It didn't take long for the class of 2018 quarterbacks to take center stage. Following the promotions of Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen this week, the first four quarterbacks selected in April will start in Week 4. Combine that group with the quartet of quarterbacks drafted in 2017 who are also starting -- Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and C.J. Beathard -- and a quarter of the league's starters are rookies or second-year players.
With my quarterly ranking of all 32 NFL quarterbacks still a week away, let's try a different set of ridiculously premature rankings. If I could pick any one of the starting quarterbacks from the last two draft classes to start a team with, whom would I take?
Of course this is incredibly subjective and based on microscopically small sample sizes, but that's partly what makes it fun.
1) Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Drafted: Round 1, 10th overall, 2017.
Mahomes has the best combination of extraterrestrial physical talent with identifiable football intelligence. It doesn't hurt Mahomes that he's playing under a verified quarterback whisperer with great talent around him, two safeguards that can prevent this ranking from looking silly when he hits inevitable speed bumps.
I wrote about Mahomes' first career start over the summer, marveling at some of the preposterous improvised plays that he made. It's been impressive to see in his three starts this year how rarely he's needed to go off-script. Mahomes is quick with his reads and has made excellent decisions, aided by coach Andy Reid's ability to scheme players open. That decisiveness is what helps Mahomes take the top spot here. Former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said that he wanted to draft Mahomes in Arizona.
"I loved his mental makeup more than anything," Arians told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. "He's top four on the board I've ever had, up there with Peyton [Manning] and Andrew [Luck]. Amazing recall."
That combination of a beautiful football mind with the ability to escape pressure and throw fastballs from any angle is reminiscent of Aaron Rodgers. Mahomes' arm strength even helps on his mistakes, as defenders have often misjudged when to break up his throws, even when they are in position. Comparing him to Rodgers feels unfair after only four career starts, but everything feels possible with Mahomes right now.
2) Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
Drafted: Round 1, first overall, 2018.
It was a difficult choice between Mahomes or Mayfield for the top spot. Mayfield's accuracy from within the pocket looks superior to anyone on this list. His confidence oozes off the screen, whether we're watching him on "Hard Knocks" or while cutting a cake, holding a microphone and answering questions from NFL Network supernova Colleen Wolfe at the same time.
From Mayfield's very first two-minute drill against the Jets, he showed an uncanny confidence in throwing heaters up the seams against New York's zone defense. He read the coverage and trusted his arm in a way this year's other rookies haven't yet. His debut performance resonated more because it lined up with his preseason performances. I thought Mayfield was the most impressive rookie in August, despite mostly playing with backups.
It's not like Mayfield's debut was perfect. He fumbled once and missed a few open throws. But his ability to stay calm during the game, motioning for his receivers to come back to him while escaping the pass rush, speaks to a young man comfortable in his own skin, handling a lot of tasks at once. Saving a franchise is next on the list.
3) Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans
Drafted: Round 1, 12th overall, 2017.
My top two picks for this exercise were clear. The next three could have been sorted in any order, but Watson's sensational stretch last season gives him an edge over the rest of the 2018 rookies for now. Watson has also steadily improved each week this season. The Texans' scheme is no longer creating yards on its own, and Houston's play at offensive tackle has been abysmal, with the team's two starters ranked fourth-to-last and dead last among 74 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus' rankings.
That has complicated matters for Watson, who is still providing terrific rushing value with 120 yards in three games despite not looking all the way back physically from a torn ACL. Watson and Texans coach Bill O'Brien need to start games faster, as many of his best plays have come while the Texans are in catch-up mode in the second half. Still, it's a remarkable time in the NFL when a second-year quarterback averaging 8.2 yards per attempt (and ranked 13th by PFF thus far) is being chided for a slow start.
Watson also gets a slight edge here because of the belief that he inspires in every coach and teammate he has come across in his college and pro career. Leadership is hard to quantify, and it's only so meaningful without the physical skills to back it up, but Watson possesses the total quarterback package, by all accounts.
4) Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals
Drafted: Round 1, 10th overall, 2018.
