2018 Post-Draft Rookie Quarterback Rankings
With the 2018 NFL Draft now behind us, it is time for me to update my rookie quarterback rankings. With the landing spots known, we should have a better picture of what these passers could become for your fantasy football leagues. As always, we are thinking about 2QB and Superflex leagues, so the rankings will go deeper than you are typically accustomed to in single-quarterback formats.
Tier 1: Elite Landing Spots
1. Baker Mayfield, Browns
It’s nice when things work out the way you want them to, right? Mayfield was the top quarterback in my pre-draft rankings, and followed that up by going first overall in the NFL Draft. To some, that would seem like a death knell, as Mayfield will be a part of one of the worst NFL franchises of the last decade. However, I believe that this was the best landing spot available for most of the signal-callers.
In Cleveland, Mayfield will have elite weapons to throw to. Proven studs like Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, and Duke Johnson (yes, he is a stud as a receiving running back) will be well complemented by up-and-comers like David Njoku and Corey Coleman (this is the year?). Cleveland also spent draft capital on offensive weaponry in the form of Nick Chubb, Antonio Callaway, and Damion Ratley.
Mayfield may not get the immediate start in Cleveland with Tyrod Taylor there, but he is absolutely set up for long-term success. It has also become apparent through a variety of news outlets that Mayfield was, in fact, the top quarterback for many teams in the NFL. It is even rumored the Patriots were planning a big move up the board if Cleveland passed on him. When the most efficient quarterback in college football history lands in the best spot, you don’t ask questions, you simply buy. Mayfield would be the 1.02 for me in all 2QB/Superflex rookie drafts (after Saquon Barkley).
2. Lamar Jackson, Ravens
I mentioned the Browns were the best landing spot for most of the incoming passers. Jackson is the singular exception, as he lands in what may prove to be his best spot with Baltimore. When New Orleans traded up on Thursday, I was excited about the prospect of Jackson potentially working with Sean Payton in what would almost assuredly be one of the game’s most potent offenses. When they ended up selecting Marcus Davenport instead, I was grief-stricken.
However, I think it is possible that Baltimore is actually better. Sure, he will not have the same raw fire-power on offense, but it appears as though the Ravens have selected Jackson with a clear plan in mind. For starters, they already signed Robert Griffin, someone who was once one of the game’s most electric dual-threats, to back up Joe Flacco, who appears to be on his last leg. This signifies a potential shift in offensive philosophy heading into 2018.
It is also worth noting that the Ravens staff is littered with coaches who have been successful with mobile quarterbacks in the past. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was in that same role with the Eagles during Michael Vick’s tenure there, overseeing his explosive 2010 season. Assistant head coach Greg Roman was the offensive coordinator for Colin Kaepernick in his first four years with San Francisco. Over that span, Kaepernick posted a 2.38-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and averaged over 35 yards rushing per game in his three years as the starter. All of this occurred under Jim Harbaugh, brother of current Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. Quarterbacks coach James Urban was also Mornhinweg’s quarterbacks coach with Vick in 2010.
Jackson is clearly set up for success as the most dynamic collegiate quarterback prospect since Cam Newton. He should thrive under the support system set up for him in Baltimore.
Tier 2: A Matter of When, Not If
3. Sam Darnold, Jets
In one of the more epic draft blunders of my lifetime, my New York Giants elected to pass on Darnold in favor of a running back, allowing him to slip into the hands of their stadium-mate and city rival New York Jets. But we aren’t here to talk about my bitterness. Darnold is the youngest quarterback selected in draft history, and may not start to open the season. However, with Josh McCown as the presumed starter, and Teddy Bridgewater perhaps being cut prior to the start of the season, it is likely that we see him at some point this year.
But what kind of fantasy player can Darnold be? I think that early on it is probably best to temper expectations as the Jets continue to build their skill-position groups and familiarize Darnold with the system. Robby Anderson was fantastic last season, and the team will be getting Quincy Enunwa back from injury. Offseason addition Terrelle Pryor showed that he had a ceiling in 2016, but was miserable last year while in Washington. It is believed that he was playing hurt before ending up on season-ending injured reserve.
Long term, I believe that Darnold has the ceiling of one of the better pocket-passers in the league. However, his inability to provide much as a runner, and a loaded quarterback position has him as a Tier 2 player in this class.
4. Josh Rosen, Cardinals
Rosen was considered by some to be the best natural passer of the class, so it was interesting to see him slide all the way to 10 before the Cardinals traded up to draft the former UCLA star. It is possible that his off-the-field persona was responsible for it, as folks have questioned his commitment to the game and opinions away from the game. None of that matters now, as I do not believe it will impact his production. The only thing keeping Rosen off the field as a rookie is Sam Bradford, who was paid like a starter, but has not played a full season since 2012.
Arizona spent their next pick in the draft to add Texas A&M wideout Christian Kirk, something the team desperately needed. There is not a ton of receiving talent on the Cardinals past Larry Fitzgerald, who will be 35 at the start of the season. Overall, Arizona spent five of their six draft picks on the offensive side of the football, showing the commitment they have to revamping it under a new regime. I would expect Rosen to have the slowest start of the top four quarterbacks, with a ceiling slightly lower than Darnold’s.
