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 ESPN Insider: An early look at a stacked 2018 NFL quarterback class

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PostSubject: ESPN Insider: An early look at a stacked 2018 NFL quarterback class   Mon May 29, 2017 10:45 am

An early look at a stacked 2018 NFL quarterback class

Todd McShay's mock draft is out, and two things are clear: It's never too early to look ahead, and the quarterback class is deep. (1:01)
May 22, 2017

Matt BowenESPN Staff Writer

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On paper, the projected 2018 QB class is rich with first-round talent and upside. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. went heavy at the position in his early Big Board, while Todd McShay had three quarterbacks at the top of his mock draft.

Today, let's take an early glance at four of the top draft-eligible QBs in the class: USC's Sam Darnold, Wyoming's Josh Allen, UCLA's Josh Rosen and Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph. Here's what they've shown thus far and what I'm looking for in 2018 that will allow these QB prospects to maximize their draft stock.
Sam Darnold, USC

Redshirt sophomore (10 starts)
What I've seen so far

1. He slings the ball. Even with a long release that could be tweaked by pro coaches, Darnold (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) gets the ball out with speed and he's accurate in the USC system. He has the necessary arm strength to drive the ball into tight windows and the ability to anticipate throwing lanes. Darnold sliced up opposing defenses in the short-to-intermediate passing game with throws like the one below versus Cal. Off the sprint action, Darnold delivers a great ball into the boundary. That's exactly what coaches want to see.

#USC tape -- Another good ball from QB Sam Darnold. Sprint-out. Hit the deep corner route. pic.twitter.com/YyUIaqis8k

— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) May 16, 2017

2. He reads the entire field. You'll see plenty of spread concepts in USC's system, but Darnold also goes through full-field reads in this offense. With quick feet in the pocket and the ability to manage pressure, Darnold will keep his eyes up the field, come backside to hit intermediate cuts or find an underneath target to unload the ball. For a young quarterback with limited starting experience, Darnold shows impressive field vision. And that's going to translate immediately to an NFL playbook.

3. He shows big-game ability. I love Darnold's Rose Bowl tape because we got a chance to see how the Trojans QB responded to being down late on a big stage versus a quality Penn State team. These situations are ones where you really want to focus on the QB position to see how they manage the game. Darnold aced the test with throws like the one below to even the score late. This is a Cover 2 look from Penn State. Darnold shows patience in the pocket and then drops an absolute dime down the middle of the field. Great touch and anticipation to find the window. There's no panic in the redshirt freshman here. Go make a play.

#USC QB Sam Darnold -- Rose Bowl film. 4th QTR. Down by 7...Check out this throw vs. Cover 2. pic.twitter.com/k9CuVbvWuU

— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) May 4, 2017

What I'm looking for in 2018

Darnold is surgical in the short-to-intermediate route tree, but I want to see him take more calculated risks and show better ball placement on deep throws. That's one area where Darnold's lack of experience showed. More than anything, we need to see more snaps with the quarterback. He has started just 10 games, which isn't enough to put together a complete scouting report. With another solid season as a starter, Darnold could be the top QB in this class. He has the traits and a pro-style skill set to make the jump to the pro stage.
Josh Allen, Wyoming

Junior (14 starts)
What I've seen so far

1. He has upper-tier arm talent. At 6-foot-5, 222 pounds, Allen has ridiculous arm strength, and he can launch the ball from multiple platforms. Take a look at how he rips the throw versus San Diego State below. This safety can forget about creating an angle to that throw from a deep half alignment. There's just too much heat on this ball. The Wyoming QB is ultra-aggressive and that gets him in trouble at times. He plays with a gunslinger mentality. Allen's arm strength allows him to challenge any coverage look in Wyoming's pro-style offense.

2. He can make off-schedule plays. Allen has the rare ability to create both inside and outside of the pocket. We saw it on this ridiculous touchdown pass versus Nebraska and you can check out another example of his playmaking ability in the video below. On this throw against Utah State, Allen is forced to escape pressure. That puts him in a position to step up in the pocket, work outside the edge and keep his eyes up the field. And the throw? Go back to the arm talent and the ability to push the ball down the field from an unstable platform. This is an absurd toss for six points. And it highlights the raw talent of the Wyoming QB.

#Wyoming QB Josh Allen -- Check out this throw (on the run). Escape pressure & make a play. pic.twitter.com/mrjyFpYS9J

— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) May 18, 2017

3. He has the athleticism to produce with his legs. Playing in the same offense that Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz ran back at North Dakota State, you will see some QB-designed runs. Allen can get downhill on QB counter and power schemes, plus he becomes a threat to opposing defenses when he pulls the ball down to scramble. Based on the tape, I would say that Allen is a high 4.6/low 4.7 guy. He can move. Here's a clip of Allen making a play with his legs in the red zone versus Eastern Michigan. With his immediate reads taken away, Allen tucks the ball and shows off that athletic ability when he goes airborne to get into the end zone.

