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2018 NFL Draft: College quarterback watchlist

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2018 may be “The Year of the Quarterback” if these players enter the draft.

This is rare for a Buffalo Bills team that usually peddles hopes and dreams that fall apart at an inopportune time in the future, like the operator of a carnival game who hands you a toy that breaks on the car ride home. But enthusiasm for the upcoming season took a significant nosedive when the Bills management chose to trade Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby for packages of picks and lesser players, a move with the optics of a team planning for the future. Fans are already conjuring visions of The Tank, still remembering the herculean efforts by the Sabres to land a McEichel. Tyrod Taylor’s position in Buffalo has never looked permanent, and it would be shortsighted to put any stock in fifth round rookie Nathan Peterman to develop into the team’s franchise quarterback.

With six top-100 picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, the Bills are as well-positioned as ever to cash in on a talented passer. Luckily, the early projections for the upcoming class have scouts optimistic about the available crop. While a large segment of the group will be underclassmen, it still holds a wide spectrum of talent. These are the quarterbacks to watch if you want to know who the Bills might select in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Sam Darnold, redshirt sophomore, USC

6’4” 225 lbs (listed)

2016 statistics: 246-of-366 (67.2 percent) for 3086 yards, 30 TDs, 9 INTs.

Darnold has been anointed as the top option for 2018’s draft, though it should be noted that, as a redshirt sophomore, he has no urgent need to declare his eligibility. With only a year under his belt, there’s a laundry list of skills Darnold could improve - his throwing windup, which is loopy and brings the ball to chest height, his deep accuracy - but his talent is visible on tape. Darnold is very quick to recognize a throwing window developing, and he can throw passes with good timing. He also has a great knack for ball fakes and other ways to freeze defenders.

Josh Allen, junior, Wyoming

6’5” 233 lbs (listed)

2016 statistics: 209-of-373 (56.0 percent) for 3203 yards, 28 TDs, 15 INTs. Added 523 rushing yards and 7 TDs.

A massive, strong-armed quarterback with an injury history from a small school in the midwest, Allen is following in the footsteps of Carson Wentz before him. Allen has a rocket arm on par with Cardale Jones and Jay Cutler, and while he can fit the ball into pinpoint windows on the run, he also has trouble reining it in to accurately deliver touch passes. He has yet to meet the completion percentage baseline of 60 in his college career.

Allen needs to develop a better process when pressured. His feet break down and he often tries to flee the pocket to the sides or rear before throwing passes into dangerous zones of the field. Nebraska essentially broke him in 2016 by manipulating his reactions to pressure. In terms of raw talent, Allen probably sits atop the potential draftees of 2018, but he’s among the riskiest today.

Josh Rosen, junior, UCLA

6’4” 218 lbs (listed)

2016 statistics: (Missed six games due to injury) 137-of-231 (59.3 percent) for 1915 yards, 10 TDs, 5 INTs.

Josh Rosen has the best throwing mechanics of any quarterback on this list, which allows him to sling the ball, with accuracy, all over the field. Mentally he’s already very advanced, going through his progressions and manipulating safeties at an NFL caliber level. However, when pressured, he is unbelievably careless with the football. He also missed half of his sophomore season with a shoulder injury. An outspoken player, Rosen may rub some NFL executives the wrong way. He recently made headlines after commenting on the difficulty of mixing school with NCAA football commitments in this Bleacher Report interview. If teams can accept his advocacy, Rosen has the talent to be a top-five pick.

Mason Rudolph, senior, Oklahoma State

6’5” 230 lbs (listed)

2016 statistics: 284-of-448 (63.4 percent) for 4091 yards, 28 TDs, 4 INTs.

Underclassmen dominate this list, but the senior Mason Rudolph has improved statistically every year he’s been at Oklahoma State. Statistics aren’t everything, however, as the tape reveals a quarterback who, all too often, locks-on to his first read and delivers the ball regardless of coverage. While he can adjust the velocity of his throws as needed, he just doesn’t deliver the ball with enough zip on short and intermediate throws. His downfield accuracy is a plus, but there are several areas Rudolph will need to improve before he can be considered a top quarterback.

Baker Mayfield, redshirt senior, Oklahoma

6’1” 220 lbs (listed)

2016 statistics: 254-of-358 (70.9 percent) for 3965 yards, 40 TDs, 8 INTs.

