Five quarterbacks were taken in the first-round of the 2018 NFL draft. The regular season of their third season is now in the books.
By and large, the third season for the five quarterbacks taken in the first-round of the 2018 NFL draft saw two of them take significant leaps in their progress. A third played near the level of his MVP season, while the other two could very well be headed to an NFL career mired in mediocrity.
Josh Allen. Baker Mayfield. Lamar Jackson. Three players who are primed to be in the NFL for the long haul. Three players who will be appearing on your screens this coming weekend as the playoffs for the 2020 season begin play.
Allen was the leader of this pack of quarterbacks throughout much of the 2020 season. His stellar play has found him in the race for MVP, alongside the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, and Derrick Henry.
Individual accolades are nice, but Allen also led the Buffalo Bills (13-3) to their first AFC East title since 1995 with a victory over Denver in week 15. Two weeks later, the Allen and the Bills locked down the second-seed in the AFC with their 56-26 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
Due to the expanded playoffs this season, the Bills will not get a first-round bye, which is normally awarded the number two seed. Instead, Buffalo will actually kick off the playoffs when the play host to the seventh-seed Indianapolis Colts on January 16.
While Allen made his first playoff appearance last season, Mayfield will be making his playoff debut this coming weekend. Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns (11-5) will be in the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2002. Cleveland enters as the sixth-seed, facing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the marquee matchup on Sunday (1/17) evening.
Over in Baltimore, Jackson is making his third-straight appearance in the playoffs, hoping to take that next step and lead the Ravens (11-5) to the Super Bowl. Baltimore travels to Tennessee to take on the AFC North champion Titans on Saturday (1/16).
A regular season in the books, Allen, Mayfield and Jackson will carry the torch of these five former first-round picks into the playoffs. The battle will be uphill for one of them to secure a Super Bowl title this year, but it's a good bet to not count a single one of them out.
After a very small lull just after the midpoint of the season, Allen again turned his play up a notch and has the Bills firing on all cylinders entering the playoffs. Over the course of their last three games, the Bills averaged 47.3 points per game.
Allen, during that same span, threw for nine touchdown passes and 903 yards. He did this while sitting out the second-half in last Sunday's victory over the Dolphins.
All told, it was a monumental season for the third-year quarterback out of Wyoming. Allen had eight games of 300+ yards, the first such games of his career. He twice also passed for 415 yards, once in a victory over Miami (week 2) and again in a week 9 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
Allen's connection with Buffalo newcomer Stefon Diggs was something to behold. Diggs was impressive all season, but really found his footing in the last five games, hauling in 47 receptions for 590 yards and four scores.
Diggs finished with 127 receptions, 1535 yards, and eight touchdown receptions.
His play helped Allen finish with a single-season franchise record 4,544 yards. Allen completed 69.2 percent of his passes – putting those naysayers to bed, myself included – and threw for 37 touchdowns, also a single-season record. Allen conversely only tossed 10 interceptions, though fumbling problems did seem to plague him throughout the season. (Nine fumbles, six lost.)
Allen carried the ball for 421 yards, the lowest of his young career. A lot of that can be attributed to his rise in the passing game and an improved ground game of the Bills. He did score eight touchdowns on the ground, bringing his career total to 25.
MVP numbers. A division title. A chance at a playoff victory. Allen made moves all season and it appears he is here to stay.
Much like Allen and Mayfield, Jackson will be looking for his first career playoff win. The only difference is he will be getting his third attempt at doing so.
The Ravens and Jackson had their fair of struggles in 2020. But like Allen and the Bills, Jackson has the Ravens rolling at the moment. Baltimore enters the playoffs on a five-game winning streak, with four of those five wins coming by 10 points or more.
Baltimore capped off the regular season with a 38-3 victory over Cincinnati, in which the Ravens ran for 404 yards.
Jackson missed a game in the 2020 regular season, going 11-4 as a starter, and still finished as the leading rusher for the Baltimore Ravens. He finished with 1,005 yards on the ground, becoming the first quarterback in the NFL to have two 1,000-yard seasons.
