How do NFL executives, scouts and coaches rank the quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft?
No two boards are going to be the same, especially in a class as muddled at the top as this one. But here's my best effort at a composite for the league, based on recent conversations with officials from 15 teams, all speaking on the condition of anonymity for competitive reasons and to provide a blunt assessment.
School: USC | Year: Sophomore (RS)
Just as he was when the process started, Darnold is widely considered to be the safest bet with the highest floor. The only debate now seems to be, how high is his ceiling? "I don't think he's an elite player," said an offensive coordinator who has studied Darnold. "Adequate arm strength. Adequate accuracy. Good mobility. Great kid. Great traits. But this isn't like Andrew Luck. This isn't Peyton Manning." In other words, Darnold (6-foot-3, 221 pounds) wouldn't be the No. 1 QB in some other classes, and he's not the clear-cut, can't-miss choice here, either. "He doesn't have the arm of Josh Allen. He doesn't have the quick, tight release of (Josh) Rosen. He's not a fiery competitor like (Baker) Mayfield," an NFC personnel director said. "He's just solid across the board, and when a play needs to be made, he can step up and make the play." As I wrote before the NFL Scouting Combine, Darnold is regarded as tough, competitive, instinctive, humble, hard-working and at his best in big moments. The discussion continues to be about Darnold's decision-making (36 turnovers in 27 college games), elongated throwing motion and flat-line personality -- an even-keel nature players and coaches at USC loved, but may take a bit to grow on pro teammates. Darnold, 20, still has a lot to learn about offense. "He's totally capable," an NFC scout said. "The offensive coordinator and every coach [at USC] is like, 'This guy's super smart.' " If the debate for the Browns at No. 1 overall is Darnold vs. Allen, consider this assessment from a rival quarterbacks coach who watched their respective pro day throwing sessions, structured similarly by mutual mentor Jordan Palmer. "If you watch them both, I think it's obvious how much better an athlete Darnold is than Josh Allen," the QBs coach said. "I'm not talking about times or anything. I'm just talking about his ability to move quickly, to adjust, the movement drills that they did with him. Josh Allen lumbers a little bit and Darnold does a great job of moving around. I think Darnold's ceiling is very high because I think he's a really good athlete for a bigger guy."
School: Wyoming | Year: Junior (RS)
Before the combine, an NFC executive offered a prediction for how the pre-draft process would play out for Allen: "If you liked the tape, you'll love him from this point forward. If you didn't like the tape, you're going to like him in spite of it." That seems to be exactly what happened, to the point that the rest of the league believes the Browns really might take Allen with the No. 1 overall pick. How would new Cleveland GM John Dorsey justify that? "I think just the upside," an NFC personnel director said. "He's got a big, strong frame. He's got a big arm. He's competitive. He's tough. And he is not a polished passer at all. His accuracy is very inconsistent -- it's well-documented. But I think Dorsey kind of likes the tough, gunslinger type of quarterback." Of course, the downside on Allen is greater, too. There were a lot of factors that went into the 56.2 percent completion rate over his college career, but it's a concerning number no matter how you slice it -- and it shows up on tape. "You're not going to fix that in 10 weeks or two years," an offensive coordinator said. "If you're not accurate, you're not accurate. There's an element of processing and anticipation that I think he lacks. But I think he's got a big arm and somebody's going to over-draft the guy because of that." Allen isn't strictly a product of impressive workouts, though. I remember one executive telling me in September that this guy at Wyoming is the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck. (That exec predicted again this past weekend that Allen goes No. 1.) Another scout who has studied Allen closely offered a comp to Dan Marino -- if Allen keeps improving mechanically. "You're talking about a kid who's got a rocket arm who's more mobile than they give him credit for," the scout said, "and if he fixes the feet, the accuracy is going to come -- 100 percent, it'll come." Allen's medical was another question heading into the combine, given two past collarbone breaks and shoulder issues last year, but sources say his physical there raised no major red flags. He presented himself well in interviews, too. "He's the top guy in my mind," an AFC scout said. "He's a stud."
