2018 NFL draft quarterback class primer: Everything you need to know

Kiper says Rosen is NFL ready (1:15)

If drafted to the Giants at No. 2 overall, Mel Kiper could see Josh Rosen starting very early in his career, as he is the smartest QB in the 2018 draft. (1:15)

Feels like last year we heard a ton of pre-draft talk about how the quarterback class wasn't so great. Turns out it had Deshaun Watson, who was pretty special until tearing his ACL in practice in early November. And Mitchell Trubisky ended up starting for the Bears before it was all over. Heck, DeShone Kizer started for the Browns right away ... although maybe he shouldn't have.

Anyway, that was last year. This year's quarterback draft class is the talk of the NFL town. It has been since last offseason. Seriously, at the combine last year, teams would moan about the quality of the quarterbacks in the draft and say, "But next year ..."

Well, next year is here, so how does it look? There are a couple of SoCal dudes still turning heads, a big guy in Wyoming who makes scouts drool and a Heisman-winning bad boy who may or may not be 6 feet tall. It's a fun group, and will dominate a lot of our attention in the months leading up to the 2018 NFL draft.

So, let's have a bit of a look at where things stand, shall we? We'll include notes from ESPN NFL draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, plus insight from personnel people in the league.

And skip to the end here to see which teams might actually draft one of these QBs in the first round -- there are several possibilities:

The QBs: Rosen | Darnold | Allen | Mayfield | Jackson | Best of the rest

Josh Rosen, UCLA

Junior | 6-foot-4, 218 pounds | 30 career starts

2017 stats: 283 of 452 passing (62.6 percent) for 3,756 yards, with 26 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; two rushing touchdowns, three lost fumbles; 67.1 Total QBR (No. 42 in FBS)

Who is this guy, and why should we care?

Rosen caught everyone's attention with a 3,670-yard freshman season in 2015. NFL scouts love the way he looks in the pocket -- his footwork, throwing motion, anticipation and accuracy. After an injury-plagued 2016 season, he rebounded in 2017 with numbers nearly identical to those he put up as a freshman. Injuries set in again, though, and with Chip Kelly and a new coaching staff on the way in, Rosen will enter the draft. He's enough of a prospect to merit consideration at No. 1 overall.

Kiper's draft ranking: No. 2 QB and No. 5 overall prospect. From Kiper's Mock Draft 1.0: "Rosen is the top pure passer in this class. He looked better than Darnold when UCLA and USC played late in the season."

McShay's draft ranking: No. 1 QB and No. 1 overall prospect. From McShay's Top 32: "Rosen is far superior [than Darnold] going through his progressions and has a pretty deep ball. He's a better QB right now, but that doesn't mean he will be down the line."

What does the NFL think of Rosen?

"Just so natural in everything he does on the field. You watch him in the pocket and it's like he was born to do it. The way he sees the field, the way he operates the offense, just total command. If I had his kind of natural ability, I think I'd be that way too." -- NFC offensive coach.

So, now what?

Still recovering from a concussion suffered in the Bruins' final regular-season game, Rosen was held out of UCLA's bowl game. He will be subjected to a pre-draft process focused mainly on his injury history and some personality questions that have surfaced in media reports. It's almost certain that he will be picked at or near the top of the draft, but if it's a question between him and another highly rated guy, teams will want to check out anything negative that has come up.

Where can I find out more about Rosen?

Sam Darnold, USC

Third-year sophomore | 6-4, 225 pounds | 23 career starts

2017 stats: 303 of 480 passing (63.1 percent) for 4,143 yards, with 26 touchdowns, 13 interceptions; five rushing touchdowns, seven lost fumbles; 74.6 Total QBR (No. 22 in FBS)

Who is this guy, and why should we care?

Darnold couldn't beat out Max Browne as a redshirt freshman in 2016, but when Browne was benched after three games, people in the NFL took notice. There was at least some can-he-do-it-again sense about Darnold early this season, after a dazzling 31-touchdown, nine-interception 2016 season and a fantastic Rose Bowl performance against Penn State. Some early-season struggles in 2017 pointed to the concerns NFL evaluators had (and still have) about his footwork and some of his decision-making.

But those same evaluators recognize that USC was affected negatively by graduation and injury issues this season, and the way Darnold played over the final few months affirmed what scouts love about his abilities and makeup. The overall package of potential and college performance makes Darnold a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick. He went first in McShay's debut mock draft.

