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2018 NFL Draft QBs: Darnold No. 1, Lamar Jackson underrated

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Editor's note: NFL.com analysts Lance Zierlein and Chad Reuter will provide overviews for eight position groups in the 2018 NFL Draft (April 26-28 in Dallas), continuing today with quarterbacks.

Before the 2017 college football season began, there was immense excitement in scouting circles about the "big three" prospects at quarterback, which included USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, and Wyoming's Josh Allen. All three possessed NFL size and arm talent. There was a great deal of anticipation to see which QB would elevate his play and potentially lock himself into the top spot in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Things didn't quite go according to plan for them, though. Rosen had a decent year for a team that finished below .500, Allen took a step back in most statistical categories -- both Allen and Rosen missed time with injuries -- and Darnold continued to pile up turnovers at an alarming rate for such a highly regarded prospect.

Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield not only won the Heisman, but also did the best job of boosting his draft stock with his play in 2017. Louisville's Lamar Jackson nearly duplicated the output of his Heisman-winning 2016 campaign and was able to stay steady as a passer despite throwing to a variety of new targets that were going through growing pains.

So where does this group stand now that the dust has settled? Here's a glance at the 2018 QB class.

Teams with greatest need at QB

1) Cleveland Browns: The Browns traded for Tyrod Taylor this offseason, but he's likely a bridge QB for the next face of the franchise at the position.

2) New York Jets: Christian Hackenberg never got off the ground and the Jets find themselves in a familiar position -- looking for a QB.

3) Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals signed Sam Bradford last month, but they are still searching for their future star at the position.

4) Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor is out and AJ McCarron is in, but with two first-round picks (Nos. 12 and 22 overall), the Bills could be primed to trade up for a QB.

5) New York Giants: The Giants have been coy about whether or not they will draft a QB this year, but I don't think this regime sees 2017 third-round pick Davis Webb as Eli Manning's heir apparent.

Top 5 players at the position

1) Sam Darnold, USC: Darnold has the size, arm talent and poise to become a very good starter in the league, but he has to do a better job of taking care of the football.

2) Josh Rosen, UCLA: He's the most technically proficient QB in this class, with great footwork and good accuracy. Questions about his leadership qualities and love of the game are concerns for some teams.

3) Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma: Mayfield dominated the competition with his deep-ball accuracy and decision making, but he needs to prove he's not a product of the Air Raid system and that he can excel against tighter man coverage.

4) Lamar Jackson, Louisville: Jackson is the ultimate playmaker in this draft. He has the ability to beat teams with his legs or his arm, but he has a tendency to miss on simple throws and hasn't proven he can slide to avoid hits outside the pocket.

5) Josh Allen, Wyoming: Allen is the physical prototype for pocket passers with great size and a huge arm. He has to shore up his footwork and throw with better anticipation to improve his completion rate.

Most overrated

Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State: Rudolph operated with a very good command of his offense at Oklahoma State. He knew he had two receivers -- Marcell Ateman and James Washington -- that could make plays with the ball in the air, and Rudolph allowed them to do just that. However, when I study his tape, I don't see a quarterback who looks like a top-50 pick. We are hearing more buzz that he could end up going in that range in this year's draft. Rudolph wasn't asked to go through many progressions in his offense and I felt like his arm strength was very average when he was asked to zip it on field-side throws. I like his size as well as the fact that Rudolph understood his offense and would attack down the field, but I see an average NFL quarterback prospect who shouldn't go inside the first two rounds.

Most underrated

Lamar Jackson, Louisville: It might seem strange to list Jackson in the underrated category, but I'm not hearing many mentions for him as a top-10, or even top-15, pick, despite his talent and accomplishments. The word "elite" is thrown around quite haphazardly these days, but it's an apt description of Jackson's athletic ability. Not since Michael Vick have we seen a quarterback with Jackson's level of athletic ability and play-making potential ... and Vick went No. 1 overall in the draft! After the Texans' success in crafting their offense around Deshaun Watson last season, it's safe to say that any team considering drafting Jackson will already have a plan in place for how to best utilize his talents. Watson was a much more complete passer from the pocket than Jackson is at this point, but Jackson's ability to flip games in his team's favor by utilizing his ability to hit the home run should not be discounted -- the best offenses are usually ranked near the top in explosive plays. The one major concern is whether Jackson can stay healthy with his penchant for leaving the pocket.

Boom or bust

Josh Rosen, UCLA: The intelligence, accuracy and mechanics are all in place for Rosen. He's had plenty of flashes that highlight his ability to be a high-end NFL quarterback. However, UCLA football sources have questioned his leadership skills and coachability. Those issues are the primary reasons why his floor is lower than you would like for a QB who's expected to come off the board inside the top five picks. As for on the field, Rosen clearly has the football intelligence to play chess against pro defenses, but he has also taken too many sacks due to his unwillingness to check down and move on to the next play. Rosen is usually an accurate thrower with good ball placement, but his deep-ball accuracy isn't great, and part of that problem has to do with the fact that he struggles to put enough air under the ball to push it down the field. I believe his deep-ball accuracy and decision making can be improved or worked around, but poor intangibles have sunk many a quarterback and Rosen has to prove that he won't be the next one to fall into that category.

Sleeper alert

Nic Shimonek, Texas Tech: There are not too many true sleepers at QB in this draft, but Shimonek fits the bill. He has good size and an impressive arm. He has the ability to go from read to read and does an adequate job of understanding when to look for the deep throw. Shimonek will need to throw with better anticipation and ball placement as well as work with more consistent confidence from the pocket. He might go undrafted, but he has the physical ability to impress in a camp.

Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.

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