School: UCLA | Year: Junior
Rosen's interviews confirmed his intelligence -- smarts that some compare to Peyton Manning's. The consensus, though not unanimous, remains that he's the most talented passer in the draft. As one scout who has done a lot of work on Rosen texted me Monday night, the Browns "need to do extreme due diligence to make sure he's not the one." No, Rosen won't be a personality fit for every team, and I found it telling in asking around that scouts seem higher on him than coaches. "To me, he's Jay Cutler and Jeff George. I just can't get past that in my head," a quarterbacks coach said. "I think he's going to do whatever he wants to do. I don't think he's going to listen to anybody. He always thinks he has the better answer, has the better way. Yeah, his film is really good. I just don't think he's going to mesh well with your team and do the things that you want him to do." Compare that to this assessment from one executive with a strong college scouting background who spent time with Rosen: "Smart. Mature. He was different than I expected him to be. I was really impressed with him. I think he has the makeup to be a good pro. He needs to be in the right situation with the right coach, the right team, because he'll ask a ton of questions." Some will take that dichotomy to mean coaches are insecure and sensitive about being challenged. Or maybe, as the QB coach countered, it's simply not conducive to success for a player at a leadership position to act like the smartest guy in the room. Several team officials mentioned former UCLA coach Jim Mora's comments that Rosen "needs to be challenged intellectually so he doesn't get bored" as a red flag. "The thing that bothers me with him is the concept that football's not the priority," an offensive coordinator said. "That drives me nuts. Because that's like taking somebody that you're going to bank your next 12 to 15 years on, and also at the same time, you're going to have to convince that guy that football's the most important thing in his life." Said the first scout: "Talent-wise, he should go No. 1. But at that position, you've got to be a real guy and you've got to be humble and do all the right stuff, and yeah, I think he's learning how to do that. And I think he's smart enough to figure that out."
School: Oklahoma | Year: Senior (RS)
In a way, Mayfield is the least complicated evaluation of the top four. What you see is what you get. He's certainly not getting any taller, so either you can stomach drafting a quarterback who's 6-feet and 5/8 this high, or you can't. "He's fun to watch," an NFC GM said. "I saw him play live, and he's got all the charisma and leadership and he loves playing the game. And I don't think you have to worry about him off the field." Mayfield hasn't exactly been flawless in the interview process -- see: Chargers GM Tom Telesco's biting response to Mayfield's admission that he didn't spend enough time on that team's playbook -- but the reviews scouts got starting in the fall from coaches, teammates and others at OU were glowing. "To me, there's never been any issue with accountability on this guy," an NFC scout said. "That's why he's different than some of those guys, like a (Johnny) Manziel. Baker ain't that guy. He's going to be there. He's going to work. He's going to try to find a way." Mayfield is an edgy, fiery guy that everyone knew would rub some people the wrong way in interviews. It's part of his makeup. Again, you can deal with that (and some of the issues that crop up because of it) or you can't. There are plenty of recent examples of shorter QBs winning games -- Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Case Keenum, Tyrod Taylor -- but none of those guys were first-round picks. (Brees was the first pick of Round 2 in 2001.) Multiple scouts questioned the wisdom of drafting a smaller quarterback with 9 and 1/4-inch hands (smallest of the top four QBs) if you play in a northern climate, where weather is more likely to be a factor on game day. And Mayfield isn't the athlete Wilson was coming out. "[Mayfield] scares me a little bit, to be honest with you," an offensive coordinator said. "I would not feel comfortable drafting him in the first half of Round 1. I don't even know if I'd feel comfortable with him in Round 2." Mayfield's fans point out he's accurate and has good arm talent for his size. "I think he's got eyes in the back of his head," an NFC executive said. "He's highly instinctive. He's a playmaker."
