Friday Five: Ranking the top 2018 NFL Draft quarterback prospects


Every Friday, the Friday Five will rank something in the world of college football -- anything and everything from the logical to the illogical. This week, we rank the five quarterbacks who will be receiving the most draft buzz at this time next year.

With so much hype leading up to the NFL Draft, there’s been a lot of talk about the quarterback class that’s available. This is nothing new. The quarterback is the most important position in football, both on the professional and college levels. A great quarterback can make an average team great, while a bad one can make a good team average. 

The narrative around the 2017 quarterback class, however, has not been a positive one. In fact, ask just about anybody who specializes in such a thing, and invariably they’ll tell you that the class is weak. It’s a statement that could be confusing to a college football fan because it’s a class that includes Deshaun Watson. The same Deshaun Watson who just finished a spectacular college career by leading Clemson past Alabama in a title game for the ages.

But we must remember that what works on the college level doesn’t always work in the NFL. When NFL teams look at quarterbacks they tend to want to project how he’ll develop on the NFL level. It’s important to remember that NFL offenses are both more complicated than what teams run on the college level, yet at the same time, a bit more vanilla.

Anyway, back to that NFL Draft Specialist I brought up earlier. After they told you about how weak the 2017 QB class is, they’ll follow it up by saying the 2018 class could be really special. Now, I have no idea how good any college quarterback is going to be in the NFL. If I did, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be working for some NFL team that was paying me a lot of money to get their hands on my special formula.

Still, I’m going to share my opinions on this anyway. In this week’s Friday Five, I’ve decided to rank the five college quarterbacks that will generate the most buzz at this time next year when the 2018 NFL Draft is approaching. Now, remember: this isn’t necessarily a list of the best college quarterbacks, but instead is a list of the QBs that NFL teams will be salivating over. 

We’ll start in the Pacific Northwest (and, spoiler alert, we won’t be spending a lot of time east of the Mississippi in this list).

5. Luke Falk, Washington State: I was torn between two names to put in this fifth slot. Falk obviously won out, but the other name was Penn State’s Trace McSorley. In the end, I decided to go with Falk because 2018 will be his senior season and he’s definitely entering the draft next year. McSorley will be draft eligible, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be leaving Penn State.

So congratulations, Luke. You win on a technicality of sorts.

Which isn’t to say he’s not going to generate interest. Falk plays in an offense that is definitely pass-first. Even if Washington State implemented the run game more last year, it’s still a Mike Leach offense, and it’s an offense Falk has put up monster numbers in the last few seasons. As a starter the last two years, Falk has thrown for 9,029 yards and 76 touchdowns. Odds are he’ll throw for at least 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns again in 2017.

He also has the size that NFL teams are going to look at as he checks in at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. 

4. Josh Allen, Wyoming: Are you a fan of an NFL team that has a quarterback situation that leaves a little something to be desired? If you are, you may want to try to watch Wyoming play football this season. If you do, you’ll see a quarterback that many felt could have been a first-round pick had he chosen to leave Wyoming this year.

Josh Allen didn’t, though, and he’ll return to the Cowboys for another season. Allen will be compared to former North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz because of where he goes to school. He’ll be the guy that “came out of nowhere,” but the truth is he’s always been there if you know where to look.

Allen’s numbers with Wyoming last season weren’t eye-popping. He completed only 56 percent of his passes for 3,203 yards, 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. That’s not what will matter to NFL teams, though.

No, they’ll look at Allen and see a kid who is 6-foot-5 and 222 pounds. A big kid with a good arm, decent athleticism, and experience playing in a pro-style system at Wyoming. 

3. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State: I get the sense that I’m a bit higher on Mason Rudolph than some, but believe me when I tell you that NFL teams are going to be all over him after next season. He just checks all the boxes of what NFL teams look for in a quarterback.

He has the size at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, and he definitely has the arm. Rudolph fits balls into windows that a lot of other college quarterbacks just can’t -- though they’ll try anyway -- and he’s accurate while doing so.

That’s why he been able to complete 63 percent of his passes the last two seasons while averaging nearly nine yards per attempt. It’s also why he had seven times as many touchdowns (28) as interceptions (four) last season.

While he won’t start at the top of the list -- I mean, he’s No. 3 here, and I love him -- I wouldn’t be surprised if Rudolph is considered the top guy in the 2018 class by this time next year. 

2. Josh Rosen, UCLA: Rosen arrived at UCLA with a lot of hype, and deservedly so. He was a good, young, polished quarterback straight out of high school. He also played incredibly well as a true freshman in 2015, completing 60 percent of his passes for 3,669 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also threw 11 interceptions, but again, he was a true freshman, and I don’t care how good they are, they’re going to turn the ball over from time to time.

His sophomore season wasn’t nearly as kind. Rosen played in only six games because of a shoulder injury that required surgery. Now, when it comes to a quarterback, shoulder surgery is always scary, and you have to believe it could be a red flag for some NFL teams.

The good news for Rosen is that he’s expected to be fully healthy for the start of the 2017 season. If he gets back on the field and shows improvement on the promise he displayed in 2015, he’s going to be a big-time NFL prospect yet again. He has the size, he has the arm, and he’s shown a good command of the offense at UCLA at a very young age. It’s basically like he was built to be a first-round pick one day.

1. Sam Darnold, USC: The hype for Darnold has already begun. He’s already the Heisman favorite six months before the season even begins, and if you look at early 2018 NFL mock drafts (seriously, they exist) you’re going to find Darnold’s name as the No. 1 pick more often than not. 

And I find it really hard to disagree with any of it.

He was only a four-star recruit out of high school in 2015, and after redshirting his first year at USC, he lost out to Max Browne to open 2016 as USC’s starter. Even then, though, many felt it was only a matter of time before Darnold took over the starting gig because he’d been extremely impressive since coming to campus.

Darnold saw some time as a reserve in USC’s first three games and finally took over the starting job for good in the Trojans’ fourth game of the season. Though USC lost his first start on the road against a good Utah team, it wasn’t because of anything Darnold did wrong.

Then he just took off. 

Over USC’s final nine games of the season, Darnold threw for 2,833 yards and 31 touchdowns while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. And while nobody would consider him the next Lamar Jackson, he also showed enough mobility with his legs to be a running threat as well.

You put his numbers alongside his measurables, and he’s suddenly the guy who will have plenty of NFL fans rooting for their team to lose games so they can get the No. 1 pick and take him.

Yes, there’s a lot of hype surrounding Darnold right now, but he’s fully capable of living up to it.

Honorable Mention: Lamar Jackson, Louisville, Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma, Trace McSorley, Penn State

CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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