Editor's note: Jordan Zirm is a reporter for ESPN 850 WKNR.
The down time between the end of the college bowl season and the NFL Combine is where quarterback narratives, true or not, fester. People thought Deshaun Watson didn’t throw the ball with enough velocity to be successful in the NFL. Others believed Carson Wentz couldn’t handle the elements because he played all his college home games in a dome. Someone probably said Peyton Manning didn’t possess a strong enough arm to consistently throw downfield. Narratives take root and are hard to shake, as they get repeated enough times to breach our national football conscious.
The 2018 NFL Draft is still three months away, but the scrutiny this crop of quarterbacks finds itself under is no different. Fortunately, we’re here to separate truth from reality, so the next time you hear someone parrot one of the common misconceptions about your favorite signal caller in this draft, you’ll be ready to correct them. Here’s one myth about each of the top six draft-worthy QBs, and why it’s totally wrong.
Sam Darnold’s Performance Against Ohio State Hurt His Draft Stock
If you live in the Cleveland area, or anywhere in the Midwest, really, then USC’s Rose Bowl matchup with Ohio State on Dec. 29th was probably the first time you got a glimpse of Trojan quarterback Sam Darnold. If that’s the case, then you might be down on Darnold after watching him fumble twice and throw a pick-six in a 24-7 loss to the Buckeyes.
When it comes to Darnold’s draft stock, though, his performance against Ohio State didn’t move the needle one way or another. In fact, some of the throws he made against the Buckeyes were the type that have GMs and scouts drooling over his potential.
One such throw came on a third-and-13 late in the second quarter, with USC backed up on their own 10 yard line. Against a six-man blitz, Darnold threw a dime off his back foot to his slot receiver on a fade almost 40 yards down the field, placing it perfectly between the cornerback and the safety coming over the top.
On another, facing a third-and-four in the first quarter, Darnold navigated the pocket perfectly as it collapsed around him, giving his wide receiver time to run across the middle and come open on a crossing route for a 15 yard gain and a first down.
Darnold’s two fumbles are certainly a cause for concern, and his interception came from incorrectly reading Ohio State’s defensive coverage. But the sheer amount of NFL-level throws he made in the Rose Bowl is what has NFL teams excited about adding Darnold to their quarterback room.
Josh Rosen is a Privileged Jerk Who Doesn’t Care About Football
Of all the charges that have been leveled against this draft crop of quarterbacks, the ones against UCLA’s Josh Rosen might be the most egregious. Such as: His teammates hate him. He’s selfish. He’s too smart for his own good. He grew up privileged and spoiled. He doesn’t love football or the president. And on and on.
The original story of Rosen’s less than stellar reputation seems to have started toward the end of his high school career, when Rosen turned off some coaches at Stanford during a football camp in Palo Alto, Calif., that reportedly cost him a scholarship. “He was perceived to be overbearing,” the Orange County Register reported.
Then there was a run-in with former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, Rosen’s coach at the Nike Elite 11 camp, a breeding ground for some of the top high school quarterbacks. Rosen disagreed with how Dilfer chose the plays they ran, something Dilfer didn’t take kindly to.
“I like being challenged,” Dilfer said at the time. “I don’t mind that stuff. My bigger thing was he thinks he knows more than he knows.”
The more you dig into Rosen’s background, the more he reminds you of that kid in your high school Statistics class, raising his hand to politely correct the teacher. He’s too smart for his own good, and because of it, he enjoys challenging preconceived notions, even when they’re being disseminated by someone much his senior. Is that kid annoying? Yes. Does that kid have a bit of an ego? Yes. Is any of that enough to keep you from recognizing and using his otherworldly talents? Absolutely not.
But rumors of Rosen’s deficiencies have taken on a life of their own, even when there is substantial evidence pointing the opposite direction. For instance, teammates jumped to Rosen’s defense on Twitter when rumors circulated that they didn’t enjoy playing with the California native.
Then Rosen’s poignant comments on the impossibilities of trying to be a college student while also dedicating himself to football, one of the least controversial things a “student-athlete” could say, were mangled until they came to mean football wasn’t his main focus. That narrative has pervaded football circles, while the quote below, coming from the very same article, didn’t even make a dent.
“I don’t know why (scouts) say things like that,” Rosen said. “Because I speak about things other than football? Come on. I want to play 15 years in the NFL. I want to be great. I want my team to be great, to win championships. I’ll play in the NFL as long as they have me.”
Should Rosen have posted a picture of himself teeing off at a Donald Trump-owned golf course with a hat that read “F**k Trump” to Instagram? No, probably not. But Rosen is one of the most pristine passers we’ve seen in a long time, and to let some of his quirks, both real and imagined, sway you from handing him the reins of your offense, is misguided.
Baker Mayfield’s Numbers Are Inflated Because of Atrocious Big 12 Defenses
On one hand, there’s some truth to the notion that Baker Mayfield wasn’t exactly facing the stiffest competition on the other side of the line of scrimmage this season. On the other, the demise of the Big 12’s defensive prowess has been greatly exaggerated. In a great piece by Seth Walder and Brian Burke for ESPN in late November (http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/21514646/numbers-say-big-12-really-defensive-problem), the two examined the Big 12’s defensive Football Power Index rating, which is expressed by how many points better or worse a conference is on defense per game than the average FBS team.