Kiper's draft ranking: No. 3 QB and No. 6 overall prospect. From Kiper's Mock Draft 1.0: "Can he figure out the ball security? If he can get rid of the bad habits, he could be a special player. Darnold is an accurate, natural passer with high upside who still needs to tweak his mechanics."

McShay's draft ranking: No. 2 QB and No. 3 overall prospect. From McShay's Top 32: "His accuracy is terrific and he has special intangibles, but there is definitely a question now as to if he'll declare for the draft."

What does the NFL think of Darnold?

"He's got everything you look for -- size, arm strength, accuracy. Could stand to clean up some mechanical stuff, but that's going to come with time. He looks the part, and that matters when you're trying to sell your fan base on a young guy with growing pains. He'll show enough to get people excited." -- NFC front-office official.

So, now what?

Darnold has declared for the draft -- there was some question whether he would stay at USC for at least another year -- and now teams will get to interview him and watch him work out at the combine in March. It's expected to be Darnold and Rosen at the top of the draft, but this next signal-caller could leap both of them.

Where can I find out more about Darnold?

Josh Allen, Wyoming

Fourth-year junior | 6-5, 233 pounds | 26 career starts

2017 stats: 152 of 270 passing (56.3 percent) for 1,812 yards, with 16 touchdowns, six interceptions; five rushing touchdowns, two lost fumbles; 51.9 Total QBR (No. 76 in FBS)

Who is this guy, and why should we care?

Allen didn't have any FBS offers out of high school and had only two after a freshman season at Reedley College. But he landed at Wyoming and became the starter in 2016, and fans of the draft might remember his name from the time when ESPN's Adam Schefter said after the 2017 draft: "There was one personnel director who told me this week that you can put it in the books, Josh Allen will be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft next year."

Scouts look at Allen as a high-end talent, but it's all projection. He has tremendous size and a huge arm, and he made plenty of plays in 2016, when Wyoming had a strong veteran team around him. His numbers didn't show any improvement this season, but his coaching staff and the NFL scouting community seem to blame that on the deterioration of the rest of the Cowboys' roster due to the departures of so many of his weapons prior to the season. What scouts and evaluators see with Allen is elite potential -- the kind for which you're willing to overlook little things, such as a poor season at Wyoming.

Kiper's draft ranking: No. 1 QB and No. 4 overall prospect. From Kiper's Mock Draft 1.0: "His numbers aren't impressive, I know. But the NFL is all about projection, and he has a high ceiling. Coaches want to work with Allen because he has all of the tools."

McShay's draft ranking: No. 3 QB and No. 16 overall prospect. From McShay's Top 32: "He has an elite arm and frame and can make every throw. The postseason process will be key for him."

What does the NFL think of Allen?

"Coaches are going to see this guy and imagine everything he can be, and they're going to be all over their front offices to take him. He's just really raw, so you have to make sure he goes to a place where the coaching is solid and knows what he needs. The talent is all there." -- AFC front-office official.

So, now what?

After a strong showing against Central Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl -- three touchdown passes in the first quarter, and no turnovers -- Allen announced his intentions to enter the draft. He instantly becomes one of its most talked-about prospects, and will be one of the more closely watched performers at the Senior Bowl. There's some sense in the scouting community that Darnold and Rosen are a 1-2 in some order (probably that one) and Allen slips slightly toward the middle of the first round, but there are also people who think Allen could be in consideration for the Browns at No. 1 overall. There will be questions about Allen's readiness to start right away at the NFL level, and if Cleveland does take him, the Browns might need to add a veteran to play in front of him for a year or so. But some people will convince themselves Allen is worth a shot because he's such a specimen.

Where can I find out more about Allen?

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Fifth-year senior | 6-1, 220 pounds | 46 career starts

2017 stats: 285 of 404 passing (70.5 percent) for 4,627 yards, with 43 touchdowns, six interceptions; five rushing touchdowns, zero lost fumbles; 92.6 Total QBR (No. 1 in FBS)

Who is this guy, and why should we care?

Come on. You don't know who Mayfield is? He just won the Heisman Trophy, for goodness' sake. And it's ... well, it's not the first time he has been in the news this year. Mayfield is the interloper on this list -- the scrappy guy who crashed what looked like a big three and made it a big four. His numbers are basically in line with what he put up last season, but doing it again after losing teammates such as Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine and Dede Westbrook to the NFL plus his performance in big games have thrust him into the first-round conversation.

