The man in charge of making the No. 1 and No. 4 picks in the 2018 NFL draft was the Green Bay Packers’ college scouting director when the team took Aaron Rodgers 24th overall in 2005. The general manager of the team that holds the No. 2 overall pick was the New York Giants’ pro personnel director when they traded up to take Eli Manning first overall in 2004.
On Thursday night, Browns GM John Dorsey and Giants GM Dave Gettleman could kick off the biggest first-round quarterback class since 1983 (with the help of the first pick in that draft, who now runs the Denver Broncos and could draft a QB at No. 5 overall).
Sounds fun, huh?
“It’s an interesting class,” Gettleman said. “All shapes and sizes. All flavors. This is like Howard Johnson’s back in the day. It’s a real interesting group.”
History likely will remember the 2018 NFL draft as a confluence of promising quarterback prospects and QB-needy teams that happens once in a generation or so. If USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson are all selected in the first round — as widely projected — they would be the first five-man, first-round QB class since 1999. Add Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and you’d get six first-rounders at QB for the first time since that 1983 draft, when top pick John Elway headlined a class that also included fellow Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.
The 1999 draft remains the last time QBs went with the top three picks, but the Browns, Giants and Jets could duplicate that this week. Dorsey and Gettleman, both in their second tours as general managers, could be defined by the decisions they make.
And while teams at the top of the draft go over their QB rankings for the seventh or eighth time, the Vikings find themselves in a rare position in their history. After drafting two first-round QBs in the past six years (and shipping another first-rounder to Philadelphia for a third), they are picking 30th overall with no need for a quarterback after making Kirk Cousins the highest-paid passer in the NFL last month. So while the passers at the top of the draft make headlines, the Vikings can fill one of their other needs from a group of players that should offer them several options.
“It almost makes it more fun, because it really is truly drafting,” said ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick, who spent 13 years as a scout and pro personnel director. “You’re just kind of looking at what’s available, how you prioritize it and you’re going, ‘OK, that’s an obvious pick for me right now — boom, I take it.’ There’s a lot less pressure at that point in the draft. You can really kind of stick to the fundamentals of board building and selecting players at that point.”
Lots of QBs, lots of questions
Darnold, whom most analysts predict will go No. 1 overall to the Browns, seems to be the most conventional quarterback option after throwing for 4,143 yards and 28 touchdowns last season at USC.
“Darnold is my number one guy because I think he can beat you from both inside the pocket and outside the pocket,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. “But after him, I feel like you can kind of pick apart different characteristics of each player.”
For instance, there are questions about Rosen’s durability, Allen’s track record against major competition, Mayfield’s size and Jackson’s ability to function in a traditional NFL scheme.
“To put it in perspective, the two easiest quarterback evaluations I’ve had in the last eight or 10 years are Andrew Luck and Carson Wentz, and that’s because everything checked off both on the film and all the intangibles,” Mayock said. “Those two guys walked and talked like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, et cetera. I don’t see anybody in this class that I get the same gut feel for as those two.”
Assuming Darnold goes No. 1, the Giants — with former Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur at the helm — will have to make the first interesting decision of the draft. Do they believe Allen has the upside or Rosen the pure throwing ability to take over for Manning one day? Or do they draft Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who could be a transformational player for a team that went from the playoffs in 2016 to a three-win season last year?
“We’re looking forward, moving forward with Eli,” Shurmur said. “But certainly with the second pick in the draft, we want to draft a player worthy of that pick. The last time the Giants had the second pick in the draft they picked Lawrence Taylor. The last time they had the third pick, they picked Carl Banks, and those were two franchise-changing players. I think we’ve got to keep an open mind on this.”
Could Vikings benefit?
Twenty-eight spots after Shurmur’s new team makes its first pick, his former employer will be on the clock, with no need to consider a quarterback. If that feels like an odd position for the Vikings, it should.
In 1999 they took Daunte Culpepper, who was the 11th overall selection and the fourth of five quarterbacks who went in the first round, and in 2011 they took Christian Ponder, who was the 12th overall selection and the fourth quarterback picked. It’s taken seven years, and considerable resources, for the Vikings to find a remedy for the Ponder pick; they traded back into the first round for Teddy Bridgewater in 2014, shipped a first-rounder to the Eagles for Sam Bradford in 2016 and gave Cousins $84 million this spring.
And in the 2011 draft, when a number of teams reached for quarterbacks, those who didn’t enjoyed their pick of franchise-changing players: Von Miller to Denver at No. 2, A.J. Green to Cincinnati at No. 4, Patrick Peterson to Arizona at No. 5, Julio Jones to Atlanta at No. 6, J.J. Watt to Houston at No. 11.
“I think it could be very, very similar to 2011,” NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks said, “where we see a lot of good position players come off the board that are perennial Pro Bowlers that come off later because the teams have come up to get their quarterback.”
That could benefit the Vikings if a player slides to them at No. 30. It could also help them if a team is itching to get back into the first round for a QB — and the fifth-year option that comes with him if he goes in Round 1.
“If they think they’re going to get the same type of player at, let’s say, [No.] 35 or 38, that they could get at , you take even a bad deal to move back a few spots, get the same player and take advantage of a team wanting to move up,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “The Raiders would have loved to have [a fifth-year option] with Derek Carr. It can buy you some time in terms of having to pay out the money.”
The Vikings, for a change, have no need for a quarterback. It means they could be among the beneficiaries — though likely not the main story — of what could be a wild first round.