5 things we learned about the NFL Combine’s top QBs

Posted Mar 3, 2018

Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen competing to be best QB in this year's class

INDIANAPOLIS — Five things we learned about the five quarterbacks — Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson — many believe will be the first five selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

1. While his fellow quarterbacks stated their case to be the best player in this year’s draft class, Darnold declined to make that assertion. On Friday, the 20-year-old from USC addressed his turnovers and embraced the idea of playing for the Browns, who own the first and fourth overall picks.

Darnold was also the only member of those five signal-callers who chose not to throw during Saturday morning’s on-field workouts, something that disappointed NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock.

“I said this on the air, I was a little disappointed Darnold didn’t throw,” said Mayock, who ranked Darnold as his top quarterback prospect last week. “I think he’d get a chance to show off a little bit and this is all about competition and I wonder in his heart of hearts if he missed competing today because the other guys went out and ripped it pretty good.”

2. Meanwhile, Darnold's friend and competitor, Allen, stole the spotlight during the first portion of on-field workouts, showing off his uncanny arm talent -- so much so that it drew oohs, ahhs and gasps from those gathered inside Lucas Oil Stadium.

While there remain concerns regarding Allen’s accuracy — he completed 56 percent of his passes in two years as a starter — and consistency, he seemed to only bolster his draft stock Saturday.

“I thought Josh Allen put on a show, and I knew he would,” said Mayock, who added Allen has the strongest arm he’s seen since JaMarcus Russell. “All I’m talking about is arm talent. I’m talking about the ability to play in the NFL. Forget about what JaMarcus didn’t do with his career, his arm talent is off the charts, and I thought he showed off a little bit today.”

There was once a time when Allen was a little-regarded, two-star recruit out of high school. More recently, he was an unheralded quarterback at a California community college before transferring to Wyoming in 2015. Those days were officially obliterated Saturday morning.

“A few years ago I was in junior college, so I’m taking this all in and it's a really surreal moment,” he said, “just kind of see everything that I've dreamt of as a kid is kind of falling into place and if you knew who I was three years ago, I don't think you would say this is possible, so it's been really cool.”

3. One quarterback more accustomed to the spotlight (at least the last few years) is Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner. That dynamic came through in Friday’s news conference with reporters and then again during workouts. “I think he embraces the limelight. Some guys get kind of worried about it, I think he comes out there and says, ‘Hell, if 32 teams are here, let’s rip it. Let’s have some fun,’” Mayock said.

“And he did, I thought he had some fun. And as the day went on and he got into his comfort level, intermediate and deep routes, several people said to me — including (former Texans quarterback and NFL Network analyst) David Carr down on the field. He was like, ‘Mike, his arm is better than I expected.’ And I thought the same thing coming off my first exposure to him watching tape back in the fall.”

Mayfield, a two-time walk-on who’s earned high marks for his accuracy, competitiveness and toughness, is regarded as one of the most polarizing players in this year’s draft class because of his less-than-prototypical size, on-field antics and abrasive personality. 

4. The multi-talented Jackson showed a lot of poise in his Friday news conference, laughing off questions about a report that teams had asked him to work out as a receiver at the combine. The electrifying Louisville quarterback and 2016 Heisman winner wasn’t about to back down. “Whoever likes me at quarterback, that’s where I’m going,” he said with a wide smile. “That’s strictly my position.”

Jackson can walk the talk, too, using both his arms and legs to dominate college football the past two seasons. He did, however, show inconsistent accuracy (he completed 59 percent of his throws at Louisville) during on-field workouts. Mayock noticed that but made clear he believes a team will commit to the dynamic playmaker and build around his talents.

“I think he’s the most fascinating athlete in this draft and I think a team’s going to bite on him and commit to him philosophically. And you’ve got to understand what you’re getting,” he said.

“You saw it out there today — erratic, inconsistent, but again, perhaps the best athlete in this draft and I think the way the NFL’s going, teams are going to start to commit. You saw what happened with Deshaun Watson. I think Bill O’Brien did an outstanding job of catering to Deshaun and making him comfortable last year and I think somebody's going to do that with Lamar because he’s Michael Vick and he has as good of legs as any quarterback in the history of the game. He’s going to win games with his legs.”

5. Rosen, who was described by Mayock as the best pure passer in years, did nothing to dispel that notion during throwing drills. “I thought Josh Rosen was as good as advertised, he’s as natural a thrower as I’ve seen since Sam Bradford,” Mayock said. “My concern with him is the durability but for today, as the day went on, I thought he got better and better, accurate at all three levels.”

The UCLA star quarterback also shrugged off a report he wouldn’t want to play in Cleveland and addressed questions about his passion for the game and personality.

“I love football with all of my heart and soul. If I didn’t, I just don’t think I would’ve been able to make it through the grind of college,” he said.

“Football is an unbelievable team sport, and that’s what’s so cool about it is that I’m not playing exclusively for my own passions, I’m playing for all of my teammates. So it’s cool when you can throw a touchdown at the Rose Bowl and turn to the sideline and see 120 of your best friends jump in joy. You can see administration and fans that you know personally because you’re in class with them and you can see your coaches. You’re playing for them.”​

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