Jackson added seven rushing touchdowns to his career total and averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
The passing game wasn't quite as exciting for the Ravens in 2020 but was still (mostly) serviceable. Jackson didn't quite reach the numbers from his MVP season, playing in the same amount of games. He completed 64.4 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,757 yards. He had 26 touchdown passes and 9 interceptions. Respectable, but down from the 36/6 he posted in 2019.
Along with playing well, Baltimore is also getting healthy at the right time. Jackson has waited a year for his third shot at a playoff victory. This weekend, he could deliver on that and more.
Nothing is ever easy for the Cleveland Browns, including nailing down a playoff spot.
Mayfield and the Browns dealt with a fair amount of adversity in 2020. The season-ending injury to Odell Beckham Jr. on Oct. 26. Horrible weather conditions in multiple games. An injury to star running back Nick Chubb. Their top four wide receivers out due to COVID-19 in a week 16 loss to the New York Jets.
The list could probably go on, but the bottom line is this: through it all, the Browns are once again in the playoffs. And Mayfield's steadier hand in 2020 is a huge reason for that.
Mayfield didn't put up gaudy numbers or career-highs in many categories. Instead, Mayfield's third season was consistent and workmanlike, leaving the eye-popping numbers to others.
He passed for 3,563 yards while throwing for 300 or more yards only twice. Mayfield completed 62.8 percent of his passes, better than in year two and only one percent lower than his rookie year. And his touchdown passes stood at 26, one short of tying his career-high.
The eye-popping stat in Mayfield's case? Interception total, of which he only threw eight. This coming a year after throwing 21. Smarter decisions with the football helped, as did an improved offensive line that allowed only 26 sacks (as opposed to 41 the season before).
Mayfield did have eight fumbles, losing four. Three of the lost fumbles came in the last five games. He also rushed for the most yards in his career, finishing with 165.
Adversity is following the Browns into the playoffs, as head coach Kevin Stefanski and four other offensive coaches will miss the game due to COVID-19 protocols. If there's is one thing we've learned, however, is in this crazy, mixed-up season, it's never a good thing to count Mayfield and the Browns out.
The good news for Darnold is he will have a new coach next season. Deeper down, I bet he wonders if he'll even be the starting quarterback for the New York Jets.
Adam Gase has been fired as head coach of the Jets, who own the second pick in the 2021 draft. There will be plenty of quarterback options available, but if the Jets (2-14) work on developing talent around Darnold, better results might be in the cards for the quarterback out of USC.
After last season's strong finish, hopes were teetering on high for the team. It was fairly apparent from the early weeks, however, that this season was not going to be a good one. They were threatening futility and responded with a 2-1 finish to the season.
Darnold again faced an injury-plagued season, playing in only 12 games. A starter since week 1 of his rookie year, Darnold has now missed ten games in his career.
The numbers in 2020 were also some of the worst in Darnold's career. He threw for only 200+ yards only four times in 2020, with the highest being 266 in week 17. The 266 yards were the most Darnold thrown in a game since a week 14 victory against Miami in 2019.
Darnold only tossed nine touchdown passes, though four of those did come in the last three games. And prior to the two interceptions Darnold threw against New England in the season finale, he had gone three games without throwing one and totaled 11 on the season.
On the ground, Darnold ran for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
A change of scenery might be best for Darnold in 2021. If he does find himself still in New York in season four, it might be his final chance to make his mark in a Jets uniform. A marked improvement can still happen, as Darnold has shown brief flashes in his career. One just wonders if he can harness the consistency to remain a starter for much longer in the NFL.
Selected with the tenth pick in the 2018 draft, Josh Rosen ended his third season wearing the uniform of his fourth team.
Rosen did not accrue any stats in his third season in the NFL. He spent the majority of the season the practice squad of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In week 16, Rosen was picked up by the quarterback depleted San Francisco 49ers and served as the backup quarterback for the season's final two weeks.
It's likely Rosen will be fighting for a roster spot in 2021. A good crop of quarterbacks are set to be drafted this spring. It will be an uphill battle for sure, but there will be opportunities for Rosen to continue on in the NFL.
That does it for season three of this ongoing series. Be sure to check back in late summer of 2021 to see how life is shaping up for these quarterbacks in season four.
picture credit: Wikimedia Commons