The 2018 NFL Draft was a historic one for quarterbacks with four picked in the top 10 for the first time in nearly seven decades. By the end of the weekend, 13 passers heard their name called.
For the five who went in the first round, the expectation is that they’ll be the franchise quarterback the team can be build around. For five more quarterbacks, there’s a difficult path ahead that could end with a starting job but likely just a backup role. And for three, even a backup job will be difficult.
So let’s rank the situations that 13 quarterbacks will walk into from No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield to Seattle’s seventh-round selection Alex McGough — a totally real person that the Seahawks definitely didn’t just make up:
Faces of the franchise
1. Baker Mayfield - Cleveland Browns
It’s easy to make the “poor guy has to play for [insert worst NFL team], heh, heh” joke about whoever goes No. 1. But usually a team is terrible because of quarterback issues and it was DeShone Kizer’s awful season that dragged down the Browns most in 2017.
Kizer’s league-leading 22 interceptions and 60.5 passer rating — the worst for a full-time starter since Joey Harrington’s 59.9 in 2002 — spoiled a defense that finished No. 14 in the NFL and a rushing offense that averaged the sixth most yards per carry.
The Browns kept improving the roster this offseason with Jarvis Landry, Damarious Randall, Denzel Ward, Nick Chubb, and E.J. Gaines among the players added.
Mayfield will have the unlikely task of beating out Tyrod Taylor — a veteran starter who was already guaranteed the job — if he hopes to lead that team in 2018. A likelier scenario is Mayfield sits for a while and takes over when he’s ready. Considering the talent on the roster, it’s a situation that could be a whole lot better than the jokes make it seem.
2. Lamar Jackson - Baltimore Ravens
It’s still Joe Flacco’s team in Baltimore, but the investment in Jackson made it clear that’s a temporary situation. His cap hits in 2019 and 2020 mean the Ravens have the freedom to toss the keys to the offense over to Jackson whenever they feel he’s up for the task.
That gives Baltimore the luxury of patience while preparing to unleash a unique talent in Jackson. He’ll work with Marty Mornhinweg, a coach who has spent decades working with quarterbacks including, Brett Favre, Steve Young, and Michael Vick.
For now, it’s an offense that needs more work.
Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, John Brown, Hayden Hurst, and Mark Andrews were all added, but the team doesn’t really have a legitimate No. 1 receiver yet. That will be a priority in the next couple years to help Jackson along.
3. Sam Darnold - New York Jets
A year ago, plenty of people were convinced the Jets were gearing up to tank the 2017 season for the chance to draft Sam Darnold. The quarterback was even asked about it in August and Jets fans ordered jerseys close to a year in advance.
New York didn’t end up being as bad as people thought they’d be, but here they are with Darnold anyway.
Even with receiver Quincy Enunwa lost for the year in preseason, the combination of Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse made for decent receiving options for Josh McCown to target. Anderson has had difficulty staying out of trouble, but the return of Enunwa and the addition of Terrelle Pryor make for a young group with a lot of potential.
Like Mayfield and Jackson, Darnold has a capable starter in front of him in McCown. That’s a good thing, because Darnold has a lot of growing to do, but there’s a young nucleus of talent that the Jets can be excited about.
4. Josh Allen - Buffalo Bills
While the four other quarterbacks taken in the first round have established veterans ahead of them on the depth chart, Allen only has AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman to battle for the starting job.
That’d be a little more exciting if Allen was as NFL-ready as Mayfield or Josh Rosen. It’s a little dangerous when the Wyoming product is as raw and as far from ready as Allen. The safest guess is that it’ll be McCarron starting Week 1, but if he struggles it could be the team’s No. 7 overall pick who gets thrust into action.
The offense isn’t that bad for a rookie quarterback, though. It could use more receivers, but Kelvin Benjamin is the kind of big-bodied pass catcher that could help Allen out. The offensive line lost Richie Incognito, but is still better than other teams on this list. And the real strength is that the Buffalo offense will still lean heavily on LeSean McCoy and the running game.
Still, it’d be a whole lot better for the Bills if Allen had time to figure things out more.
5. Josh Rosen - Arizona Cardinals
Reminder: this isn’t an indictment on Rosen, who I believe is the best passer of this draft class. It’s just to say that this could be quite the uphill climb for the No. 10 overall pick in Arizona.
The good news is that he has David Johnson in the backfield with him, the Cardinals added an exciting receiver in Christian Kirk, and Sam Bradford is a veteran who could help Rosen. The bad news is everything else.
Arizona’s offensive line ranked 31st in 2017, according to PFF, and needed much more than just the signing of Justin Pugh to make things right.
The hallmark of Arizona’s offense for more than a decade has been Larry Fitzgerald, but he’ll be 35 before the 2018 season starts and will probably retire at the end of the year. That’d leave a receiving corps of Kirk, Chad Williams, Brice Butler, and JJ Nelson.
It’s not an offense with much for Rosen to work with, and Bradford’s lengthy injury history means the rookie could see the field sooner rather than later. Rosen was often on his own on a UCLA team that didn’t do him many favors. That may be the case in Arizona, too.
A difficult path to a starting job
6. Kyle Lauletta - New York Giants
If Odell Beckham Jr. is a player the Giants commit to and make sure he stays with the organization, the skill position group in New York is really exciting.