What I'm looking for in 2018

Allen has more total upside than any QB in this class. But, as I said above, he's still very raw. And that's why we see some inconsistencies on his tape. Allen must improve his reads, cut down on negative plays/turnovers and work on his accuracy in the passing game. NFL coaches and scouts are going to fall in love with the deep set of tools he brings to the position. And I get that. But he still has room to develop and pack on some size to his linear frame.
Josh Rosen, UCLA

Junior (19 starts)
What I've seen so far

1. He can make the NFL throws. Rosen (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) has the arm strength and touch to make the tough throws in the route tree. Here's an example from Rosen's freshman tape on the deep out cut in the red zone versus Cal. Rosen is set in the pocket, keeps his feet moving and shows that clean, overhand release to drive the ball for the score. Miss on the placement here and it is trouble. Rosen has a high ceiling, showing the ability to throw a good deep ball and thread passes up the seam.

Going back through Josh Rosen's freshman tape...Read man-coverage & throw the out route. pic.twitter.com/QG6qF5R1Nt

— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) May 20, 2017

2. He will manipulate safeties. In the NFL, quarterbacks must move safeties with their eyes. With Rosen, we already see that on the tape (see video below). On this play against Stanford, Rosen removes the safety from the middle of the field by first looking to the backside of the formation before flipping his hips to target the seam. All that's left to do is rip this ball for the score. That's pro-level stuff.

#UCLA tape -- QB Josh Rosen ('15). 4 Verticals vs. 3-Deep. Look-off the FS & hit the inside seam. pic.twitter.com/E3dGa0fDMA

— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) May 17, 2017

3. He has natural ability as a dropback passer. Rosen has the mobility to extend plays, make throws outside of the pocket or pick up the sticks when he pulls the ball down. But pure dropback ability still sells in the NFL, and that's all over his tape, too. Put Rosen in a West Coast system in the pros and let him earn his money inside of the pocket.
What I'm looking for in 2018

I want to see the QB from the freshman tape, when he showed the confidence to make plays down the field. Rosen played in only six games last season as a sophomore and had shoulder surgery on his throwing arm. He needs to show better accuracy and improved footwork this season, while also cutting down on negative plays. Don't get me wrong: Rosen has loads of potential, but in 2018, I'll be watching to see if his arm still looks strong post-surgery and whether he has improved his consistency.
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

Senior (28 starts)
What I've seen so far

1. He has great touch on deep throws. Rudolph (6-5, 235) takes plenty of shots downfield in Oklahoma State's defense. And the Cowboys quarterback shows really good touch and placement when targeting the outside fade, deep seam or the post in the middle of the field (see example below). This is a secondary read from Rudolph. Feel the outside pressure, climb and keep the eyes up the field. That allows Rudolph to reset and deliver a very catchable ball on the deep post for a score versus Kansas State. Rudolph, at times, puts too much air under the ball on deeper routes, but his ability to make plays over the top of the secondary is a key part of his game.

QB Mason Rudolph -- Shows good touch on the deep ball. Step up & hit the post route. pic.twitter.com/0HlcoTGWxl

— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) May 20, 2017

2. He can push the ball outside of the numbers. Oklahoma State sees a lot of off-man coverage outside of the numbers, and Rudolph does a nice job of taking what the defense gives him. That translates into plenty of out cuts where he has to drive the ball (see example below). With Baylor playing a squat-man technique, Rudolph wants to target the deep out/comeback. This is a long throw from the opposite hash into the boundary, and the ball has to be on time or it's six the other way. Rudolph sets his feet and delivers a good ball. That's a big-boy throw.

Watching more Oklahoma State/QB Mason Rudolph tape -- Deep comeback into the boundary. Good ball here. pic.twitter.com/LVZoOosfGo

— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) May 20, 2017

3. He can beat pressure looks. Oklahoma State doesn't see a ton of blitzes, but when Rudolph does have to identify pressure and get the ball out, he is quick to find his hot reads: Throw the slant, target the hitch, attack outside with the fade, etc. Plus, with the size he brings inside of the pocket, Rudolph is going to stand in there and take a hit. Although Rudolph doesn't display quick-twitch movement skills, he has some thickness to his upper body and the frame pro coaches want.
What I'm looking for in 2018

Rudolph can be a tough study at times because of the Oklahoma State offense and the defensive looks he sees. Similar to watching tape on Bears first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky at North Carolina, the heavy play-action/RPO game plan creates open windows and targets. I would like to see Rudolph drive the ball more and attack tight throwing lanes in 2018. Although he lacks the upper-tier arm strength when compared to Allen, he has enough pop in his arm to challenge more defensive looks.
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