Few classes of NFL rookie quarterbacks were as celebrated as last year’s group of Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. All four were chosen in the top 10 of last year’s draft, beginning with Mayfield first overall by the Cleveland Browns, and the Baltimore Ravens made it five quarterbacks taken in the opening round when they traded up to select Lamar Jackson with the 32nd pick.
This year’s draft class of quarterbacks is, by comparison, ordinary and unexciting. Its ranks were bolstered when Kyler Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner who succeeded Mayfield at Oklahoma, chose football over baseball and became an intriguing candidate to be the No. 1 selection by the Arizona Cardinals on April 25.
But as talent evaluators in and around the league debate the skills and potential of other available quarterbacks, such as Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Missouri’s Drew Lock, Duke’s Daniel Jones, N.C. State’s Ryan Finley and West Virginia’s Will Grier, there is little consensus.
Some maintain it is a better-than-advertised class that is likely to yield several solid starters and a prospective megastar in the dynamic Murray. Others contend it is a pedestrian group in which most of the QBs beyond Murray could end up as backups.
“I’ve talked to people who tell me if [Murray] doesn’t pan out, there’s not a single starter in this group,” a high-ranking executive with one NFL team said at last month’s annual league meeting in Phoenix. “I’m not sure I’m buying that. It’s not like it’s a terrible group. I like some of these guys, and the odds are a couple of them will become decent starters. But it’s nothing like last year.”
But there are defenders of this quarterback class. Browns General Manager John Dorsey scoffed when asked about some observers dismissing the group.
“There’s some really talented players in this draft class,” Dorsey said at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. “I don’t know why they would be dismissing them. . . . I think this is a pretty good draft class.”
Murray is the headliner and almost certainly is the most interesting player in an otherwise defense-centric draft. He is an electrifying runner and a highly capable passer with both arm strength and accuracy. He was selected ninth in last year’s Major League Baseball draft by the Oakland Athletics but opted for football and said at the combine that he won’t revisit or second-guess his choice.
“I’m ready to go,” he said. “I was born a football player. I love this game. There was no turning back when I made this decision. I’m 100 percent in.”
Murray made it two straight Heisman winners for Oklahoma at quarterback, following Mayfield, and could make it two straight No. 1 selections in the draft. The Cardinals traded up to pick Rosen 10th last year. But they could move Rosen — possibly to the Washington Redskins — if they believe Murray is too good to pass up and too perfect of a fit for the offense of new coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Murray said it would be a fulfillment of a dream to be drafted with the top pick, but he vowed not to be miffed if that doesn’t work out.
“I’m not going into it with any expectations of, ‘If this guy gets taken before me, I’m going to be upset.’ Nah,” he said. “I’m going to be happy wherever I go. It’s an opportunity to go play football. Wherever I land is getting a guy that loves this game, is ready to go, and I’m a winner.”
Traditional NFL notions about needing a statuesque pocket passer have mostly been set aside in this age of college-style offenses and dual-threat quarterbacks, helped by the success of other vertically challenged QBs such as Seattle’s Russell Wilson and New Orleans’s Drew Brees. But Murray — who measured 5-foot-10⅛ at the combine — must show that he, too, can get it done.
“I’ve never been the biggest guy on the field,” he said in Indianapolis. “I’m always the smallest guy on the field. But I’ve said it multiple times: I feel like I’m the most impactful guy on the field. I’m the best player on the field at all times. That’s the confidence that I have in myself and my teammates have in me.”
Haskins, Lock and Jones likely will be the next three quarterbacks taken, in some order, and most seem to regard them as probable first-rounders.
“I keep a chip on my shoulder,” Lock said at the combine. “I’m a quarterback from the middle of Missouri, the middle of the country. I’m not a quarterback from California. I’m not a quarterback from Texas. I’m not a quarterback from Florida. I went to the University of Missouri. I feel like I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder, and that’s going to drive me for the rest of my career.”
Lock said it’s important for a quarterback to take a broader view beyond the pick at which he is chosen.
“Sure, we want to go as high as we can,” he said. “But we also want to play in the league as long as we can. . . . That’s what I’m looking for — just the best fit for me to be able to stay in the league as long as I can.”
The quarterbacks’ games — and, in some cases, their lives — will continue to be picked apart until the draft arrives. But once it does, quarterback-needy teams clamor for whoever’s available, and quarterbacks seem to move up draft boards more often than they fall.
“We all know it’s a quarterback-driven league and you have to have certain pieces in place to move a team forward,” Dorsey said in Indianapolis. “It just so happens to be the quarterback position. You first and foremost have to get that position right regardless of if it’s a trade or the draft or unrestricted free agency. You build your team around that. . . . A team is basically 53 players, not one person. But that one person is very important.”
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