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Gabriel: If 2018 was QB-rich draft, why just 1 opening-day starter?

September 5, 2018

The 2018 NFL Draft was labeled by some as the QB draft — and that basically is what it was, as five quarterbacks were selected in the first round, including four in the top 10.

Baker Mayfield led things off going first overall to the Cleveland Browns. The New York Jets selected USC’s Sam Darnold at No. 3. The Buffalo Bills, like the Jets, traded up, grabbing Wyoming’s Josh Allen at No. 7 and Arizona also traded up to select UCLA’s Josh Allen at 10. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson became the fifth quarterback to go on Night 1, when Baltimore traded back into the first round to nab the former Heisman winner at No. 32 overall.

It’s now better than four months later, and with the 2018 NFL season about to begin, only one of those quarterbacks will be an opening-day starter.

Sam Darnold was named the New York Jets’ QB1 to open the season after a strong preseason. Does that mean the quarterbacks were overrated last spring? Not really. My feeling is that the clubs that took these players are doing what they should in letting these players sit and learn. It is far better for a quarterback’s development to go through a learning period than it is to throw him to the wolves, so to speak. When a quarterback plays too early and doesn’t perform well, his confidence can be shattered, and that will slow his growth.

In the 2017 Draft, three quarterbacks got drafted in the first twelve picks, and none were opening-day starters, though Deshaun Watson played the second half of the Houston Texans’ first game and was named the starter for Game Two.

In Chicago, Mitch Trubisky — who was the first quarterback selected last year — did not start until Game Five, and Patrick Mahomes only earned one start late in the season for the Kansas City Chiefs. All three of these players are now the No.1 quarterback for their respective teams. Mahomes and Trubisky were much better off not playing early as rookies and were much more prepared when they did get their chance.

When they Browns drafted Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick in April, they announced right away that he would not start, but Tyrod Taylor would be the starter for the 2018 NFL season. While that is the announced plan in Cleveland, you can bet that by mid-season, Mayfield will take over as the starting quarterback for the Browns. Mayfield’s preseason was very good, and in my opinion, he clearly outplayed Taylor.

Trust goes a long way with NFL coaches, and as soon as the Browns coaches feel they can trust Mayfield running the offense, he will be the starter. The only way that changes is if Taylor plays the best football of his career. I have seen enough of Taylor over the years to know that won’t happen.

In Buffalo, Allen started off strong but then struggled in the thrd preseason game, making it obvious that he is not quite ready to be a starter. Allen showed improvement with his accuracy and decision making, but with the Bills having a very tough early schedule (Baltimore, LA Chargers, Minnesota and Green Bay), they are much better off starting the season with second-year player Nate Peterman. I feel the Buffalo situation will be similar to what we saw in Chicago last year, with Allen taking over some time before Game Six.

Josh Rosen is in a different type of situation in Arizona. He was inconsistent at best in the pre-season playing behind veteran Sam Bradford. When healthy, Bradford is a very good quarterback with top accuracy. His problem has been that he can’t stay healthy. We have to expect that Bradford will get hurt and Rosen will be the Cardinals starter before they actually want him to play. Rosen’s physical traits are excellent, and he is very intelligent. The Cardinals’ worries have to be whether Rosen can be the leader that a quarterback needs to be.

I don’t expect Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson to start at all as a rookie, but I do expect him to get some playing time behind starter Joe Flacco. Because of Jackson’s unique skill set, I expect him to be used as a “change of pace” player who gets a few series in just about every game. The athletic Jackson is a big play waiting to happen and can be a big weapon for the Ravens.

Overall, I feel this year’s QB class will turn out to be a very good one, but fans have to show patience while they wait for these players to get their opportunity. The longer these quarterbacks get to sit and learn the NFL game, the better off they and their clubs will be.

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