Jesse Pantuosco

Bump and Run

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The Big Four

Tuesday, April 24, 2018


Three quarterbacks were drafted in the first round last year. This year, we could see four signal-callers go in the first five picks. However it shakes out—the Browns are still mulling between Josh Allen and Sam Darnold while the Jets are having a similar debate over Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen—it’s clear that this year’s crop of quarterbacks is unusually deep and perhaps as polarizing as any we’ve seen in recent memory. Many evaluators have Allen as the top quarterback in the draft and just as many aren’t even sure if he belongs in the first round. You know it’s a bizarre year for the position when a former Heisman Trophy winner (Lamar Jackson) is considered the fifth-best signal-caller in his class.

 

It’s mayhem and that’s how we prefer it here at Rotoworld. Who needs another cookie-cutter, drama-free draft night? Let the Giants defy football logic by drafting Saquon Barkley instead of a franchise quarterback. Let New England trade up to land its QB of the future (for real this time). Let the Bills and Cardinals slug it out for Rosen when the Jets, Broncos and Browns all pass on him. The more chaos, the better. The draft comes but once a year. Let’s milk it for all its worth.

 

I’m ready for sparks to fly on Thursday night. To get in the mood, I spent most of yesterday watching film of the top quarterbacks in this year’s class. I only watched tape from 2017 and I’ll admit I’m no Josh Norris or Thor Nystrom when it comes to scouting, but I’ve at least watched enough to form an opinion on each player. I think the four quarterbacks—I narrowed my scope to Allen, Darnold, Mayfield and Rosen—offer a number of similarities but also some very stark contrasts. It’s hard to condense 22 pages of hand-written notes (my pen is out of ink) into an article of normal human length (this is probably why David Foster Wallace gave us Infinite Jest instead of devoting his time to NFL mock drafts), but I’ll give it my best shot. Here goes.

 

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Josh Allen, Wyoming

 

Strengths: Even if you’ve never seen Josh Allen play—as a non-power-five school, Wyoming doesn’t get as much press as the Oklahomas and USCs of the world—there’s a good chance you’ve heard about his rocket arm. And after popping in his game film from last year, I can tell you, the hype is real. Allen easily has the biggest arm in this year’s draft class and maybe the entire NFL once he gets there. Homeboy can throw a mean fastball (which makes sense, since he was a high school pitcher). The measurables are all there—he’s built like Carson Wentz (aka, he’s huge), his hands are enormous and he ran the fastest 40 of any quarterback in this year’s class.

 

There’s definitely a Ben Roethlisberger element to Allen’s game. He’s great at extending plays with his feet and is known for his master improvising. I was blown away by some of the Houdini-esque escapes he made under pressure. That skill set will serve him well in the big leagues. He’s not a burner per se (4.75 forty), but Allen definitely moves well for his size and can juke defenders in the open field with his nasty stutter step. I also noticed Allen was adept at getting defenders to bite on his pump fake, which allows his receivers more time to gain separation downfield. Allen had to deal with some adverse weather conditions at Wyoming—it snowed in the second half against Colorado State last season—which will help if he winds up in a cold weather city like Cleveland or New York.

 

Weaknesses: The tools are all there but Allen still has a long way to go. He’s a definite project and not someone a team could realistically expect to start Week 1. Allen is probably in for a red-shirt year anyway—Tyrod Taylor will serve as the Browns’ starter while Allen would likely back up Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater in New York—but the fact remains that he has a lot of rough edges to smooth out. Of Allen’s many red flags, the one that scares me most is his inaccuracy. I’d notice stretches within a game where he’d throw three or four passes in a row that weren’t even close to his intended target. And many of them weren’t hard throws. I can’t tell you how many times Allen would overthrow his receiver or sail a routine screen pass. Even some of his completions were underwhelming. Watching his film, there were many times I’d expect Allen to hit his receiver in stride, only to see him underthrow it or lead his receiver in the wrong direction.

