Steve Helber/Associated Press
The 2018 NFL draft quarterback class was billed as “historic” or “generational” when discussed before the 2017 college football season began. The hype surrounding Sam Darnold (USC), Josh Rosen (UCLA) and Josh Allen (Wyoming) led the charge. Then the season began, and every errant throw was overanalyzed on Twitter. Every interception led social media scouts to scoff at the NFL’s knowledge and ability to evaluate the position.
Ultimately, five quarterbacks would be drafted in the first round—the most since 1999. Through two weeks of preseason play, Darnold, Allen and Rosen are proving that the time is now for the 2018 quarterback class to take over, and No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield and No. 32 overall pick Lamar Jackson are pushing established veterans for their jobs.
A case can be made for each rookie quarterback to get on the field now.
The Browns made Mayfield the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft and then quickly announced that his job for the upcoming season would be to sit and learn. The team had traded pick No. 65 overall in the 2018 draft for Tyrod Taylor and had every intention of using him as the starter while Mayfield learned the ropes of the NFL.
David Richard/Associated Press
That’s still the plan.
Mayfield has flashed while working with the second-team offense, but the Browns want (and need) the wins that will come from playing Taylor. Mayfield is the long-term answer and shows sparks every week of being exactly what they were hoping for when they drafted him, but general manager John Dorsey appears to be setting the Browns up to go well over the previous two-year win total of one game.
New York Jets—Sam Darnold
Like the Browns, the New York Jets have a veteran on the roster who looks very good in every outing. Free-agent signee Teddy Bridgewater is the team’s best quarterback right now—but the long-term plan is for No. 3 overall pick Darnold to take the reins.
Bridgewater has established himself as a starting-level quarterback but might see that happen in another city if the Jets get a handsome trade offer. That would allow Darnold—who has looked good himself—to start Week 1 for Jeremy Bates’ offense.
With the exception of one forced ball that resulted in an interception, Darnold was exceptional at taking what the defense gave him in his Week 2 preseason start. Perhaps most encouraging is that each week he’s improving his pocket presence and timing on throws.
Buffalo Bills—Josh Allen
The Buffalo Bills traded up in the draft to select the strong-armed, athletic Josh Allen. The plan was for Allen, free agent AJ McCarron and returning backup Nathan Peterman to battle for the quarterback job this preseason. Then McCarron broke his collarbone, per Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News.
David Richard/Associated Press
Even before McCarron got hurt, Allen was doing enough to win the job. He’s able to make plays with his arm and legs equally—something he showed in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns. And while he does make mistakes, the learning curve seems smaller for Allen than the Bills could have hoped for when they drafted him out of Wyoming.
Had the Bills not made a surprising run to the playoffs last year, Allen would be the clear starter. The only potential reason for not starting him would be expectations that the team returns to the postseason and how the ups and downs of a rookie quarterback might affect those plans.
Through two weeks of preseason action, it’s obvious that it’s time for Allen to get reps with the starters.
Arizona Cardinals—Josh Rosen
Of the rookie quarterbacks who aren’t likely to start Week 1—Darnold and Allen look like they’ll take QB1 roles—Josh Rosen is most likely to take over a starting spot.
Rosen has looked good, as has starter Sam Bradford, but Bradford’s injury history suggests Rosen will get a shot sooner rather than later. This is, after all, the same Bradford who has only started 16 games twice and hasn’t since 2012.
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press
When given time in the pocket, Rosen is a picturesque quarterback. He showed some of that in Week 2 of the preseason after he was essentially pulled from the team’s opener because the offensive line couldn’t protect him.
With David Johnson in the backfield, future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald at one receiver spot and Christian Kirk—who he seems to have a good connection with—also at WR, Rosen has weapons and has shown the talent to make plays. With the future clearly his in Arizona and the team unlikely to challenge for an NFC West crown this year, it’s time to get Rosen in with the starters and see what he can do.
Baltimore Ravens—Lamar Jackson
Nick Wass/Associated Press
The Ravens are the least likely team of those that drafted a first-rounder at quarterback to cede the position to a rookie, barring an injury. Joe Flacco hasn’t been great, but he has won the team a Super Bowl, and this roster is built to attempt a run now and not heavily focused on developing for the future.
The best case for Lamar Jackson to get onto the field early in his career would be in special packages that utilize his athleticism and strong arm while not completely taking Flacco off the field or out of the game plan. Preparing for Flacco and Jackson each week will be a tough task—so why not make that a reality?
Jackson is the long-term plan in Baltimore, and there haven’t been rumors of that plan being executed sooner than expected. Flacco is the team’s starting quarterback, but that shouldn’t keep Jackson off the field.
In hindsight, the 2018 quarterback class looked as special on draft day as we thought it would last summer. And now that those rookies are getting onto the field, the class is living up to all that preseason hype.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.