2018 was the vaunted “year of the quarterback,” with the Buffalo Bills and four other teams selecting passers in the first round of the NFL Draft. Not every draft prognostication pans out in the end, so how did that claim hold up in year one? These quarterbacks were supposed to be a special batch of talents, and their first NFL exposure did not disappoint. We saw explosive runs, wonderful deep passes, and surgical precision. How did Josh Allen compare with his contemporaries? Let’s dive into the performances.
14 games (13 starts)
310/486 (63.8%) passing, 3725 yards, 27 TDs, 14 INTs, 25 sacks, 6.95 NY/A
39 carries, 131 yards (3.4 YPC), 7 fumbles
Any way you examine it, the first overall pick was clearly the best rookie quarterback playing in the NFL this year. His arm talent was evident, he was reading defenses at a more advanced level than his peers, and his competitive fire created seven wins for the Cleveland Browns, who had only managed one the previous two seasons combined.
What’s more impressive is that Mayfield improved dramatically after Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired. Working with Freddie Kitchens really showed what he could handle in the NFL. In eight games away from Jackson, Mayfield threw 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions and only took five sacks.
Moving into year two, Mayfield might have a new coaching staff around him, but if they’re compatible with his fiery personality and style of pocket passing, the sky’s the limit.
13 games (13 starts)
239/414 (57.7%) passing, 2865 yards, 17 TDs, 15 INTs, 30 sacks, 5.99 NY/A
44 carries, 138 yards, (3.1 YPC), 1 TD, 5 fumbles
Darnold had an uneven, but generally positive season—showing off his talent for escaping pressure and finding success outside the structure of a play. An injury sidelined him for three games, but Darnold returned with a hot streak, throwing six touchdowns against a single interception in the final four games of the year. He showed a particularly strong connection with fellow rookie Chris Herndon; the tight end notched 39 catches for 502 yards and four touchdowns in his first season.
After four seasons, head coach Todd Bowles was fired, so the New York Jets are looking around for a coach who can continue Darnold’s development. In year two, Darnold needs to continue building a rapport with his receivers while cutting down on the dumb mistakes that lead to interceptions. For now, signs are positive in the Meadowlands.
12 games (11 starts)
169/320 (52.8%) passing, 2074 yards, 10 TDs, 12 INTs, 28 sacks, 5.35 NY/A
89 carries, 631 yards (7.1 YPC), 8 TDs, 8 fumbles
Allen’s season was marked by the elbow injury that forced him to miss six weeks of the season. When he returned, Allen scored 13 of his 18 total touchdowns. Forced into a starting role thanks to Nate Peterman’s performance, Allen showed occasional flashes of talent interspersed with stretches of missed reads and inaccurate passes. After a break, the game slowed down for Allen, who began to connect with rookie Robert Foster downfield, while taking apart defenses with his legs.
Allen’s first NFL season showed that his physical talent is no lie, and he improved his mechanics dramatically from his college days, but going into year two, he needs to continue maturing as an NFL passer (and receive a stronger supporting cast) if he’s going to become the Cam Newton that Brandon Beane envisioned.
14 games (13 starts)
217/393 (55.2%) passing, 2278 yards, 11 TDs, 14 INTs, 45 sacks, 4.47 NY/A
23 carries, 138 yards (6.0 YPC), 10 fumbles
No rookie passer suffered as much as Rosen. The Arizona Cardinals quarterback had his offensive coordinator fired mid-season, replaced by a first-time play caller. His head coach did such a poor job that he was fired after a single season. His best receivers were a 35-year-old Larry Fitzgerald and a rookie who tore his ACL mid-season. Finally, his offensive line was a disaster, making him the most-sacked rookie quarterback.
Rosen hung in there, avoiding a disaster season like we’ve seen from players such as DeShone Kizer and Nathan Peterman, but still finished with the worst performance of the top five rookie quarterbacks. Arizona had the worst offense in the NFL and one of the worst offenses in the last decade. Heading into year two, he needs support from a new coaching staff and player additions to help him right the course and deliver on the potential that made him the top recruit out of high school.
16 games (7 starts)
99/170 (58.2%) passing, 1201 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs, 16 sacks, 6.08 NY/A
147 carries, 695 yards (4.7 YPC), 5 TDs, 12 fumbles
14/29 (48.3%) passing, 194 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 7 sacks (3.86 NY/A)
9 carries, 54 yards (6.0 YPC), 3 fumbles
As you might imagine, Jackson was considered the least-developed quarterback selected in the first round of the draft. Early in the season, the Baltimore Ravens worked him onto the field as a change-up, with direct snaps and reverses meant to use his speed while keeping Joe Flacco as the primary passer. That changed when Flacco suffered a hip injury mid-season.
The Ravens eased Jackson into quarterbacking with an extremely run-heavy game plan, and he finished with nearly as many carries as pass attempts. Thanks to those designed carries, Jackson finished with the most rushing yards among quarterbacks this year, and he nearly led his team in rushing. Jackson struggled to decisively locate passing targets and only threw six touchdowns in the regular season, but did oversee a 6-1 season finish that made him the only rookie quarterback to qualify for the playoffs. His loss to the Los Angeles Chargers was an ugly day for three quarters. Jackson started a comeback with some nifty pocket movement and downfield passing, but a lost fumble ended that campaign.
Jackson looks to have the helm moving forward, but still must improve his throwing mechanics and field reading to maximize his physical talents.