We've been beating this drum for weeks now but with the second half of the NFL season now underway this story line will become more important: Those teams in the race to the bottom (they're not tanking!) better have their quarterback situation sorted out before the draft.
Because unlike the last three drafts, when Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, Mitchell Trubisky and Carson Wentz were all selected in the top 12 picks, the 2019 class is full of question marks. Everyone seems to agree that Oregon's Justin Herbert would be the first quarterback taken -- should he declare. But there have been reports that Herbert, whose brother will be an incoming freshman on the Ducks football team in the fall, could return to school. Not only that, but there are questions about whether Herbert is even ready for the NFL; he certainly passes the eyeball test but he hasn't completed more than 56 percent of his throws in five games, dating back to Sept. 9. There are also some concerns about his abilities to process information after the snap.
None of this means Herbert can't be a great NFL quarterback when he does declare, just that it's not a slam dunk. (Silver lining: It's never a slam dunk; no one was talking up Mahomes or Wentz at this point either.)
The rest of the draft class includes names like Missouri's Drew Lock, West Virginia's Will Grier, Duke's Daniel Jones, N.C. State's Ryan Finley and Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins. Like most young quarterbacks, "consistency" is the issue with all of them. Lock and Grier are coming off strong games; Jones has thrown for more than 250 yards just once this season; Finley, who doesn't have a strong arm, will be 24 next month; Haskins is a redshirt sophomore who, like Herbert, could return to school.
Even if these teams in need of a franchise quarterback -- the Giants, the Raiders (?), the Broncos, the Jaguars, the Buccaneers (?) and the Dolphins -- can avoid the temptation of reaching for one in the draft, there likely isn't a quick solution in free agency. Teddy Bridgewater probably leads the group, followed by Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyrod Taylor, Brock Osweiler and Josh McCown, not to mention those veteran quarterbacks jettisoned because they're too expensive or underperforming -- Joe Flacco and Jameis Winston, for instance.
There's a long way to go, and the perception of this draft class could certainly change for the better in the coming months. But as it stands, this group could end more more like the the 2013 class -- where EJ Manuel and Geno Smith were the only two quarterbacks to go in the first two rounds -- than the two most recent drafts that saw seven quarterbacks, all now starting for their respective teams, go in the first 12 picks.
(Note: In the table below, the teams are sorted from "most likely to have the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft" to "least likely" using two different methods. The "Current record" column does what the name suggests: Teams are first sorted by their '18 records, strength of schedule, via Tankathon. The other column is sorted by the "SportsLine's preseason projected draft order." Finally, here's our most recent 2019 NFL mock draft if you'd like to see who we have each team taking.)
SportsLine preseason projected draft order
New York Giants (1-7)
San Francisco (2-7)
New York Jets (3-6)
Oakland (via Cowboys)* (3-5)
Tampa Bay (3-5)
Green Bay (3-4-1)
Chicago (to Oakland)** (5-3)
Los Angeles Chargers (6-2)
New England (7-2)
New Orleans (to Green Bay) (7-1)***
Los Angeles Rams (8-1)
Kansas City (8-1)
* Dallas sent its 2019 first-round pick to Oakland as part of the Amari Cooper trade.
** Chicago sent its 2019 first-round pick to Oakland as part of the Khalil Mack trade.
*** New Orleans sent its 2019 first-round pick to Green Bay to draft Marcus Davenport in 2018.
Buffalo at N.Y. Jets (-7.5)
If you liked the Jets-Dolphins matchup last week, you'll love the Bills bringing their historically inept offense to the Meadowlands on Sunday. Sam Darnold is coming off what has to be the worst performance of his football-playing career, and Nathan Peterman is coming off a three-interception effort against the Bears. It's unclear who will be under center for Buffalo; Josh Allen is "day to day" after missing several weeks with an elbow injury and Derek Anderson is still in concussion protocol. Though truthfully, it may not matter. This game will come down to which team commits the fewest turnovers. If nothing else, it could be another opportunity for Bart Scott to GO OFF.
N.Y. Giants at San Francisco (-3)
Imagine how different the Giants' season would be if Nick Mullens was their quarterback. We're not joking. Eli Manning has been abysmal, and while he's not entirely to blame -- the O-line has struggled and the defense has been worse -- the Giants could have their very own Nick Mullens on the roster in the form of rookie fourth-rounder Kyle Lauletta. But Manning will again be under center on Monday night, perhaps because this is the Giants' best (and last?) chance to win another football game. Neither team is going anywhere this season but you wouldn't know it to watch the 49ers play under Kyle Shanahan. On the other side of the field, the Giants look very much like a 1-7 team.
Arizona at Kansas City (-16.5)
There are trap games and then there's the Cardinals playing the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium. A week ago, we couldn't envision a scenario where the Browns beat the Chiefs in Cleveland. If there's a way to more vehemently express those feelings for Sunday we'd like to do so now. Yes, the Cardinals are coming off their bye -- and before that, their second win of the season -- but short of having Tyler Palko start for the Chiefs -- and only attempt left-handed passes -- there's no way Arizona wins this game. If you'd asked us before the season, sure, we could've made a decent case; Sam Bradford's a competent bridge quarterback, certainly better than Carson Palmer, Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton from the '17 squad -- the defense ranked fourth a season ago and there was no obvious reason for a backslide -- and most importantly, David Johnson was fully healthy. Well, Bradford was benched and then cut, the defense hasn't been nearly as good and first-year coach Steve Wilks has misused Johnson to the point that he's almost useless.
L.A. Chargers (-10) at Oakland
It wasn't long ago that the Raiders owned this matchup; in 2015, Jack Del Rio went 4-0 against the Chargers from 2015-2016, but Oakland has since lost three straight, including a 26-10 defeat earlier this year in Los Angeles. That was five weeks ago and it's fair to say that while the Chargers have gotten better the Raiders have gotten much, much worse. L.A. is riding a five-game winning streak and has a case for the AFC's best team while Oakland has dropped four straight and is among the league's worst teams at 1-7. After last Thursday's performance against the Nick Mullens-led 49ers -- not to mention dumping pass rusher Bruce Irvin -- we don't see the Raiders magically fixing everything that ails them and salvaging the season.
Atlanta (-4) at Cleveland
Gregg Williams' debut didn't look all that different from Hue Jackson's 3-36-1 run through Cleveland that ended the week before. But Williams will need more than a week to turn around a franchise that hasn't had a winning season since 2007. The problem for Williams that he almost certainly won't get that chance; he's the interim coach, who was an effective defensive coordinator before changing job titles. Unfortunately for him, the Browns need an offensive mind to help Baker Mayfield and this young offense develop. On Sunday, a red-hot Falcons team comes to town, winners of three straight after a 1-4 start. And while the Browns, who have two wins for the first time since the 2015 season, haven't given up, the Falcons (4-4) desperately need a win to keep the Saints (7-1) and Panthers (6-2) in sight in the AFC South.