Through all but two regular season games, the Big 12 sat at 2.8 points better than the average FBS team, which is not so bad at all. That’s better than the PAC-12, which sits at just 2.2 points better, and only slightly worse than the vaunted SEC, which boasts a rating of 4.1 points better.
The Big 12 also happens to boast the top two teams in the country in offensive efficiency, according to FPI, in Mayfield’s Oklahoma and Mason Rudolph’s Oklahoma State, contributing to the destruction of Big 12 defenses.
If you need even more evidence that Mayfield’s absurd numbers aren’t simply a product of poor defense, just look at some of his toughest out of conference games since 2015. Here’s what those stat lines look like:
vs. OSU (2017): 27-35, 386 yards, 3 TDs 0 INTs, 77.1% completion rate
vs. Georgia (2017): 23-35, 287 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 65.7% completion rate
vs. OSU (2016): 17-32, 226 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 53.1% completion rate
vs. Auburn (2016): 19-28, 296 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, 67.9% completion rate
vs. Tennessee (2015): 19-39, 187 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 48.7% completion rate
vs. Clemson (2015): 26-41, 311 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 63.4% completion rate
Total: 131-210, 282 yards per game, 13 TDs, 5 INTs, 62.3% completion rate
Mayfield certainly benefits from getting to face teams like Kansas and Baylor during the regular season, but he is not just a product of the Big 12.
Lamar Jackson Should Play Wide Receiver in the NFL
After winning the Heisman following an electric 2016 campaign, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson has largely been ignored this season despite putting up nearly identical stats.
Jackson threw for 3,660 yards and 27 touchdowns while rushing for 1,601 yards to go along with 18 more TDs. But Louisville finished 8-4, largely due to their abominable defense, Jackson played poorly in the Cardinals’ only high-profile matchup against Clemson, and the world turned its attention to Rosen, Darnold and Mayfield.
Being overlooked is one thing. Being told you have no future as a quarterback in the NFL and need to make the switch to wide receiver is something else completely. That’s what’s happened to Jackson this season, as if he were Braxton Miller, despite zero evidence that would necessitate a position change.
Per Bleacher Report’s Ian Wharton, 68 percent of Jackson’s passes were considered “catchable,” a number that ranks higher than Josh Allen’s. Jackson also ranks 14th out 50 draft-eligible quarterbacks since 2012 in accuracy on passes 11 to 19 yards long, at 65 percent. Allen, who no one has suggested needs to switch positions, ranks 21st. Jackson even bests Rosen, who is largely considered the best passer in the 2018 draft class, in accuracy on passes right at the line of scrimmage to 10 yards beyond, hitting on 74 percent of them, compared to Rosen’s 72.
Jackson spent much of the early parts of 2017 working on becoming a better passer from the pocket and following his progressions. Those hours paid off.
Even with a leaky offensive line, Jackson flourished when he was pressured, tossing five touchdowns and zero interceptions, all the while dealing with a receiving corps that dropped passes with regularity.
Is Jackson a better quarterback prospect than Rosen, Darnold or even Mayfield? No, probably not. Is he going to be an absolute steal if he’s placed in the right situation at the next level? Yes. Does he need to switch positions to flourish in the NFL? Now that’s truly laughable.
Josh Allen’s Struggles Are Due to a Lackluster Supporting Cast
After strutting onto the scene following a breakout 2016 season which saw Josh Allen throw for 3,203 yards and 28 touchdowns, Wyoming’s quarterback was tossed from his saddle in 2017.
Though he missed Wyoming's final two regular season games due to injury, Allen still threw for just 1,812 yards this season to go along with 16 touchdowns, and posted a paltry yards per attempt average of 6.7 yards. That number falls even lower, to 5.6, when you look at Allen’s ANY/A, or his adjusted net yards per attempt.
Despite Allen’s immense struggles, and not to mention his inaccuracy (he completed just 56 percent of his passes in both 2016 and 2017), NFL scouts and draftnicks alike have remained undeterred in their love for Allen.
Standing 6-foot-5 with an arm that more closely resembles a bazooka than human extremity, Allen is also surprisingly mobile. These three traits, adored by those in the NFL community, have led people in NFL circles to attribute Allen’s struggles in 2017 to his lack of a supporting cast.
While it’s true that Allen lost both his leading rusher and wide receiver to the NFL ahead of the 2017 season, as well as his top tight end, Allen’s receiving corps this season also posted just a 5.88 percent drop rate, per Bleacher Report’s Ian Wharton. That number ranks lower than Rosen, Jackson, Mayfield and Rudolph’s pass catchers.
Did Allen’s wideouts drop some balls? No doubt. But the drop rate of Rosen’s and Jackson’s receivers were 7.45 and 6.17 percent, respectively, at the end of October. Both quarterbacks dealt with arguably worse supporting casts, yet were still able to elevate their game to improve on already impressive 2016 campaigns.
Allen clearly possesses enough talent to entice multiple NFL teams to consider making him one of the top quarterbacks taken in 2018. But using his supporting cast as the reason for his major regression this season simply doesn’t fly.