With five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the draft a few weeks back, and OTAs in full swing and minicamps just around the corner, the onslaught of largely meaningless stats is upon us.
Brace yourself, mentally and physically, for the barrage of real-time June tweeting that will chronicle every attempt these young men make during an open session, whether it be seven-on-seven, 11-on-11, passes against air or passes against the first-team defense or the third-team defense.
It's coming. We all know it. And there is nothing we can do to stop it.
It's a sign of the times, and with the need for quarterbacks more rampant than ever after a record-tying number of them went in the first round, every step they make, every throw they take, every snap they fake, we'll be watching them. The fast and furious offseason activity at this position will continue to dominate the in-season storylines as these five youngsters are judged against one another – to say nothing of the various veteran impediments currently on their roster blocking them from potentially starting Week 1 or by Week 17. We will obsess over it all, and much will be made of every preseason outing and practice session.
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No one knows for sure how all of this will play out, and which quarterback will see the field first. Who will start the most games of this bunch? Do all of them get at least one start by the end of the season? Does more than one of them sit for the entire year? For my part, I expect all of them to at least see game time in their rookie season, though much of it could end up in mop-up roles in lopsided games or at a point in the season in which it's clear their team is not destined for the playoffs. Vegasinsider.com set the line at 1.5 on how many rookies will start Week 1, with the over paying +150 and the under paying -180. Seems about right to me. My hunch is one ends up getting the gig for the season opener (and Josh Allen may be the best bet for that).
And of course, even the best-formulated plans any of these teams have for their shiny new quarterbacks can change in an instant, as outside factors – most notably injuries to either these rookies or the other quarterbacks on their roster – have a way of sending things in a completely different direction than even their own coaches and general managers would have predicted. Joe Flacco was supposed to sit his entire rookie year, remember? And Dak Prescott, too, until Tony Romo took another blow to the back. And Carson Wentz, too, until Teddy Bridgewater suffered a gruesome knee injury late in the preseason and the Eagles traded Sam Bradford … and well, you know the rest.
So don't get me wrong, I'm not going to sit here and tell you I have this all figured out. Some of these kids will display early on that they are ready for more than what their teams originally thought they might throw at them. Others will do just the opposite. And their progress will remain an intriguing subplot to the 2018 season, even if most – if not all – of the teams who just selected a first-round quarterback seem to face steep odds to actually being a factor in the standings.
With that in mind, here's how I might set the over/under on number of games each of these rookie QBs starts, and how I think it might play out.
Baker Mayfield, Browns
Draft selection: 1st overall
Where I'd set the over/under for starts: 8 games
Some might think this is low, given the Browns won only one game in the last two seasons and all, and given all the hype around the Heisman Trophy winner and where the franchise selected him. I actually went back and forth on setting this number at six games games, because I expect Cleveland to be respectable with Tyrod Taylor under center and I'd like to think the Browns learned something from their recent implosions with how they handled novice quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel, Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer, albeit some of that happened under former coaches or general managers. But the bottom line for me is this team has to finally win a few football games and in a weak AFC, Taylor can keep them competitive. They might end up with the second-best record in their division and my hunch is Mayfield doesn't see any meaningful time until perhaps December. I'd go with the under here.
Draft selection: 3rd overall
Where I'd set the over/under for starts: 6 games
This offense was chugging along with Josh McCown under center a year ago, and he's back for 2018. Of course, he is an aging quarterback and the odds of him staying healthy and not hitting the wall over the long grind may be low. I also wonder if Bridgewater continues to show well if he would be the second man up, with the Jets perhaps getting into a tag-and-trade scenario with him in 2019 to try to gather more assets for the future. This regime knows it cannot botch this quarterback selection no matter what, and while I do expect Darnold gets to see the field, I don't get the sense there is any rush to expedite the process. I'm going under here as well. I don't think he ends up getting more than a quarter of the season.
Josh Allen, Bills
Draft selection: 7th overall
Where I'd set the over/under for starts: 9 games
One betting site I checked had Allen with the lowest odds of all rookie quarterbacks to start Week 1 (+150), with Mayfield next (+250). I wouldn't list them in that order – I would have Josh Rosen, not Mayfield, second – but I agree Allen is likely to see the field first. AJ McCarron doesn't merit a particularly long leash as the de facto starter and he isn't making nearly as much money and doesn't have nearly the pedigree of the guys the other rookie QBs are staring up at on their depth charts. I could certainly see Allen getting his shot by October and playing more than half the season. And once that process starts I would figure the Bills let him take his lumps and ride it out. I'd lean to the over in this instance after all of the machinations the Bills made to finally get to the point to draft him.
Josh Rosen, Cardinals
Draft selection: 10th overall
Where I'd set the over/under for starts: 5 games
He is the most pro ready of any of this bunch and has the best pocket presence. I don't believe he is going to have any shortage of confidence or self belief once the season begins, either. Bradford's injury woes predate his arrival to the NFL and have been a constant through his pro career, staying relatively healthy in consecutive seasons just once. Coming off another major injury at age 30, you have to wonder about durability behind a line that hasn't been great. And ain't no way Mike Glennon is keeping this kid off the field. I expect Rosen to open more eyes as the preseason plays out and I wouldn't be shocked if he ended up with more snaps than Bradford at the end of the season. I'd take the over here.
Lamar Jackson, Ravens
Draft selection: 32nd overall
Where I'd set the over/under for starts: 1 game
No one is planning on him starting this season with a former Super Bowl MVP in front of him who is healthy for the first time in years … but this could be another lean year for the Ravens. Jackson has a uniquely explosive skillset and there will be a package of plays available to him from the start of the season on. I could very much see a scenario where he starts Week 17 if that game does not impact Baltimore's playoff hopes one way or the other, the way that John Harbaugh's mentor, Andy Reid, played it in Kansas City with Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes a year ago. And if the Ravens fall way off the pace, as could be the case, then maybe that happens a week or two sooner. The Vegas site I was looking at had Jackson at +200 to get to start even one game in 2018. I'll put it to you this way – I'd throw a few down on that if, say, New Jersey or some other state has legalized lines on such things in the coming months.