Five quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft. This is the last of the series for season number two, with the regular season now complete.
The NFL playoffs are upon us. It would have been pretty fantastic to see all five quarterbacks from the first round of the 2018 draft in the playoffs in only their second season.
A pipe dream to begin with, sure, but could you imagine if 5 of the 12 playoff teams were led by a second-year quarterback? This would be a youth movement like no other, declaring to the world that the league will be in good shape for years to come.
One can only dream.
Five would have been a tall task. There are still an abundance of great quarterbacks on well-rounded teams with established coaches. Even four would have been magical. Three might have been pushing it, but seemed very doable heading into the 2019 season.
Instead, we will be blessed with two: Lamar Jackson of the 14-2 Baltimore Ravens and Josh Allen from the 10-6 Buffalo Bills.
In the second year of their careers, the group of five quarterbacks splintered off into three tiers. The top tier belongs to the two quarterbacks who will be playing in the playoffs. Jackson is back for the second straight year, leading the Ravens to the top seed in the AFC. Allen will be making his playoff debut when the Buffalo Bills travel to Houston to face the Texans this Saturday.
Both the Ravens and Bills are built around an outstanding defense, a punishing ground game, and an offense centered around ball control while occasionally looking for the big strike. The Ravens are the more seasoned of the two in all of these areas, but the Bills are on the rise. Look no further than Baltimore's week 14 win at Buffalo, 24-17, to see how closely these teams are matched.
The blueprint above is something the teams led by quarterbacks in the next tier are doing, though aren't quite there yet. Sam Darnold and the New York Jets have the pieces in place, with a solid defense and talent at the skill positions (if the club can keep them). Baker Mayfield and the Browns attempted to follow suit, though with flashier players. The experiment did not pan out, however, and the team ended the season a disgruntled mess.
And the third tier belongs to Josh Rosen.
With their second regular season in the books, here's a snapshot of how they ended up.
There's never been any doubt that Jackson is a prolific runner. And in 2019, he swayed over many of those who doubted he could succeed with his arm in the NFL.
The all-around effort may very well land Jackson an MVP award when the individual accolades are handed out later this year.
Jackson racked up 1,206 yards on the ground, a single-season record for a quarterback and a mark that ranked him sixth in rushing in the NFL in 2019. This total led the team as the Ravens rushed for an NFL-record 3,296 yards, with Mark Ingram II (1,018) also going over 1,000 yards.
The second-year quarterback also had seven rushing touchdowns.
But it's his passing game that shouldn't go without mention.
Jackson completed 66.1 percent of his passes, a jump of nearly eight percent from his rookie season. He threw for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns against only six interceptions. Three times this season Jackson threw for five touchdowns in a game and he's only thrown one interception since a three-pick performance in week five at Pittsburgh.
Jackson has done nothing but win so far as a starter in the NFL. He's 19-3 in the regular season, going 13-2 as a starter in 2019 (Jackson sat out the week 17 game because the Ravens had the top-seed locked in). Though he picked up a loss in his only playoff appearance, the goose egg represented in the playoff win column shouldn't last beyond this season. The expectation for the Ravens, who own a 12-game win streak, is the Super Bowl. And Jackson appears primed to lead them there.
Believe it or not, Allen's rushing yards went down in 2019, this despite playing in almost every single game. (Allen sat out the majority of the week 17 game thanks to the fifth-seed in playoffs already locked in for the Bills.)
After racking up 631 yards on the ground as a rookie, Allen "settled" for a mere 510 in the regular season. He did have nine rushing touchdowns, besting his rookie mark by one.
It was improvements in the passing game in which Allen proved he should be a long-term starter in this league.
Though he struggled down the stretch -- failing to complete over 50 percent of his passes in three of his last four games -- Allen showed better decision-making skills. He finished at 58.8, exactly six points higher than 2018.
In today's pass-happy league, it still amazes me that Allen has not had a 300-yard game. He still threw for 3,089 yards and his accuracy continues to get better, that moment will no doubt arrive. Allen threw for 20 touchdowns and limited his interceptions to nine, down from 12 as a rookie.
Fumbling was a problem early in the season, but Allen kept better care of the ball as the season progressed.
The Bills finished the season losing three of their last four, each by a touchdown. This young team, like Allen, is still growing. They may have reached the playoffs thanks to a weaker AFC than normal, but it was certainly no fluke. They took care of business, including a Thanksgiving Day win over Dallas when Allen has looked the best he ever has. That day saw him go 19-24 for 231 yards and a score while also rushing for 43 yards and a touchdown.
