NFL Draft: Why Josh Rosen is like Eli, Mason Rudolph is like Dak Prescott and more QB comparisons
Plus the former top-three pick that Lamar Jackson has similarities to and more on 2018's top QB prospects
NFL comparisons for prospects provide specific insight into the type of player a team will be getting in the draft.
It's important to remember NFL comparisons for draftees don't intend to guarantee a prospect will have the exact same career as his professional counterpart.
In this series, I'll go through the top prospects at every position and give NFL comparisons -- some current players, some former. On occasion, a prospect will be compared to two pros. The first represents a prospect's "floor." The second represents the "ceiling." These comparisons are not based on size. They're almost solely stylistic.
(Prospects are listed in the order they appear in my draft rankings.)
NFL comparison: Dak Prescott
Prescott started 33 games at Mississippi State and operated a shotgun-based, spread-option offense. Rudolph started 41 games at Oklahoma State and ran a spread-option attack in which he was rarely under center. Prescott didn't enter the NFL with a huge arm, and he displayed above-average mobility on designed runs and when he needed to elude pressure inside the pocket. Rudolph isn't as twichy as Prescott but is an underrated scrambler and deft pocket-mover. Both naturally keep their eyes up when drifting away from incoming pressure and can be useful in short-yardage situations on read-option keeps. In his first two seasons in the NFL, Prescott has been one of the NFL's most accurate and high-efficiency deep passers. Rudolph thrives throwing the football down the field. In terms of playing style, Rudolph and Prescott are very similar.
NFL comparison: Steve McNair
Later in this career, McNair really bulked up and didn't run much -- from 2003 to 2007, his last five years in the league, he only rushed over 40 times in a single season one time ... 2006 -- but coming out of Alcorn State in 1995 and during the early stages of his pro career, McNair was a tremendous scrambler. He carried the ball at least 72 times each season from 1997 to 2002, scored 28 touchdowns on the ground, and averaged 5.9 yards per rush. Also, he was known for the way he could effortlessly fire the football with plenty of velocity over the middle or 60 yards down the field. Jackson is the most electric scrambling quarterback since Michael Vick and has a strong, underrated arm. But Vick's not my comparison because Jackson's a much better passer than the former Virginia Tech star was. McNair went No. 3 overall in 1995 not solely for his athletic prowess. He was also proficient - but not perfect -- from the pocket. That's the case with Jackson too. No, their body types aren't the exact same, but examining the entire skill set, there are many parallels between Jackson and McNair.
NFL comparison: Eli Manning
From smooth drop backs, to textbook deliveries, to production from the pocket, to off-balance throws into tight coverage and strange forces outside the structure of the play, the similarities between Rosen and Manning are uncanny. Manning checked many traditional pocket-passer boxes in 2004, was polished and "NFL ready, " which all led to him going No. 1 overall in a quarterback class that featured Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. Manning has displayed stretches of elite quarterback play but many "what the heck was that?" moments that've led to interceptions. Manning immediately found himself in Kevin Gilbride's vertical-based, option-route heavy offense which actually accentuated the boom-or-bust element in his quarterback's game. Rosen likely won't find himself in that type of attack in today's NFL, which should help him. But that doesn't change his Eli comparison.
NFL comparison: Jameis Winston/Philip Rivers
Going with a floor and ceiling comparison with Darnold, because he's a volatile quarterback prospect. Not as volatile as Josh Allen, but the second-most volatile quarterback in this draft class. And, even so, his floor being Winston is far from a criticism. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signal-caller exploded onto the scene as a redshirt freshman at Florida State then regressed in his redshirt sophomore season despite demonstrating clear NFL starting quarterback traits. Sound familiar? Darnold had a similar experience in college and, like Winston, proved to be capable of making outstanding anticipation and bucket throws, but his gun-slinger attitude got him into trouble by way of bad interceptions. If, somehow, Darnold's forces, misreads, and wayward tosses after poor footwork can be corralled, he can be Rivers-like at the next level ... an unafraid pocket passer with an unorthodox delivery. Darnold is much more athletic than the Chargers quarterback.
NFL comparison: Case Keenum
The Mayfield and Keenum stories are fascinating and extremely telling as to the current state of the NFL and the direction in which offenses are headed. Keenum had a ridiculously productive collegiate career in Houston's spread, pass-happy, shotgun-only offense from 2007 to 2011. The 6-foot-1, 208-pounder exhibited decent athleticism and fine touch downfield. He consistently found open targets quickly and hit them accurately ... then went undrafted. At a similar size, with a similar collegiate career and similar strengths, Mayfield is likely to be selected in the top 10 -- or top 6 -- in the most-hyped quarterback class in 35 years. Mayfield has a stronger arm than Keenum, but the now Broncos signal-caller showed elite-level pocket drifting in 2017 during a career year in which he was one of the most efficient passers in football. Mayfield flashed pocket-drifting skills but does drop his eyes while under pressure more often than you'd like from an early first-round selection.
Josh Allen, Wyoming
Allen is bigger than both of these quarterbacks and probably has a stronger arm than either of the two. Much of what was being written and said in evaluations of Locker when he was entering the NFL in 2011 is the same as what's being mentioned about Allen now. Locker's magnificent athletic talent was on display often at Washington, and he made some of the best throws at the highest-degree of difficulty in college football while a member of the Huskies. The same is true with Allen while at Wyoming. Then again, Locker had clear-cut accuracy issues. So does Allen. At his absolute best, if his ball placement from clean pockets is fine-tuned in the NFL, Allen can be Cutler-esque, a powerful-armed quarterback with high highs but tendencies to overextend plays, force the football, and get antsy under pressure.
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