Evaluating veteran NFL quarterbacks is challenging enough. The rookies belong in another category altogether.
With my 2018 QB Tiers survey set to publish Tuesday, we kick off the week by sizing up the five first-round quarterbacks teams drafted three months ago. None of these quarterbacks is currently scheduled to start Week 1, but history says that will likely change. At least one rookie quarterback has started a regular-season opener in each of the past 10 seasons.
Here we handicap the five rookies -- Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson -- by their chances for starting in 2018. We sprinkle in comments from coaches and evaluators regarding these quarterbacks' initial readiness and prospects for ascending to the upper tiers.
Note: Quarterbacks are ordered by most likely to start right away. Tier 1-2 prospects notes their chances of ascending into the top two of five tiers used to evaluate starting QBs in the annual QB Tiers survey.
Path to lineup: Easy. The Bills paid a heavy premium to move up to draft Allen seventh overall. They shipped out proven veteran Tyrod Taylor, replacing him with AJ McCarron, whose modest salary is in line with what Mike Glennon and Matt Schaub are getting. That is a low bar for Allen to clear.
Readiness: "He's the most talented, but among the top guys, he is also the furthest away as far as throwing on time with anticipation, the little things a quarterback does," a personnel director said.
Chances of being Tier 1-2: "I think there is a decent chance he becomes that because he is tough, so big and physical, he is smart enough and he has the want-to," an offensive coach said. "He is just not accurate yet."
Path to lineup: Potentially easy. Patrick Peterson's glowing remarks about Rosen mirror what coaches around the league have been picking up through back channels. The rookie has impressed everyone in Arizona with his smarts and passing ability. Throw in Sam Bradford's injury history and there's a great chance Rosen will see the field quickly, either by winning the job or through an injury to Bradford. However, if Bradford plays well and stays healthy -- he started 15 games for Minnesota in 2016 -- he could start most or all of the season.
Readiness: "Rosen is the most ready to play," an offensive coach said. "They would feel fine about playing him early because he can handle it."
Chances of being Tier 1-2: "Everybody recognizes the talent, but he was not the top guy in the draft because of the personality," a former head coach said. "It's easy to have an opinion based on what you saw on college tape. The mental makeup and personality are the interesting variables because you are going to be paying him $130 million a few years from now. How does he react to that?"
Path to lineup: Potentially easy. Josh McCown has never started 16 games in a season, while the other veteran on the roster -- Teddy Bridgewater -- is coming off a catastrophic knee injury. It's plausible to think that the Jets' leadership will want to see Darnold at some point this season, which is the fourth year for coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan.
Readiness: "He has great anticipation, but it's going to take a while for his football IQ to catch up. He doesn't process well enough yet," an offensive assistant said. "He was able to power through it at USC simply because he's talented, but when things get complicated, the processing slows down."
Chances of being Tier 1-2: "The path to the top tiers is the same for Darnold as it is for these other guys. On top of that, he had a propensity to turn the ball over in college, at least relative to these other quarterbacks," a defensive coach said. "That must be corrected because turning the ball over has the highest correlation to losing the game."
Path to lineup: Obstructed. Tyrod Taylor has 51 touchdown passes with just 16 interceptions while ranking 13th in Total QBR over the past three seasons. He also has a winning record as a starter over that span. In other words, there's a relatively strong chance Taylor will start most or all of the season. However, he has not yet started all 16 games in a season.
Readiness: "His specific challenge in the short term is very interesting," an evaluator said. "They have a playoff quarterback on their roster, so how much work does Mayfield get with the No. 1 offense in preseason? Quality reps against a live defense are so scarce. If Mayfield doesn't get enough of them, his initial readiness could suffer."
Chances of being Tier 1-2: "Mayfield did a good job with his accuracy and was a productive player leading his team to victories -- comeback wins, shootouts, you name it. He has a bunch of these boxes checked," an evaluator said. "He has to learn to throw through windows with his height, and he must learn that every solution can't be to win with his feet. It has to be learning reads and the timing of the pro passing game."
Path to lineup: Obstructed for now. Starter Joe Flacco has a $12 million salary and $24.8 million cap number on a deal that doesn't give Baltimore an easy out until next year. The Ravens probably aren't interested in making a switch right away.
Readiness: "He can play right now in a certain style of offense, but that style of offense is completely different from the Joe Flacco style of offense, so there would be some challenges in the short term," a personnel director said.
Chances of being Tier 1-2: "If he is used right, there is a path for him to get to Tier 2," a personnel director said. "How long he sustains it, I cannot tell you, because the runners take a beating. As athletic as he is, it's not like he is Michael Vick with that cannon."