Forget draft capital for a second.— Eliot Crist (@EliotCrist) April 27, 2018
There is a team with (age when season starts)
Odell Beckham - 25 years old
Saquon Barkley - 21 years old
Evan Engram - 24 years old
Sterling Shepard - 25 years old
Good luck covering that
The offensive line has been a problem for a while and still isn’t quite fixed, but signing Nate Solder and drafting Will Hernandez is a great start. It should give Eli Manning a boost in the final years of his career, but the quarterback is 37 now and the Giants are going to need to find his successor.
Lauletta will have a chance to compete for that role. His competition for now is 2017 third-round pick Davis Webb, although it wouldn’t be surprising if the Giants went after another quarterback in upcoming drafts.
Someone is going to have to take over for Manning soon. Lauletta’s probably not the favorite, but he’ll have a chance to prove he can be.
7. Mason Rudolph - Pittsburgh Steelers
Like Lauletta in New York, Rudolph will be in competition with a mid-round selection to be the successor for a quarterback who is in his final seasons. Ben Roethlisberger is 36 and has been contemplating retirement in the last couple years.
Battling to eventually take over will be Rudolph, 2017 fourth-round pick Joshua Dobbs, and 2013 fourth-round pick Landry Jones. It seems inevitable that either Dobbs or Jones will be released before the 2018 season begins, and Rudolph has to be considered the favorite for the future starting job, for now.
He’s the first quarterback the Steelers have taken in the top 100 picks of the NFL Draft since Roethlisberger, although — like other teams on this list — Pittsburgh could go back to the well in a bigger way in upcoming drafts.
But Rudolph will have a chance to impress on a roster that’s always geared up to compete.
8. Danny Etling - New England Patriots
Good roster around him? Check.
Good quarterback to learn from? Check.
Good coaching to get him prepared? Check.
The only other quarterbacks on the New England roster are Tom Brady, who turns 41 in August and Brian Hoyer who turns 33 in October. So Etling will have every opportunity to prove he’s the quarterback of the future for the Patriots.
I realize that sounds a little ridiculous considering Etling is a seventh-round pick and they usually have their work cut out of for them to make the roster, let alone become a franchise staple. But Brady was a sixth-round pick and Hoyer was undrafted, so who knows?
The negative for Etling is that the Patriots will probably invest in the quarterback position in a bigger way in the next year or two. So his path to New England superstardom will still be a hell of a climb.
9. Tanner Lee - Jacksonville Jaguars
An argument could easily be made that Jacksonville has the best roster in the NFL. The least impressive position group on the team is its group of quarterbacks: Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler and Tanner Lee.
Lee was among the nation’s leaders in interceptions thrown during his 2017 season at Nebraska and there aren’t high hopes that he’ll solve the Jaguars’ quarterback concerns. But like Etling in New England, the path to surprise everyone is in front of him.
The Jaguars lean on defense and running the ball with Leonard Fournette, and are still hopeful that Bortles will eventually play like a franchise quarterback. But if he doesn’t soon, it’ll be someone else’s job.
Lee will need to leave his turnover-prone ways in the past if he wants any shot at the job, and ... don’t hold your breath.
10. Logan Woodside - Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals offensive line got better with the additions of Cordy Glenn and Billy Price, and has a legitimate No. 1 receiver in A.J. Green. The reason Woodside doesn’t get a higher spot here is because it’s going to be really difficult for him to earn a roster spot, let alone eventually start for the Bengals.
Andy Dalton’s leash is getting shorter and can be cut after the 2018 or 2019 seasons with no dead money under the salary cap. His inability to lead the Bengals to a single postseason win will eventually catch up to him and Cincinnati could be ready to look for another option.
But 2016 draft pick Jeff Driskel has already shown good things in preseason and has a two-year head start on Woodside. And if the Bengals do move on from Dalton, they’ll want more than just late-round picks ready to take over.
Battle for a backup job
11. Luke Falk - Tennessee Titans
It would be surprising if Marcus Mariota doesn’t end up being the quarterback of the future for the Titans. It’s not impossible considering his injury history and his struggles in 2017 with 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. But for now, Falk doesn’t have a path to the starting lineup and will battle Blaine Gabbert and Tyler Ferguson to be the long-term backup for Mariota.
If he gets the job, there’s a strong chance he’ll be thrust into action as Mariota hasn’t finished a 16-game season yet in his career.
And in Tennessee, he’d be behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines with a powerful running back at his side in Derrick Henry.
12. Mike White - Dallas Cowboys
The goal for the Cowboys is to surround Dak Prescott with the tools to be the long-term solution at quarterback in Dallas. So White really has no chance at wrestling that job away.
It’s also going to be difficult to top Cooper Rush for the backup job considering how good the undrafted second-year player looked in preseason as a rookie. Rush finished preseason with six touchdowns and no interceptions, wrestling the backup job from Kellen Moore.
The Cowboys offensive line makes the Cowboys a dream landing spot for a quarterback, but White has his work cut out for him.
13. Alex McGough - Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson is the player the Seahawks are built around, and he won’t be giving up the job any time soon. To be his backup, McGough is going to have to beat out Austin Davis and Stephen Morris.
But if McGough was ever thrust into action, he better be ready to run because the Seahawks offensive line is still a work in progress.