In what has been hailed as a rich group of quarterback prospects, NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock named half a dozen of them who could possibly get first-round calls in the 2018 NFL Draft.
USC's Sam Darnold, UCLA's Josh Rosen, Wyoming's Josh Allen and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield wouldn't surprise anyone as first-round selections, but on a conference call with reporters Monday in advance of the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine (March 2-5 on NFL Network), Mayock pointed to two more who shouldn't be forgotten.
The way things are going is simple enough: A continuing escalation of the importance of the quarterback position, from how crucial they are to winning football, to how handsomely they are paid, to how quickly they are drafted. The Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Denver Broncos and New York Jets are among the teams that hold a top-10 pick in the draft and have a need at the position. Then there are the clubs with an established but aging quarterback who might be looking to add an understudy, such as the New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots.
There won't be a first-round quarterback for every team that needs one, but for those with the opportunity, there won't be a shortage of options. If six QBs do come off the board in Round 1, it would be the most signal-callers selected in the first round since 1983, the year John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly were drafted.
Here are six other things we learned from Mayock's teleconference:
2) Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield has made a point of shooting down any comparisons between himself and former first-round bust Johnny Manziel, but it's not quite that simple. As such, one of Mayfield's biggest challenges at the combine will be in convincing teams in interviews that he is the type of leader they're looking for.
"The world of 6-foot-1-and-under quarterbacks is a small one. When you compound that with some off-field issues and the ability to extend the play and be athletic on the field, there are going to be comparisons whether he wants to distance himself or not," Mayock said.
3) With a pair of top-five picks and their perpetual quarterback need back again in 2018, the Cleveland Browns' potential interest in one of the draft's elite quarterbacks will draw plenty of speculation. Mayock believes USC's Sam Darnold and Wyoming's Josh Allen would likely be the two quarterbacks Cleveland would consider most strongly.
"I think when you're the GM at Cleveland, you've got to think about the weather. You're playing outside, you need a big arm, and his offensive coordinator came over from Pittsburgh and he's used to Ben Roethlisberger," Mayock said. "To me, Josh Allen has to be in that conversation at No. 1 or No. 4, along with (Sam) Darnold."
4)Alvin Kamara's rookie season won't be easily duplicated, but one prospect who might at least make a similar impact is Georgia's Sony Michel. The former Bulldogs star, who shared carries with Nick Chubb just as Kamara split carries in college, has the physical traits required for the role. One difference? Mayock sees Kamara as the more proven pass-catcher of the two, coming out of college. Kamara was a third-round pick of the New Orleans Saints and had a spectacular rookie showing with 1,554 total yards.
5) Washington DT Vita Vea is a highly intriguing prospect with off-the-charts athleticism for a 340-pound interior anchor.
"He's a dancing bear. He's a freak. He's 340 pounds and everybody says he's going to run a sub-5.0 40," Mayock said. "The last defensive lineman to do that was Dontari Poe. He went at No. 11. Vea is a better player than Poe was coming out of college. More advanced. He's a plug-and-play nose tackle in any scheme. If he runs 4.85 or 4.9 at 342 pounds, to me that's more impressive than watching John Ross run 4.22."
6) Mayock currently has South Carolina's Hayden Hurst as his No. 1-ranked tight end. One key reason? His blocking separates him from most of the draft's other top prospects at the same position.
7) FSU DB Derwin James' versatility will be coveted by NFL clubs, but his ability to cover slot receivers will ultimately carry much of his NFL value. Mayock called James' ability to do so from the safety position something that makes him "worth his weight in gold."