Kiper's draft ranking: No. 4 QB and No. 13 overall prospect. From Kiper's Big Board: "I love him on the field -- he's not afraid to take shots downfield, and he has an underrated arm -- but his size is going to be a question until he gets in front of scouts at the Senior Bowl."

McShay's draft ranking: No. 4 QB and No. 28 overall prospect. From McShay's Top 32: "The issue for him is that he doesn't have the ideal measurables of an NFL starter, and he doesn't have an elite trait to compensate, like Russell Wilson's scrambling ability or Drew Brees' accuracy."

What does the NFL think of Mayfield?

"If he measures under 6 feet [at the combine], that's going to make it tough for a lot of people to get on board. There's just not a lot of track record of guys at that size having success. But at the same time, you're going to be afraid of missing the next Russell Wilson, because what you have here is leadership and competitiveness on a unique kind of level." -- NFC coach.

So, now what?

Mayfield threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns with a costly interception in the Sooners' overtime loss to Georgia in the Rose Bowl. Next up for Mayfield is the Senior Bowl, where he'll stand in front of coaches and scouts for the first time. They will want to ask a lot of questions about Mayfield's well-publicized maturity issues along with his size, but barring some unforeseen off-field revelation, it's tough to see him slipping out of the first round.

Where can I find out more about Mayfield?

Lamar Jackson, Louisville

Junior | 6-3, 210 pounds | 33 career starts

2017 stats: 254 of 430 passing (59.1 percent) for 3,660 yards, with 27 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; 18 rushing touchdowns, three lost fumbles; 85.1 Total QBR (No. 3 in FBS)

Who is this guy, and why should we care?

Jackson is, of course, last year's Heisman winner, and he is a unique prospect due to his remarkable abilities as a runner and a passer. He has eclipsed both 3,400 passing yards and 1,400 rushing yards for the second straight season, and to watch him is to watch a quarterback who can dominate a college game in multiple ways. Defenses have to account for him differently than they do any other quarterback because of his elite speed and dynamic running.

Kiper's draft ranking: No. 6 QB. From Kiper's take on the Heisman finalists: "From the NFL scouts I've talked to, I think teams are going to ask Jackson to work out as a quarterback and a receiver. They want to see if he could make the transition if he didn't develop enough as a QB."

McShay's draft ranking: No. 7 QB and No. 92 overall prospect. From McShay's preseason scouting report: "Jackson needs to continue to improve his accuracy as a passer. That's the bottom line. Right now, he's a phenomenal college quarterback mostly due to his running skills and athleticism."

What does the NFL think of Jackson?

"The physical abilities are off the charts. Huge arm, incredible speed. Just an athlete, plain and simple. You'd like to see more consistent accuracy from the pocket, but that can be cleaned up with some work on his mechanics. The big concern is whether he can hold up if he does as much running at the next level." -- AFC front-office official.

So, now what?

Jackson probably will run a 40-yard dash time at the combine that will be unheard of for a quarterback, and teams will spend the next couple of months trying to figure out what to do with him. If you bring him in, how much work do you have to do to refine his pure passer abilities? Can he help you in the meantime? Will you have to curb his running in order for him to survive in the NFL? And if you curb his running, does that limit his upside as a high draft pick? There has been at least some chatter about the possibility of a position change if it doesn't work out at quarterback, but his performance at that position in college surely merits a serious look before teams decide to move on and make him a wide receiver.

Where can I find out more about Jackson?

That's an impressive group. Any other quarterbacks to keep an eye on?

Oh, yeah. For starters:

Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

Rudolph brings size (6-5) and a ton of experience to go with his impressive college numbers. Some scouts wonder whether he's a player whose supporting cast makes him look better than he is.

Luke Falk, Washington State

The former walk-on set all kinds of school and conference passing records at Washington State. Seen by many as a Day 3 pick, Falk could sneak into the third round with a strong showing in the pre-draft process. There are concerns about arm strength and a thin frame, but scouts love his accuracy.

Riley Ferguson, Memphis

He moved up in the eyes of many with his on-field performance, but Ferguson also comes with concerns about size and durability at the next level.

Check out full scouting reports on all of the draft's top QBs here.