Allen can still be streaky, but if he settles in, and consistency delivers efficient games like the one against Dallas, his -- and Buffalo's -- future is bright.
For the second straight season, Darnold played in only 13 games, this time missing three games thanks to a case of mono.
His second season saw him start a game, miss the next three due to the illness, and then make his return with a victory over Dallas. This, of course, was followed by three straight losses en route what looked might be a long season for the Jets.
Darnold and the Jets, however, started playing better. They won six of their last eight games, with Darnold throwing only four interceptions in this span. The Jets finished 7-9, with Darnold going 7-6 as a starter, nearly doubling his win total from his rookie year.
Cutting down on the turnovers in this stretch helped, as did an improved defense and an easier schedule, though they did defeat playoff-bound Buffalo in week 17 (Buffalo did, however, bench many of their starters). Darnold and the Jets might have even been in playoff consideration if not for losses to the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals during this stretch.
Darnold's numbers improved from his rookie campaign, enough to help the Jets move the needle from losses to victories. His touchdown passes rose to 19 (from 17) while his interceptions went down (15 to 13). Both yards (3,024) and completion percentage (61.9) also were up slightly.
There's no reason to think Darnold can't continue to improve on these numbers in 2020, especially if he stays healthy. The AFC East was one of the weaker divisions in 2019 and the Patriots might be on the way down. If everything falls into place, the Jets and Bills could very well be competing for AFC East titles for years to come.
Mayfield and the Browns had the pieces in place to have a successful season, which we saw glimpses of on occasion. Two receivers who were among the top-20 in the game. A young running back. An improved offensive line and an up-and-coming defense.
In 2019, it was a team that never lived up to its potential. And because of, in 2020, Mayfield will be playing for his third head coach in as many seasons.
Blame can be put upon the shoulders of former head coach Freddie Kitchens, but Mayfield carries a fair amount as well.
The Browns finished 6-10, far below the expectations placed in the preseason. They had a nice early-season win over Baltimore and had a stretch where they won four of five. But a four-game losing streak early and three straight losses to close the season put a damper on the improvements they did make.
Nick Chubb was second in the league in rushing (1,494 yards) and Jarvis Landry was 10th in receiving yards with 1,174.
But Mayfield showed very little improvement in 2019. Playing in two more games -- and starting three more -- than he did in 2018, Mayfield's numbers actually went down. His passing yards went up, from 3,725 in '18 to 3,827 in 2019, but other important categories saw a backwards trend.
- Touchdowns: 27 to 22
- Interceptions: 14 to 21
- Sacks: 25 to 40
- Completion percentage: 63.8 to 59.4
Too often, Mayfield was dialed in on his first option or tried to force a pass that wasn't there. He was not a very good passer in the red zone, especially inside of the ten-yard line. Mayfield had three picks and completed only 38.5 percent of his passes. In some regards, I question the play calling, especially since Chubb was one of the best backs in the game. Too often, with a first-and-goal, the Browns would call all pass plays, leading to either a turnover on downs, an interception, or a field goal.
Of course, the great quarterbacks of the league take advantage of what is called. Perhaps Mayfield had been moved to a top tier too early. He can still improve, of course, and if the offense remains mostly intact, he could very well take the next step and put this second season behind him.
In his third season, taking the next mentally will be huge for Mayfield. If not, he could end up being another Jameis Winston: a quarterback who puts up massive numbers, throws a lot of picks and always gives a team six to eight wins.
The Dolphins found a way to win some games and it wasn't due to Rosen being under center. He did not accumulate any stats since he was pulled from a week 6 loss against Washington.
Thought to have a fresh start after being traded from Arizona to Miami, Rosen never really got off the ground. Ryan Fitzpatrick won the starting job in training camp but when he was pulled after being ineffective thru two games, Rosen had his chance.
A chance that went, well, basically nowhere except for right back to the bench.
Granted, there wasn't a lot around him. But success is often predicated on doing what you have with what you've got. It's about instilling confidence in a team and, in the case of the Dolphins, leading them to a couple of victories. Something Fitzpatrick ended up doing and Rosen, after week 6, never got the chance to do.
Rosen finished the season with a 53.2 percent completion rate, lower than the 55.2 he put up during his rookie year. He threw for 567 yards, 1 touchdown and 5 interceptions. Rosen went 0-3 as a starter, with his finest game a 200-yard performance against Dallas.
There's still a chance to turn things around for Rosen, given the right circumstances. It's just no telling when or where that chance will come.
Thanks for following along in season 2 of this series. Be sure to check back in next fall when we tackle season three.
5 quarterbacks taken in first-round of 2018 NFL draft: Year 1
photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org
photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org