NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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Early Returns
by Dennis Ranahan

This year, five quarterbacks were first round selections in the National Football League draft. Selecting a quarterback in the first round is not necessarily a sure thing, note busts like Jamarcus Russell, David Carr and Tim Couch, who were all taken with the first overall pick and failed to produce at the pro level. Other first round disappointments include Ryan Leaf, Heath Shuler, Akili Smith, Rick Mirer, Matt Leinart and a number of other quarterbacks that never excelled in the league after organizations spent first round draft selections to gain their services.

Then, you have the youngest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl picked up by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round of the 2012 draft, Russell Wilson. Another third round selection is on the list of considered greatest quarterbacks ever, Joe Montana. And the quarterback that has all the stats to lay claim to the best ever, Tom Brady, was chosen by the New England Patriots in 2000 with a sixth round choice.

Before the Pittsburgh Steelers were known as a power, in fact they were a doormat, one of the reasons was decisions like the one they made to keep quarterback Jim Finks and cut Johnny Unitas. Finks still made a name for himself in the NFL, just not as a quarterback, but rather as a brilliant general manager with the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints. Unitas went on with a football career with the Baltimore Colts that has him in the conversation with Peyton Manning, Montana and Brady as the best field general ever.

So, scouting systems would rather not be pinned with the misses they have suffered in spending a high draft choice on a bust, but still the importance of the position dictates that when a blue chip QB prospect is available he is drafted. Some years are better for QB’s, none quite as bright as the 1983 class that featured six first round choices that included John Elway, Todd Blackridge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Ken O’Brien and Dan Marino.

Now, those six players are listed in the order they were selected. What we know now, based on their careers, the order might have been shuffled a bit and Marino would never rate as the sixth best from that half dozen players.

So, who were the blue-chippers this year?

My money was on Sam Darnold, the quarterback out of USC that the New York Jets grabbed with the third pick in the first round. The Cleveland Browns made Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield the first pick and the Buffalo Bills used the seventh pick to draft Wyoming’s Josh Allen. With the tenth pick in the draft, the Arizona Cardinals obtained UCLA alum Josh Rosen and the Baltimore Ravens used the pick they acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles to tab Lamar Jackson with the final first round choice.

Will this quarterback pool someday be compared to the brilliance of the 1983 crop?

Did the league pick them in order of production, or will Jackson prove to be better than one or more of the four selected before him in the first round like Marino proved to be during his career?

Early returns have all five franchises pleased with the production of their new quarterbacks. Darnold was most effective in guiding the Jets offense to a touchdown while completing 13 of 18 pass attempts. Mayfield lived up to his first pick in the draft status while guiding the Browns offense to a pair of touchdowns and 212 passing yards while completing 11 of 20 attempts against the New York Giants.

Rosen showed promise while behind center for the Arizona Cardinals in their home win over the Los Angeles Chargers, and Lamar Jackson has flashed his ability to both read defenses and find open receivers while also possessing breakaway speed during the Ravens back-to-back preseason wins. Josh Allen played with poise for the Bills while completing 9 of 19 attempts for 116 yards and a touchdown.

What we have here is a bright group of rookie quarterbacks who seem adept at moving their teams against basic preseason defenses. The real challenge for all of them will be when opponents game plan to stifle their strengths. That is when we will be able to better distinguish the gap between the Mannings and Shulers.