So, which teams might draft quarterbacks in the first round?

Oh, how much time do you have? The draft order is set through 28, and here are the teams that could be in the market:

Cleveland Browns

First-round picks: Nos. 1 and 4

They could pick any of these guys they want. And they need one. DeShone Kizer appears to be far away from being a consistent NFL quarterback, if he ever will be, and Cleveland has been looking for answers at this position seemingly since the days of Bernie Kosar. New GM John Dorsey will surely make quarterback his top offseason priority.

New York Giants

First-round pick: No. 2

The Giants are in position to draft Eli Manning's successor. Their quarterback depth chart features Manning and completely untested 2017 third-rounder Davis Webb. They could move on from Manning after this season and turn it over to a couple of young guys, or they could keep Manning if they think whichever QB they pick here isn't ready to start.

Denver Broncos

First-round pick: No. 5

They are two years removed from taking Paxton Lynch in the first round and still apparently no closer to an answer at this position. With Trevor Siemian having flopped, Lynch unable to stay healthy and Brock Osweiler being ... well, a bit tough to trust, Denver could look for an answer in the top five.

New York Jets

First-round pick: No. 6

Here's another team, like Cleveland, perpetually searching for answers at QB. The Jets got a lightning-in-a-bottle year from 38-year-old Josh McCown, but Bryce Petty hasn't shown much, and they haven't had any kind of look at Christian Hackenberg. They could bring back McCown to mentor their pick.

Miami Dolphins

First-round pick: No. 11

The Fins could bring back Ryan Tannehill, but money isn't an issue if they were to release him. Assuming Jay Cutler resumes his TV career, Miami could be on the hunt.

Cincinnati Bengals

First-round pick: No. 12

AJ McCarron could be an Andy Dalton successor, but McCarron also could be an unrestricted free agent. If a new coaching staff wants to make changes in Cincinnati, Dalton could be on the outs, and the Bengals could be looking for other options.

Washington Redskins

First-round pick: No. 13

If Kirk Cousins leaves as a free agent, Washington is stuck with Colt McCoy.

Arizona Cardinals

First-round pick: No. 15

Carson Palmer has retired. So has Bruce Arians. Will Larry Fitzgerald? Talk about uncertainty. Arizona is teeming with it. The Cardinals haven't addressed Palmer's successor in either of the past two drafts, which is a bit of a surprise. They seem to have little choice at this point.

Baltimore Ravens

First-round pick: No. 16

Joe Flacco's contract leaves the Ravens on the hook for at least another year or two, but the backup situation is woeful, and if you find a guy you like, it's never the wrong time to take him.

Los Angeles Chargers

First-round pick: No. 17

Like Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers is getting up there. And the Chargers don't have a replacement on the roster.

Buffalo Bills

First-round picks: Nos. 21 and 22

It sure doesn't look as if the Bills are sold on Tyrod Taylor. And while they believe in Nathan Peterman to a certain degree, they also could jump if they find someone they like better in this intriguing class.

New Orleans Saints

First-round pick: No. 27

Drew Brees is eligible for free agency, and while there's no reason to think he's going anywhere, he will turn 39 in January. The Saints could look for a successor.

Pittsburgh Steelers

First-round pick: No. 28

You know you will hear that Ben Roethlisberger retirement talk again this offseason. You know you will.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected first-round pick: No. 29

Blake Bortles has the Jaguars playing for a trip to the Super Bowl, and if the run keeps going, that has a way of changing plans. But even in a very successful season, Bortles has proven to be erratic, and the team has a decision to make about him and his $19 million option. There seems little doubt that, even if they keep Bortles, they'll want to bring in other options at quarterback this offseason, and the draft offers a way to do that. Bortles is signed only through 2018.

Minnesota Vikings

Projected first-round pick: No. 30

Things are going well with Case Keenum. Heck, Minnesota could end up winning the Super Bowl with him and signing him long term. But the fact is that Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford are all unrestricted free agents, and there is loads of long-range uncertainty about this position in Minnesota, regardless of how well the Vikings are playing now.

New England Patriots

Projected first-round pick: No. 32

Their backup situation isn't what it was a year ago when they had Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett behind Tom Brady. And while he doesn't play like it, Brady is 40 years old. It's not crazy to imagine the Pats dipping their toes into this water. And remember: New England got San Francisco's pick at the top of the second round in the Garoppolo trade.