Evaluating UCLA's Josh Rosen in Sunday night's wild comeback win over Texas A&M isn't easy. Rosen and his offensive line were completely out of sorts in the first half against the Aggies. He was hit often, threw high often, and frequently couldn't find his receivers at any level of the field. It was beyond ugly.
It took until the last drive of the third quarter for the Bruins to show any life, but at that point, Rosen was 14 of 31 for 174 yards -- hardly first-round quarterback numbers.
In the fourth quarter, the game traveled to an alternate universe, and Rosen was quick with his decisions, threw on time, and the A&M defense had no answer for tight end Caleb Wilson down the seam. From a scouting perspective, the Rosen-led comeback from 34 points down wasn't nearly as good for the quarterback's NFL prospect resume as the win was itself.
One of his touchdowns should have been intercepted. As if by divine intervention for the Bruins, it went right through the hands of an Aggie defender on a deep-shot score. Check it out.
Another touchdown came when Rosen heaved the ball into traffic, and wideout Theo Howard made an awesome adjustment on the underthrown pass. Rosen's best throws came on the game-winning drive -- he beamed a laser to Wilson down the seam between defenders, converted a 2nd-and-15 with another rocket near three defenders with pressure in his face, and the was ideally placed near the back pylon.
Let's rank the top quarterback prospects and examine their draft stocks after a wild Week 1 in college football.
Stock Up, Slightly
Rudolph went 20 of 24 for 303 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for Oklahoma State against an overmatched Tulsa defense on Thursday. The numbers indicate he should receive a gigantic draft-stock boost, but due to the level of competition the Cowboys faced, it only improves slightly. I mean, I'm pretty sure Rudolph checked his phone while yawning in the pocket a few times.
He did have three long touchdowns -- of 77 yards, 44 yards, and 40 yards -- two of which were seemingly effortless yet perfectly placed lobs down the field into the hands of scintillating speedster James Washington. Actually the first touchdown strike -- not thrown to Washington -- was the most impressive. Rudolph was hit as he threw, but his pass found Tyron Johnson in stride near the front right pylon.
2. Sam Darnold, USC
As if it was scripted down the boulevard in Hollywood, Darnold was supposed to begin his Heisman and No. 1 overall pick campaign with a breeze of a game for USC against Western Michigan at home. That didn't happen. And no, the Broncos aren't a bad MAC team. In fact, they'll probably win 8-10 games this year. But that conference is known for sub-par defense, and USC has much more overall talent.
Let's call Saturday's outing a "workmanlike performance" for the redshirt sophomore, the opposite of what we saw during his highlight reel of a freshman season. Darnold connected on 23 of 33 passes -- nearly 70 percent -- for 289 yards. He didn't throw a touchdown -- he ran for one, though -- and tossed two picks.
Darnold faces a significantly more challenging test against Stanford this weekend.
3. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Forget the randomly close game between Louisville and Purdue -- Jackson was ridiculous against the Boilermakers. Not only did he showcase his electric athletic talents on a variety of designed and not-so-designed runs, the reigning Heisman winner looked more comfortable throwing from the pocket than a season ago. And more importantly, he was more accurate.
Jackson wasn't simply throwing fastballs all over the field either, although those are awe-inspiring. He demonstrated delicate touch on a handful of downfield seam tosses over the heads of linebackers. On the evening, Jackson completed 30 of 46 passes for 378 yards with two passing scores. He had 101 yards on the ground at 5.1 yards per carry.
Yes, he's going to leave the pocket earlier than, say, Tom Brady would, but in his 2017 opener, Jackson took a clear step forward throwing the football. By the way, his fluid delivery yields passes with plenty of heat behind them when needed.
4. Josh Rosen, UCLA
Rosen wasn't good for three quarters, then picked apart an Aggies defense for most of the fourth quarter with short passes and throws to his tight end who was matched up one-on-one with safeties. Unquestionably, the comeback alone is a positive. Rosen persisted in the face of a humiliating, draft-stock damaging defeat. But, somehow, he only made a handful of NFL-caliber throws and was helped by an Aggies defense that seemingly checked out when the score was 44-10.
I'm actually glad this type of high-profile performance occurred early. It provides the perfect opportunity out of the gate to explain some cardinal rules I follow with scouting evaluation. A prospect's assessment must be distilled to what the individual did or didn't do regarding what he could control. As a quarterback, leading an outrageous comeback isn't a negative, but each throw needs to be viewed in (somewhat) of a vacuum. Drops are viewed as completions. Dropped interceptions need to be viewed as picks.
Another example -- if a defensive end has three sacks but all three came on plays in which he was unblocked, and he created no pressure on the other 40 snaps when he did face an offensive lineman, his stock would go down, not up.
Stock Up, Slightly
Falk completed his first 20 passes, and his first incompletion didn't happen until the third quarter -- yeah, I'm not kidding -- but his stock only gets a slight bump this week. Why? The answer to that lies in the simplistic nature of Mike Leach's spread offense and the quality of the opponent he shredded. Sure, Montana State sat back in soft zones to guard against the big play and obstruct throwing lanes, but that played right into what the Cougars want to do on offense -- get the ball out of Falk's hands quickly on a variety of screens, dink-and-dunk passes, and even shovel passes to running backs.
Falk finished 33 of 39 for 311 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. But he was sacked twice and on a few too many instances he held onto the ball for what seemed like an eternity.
Based on the offense he operates, I think Falk will truly be the wild card of this quarterback draft class.
6. Josh Allen, Wyoming
In the first quarter against Iowa, Allen was poised and routinely fired lasers across the field from the far hash. After that, he was too trusting of his arm, vacated some clean pockets, and forced passes when, well, nothing was there. Overall, Allen's Wyoming team was overwhelmed up front against the Hawkeyes, which didn't bode well for the ultra-talented signal-caller who still needs some polish. He finished 23 of 40 for 174 yards with no touchdowns and two picks.
We've already reached #FauxOutrage with Allen -- there are 100 times more people trying to "temper expectations" for Allen than there are those who legitimately believe he's the next Cam Newton, so let's give this kid a fair shake this season. A few over-the-summer feature articles on him and some hyperbolic quotes from anonymous NFL executives don't mean everyone has over-hyped Allen to nauseating levels. You can't doubt his arm strength, and we got a glimpse of his athleticism as he often ran like a maniac behind the line against Iowa. But for every couple of NFL-caliber throws, Allen tried to go Johnny Manziel and squeeze in a pass downfield after chaotic improvisation, and most of those attempts didn't go well. He needs to curtail that tendency.
We should (see: need to) get a better idea of Allen, the pro-style quarterback, when his team plays competition more at its level.
Essentially, Mayfield pitched a perfect game against UTEP. He completed 19 of 20 passes for 329 yards with three touchdowns and no picks in the first half. A good chunk of those yards came after the catch, but for Mayfield, who was barely even breathed on in the pocket, the game helped his draft stock because he didn't have to turn to his street-ball scrambling skills to piece together a productive afternoon. Right now, Mayfield's a mid-round prospect whose draft stock depends on the frequency at which he tries to improvise behind the line. The less, the better.