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2018 NFL season: Predicting when rookie QBs will start

With training camps getting into full swing this week, several rookie quarterbacks will encounter sky-high expectations as they embark on their NFL careers. How long will fans have to wait to see these highly touted signal callers in regular-season action? Marc Sessler reveals his projections.

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Drafted: Round 1, Pick No. 1 overall.

Competition for the job: Starter Tyrod Taylor.

Path to QB1: The Browns are selling Taylor as their wire-to-wire starter, but Cleveland hasn't seen a quarterback play all 16 games in a season since Tim Couch did the deed in 2001. Still, Taylor has been lauded by teammates and coaches all offseason, with new play caller Todd Haley saying "it's clear that Tyrod is the leader of this team," while noting Mayfield "has a long way to go." From another angle, Cleveland's schedule is a brutal journey through the rough-and-tumble NFC South and AFC North. With coach Hue Jackson's job on the line, it's not impossible to imagine a world where the Browns -- in a late-season spiral -- turn to Mayfield for a spark. There's a second scenario where Taylor plays solid football and manages to stay healthy, making this a genuine redshirt season for the first overall pick in the draft.

When will he start? Taylor is more than a placeholder, but the cries for Mayfield will grow deafening if the Browns struggle. A Week 12 start against the Bengals -- after Cleveland's bye -- feels about right for Mayfield's debut.

Sam Darnold, New York Jets

Drafted: Round 1, Pick No. 3 overall.

Competition for the job: Veterans Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater.

Path to QB1: McCown performed admirably for the Jets last autumn and is viewed league-wide as a pristine teammate and mentor. He's not the future of the Jets, though, after Darnold fell into Gang Green's lap in the draft. With a coaching staff and front office nestled on the hot seat, Darnold will be given every chance to win the job in camp. Bridgewater was an affordable add in free agency, but looms as potential trade bait if Darnold shines. The pecking order hinges entirely on the rookie's ability to process information, protect the football and make smart decisions during his preseason snaps. Barring a deer-in-headlights August, Darnold has a legitimate shot to play right away. Of course, he has to show up first -- he remains unsigned as of this writing and has yet to report to camp.

When will he start? Of the rookies, Darnold has the clearest path to Week 1 action. Unless he fumbles and bumbles his way through exhibition fare, look for Darnold to take the reins in New York's prime-time opener against Detroit.

Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

Drafted: Round 1, Pick No. 7 overall.

Competition for the job: Veterans AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman.

Path to QB1: Allen hits the scene as a raging wild card. His upside and saucy potential outshine anything we'll see from McCarron or Peterman, but Allen's lack of big-game experience is tangible. "He is the biggest and best physical specimen of all [the rookies]," one scout told longtime beat writer Bob McGinn. "He's just not as far along." I don't see a reason to fling Allen into the fire on a Bills team bereft of weapons and saddled with a questionable offensive line. This feels like Denver's quarterback room from a year ago: They'll all make starts. Allen has been compared to everyone from Troy Aikman and Carson Wentz to Jake Locker and Blake Bortles. Unless he emerges as some sort of evolutionary wunderkind in August, he'll toil in the shadows until further notice.

When will he start? It's a total dart throw, but Week 15 against the Lions would give the Bills a late-season, three-week gander at their quarterback of tomorrow.

Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals

Drafted: Round 1, Pick No. 10 overall.

Competition for the job: Veteran Sam Bradford.

Path to QB1: Rosen impressed his coaches this offseason, appearing "comfortable and poised" and living up to his reputation as a heady, rapid-processing signal caller with the tools to succeed early as a pro. The Cards are under no pressure to rush Rosen, though, with the underrated Bradford on the roster. His durability is a consistent concern, but Bradford put together a marvelous 2016 campaign before shining in a Week 1 win over the Saints last season. Knee issues wiped out the rest of his year, but a healthy Bradford has the tools to keep Rosen on the bench after posting the highest adjusted completion percentage (80.9) of the last decade in 2016. Veteran teammates believe in Bradford, with All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson touting him as the starter and saying "when Sam is healthy and is on the field and has talent around him, he's a top-tier quarterback."

When will he start? This is Bradford's job to lose, but that requires the oft-injured vet to stay healthy. One way or another, I expect to see Rosen by midseason. Let's go with a Week 11 start at home against the Raiders.

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

Drafted: Round 1, Pick No. 32 overall.

Competition for the job: Starter Joe Flacco.

Path to QB1: Arguably the most electrifying player from this year's draft, Jackson's Q-Rating is on the rise. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has furnished the team with a potential future star and a clear heir apparent to 33-year-old Joe Flacco. The Super Bowl-winning veteran remains in the driver's seat, but the Ravens are committed to getting Jackson on the field, with coach John Harbaugh saying Tuesday: "One way or another, he's going to be out there, taking snaps." The club has unveiled plays during camp that pair Flacco and the rookie together -- and even Jackson with backup Robert Griffin III. Play caller Marty Mornhinweg has gushed over his quarterbacks, calling Jackson "way ahead of the curve" and noting that Flacco -- reduced to a creaky statue last season due to back issues -- is "moving and grooving better than he has in several years." With a restocked cast of pass catchers, Baltimore's offense is trending up. Flacco remains the clear lead dog, but Jackson will have the chance to shine.

When will he start? Week 1 of 2019.

Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh Steelers

Drafted: Round 3, Pick No. 76 overall.

Competition for the job: Starter Ben Roethlisberger.

Path to QB1: Rudolph's primary challenge is downing Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs for Pittsburgh's No. 2 role behind Roethlisberger. "Mason's been everything we've asked, for sure," offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said last month. A massively framed passer at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, Rudolph was drafted to take over the job when Big Ben calls it quits. His presence is bad news for Landry and Dobbs, but Roethlisberger remains the clear-cut franchise arm and one of the league's finest quarterbacks.

When will he start? Roethlisberger has missed at least one game in each of the past three seasons. Look for Rudolph to make one spot start after beating out Jones for No. 2 duties.

Kyle Lauletta, New York Giants

Drafted: Round 4, Pick No. 108 overall.

Competition for the job: Starter Eli Manning and veteran Davis Webb.

Path to QB1: The Giants passed on the quarterbacks with their top pick for the chance to nab ultra-juicy running back Saquon Barkley. Risky business with a latter-day Eli Manning on the roster, but general manager Dave Gettleman was thrilled to find Lauletta available in the fourth round, saying: "Where we had him on the board, we couldn't pass up the value." Lauletta's first order of business is battling Webb for backup duties, but coach Pat Shurmur has suggested the Giants are willing to keep three passers. A Manning collapse would open the door for another arm to earn starts, but New York has no plans to bench Eli after last year's demotion bubbled into a public-relations disaster. Lauletta's job for now is simply growing into the role, with one scout telling McGinn: "Everybody wants to love him because he's smart and affable. He's a coach's dream. But, physically, he doesn't have the talent."

When will he start? The G-Men have faith in an Eli bounce-back campaign. Lauletta will tussle with Webb for a chance to take over the role as early as next season.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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