School: Louisville | Year: Junior
More and more, it sounds like Jackson will be one of the 32 players drafted in Round 1 on Thursday night -- at his normal position. "Does he end up making the move [to receiver] someday? Maybe he does," an AFC executive said. "But there's enough throwing ability that I think a team is going to draft the guy as a quarterback." Jackson has plenty of arm strength and a quick release. He'll make some incredible passes. But inconsistent accuracy remains a central concern for those who still aren't buying in. "He's an awesome athlete. He will not be able to play (quarterback) in this league, mark my words," an offensive coordinator said. "When he throws, he hopes." As another OC pointed out, the challenge for whatever team lands Jackson will be striking the right balance for a rare runner whose 6-2, 200-pound frame isn't one you want to expose to 30-some hits a game. I wrote before the combine that scouts saw a lot of one-read-and-go in Jackson's game on tape, and the word out of the school was that Jackson was a little further away than some other QBs in terms of Xs and Os, so teams were certain to challenge him (like Darnold and Mason Rudolph, among others) on the board during interviews. NFL teams always want to figure out how much football a guy knows before anointing him at the most important position. "Lamar's got good aptitude. He just wasn't given that responsibility," said the second OC, who has spent time with Jackson. "There's a difference between a guy who can't do it and a guy who never was asked to do it, but can learn. He can learn." Said a quarterbacks coach who met with Jackson: "They had a progression-based offense. You can see it. But then, when you talk to him, he can't verbalize it for you. If you've got him really honed in on a game plan, I think he'd be able to do whatever you need to do. He has experience with real route concepts and making reads. You see him make good decisions. He throws the ball fine. I think accuracy is more of an issue for Josh Allen than it is for Lamar. He's a freak. He's the best athlete on the field every game he plays."
School: Oklahoma State | Year: Senior
Could he get pushed up into the first round? Sure, it only takes one team to do it. Some say they'd take Rudolph over Jackson. But I have a hard time projecting Rudolph to go too high, considering how many coaches and scouts have told me they have him graded as a backup. "He's big (6-5, 235). He's got good size. He's done some good things," an AFC coach said. "There's an element of arm strength that's a little frustrating with him. He can throw it deep, but intermediate arm strength -- when he has to put a lot of zip on it -- he sometimes struggles there. He might be the guy who's close to already being what he's going to be, and then, how good is it? Does he ever get to be more than a bottom-end No. 1?" Rudolph put up impressive numbers (92 career touchdowns at Oklahoma State) and has more starting experience than any of the top QBs in the draft besides Mayfield. But everyone who has watched the tape remarks about how often he's throwing to wide-open receivers in the Cowboys' remedial offense. Rudolph's athletic ability is another issue. One quarterbacks coach described Rudolph as "really heavy-footed." His football IQ and intangibles draw mixed reviews, too. Several people who interviewed Rudolph told me they found it hard to warm up to him as a personality and a leader. "I wouldn't touch him until like the fourth round," an AFC scout said. "He's just got a long way to go."
School: Richmond | Year: Senior (RS)
An excellent week at the Senior Bowl propelled Lauletta into Day 2 consideration, though some feel the hype has gone too far. "Everyone thinks he's the next (Jimmy) Garoppolo, which he's not, but he's a pretty good player," an NFC executive said. "He's accurate. He doesn't have a great arm, but he's a decent athlete." So what do teams like? "Just the competitor," an NFC personnel director said. "He's one of those guys that's not great in anything. To me, I think he's a good backup quarterback. He moves around well enough, throws it well enough. I don't see him being the starter."
School: Washington State | Year: Senior (RS)
Scouts rave about Falk's makeup and don't put all the blame on the Pac-12's all-time leading passer for how his senior year unfolded, including a benching in a loss to Arizona. But there are concerns, starting with Falk's arm, which scouts and coaches consider average to below. "I'm a huge fan of his," a college scouting director said. "But the season didn't really come off like he wanted, so if you like him, you take him off of '16 stuff. There's a lot to the kid. I think he's a winner, I think he's tough. He dealt with a lot of BS from the coaching staff." One offensive coordinator said he liked Falk much more on tape than in pre-draft workouts. Mobility is an issue for some, too. "The athlete's bad, but he's got enough feel in the pocket," an NFC scout said. "His arm's average, but he's a survivor. He could be a 10-, 12-, 15-year backup. He could start games. He's going to have a nice career."
School: Western Kentucky | Year: Senior (RS)
Some scouts push White up into that Day 2 group, thanks to superior size (6-5, 224), arm strength and overall measurables compared with some others likely to be drafted in this range. Others don't, however, with mobility a primary concern. "Real accurate," an NFC executive said. "He can't move a lick." Said an AFC scout who has studied White closely: "These rookies, when they come in, if they're not great athletes -- I thought he was just a guy. I didn't see a guy that's going to start in the league."
