The humiliation just won’t stop. Bad situations keep getting worse for Rosen. In April, amid Kyler Murray euphoria, Arizona traded him one year after drafting him No. 10 overall. Then he lost the Miami starting quarterback job to journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick. If it all weren’t depressing enough, after entering the Dolphins’ debacle late in the third quarter, he showed why he is more project than savior at this stage of his NFL career.
Jackson, the fifth of five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2018 draft, is winning more (7-1 record as a starter) and seemingly growing faster than his counterparts. We’re just one game into their second season, but Jackson clearly has momentum. He was the only quarterback of the five to make the playoffs last season. And this past Sunday, he was the only standout performer.
Baker Mayfield, the former No. 1 overall pick, threw three interceptions as the much-hyped Cleveland Browns flopped against Tennessee. Sam Darnold, who was selected third, managed just 175 passing yards in 41 attempts, and the New York Jets lost, 17-16, to the Buffalo Bills. And while Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen (No. 7 pick) could bask in his team getting the better of his classmate’s squad, Allen had two picks and registered a pedestrian 71.2 passer rating.
So the quarterback taken with the 32nd and final pick of the first round, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner
whom some teams wanted to convert to a wide receiver, is the glowing one right now. It’s a wonderful story considering how easily so-called experts dismissed his pro potential and cast his 2018 success as the fleeting impact of a glorified running back. It’s also a story we have come to expect in today’s NFL: a fast-rising QB on a rookie deal influencing winning without occupying too much salary cap space.
But it doesn’t necessarily mean Jackson is destined to be the head of his class. If anything, the early ups and downs — and perceptions and realities — of this quarterback group serve to remind us that, while it’s easier now to make an accurate quarterback judgment on a short sample size, we’re still talking about extremely young players learning the most difficult position in team sports. The learning curve may not seem as dramatic anymore, but it still exists.
Over the past decade, spread concepts have slipped into NFL playbooks, and coaches have been more willing to adjust their offenses to their quarterbacks’ strengths. The position also is taught to youths at an advanced level much earlier. As a result, the breakthroughs have come quicker. But even the fast learners have struggles: Cam Newton’s issues with fame and consistency; Russell Wilson’s fight to lead a locker room of huge personalities; Carson Wentz’s injuries; Robert Griffin III’s complicated descent; Andrew Luck’s career-ending trauma.
The career trajectory is different, not easier. The expectation shouldn’t be Dak Prescott-like efficiency from the start, and even if a young quarterback accomplishes it, he shouldn’t be viewed as a finished product too soon. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again and again and again: Former NFL coach Mike Holmgren, a very successful QB tutor, didn’t make his definitive evaluation until a quarterback had started 40 games. That’s 2½ seasons of information.
For the 2018 class, the players are just at the start of Year 2, and none of them started all 16 games as rookies. So there’s still plenty of time. And plenty left to prove.
There seems to be something special about Jackson that goes beyond stats. During the pre-draft process, he was criticized for many silly things, including not always being expansive in his answers during interviews. Some thought that meant he lacked presence. Some went after his intelligence. But since he earned the starting job in Baltimore, his smarts have been evident, and there’s no doubt that he can command the locker room in his own mellow style. There’s a normal-guy quality to Jackson off the field, which makes his athletic feats even more tantalizing. He’s real. He’s not pretending to be anybody. He knows that he’s enough, and in addition to this confidence, he’s putting in the work to evolve as a passer and all-around playmaker.
But there’s also a novelty to Jackson that could wear off. Or by continuing to diversify his game, he just might stay ahead of the competition’s bid to figure him out. That’s the question with him: What happens when the NFL adjusts? The answer will arrive in his 40-game developmental period.
In a different way, Mayfield has flashed transcendent talent with his anticipation ability and audacity to make any throw. By the end of last season, he looked like the league’s next great quarterback. While he committed too many turnovers in Week 1 of his second season, Mayfield shouldn’t be dismissed. He will have games like that because he’s so aggressive. The greater concern is that Cleveland, with its improved, star-laden roster and enormous expectations, could be putting too much on his shoulders too soon.
Time will tell. No one likes to hear that, but it’s true. There is only one Patrick Mahomes, and he benefited from both Kansas City’s extraordinary offensive talent and from having to sit and watch Alex Smith as a rookie. Mahomes’s statistics are so outrageous that he would be a star even with regression. He is an outlier, but he’s still an unfinished product at the beginning of his second season as a starter.
In today’s game, the highs and lows of a young quarterback seem more telling than they once did. In reality, it’s just data, just process. They all must go through it. They all must get through it.
Jackson didn’t become a bona fide superstar Sunday. Rosen didn’t become an absolute bust, either. Love what you see in Jackson; hate what you see in Rosen. Then keep looking because, even though fast-blooming quarterbacks are in style right now, old-fashioned methodical development remains essential.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.