 

I think the general takeaway here is that Allen just isn’t as polished as Rosen, Mayfield or even Darnold. He’s bigger and faster, but what’s all that arm strength good for when you’re not precise with your passes? Some of his mistakes (thankfully he kept the interceptions to a minimum with only six) were just plain lazy. Throwing bad balls into tight coverage, not giving his passes the proper touch. It was frustrating to watch. The way to fix that would probably be to clean up his mechanics. Countless times I saw Allen make the cardinal sin of throwing across his body. His footwork was also a nightmare with too many back-foot throws. Allen needs to realize he’s not Derek Jeter. He has to set his feet and step into his passes.

 

In terms of his supporting cast, Allen probably had less to work with than the other quarterbacks we’ll discuss (what an embarrassment of riches Mayfield had at Oklahoma). But I was still alarmed by his subpar stats (only 16 TDs and 1,812 passing yards), especially playing in the Mountain West. I think with good coaching Allen could overcome these flaws, but there’s definitely a level of risk here that doesn’t exist with the other three. Mel Kiper says stats are for losers and obviously the Barstool guys are in his corner, but I think it would be a mistake for the Browns to hitch their wagon to Allen, the ultimate boom-or-bust prospect.

 

Sam Darnold, USC

 

Strengths: If it’s between Allen and Darnold for the No. 1 pick—which seems to be the case—then by all means give me Darnold. That may come across as a pretty tepid endorsement but the truth is, there’s a lot to like about Darnold’s game. He’s no Michael Vick, but Darnold still made plenty of plays with his feet last season. He rolls out a ton and makes his living off play-action. USC was Screen City last year with Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr catching passes out of the backfield. Screens, slants, back-shoulder fades, wheel routes, you name it—when it comes to anything short or intermediate, Darnold is money. I think all the first-round quarterbacks are fairly good improvisers and that definitely applies to Darnold, who made some truly heroic plays both throwing and scrambling against pressure. Though I think he leaves the pocket too much, Darnold has an uncanny ability to make throws on the run. From what I saw, Darnold often hit his receivers in stride and though I don’t consider it his bread and butter, he can pop off a deep ball when you really need one. Also, he totally laid a dude out blocking for his teammate against UCLA. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do with that information, but I thought it was cool. 

 

Weaknesses: Compared to the other quarterbacks I’m highlighting, Darnold’s release is a tad slow. I heard one analyst compare his circular throwing motion to Russell Wilson’s. I don’t think it’s a major stumbling block to Darnold having success at the next level—clearly it hasn’t hindered Wilson—but it’s something to be aware of. In Darnold’s defense, I think his arm strength more than makes up for any perceived flaw in his delivery.

 

I understand this was an adjustment year for USC’s offense after losing JuJu Smith-Schuster to the NFL, but I was stunned at how many turnovers Darnold committed in 2017. He cleaned it up as the year went on but there was a six-game stretch where Darnold threw nine interceptions. A few of them were unlucky—there were a couple instances where USC receivers literally dropped the ball right into the hands of opposing DBs—but most were the result of poor decision-making. Darnold is an accurate enough passer that he can gamble once in a while but too many times I saw him force really difficult passes into tight coverage. That’s been the main criticism of Jameis Winston throughout his career. Coincidentally, Josh Norris named Winston as Darnold’s closest NFL comparison.

 

Darnold also took an inordinate amount of sacks last year. Part of that can be blamed on the Trojans’ offensive line—he was legit running for his life against Ohio State—but Darnold also needs to improve his awareness and know when to get rid of the football. Maybe Darnold just didn’t feel as comfortable throwing downfield without JuJu, but I was surprised at how little success he had stretching the field. Darnold had plenty of long completions but a good chunk of those came on screens and slants where the receivers/running backs did most of the work. In fact, in the Cal game, Darnold completed just 1-of-10 passes beyond 10 yards. It went for a gain of 14. As I said earlier, I’d take Darnold over Allen, but not ahead of Mayfield or Rosen.   

 


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Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.
Email :Jesse Pantuosco



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