School: Toledo | Year: Senior (RS)
His natural throwing ability and productivity are intriguing to coaches. The biggest knock on Woodside is his size (6-1, 213). " Logan Woodside threw 45 touchdown [passes] as a junior at Toledo. He's got good arm strength, good athleticism," a quarterbacks coach said. "If he were 6-4, he'd be a second-round pick, or maybe even a late-first. He had a much better college career than Josh Allen did." Finishing stronger could've helped Woodside, who struggled in the Rockets' bowl game and seemed uncomfortable under center in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl showcase. But he has risen through other portions of the pre-draft process. "He's not going to overcome the fact that he's [undersized]," an AFC scout said. "Obviously, some teams are OK with that. Denver just signed Case Keenum -- same type of guy. I think there's something to him."
School: Virginia | Year: Senior (RS)
He put himself on the radar with an impressive throwing session at the combine, but he still projects as a backup type. "He's a pretty tough kid," an AFC scout said. "He's got his warts, that's for sure. But I kind of like some things he does." Some teams also worry about the medical with Benkert, who had shoulder and knee injuries in college.
School: Memphis | Year: Senior (RS)
There's a lot here for teams to dig into, from why Ferguson left Tennessee abruptly before his redshirt freshman season to the time he spent away from football after leaving Knoxville. But coaches at Memphis loved him, he finished first in his class for his major and he does have some intriguing traits. "He's a good athlete. He's got a live arm. Really productive," an AFC scout said. "I could see someone taking a shot on him on the third day. He's got some gamer to him." One concern: Ferguson's ability to avoid and take hits on his 6-3, 212-pound frame. Pocket presence was an issue in college. He had some struggles at the East-West Shrine Game, too. "I thought he did a pretty good job of finding second, third options and I thought his accuracy was pretty good this year," an NFC scout said. "I think he's got ability to play in the NFL. There's no doubt about that. It's just, how much do you want to work with the guy, and what's his true commitment to this thing?"
School: Nebraska | Year: Junior (RS)
Lee has the size (6-4, 218) and can really spin the football, but turnovers have been a major issue -- 37 interceptions in 31 college games, including 16 in his lone season at Nebraska. "He has the tools. He can throw. But he can't process, he telegraphs," an NFC executive said. Lee's struggles continued at the Senior Bowl. "Obviously, he's talented, but you saw every bit of the bad in Mobile," an AFC scout said. "You make as many excuses as you want as far as how poor the (Nebraska) offensive line was, how tough an offense it is to learn -- he still made some boneheaded decisions and tried to force some balls. Outstanding character kid, but obviously there's a hole somewhere."
School: South Florida | Year: Senior
It's possible a team might give Flowers a shot at QB. But if he's drafted, it's probably with plans to make him a running back -- a position he's worked out at for teams at the combine and in pre-draft workouts. "I just struggle with his accuracy as a passer," an NFC scout said. "Not a real big guy (5-10, 214), all that. But I think he's a great runner. He's instinctive, he's got some twitch, he's got some burst and explosion to him. And he's tough, man. He runs through people."
School: Ohio State | Year: Senior (RS)
His makeup is the biggest selling point after an uneven college career. "Barrett's played a lot of football, and he might get drafted because he's such a good leader and competitor and stuff," an NFC personnel director said. "He's just not a good enough passer, but you love the kid." Said another NFC executive: "He's a good free agent. He'll do good in the preseason. A real charismatic guy. He just can't throw it good enough."
School: Houston | Year: Junior (RS)
A five-star recruit coming out of high school, Allen split time at Texas A&M, transferred, sat out a year, got benched three games into his lone season at Houston -- and declared for the draft anyway. That history is a red flag for teams, no matter how talented Allen is. One offensive coordinator said he'd be shocked if Allen is drafted because "he hasn't had success wherever he's gone." Said a GM: "Someone will sign him as a PFA to see if they can give him a shot."
School: Holy Cross | Year: Senior (RS)
Small-school wild card whose accuracy (completed 55.3 percent of his passes as a senior in 2017) is a concern. "Really smart. You know the guy's tough, competitive, he's got some fire to him. I just don't know that he's good enough," an NFC personnel director said. "He was at the NFLPA game and he had a rough week."
Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero.