Grading Week 1 performances of NFL's next generation of quarterbacks: From Kyler Murray to Gardner Minshew

A grand total of six quarterbacks selected in the past two NFL draft classes saw considerable playing time in a wild Sunday of Week 1 and their performances weren't exactly as expected. Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns laid an egg at home against the Tennessee Titans, Josh Allen land the Buffalo Bills led a 16-point third-quarter comeback win over the New York Jets in MetLife Stadium, Lamar Jackson passed for like a billion yards while running for exactly six as the Baltimore Ravens dominated the Miami Dolphins, and last, but certainly not least, Gardner Minshew broke the rookie debut all-time completion percentage record (single game) after being forced into action for the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

Let's dive deep into the individual efforts of each quarterback and assign a grade.

Baker Mayfield, Browns

Mayfield was almost intercepted on the first play of the game, which was foreshadowing for what would happen late in Cleveland's flop of a season opener. Besides the near pick to start Week 1, Mayfield was surgical on the Browns' initial drive. He threw a laser beam to Rashard Higgins deep down the seam which set up the first score of the game. After that, Mayfield threw with velocity and good accuracy but displayed poor pocket-management skills behind an average-at-best showing from his offensive line. Mayfield's rushed movements led to some sacks and errant throws, and on a few occasions, he simply held the ball too long. It was the first time in long while -- including college -- in which Mayfield appeared to be panicked inside the pocket somewhat often. His drifting there didn't seem natural, and his eyes tended to drop. 

But throughout the game, Mayfield delivered many accurate throws to the intermediate level with noticeable zip. His finest throw of the afternoon came when he was flushed to his right and lofted a pass to Jarvis Landry through air-tight coverage that couldn't have been placed better. But the veteran was barely out of bounds as he made the grab. Later, Mayfield found Landry on a dime of back-shoulder toss that moved the football inside the five. So, despite Cleveland being down by the end of the third quarter, Mayfield had been solid albeit not the same quarterback we saw down the stretch in 2018.

Then he unraveled in the fourth. All three interceptions were seemingly on him. The first was a seam throw behind his intended target. The second was late and forced on an out-breaking route toward the sideline. Can't do that in the NFL. The last pick was behind an in-breaking receiver. 

Cleveland's passing game entered Week 1 with a lot of hype, but as CBS analyst Tony Romo warned in August, what they were able to accomplish in the deep passing game at the end of 2018 will only carry over if the offensive line holds their end of the bargain.

Grade: C

Josh Allen, Bills

The Bills surprised everyone by going pass-heavy to start the game. Many of the throws in the first quarter came after Allen audibled at the line. Heck, Frank Gore had the only running back carry for Buffalo in the first half. The Bills clearly wanted to exploit the Jets' weak secondary, and they did. The talent across the board on New York's defense has to be considered when evaluating Allen's outing. 

He started smoothly inside the pocket. He was significantly more patient there than he was in 2018 and threw ropes to John Brown when he wasn't getting through his progressions to find Cole Beasley underneath. The turnovers were mostly fluky, outside of the sack-fumble on the opening drive in which Allen didn't feel blindside pressure and failed to secure the football. Not good. The pick-six bounced off a strangely already crouching Beasley directly into C.J. Mosley's arms. The other interception was tipped at the line. The other fumble was a bad exchange with the center. It looked much worse on the stat sheet than it actually was.

Allen forced a throw to Brown that was intercepted by Marcus Maye ranging from center field yet was nullified by a penalty. While he showed a willingness to throw the football away when nothing was there -- a facet of playing quarterback that had mostly eluded him last season -- Allen did overextend and get greedy on another pass later and tried to fit the ball to Brown for a touchdown yet was nearly picked again by Maye. 

The No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 Draft really settled in late and lofted an impeccable downfield throw to Beasley that was dropped. On the game-winning drive, Allen ripped a dig route to Zay Jones and gave Brown a chance to make a play on the touchdown that sealed the victory, although the pass was a touch inside on a perimeter go route. It was far from a dazzling performance from Allen but a step forward in his development process. 

Grade: B-

Lamar Jackson, Ravens 

Jackson faced a rather porous Dolphins defense, but he did what he was supposed to against it. Jackson was amazing as a passer in the blowout over Miami and didn't have an incomplete pass until less than four minutes to go in the second quarter. 

Beyond finding Marquise Brown and Willie Snead for deep touchdowns which showcased immaculate touch, the most encouraging signs for Jackson's development were his accuracy to all levels of the field and stellar pocket patience. He didn't simply take off when he didn't see his first read open. That's huge. Tight end Mark Andrew was found often at the intermediate level. Jackson didn't look antsy whatsoever, and he barely ran the football. Yes, the competition was subpar, nut Jackson lit it up and finished 17-of-20 for 354 yards with five scores and no interceptions. And, really, no passes came even close to being in harm's way. He rushed three times for six yards. 

It's a huge luxury for the Ravens any time they can dominate offensively without Jackson having to use his legs in a big way. 

Grade:  A+

Sam Darnold, Jets 

For as much as Allen's performance was a bit better than his statistics (24-of-37 for 254 with one touchdown and two interceptions), Darnold's effort was very much in line with his numbers (28-of-41 for 175 yards with one score). His offensive line and the game plan set by head coach Adam Gase did not do him any favors. 

While Darnold wasn't under duress at a ridiculous rate, Buffalo's pass rush did get the better of New York's blocking unit, and the second-year signal-caller was disastrous when pressured for the game's entirety. Bad footwork. Bad pocket management. Bad accuracy. As far as the game plan, play calling, and factoring in his lack of aggression in Week 1, the vast majority of Darnold's completions came on a swing pass to Le'Veon Bell or a speed out to Jamison Crowder. In fact, Crowder became the first receiver in NFL history with 14 (or more) receptions for fewer than 100 yards receiving. Robby Anderson only had three grabs for 23 yards -- Darnold missed him on potential big plays down the field. 

For as much as we have to consider the quality of the Jets' defense with Allen, the same applies for Darnold facing Buffalo's defensive group. The Bills had one of the best pass defenses in football last season and returned 10 of 11 starters. But Darnold ascended to the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 Draft thanks to an aggressive nature at USC, yet he was extremely conservative against the Bills. He had a 15 and 19-yard completion. Those were the longest gains for the Jets all afternoon. It was a clear step backward for Darnold who looked very promising down the stretch as a rookie and was previously touted by Romo as a top 2019 breakout candidate.

Grade: F

Kyler Murray, Cardinals

In the first quarter, Murray and the Cardinals offense were basically as stagnant as it gets. He was tentative letting it rip and seemingly tried to throw the football away on his interception, which came up considerably short of doing so. Murray's pocket presence was shaky too. He held onto the ball forever, especially on an 11-yard sack which came after a strike while improvising to fellow rookie KeeSean Johnson near the sideline. 

And the poor play carried into the second half. Murray missed a wide-open Christian Kirk on a slot fade near the sideline, which culminated an ugly third quarter. Then the light switch was flipped. On 3rd and 14 early in the fourth quarter, with the score 24-6, Murray uncorked a gorgeous pass to Larry Fitzgerald who made a spectacular diving grab to pick up 41 yards. The Lions went a little conservative with their coverage with the big lead, and Murray took full advantage. His touchdown rope to David Johnson down the seam was a thing of beauty. Murray looked completely overwhelmed and a split-second late for three quarters. While he wasn't perfect in the final stanza, he led a rapid comeback with mostly his arm. 

Grade: C

Gardner Minshew, Jaguars 

After being thrown into the game after Nick Foles' injury, Minshew was a pleasant surprise for the Jaguars. He made an array of throws to his second and third read at the short level of the field with impressive accuracy. That wasn't super surprising considering the offense in which he operated in college and how well he ran it in his senior season. Minshew was quick to get through his progressions too.

He found D.J. Chark down the field for a 69-yard gain. The throw was a dime that seemingly maxed his arm strength. On Minshew's second touchdown, he created out of the pocket to his left and found Dede Westbook. Improvising while under pressure was an aspect of his game he struggled with at Washington State. Also, the sixth-round pick's arm strength looked to be better than it was in 2018. The instances in which he panicked were few and far between, although the Chiefs' pass rush didn't get to him much. Minshew wasn't asked to make a litany of difficult, tight-window throws. yet he led Jacksonville's offense very efficiently by dispersing the ball quickly to many targets. The 22-of-25 effort at 11 yards per attempt was borderline outstanding. 

Minshew's emergence is quickly developing into the most pleasantly surprising story of the young 2019 season.

Grade: A-

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