Mayfield, who’s likely to measure in closer to six-foot-even ahead of the draft, was one of the most productive passers in college football last year - including a stunning 11.1 yards-per-attempt across the whole season. There’s an argument to be made that he’s been the beneficiary of an ultra-talented supporting cast while at Oklahoma. Sterling Shepard, Dede Westbrook, Joe Mixon, and Samaje Perine all were picked in the first four rounds of the NFL draft. Mayfield’s aggressive, improvisational style will remind people of Johnny Manziel - the good and the bad. Always looking for a positive play, Mayfield is a major challenge to take down in the pocket. But by extending the play and not trusting his initial reads, he can miss windows for success.

Lamar Jackson, junior, Louisville

6’3” 211 lbs (listed)

2016 statistics: 230-of-409 (56.2 percent) for 3543 yards, 30 TDs, 9 INTs. Added 1571 rushing yards and 21 TDs.

Jackson is the reigning Heisman winner, and the sky is the limit for his 2017 production. He’s a dual-threat quarterback, which usually carries a connotation of “Jack of all trades, master of none”. But in this case, Jackson is just all-around good. With a powerful arm that can aim deep throws with touch, and his electric combination of speed and agility, Jackson is the new model Michael Vick. At the moment, mechanical inconsistency is a problem with Jackson’s passing, and he’s susceptible to drive-killing plays when he tries to do too much to make a negative situation into a positive. He’ll be working with some pro concepts in Bobby Petrino’s offense this year to demonstrate his bona fides to NFL scouts.

Jarrett Stidham, redshirt sophomore, Auburn

6’3” 214 lbs (listed)

2015* statistics: 75-of-109 (68.8 percent) for 1,265 yards, 12 TDs, 2 INTs.

*Stidham sat out the 2016 season under NCAA transfer rules

A transfer from Baylor to escape from the program’s scandal, Jarret Stidham has not played since 2015, and as such, is a bit of a mystery. However, his freshman year was damn impressive, and if he can play well in 2017 his draft stock will skyrocket. Even though Auburn runs a somewhat “simple” spread offense, it requires quickly going through reads and delivering accurate throws. Stidham demonstrated both of those qualities at Baylor. However, too often he was operating from a perfectly clean pocket. Stidham needs to show that he can stay put in a messy pocket and still deliver the ball.

Nick Fitzgerald, junior, Mississippi State

6’5” 230 lbs (listed)

2016 statistics: 196-of-361 (54.3 percent) for 2423 yards, 21 TDs, 10 INTs. Added 1375 rushing yards and 16 TDs.

Nick Fitzgerald followed Dak Prescott as Mississippi State’s starting quarterback and possesses many of the strengths and weaknesses as a passer that Prescott had coming out. Along with his ideal size, he flashes decent accuracy at all levels of the field and has the arm strength to make every throw. He’s also a serious threat running the ball. This year, Fitzgerald needs to show improved anticipation, pocket presence and more consistent mechanics when passing on the run.

Quinton Flowers, senior, South Florida

6’0” 210 lbs (listed)

2016 statistics: 207-of-331 (62.5 percent) for 2812 yards, 24 TDs, 7 INTs. Added 1530 rushing yards and 18 TDs.

Quinton Flowers is the best dual-threat quarterback this side of Lamar Jackson. Besides his elite running ability, Flowers sports surprisingly good down field accuracy. However, he has several flaws that will hold him back, including his elongated windup and lack of ideal measurables. He’s the type of player who, if he improves his passing ability, has a chance to sneak into the middle rounds similarly to Josh Dobbs last year.

Luke Falk, redshirt senior, Washington State

6’4” 223 lbs (listed)

2016 statistics: 443-of-633 (70.0 percent) for 4468 yards, 38 TDs, 11 INTs.

Falk is the prototypical Washington State quarterback - a walk-on, redshirt, with a nice arm and the ability to pass a boatload of times in Mike Leach’s spread offense. His throwing mechanics are already pretty good, with light feet in the pocket and a clean overhand delivery. In terms of ball placement, Falk does a good job of accurately delivering passes to his receivers, and he has the arm strength to hit more challenging throws on the sidelines. His decision-making is an issue, though, where he can become blind to coverage when pressured, and he’ll often take checkdown options that yield nothing on third and fourth down. Also, playing in an Air Raid system, he’ll deal with questions about his ability to transition to the pro game.