Tier 3: LOL Bills
5. Josh Allen, Bills
It bears repeating that I hope Allen is able to turn in a wonderful NFL career. I would never root against a young man looking to turn his dreams into a reality. That said, Allen going inside of the top 10 represents everything wrong with NFL scouting, and I would not expect or predict he winds up a success.
This feeling is exacerbated by the landing spot in Buffalo, which you can consider to be the perfect foil for Mayfield and his landing spot. The Bills boast one of the least impressive skill groups in the league, with only LeSean McCoy and Kelvin Benjamin representing anything even remotely close to a serviceable weapon.
Buffalo did not improve on this at all in the draft, spending their next four picks after Allen on defense, and drafting just two late-round wide receivers who are unlikely to become anything in the NFL. Even if Allen can supplant A.J. McCarron as the starting quarterback, I doubt he does anything fantasy worthy this year, or in the near future. Still, his draft position does guarantee some level of playing time, which has value on its own, and keeps Allen from the next tier.
Tier 4: Potential 2020 Starters
6. Mason Rudolph, Steelers
Rudolph was my fifth-ranked quarterback pre-draft, mostly due to the expectation he would go in the second round. Unfortunately, he fell to the third round, and wound up with the Steelers, further muddying his future opportunity. Big Ben has just two years remaining on his current contract, which would line Rudolph up to start in 2020 should he impress enough to earn the job. Roethlisberger also hasn’t played a full season since 2014, so we should get some chances to see Rudolph on an actual NFL field relatively soon.
The weaponry in Pittsburgh is amazing. They have two all-pros in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. JuJu Smith-Schuster was one of the league’s best offensive rookies in 2017. The Steelers even added Rudolph’s top target in college, James Washington, in the second round. Rudolph has a great chance to be successful in any opportunity he sees with this kind of firepower around him.
7. Kyle Lauletta, Giants
Lauletta is not as heralded as Rudolph, but their situations are remarkably similar. He will sit behind Eli Manning in the short term, whose contract expires after the 2019 season. Again, should Lauletta impress, he would have a chance to be the next Giants starting QB. The odds are longer that he sees any immediate opportunity, since the only game Manning has ever missed was due to an egregious benching last season. With less field time, Lauletta may not receive the chances to prove he can be the starter long term.
The weapons though, are just as good as in Pittsburgh. The Giants have Odell Beckham, a star wideout, and Evan Engram had one of the best rookie tight end seasons ever in 2017. Sterling Shepard has been productive in his time in the NFL, and the Giants just drafted Barkley, who was an amazing collegiate receiver. This offense is not only talented, but very young. Whoever quarterbacks the Giants next will be an instant fantasy producer.
Tier 5: Probably Backups, But With Upside
8. J.T. Barrett, Saints
Barrett went undrafted, but then signed with the Saints as a free agent. New Orleans’ quarterback depth chart behind Drew Brees is uninspiring, to say the least. They have Tom Savage and Taysom Hill (who I low-key have a football crush on) in addition to Barrett. In other words, there is not a clear starter on this team should Brees go down, or for the future when he retires.
Barrett is someone who would be a palatable spot-starter due to the available weapons, coach quality, and rushing ability. People forget this, but Barrett once upon a time averaged nine yards per attempt as a freshman, while rushing for over 900 yards and 11 touchdowns. One of the big knocks against him is his height, but the Saints obviously have experience working with shorter quarterbacks. There is real upside here.
9. Logan Woodside, Bengals
The Bengals are in an interesting spot with current starter Andy Dalton. He isn’t an elite passer, but is still above replacement level in the NFL. The Bengals are scheduled to pay him $47.2 million dollars over the next three seasons, which seems cheap for an NFL starter in this market, but also prohibitive of the team upgrading the position outside of the draft. It remains to be seen the kind of opportunity Woodside will see, especially as a late-round pick, but there is some small chance here that he ends up the starting quarterback. Even if he is just the backup, there is spot-starter upside given his college efficiency.
10. Quinton Flowers, Bengals
Two Bengals on one rankings page — crazy, right? I like Flowers for a lot of the same reasons as Woodside from an opportunity standpoint. The one major plus that Flowers has is his mobility. He rushed for at least 991 yards in each of his final three seasons at USF, totaling 41 rushing scores in that span.
11. Danny Etling, Patriots
The Patriots have traded both of their backup quarterbacks from last off-season, and now have just Brian Hoyer between Etling and Tom Brady. As with any late-round pick, Etling is a long shot to become Brady’s eventual replacement, but it is definitely worth wagering on those odds in the late rounds of rookie drafts. Etling had an AYA of 9.8 in his final season. Considering what the Patriots have been able to do with the likes of Matt Cassel as the starting quarterback, it seems reasonable to expect Etling to produce should he ever earn a start.