Rosen was my favorite quarterback to watch leading up to the draft because he was such a natural thrower and he appeared to have the highest floor of any prospect. He projected as an average NFL starter at worst, displaying a lot of skills that are tough to teach: anticipation, pocket movement (to avoid the pass rush) and the ability to deliver under pressure. With only 36 pass attempts as a pro between the preseason and a late-relief role in Week 3, nothing at the NFL level has changed that outlook.
Rosen's varied skill set should make him fascinating to watch as he begins his journey as an NFL starter on Sunday against a solid Seahawks defense. Unfortunately, all of Rosen's practice at UCLA throwing passes in the face of terrible pass protection will come in handy. Rosen is joining an offense ranked dead last in passing and rushing, so expectations for this season should be kept in check.
5) Sam Darnold, New York Jets
Drafted: Round 1, third overall, 2018.
Darnold is a blast to watch when he's extending plays, and he showed a veteran's ability to go through his progressions during the preseason and in his solid Week 1 performance. Darnold admitted that he's been too cautious since, with NFL defensive talent and schemes fogging up his 21-year-old head.
I'm not that worried that his penchant for turnovers has followed him from USC to the pros thus far. I'm more concerned with the Jets' play calling, which has included way too many first-down runs and hasn't been able to take advantage of Darnold's ability to throw from outside the pocket. Everything appears to be on-schedule for Darnold, though. The fact someone as exciting as Darnold ranks only fifth on this list shows what a terrific crop of young quarterbacks the NFL has harvested over the last two seasons.
6) Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Drafted: Round 1, seventh overall, 2018.
I see a big gap between Darnold and Allen, although the Bills rookie's performance in Week 3 showed his potential. Allen is Buffalo's leading rusher after three weeks, and his size (6-foot-5, 237 pounds) makes going for it on fourth-and-short an easy call. Not unlike Blake Bortles, Allen will probably be at his best trusting his arm and throwing against man coverage outside the numbers. It's debatable whether Allen has the teammates to win contested catches, with his leading wideout only gaining 29 yards even in the win against the Vikings.
The Bills will have to build an offense around Allen's physical skill set early in his career and hope that he learns from his mistakes, like the numerous occasions in Week 2 when he didn't avoid the pass rush and stared down receivers. It's easy to imagine Allen winning enough with his physical tools to make highlight reels and convince coaches of possible greatness, but the path to career longevity will be trickier.
7) Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears
Drafted: Round 1, second overall, 2017.
It's too early to panic regarding Trubisky, but he's not showing a lot of positive signs yet. Bears coach Matt Nagy appears to cook up a fine scripted gameplan to start each week, and then the offense runs out of gas. The book on Trubisky has been that he can't throw to his left, and the numbers at the pro level are pretty stark. My biggest concern is that he misses a lot of throws when accuracy is supposed to be his trademark quality.
He's only 15 starts into his pro career, but Trubisky is older than the QBs ahead of him on this list. If there isn't significant progress shown by December, the Bears will have real reason to worry.
8) C.J. Beathard, San Francisco 49ers
Drafted: Round 3, 104th overall, 2017.
When I first envisioned writing this article, Beathard was not on the list. However, he's the 49ers' starter, with Jimmy Garoppolo out for the year after suffering a torn ACL, and there's a strong chance Beathard will exceed expectations. My relative belief in him stems entirely from Kyle Shanahan's belief. The 49ers surprisingly drafted Beathard in the third round last year and then surprisingly didn't bring in competition for him as the team's backup this offseason.
Beathard wasn't ready to start as a rookie, although he made five starts. He held the ball too long, and he needs to make up for what he lacks in arm strength with better anticipation. With that said, Beathard's two starts before Jimmy G took over as QB1 last season were his best two, including a genuinely excellent performance against the Giants. The one pass Beathard threw last week -- a touchdown nullified by penalty -- was an absolute beauty. Working in Beathard's favor: Quarterbacks usually experience their biggest improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, the 49ers are second in the league in rushing and Shanahan can scheme guys open for any quarterback. (Many of Garoppolo's biggest plays this year were layups.)
I think I just convinced myself that the Beathard-led 49ers will be watchable for the next 13 weeks because the alternative is too depressing.
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