2018 NFL Draft QB Stock Watch: Rudolph soaring, Ferguson worth keeping an eye on
The Oklahoma State quarterback has put on amazing aerial shows in the first three weeks of the season.
Could it get any easier for Mason Rudolph? No, for real. He's actually making it difficult to be properly evaluated as an NFL prospect, as crazy as that sounds. Against Pittsburgh on Saturday, Rudolph completed 23 of 32 passes for 497 yards with five scores and one interception and didn't play the entire game.
As per usual, he scanned the entire field when he needed to and routinely found open receivers. His misses seem to be high, or at least that's what it has been thus far in 2017.
Also, Rudolph was happy to take the first read if it was there, and yeah, it certainly was there often this weekend.
It took a while for No. 1 target James Washington to get involved, but he ended the game with five catches and 124 yards.
1. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Rudolph had a Heisman moment -- too early? Yeah, probably too early -- when, kept his eyes downfield and actually found his second target outside the structure of the play for a long touchdown. You know what's crazy? Oklahoma State is just now getting into its Big 12 schedule. That means more games with unfathomable offensive statistics are on the horizon.
2. Sam Darnold, Southern California
His performance against Texas was what has become classic Darnold: an assortment of sensational passes to all levels of the field with a few stinkers mixed in. When the play begins to break down, Darnold has proven to get antsy with his feet, but he has the innate ability to see receivers about to come open and deliver the football to them accurately. That's huge.
He went 28 of 49 for 397 yards with three touchdowns and two picks against the Longhorns, and one of those interceptions glanced off a pass-catcher's hands. Darnold's touchdown pass to Deontay Burnett in overtime was excellent, as was the would-be winner that was dropped. The only ever-so-slight dings on Darnold's game are his delivery and frenetic footwork after he checks his first few reads.
3. Josh Rosen, UCLA
So it seems like the UCLA quarterback will bring everyone on the #RosenCoaster each week -- thanks for that, Twitter. I'm not sure I've seen a quarterback prospect who looks like a surefire top-10 pick on one drive then almost undraftable on the next more often than Rosen. That was the theme against Memphis. Some of the throws were jaw-dropping and effortless. Some of the decisions and reads were atrocious.
Overall though, I really think coaches are going to love his lower-body and upper-body mechanics and experience. Between #RosenCoaster rides, the UCLA quarterback is consistent, taking what the defense gives him and mostly making smart decisions and on-target throws. But once he straps in ... watch out.
4. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
So last week, I wrote that Jackson had arrived as a legitimate quarterback prospect. I still think that and still believe he's in the running to be the first quarterback taken, although his chances to win that race took a sizable hit against Clemson. He ran into a five-star recruit buzz-saw, as did his entire offense.
The Cardinals' offensive line had trouble protecting Jackson, and the Tigers clogged the middle of the field with linebackers because they could trust the defensive line to get the job done near the line of scrimmage. All that equated to it being lights out for the Louisville attack.
5. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Mayfield actually threw 10 incompletions in this game, the most he has had in three games this season. Tulane's secondary didn't offer much -- really any -- difficultly for Mayfield or the Oklahoma offense, so his yards per attempt of 12.2 needs to be viewed with the proper context.
He did miss on a few throws and didn't have to fit many passes into tight coverage. Make a note in your phone for Nov. 4 for Oklahoma at Oklahoma State. There will be Fourth of July grand finale-type fireworks for three hours in that one.
6. Luke Falk, Washington State
Falk shook off a shaky effort in the loss against Boise State to throw six touchdowns in Washington State's win over hapless Oregon State. Falk's offense is more gimmicky than Mayfield's, as it's loaded with quick screens, dump-offs and shovel passes. He did fire a handful of impressive passes to the intermediate levels and his wideouts made plays after the catch, both of which were lacking a week ago.
7. Josh Allen, Wyoming
Since forever, many NFL coaches have believed if a quarterback has all the physical tools he can be taught the intricacies of the position. For example, Josh Allen is 6-feet-4 with plus athleticism and a Matthew Stafford-esque arm, hence his first-round (or to some, No. 1 overall) hype heading into this season.
But I think it's time we turn that old-school philosophy on its head. To me, arm strength can be developed at the NFL level. Accuracy, coverage-reading and sound decision-making cannot. If you're having trouble consistently throwing an accurate football, reading a defense, or choosing when it's OK to fire a pass into tight coverage in college, how in the world are you going to suddenly improve in all those areas against the most challenging competition on Earth? You're not.
This theory applies directly to Allen. He was blessed with immense physical talent. There is absolutely no doubting that. But he has much to learn regarding the vital nuances of playing quarterback.
Also, there's a caveat here. Like I wrote after his poor performance against Iowa, I'm not going blast him when Wyoming is ridiculously overmatched, and it certainly was against Oregon. He has a tendency to try to do too much to account for the sizable gap in talent when his Cowboys face a team from a Power Five conference, but he can't do it alone. His receivers haven't exactly helped to boost his draft stock either.
Honorable Mention: Riley Ferguson, Memphis
Who outdueled Josh Rosen this week? That would be Mr. Ferguson. After completing just 40 percent of his throws to begin the season, the Memphis signal-caller went bonkers against UCLA, throwing for 398 yards and six touchdowns while completing 23 of 38 pass attempts. He repeatedly threatened the Bruins secondary down the field and found tremendous success in doing so, thanks in large part to superb wideout Anthony Miller. The 6-4 Ferguson has somewhat of a unique -- quirky? -- release, but he's a quarterback worth monitoring the rest of the season.
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