of the Quarterback: A draft class with an unusually high number of coveted QBs, and with quarterback-desperate teams gathered at the top of the draft order, raising the stakes to the point that there is little alternative to a draft class being remembered as either memorably great or memorably disappointing.

Such is the case as this NFL draft nears. The quarterbacks are lined up: Southern California’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. The first-round draft order includes prospective quarterback-seeking teams possessing each of the top five picks (the Cleveland Browns with Nos. 1 and 4, the New York Giants at No. 2, the New York Jets at No. 3 and the Denver Broncos at No. 5) plus others (like the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots) with the wherewithal to trade up.

“You’ve got to have a franchise quarterback,” Brandon Beane, the general manager of the Bills, said at his team’s predraft news conference. “That’s one of the main jobs of a GM, is to find a franchise quarterback. It’s a quarterback league. I’ll say it every single time: You have to have one.”

Will this draft be remembered like 1983 – when Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino were among the six quarterbacks taken in the first round – or the 2004 draft – when Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger came off the board within the first 11 choices? Or will it go the direction of the 2012 draft, which looked historically great until Andrew Luck underwent shoulder surgery and Robert Griffin III started being discarded by teams?

“It’s always hard to say … but I think there’s a possibility of some really good quarterbacks coming out of this draft,” Elway, the president and general manager of the Broncos, said at the NFL scouting combine.

With the draft nearly at hand, here’s a quick look at what teams must weigh with each of the top quarterback prospects:


The reigning Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma is perhaps the most polarizing figure in this draft class.

There is no questioning his on-field production. He can make the throws. And it is clear that he is an effective leader who knows how to win.

But some observers wonder about his height, which is just under 6-foot-1. And plenty of others scrutinize his behavior on and off the field. Mayfield’s list of transgressions includes an arrest in Arkansas on charges that included public intoxication and disorderly conduct. There was an on-field incident his final collegiate season in which he directed a vulgar gesture toward the Kansas sideline during a game that began with Jayhawks players refusing to shake his hand at midfield.

How will teams regard all of that? Some might be dissuaded from making Mayfield the face of the franchise. Others will shrug it off.

“He’s obviously very much a competitor,” Elway said in Indianapolis at the combine. “He’s had a great college career and won the Heisman Trophy. So he proved that he can play. … What I’ve seen is obviously there’s some things that I’m sure he’d admit that he’d want to take back. But a lot of times you get tied up in the emotions of the situation. I like to see a guy with that kind of passion.”

Mayfield seems to have taken the approach that the team that chooses him will get what it gets, and it must understand that.

“Until you sit down and talk to me directly, you might have an image portrayed in stories and headlines,” he said at the combine. “But I love the game. I’m up front and honest. I let them know exactly what I’m about. I think that’s important that what you see is what you get. I’ve always been brutally honest. Some people don’t like that because it’s rare nowadays. But I go into these meetings (with NFL teams) and I’m just myself.”


It has been an odd predraft buildup for Jackson, who preceded Mayfield in winning the Heisman Trophy. He has drawn scrutiny for declining to hire an agent and having his mother serve as his business manager. And there were reports that some teams wanted to see how he would look as a wide receiver rather than as a quarterback.

Jackson had no interest in auditioning to be an NFL wideout, and there is plenty of interest in him as a quarterback.

An executive with one NFL team said in recent days he expects Jackson to be chosen in the first round as a quarterback, although probably after Darnold, Allen, Rosen and Mayfield.

Jackson, as a college player, was dynamic as both a runner and as a passer. The dual-threat quarterback seemed to be in fashion in the NFL for a stretch. Griffin was the offensive rookie of the year for Washington in 2012; Russell Wilson took the Seattle Seahawks to consecutive Super Bowls in the 2013 and 2014 seasons; and Cam Newton was the league’s MVP for the Carolina Panthers in the 2015 season.

But now they are cautionary tales. Griffin is on his third NFL team. Newton has totaled 41 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions over the past two seasons. Johnny Manziel, another former Heisman winner who made his mark with his improvisational skills, is out of the league entirely, albeit in part because of his off-field troubles.


Take one look at Allen throwing a football, and it’s clear he should be the No. 1 overall pick.

Take a closer look at what he did in his college career at Wyoming, however, and there is room to wonder.

If ever there was a high-risk, high-reward draft choice, it is Allen. He is big, at 6-feet-5 and 237 pounds. He is a terrific athlete for his size, reminiscent of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz. He moves well. And the football simply explodes from his throwing hand. His throws have more than zip on them. They have sizzle.

Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim, not speaking about Allen in particular, said at the scouting combine: “As a young scout you get enamored with the physical tools – the arm strength, the mobility, the velocity a guy may throw with. And we all know as we look back in time, the guys who have success, it’s the ability to play between the ears. It’s processing information, learning the playbook, the work ethic side of it.”

Allen was a two-year starter at Wyoming and completed a modest 56 percent of his passes. He could be the next Wentz, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2016 NFL draft who was a league MVP candidate last season as a second-year pro before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Or he could be the next JaMarcus Russell, the strong-armed draft bust taken first overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2007.


There is much to like about Rosen, from his poise in the pocket to his sound throwing mechanics to his pinpoint passing accuracy. Some within the league regard him as the most polished quarterback in this draft class and say he could step into an NFL starting job relatively quickly and seamlessly, even though he lacks the dazzling arm strength of Allen.

One of the questions that has been raised about Rosen is a curious one. He was asked if he must prove to NFL decision-makers that he loves football. Rosen did not completely dismiss the question.

“Kind of,” he said. “I mean, we all work our butt off. If we didn’t like football, no matter how talented we are, we wouldn’t be in the position that we all are here this week. I mean, I love football with all of my heart and soul. If I didn’t, I just don’t think I’d be able to have made it through the grind of college. Football is an unbelievable team sport and that’s what so cool about it is that I’m not playing … exclusively for my own passion. I’m playing for all of my teammates.”

Rosen said he would be bothered only if a team still questioned his passion for the sport after getting to know him. It’s not only about NFL talent evaluators believing that you can play, he said. It’s also about them feeling that you will fit into a particular organization.


Darnold was to be the golden boy of this NFL draft.

From the moment he arrived on the national stage by throwing for 453 yards and five touchdowns in the Rose Bowl against Penn State in January 2017, Darnold was supposed to be the quarterback who arrived in the NFL as a no-doubt-about-it No. 1 overall choice.

But last season was not overwhelmingly great, and he has suffered from the predraft tendency of the top prospects being picked apart. So now there is fretting about his elongated throwing motion and his propensity to commit turnovers. His obvious gifts as a passer have been pushed, at least somewhat, to the background.

He’s not perfect. But he is quite good, and several executives leaguewide said in recent days they still expect Darnold to be the top overall selection. The perpetually quarterback-starved Browns, led by a new general manager in John Dorsey, get the first shot at figuring it all out.

“It’s an evolving thing. … Really, it doesn’t matter until that draft board is set the day of the draft,” Dorsey said at the combine.

How it will unfold is eagerly awaited. Beane said he is asked daily whether the Bills will select a quarterback.

“I get it,” Beane said. “I respect it. Some of the conversations, some of the comments, they’re not even necessarily asking for my opinion. They’re just giving me theirs. … People care. That’s all you can ask for. I get the question. It’s fair.”

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