Spring is finally upon upon us.
Hope is renewed across the NFL. Teams are still basking in the post-draft afterglow and everyone looks great running around in shorts and shells at rookie minicamps. Change is in the air, with the six quarterbacks who were drafted within the first three rounds of the draft generating headlines and inspiring fanbases that better days are to come (okay, the Steelers are the exception and have had plenty of decent days in recent years).
But let's be real. This isn't going to be a smooth transition everywhere. The process of indoctrinating a rookie quarterback won't go swimmingly everywhere, and the proclivity for tension or turmoil or all out tumult tends to be very real when the stakes are this high. The success or failure of these novice passers will not rest on their shoulders alone, with the situation they are thrust into and the staffs and locker rooms around them playing a fundamental role in their development -- or lack thereof -- as well.
Not all situations are created equally; some have a higher-degree of potential dysfunction both in the short and long term. Some are more fraught with peril than others. Some are already looking a little creaky well before anyone has even donned full pads much less played an exhibition game. So, yeah it's early, but when it comes to quarterbacks it's never too soon to opine on the months ahead and which of these six youngsters landed in a spot most conducive to a seamless transition to the NFL, ranked in terms of most stable to most fraught with possible pitfalls.
1. Sam Darnold, Jets
Yes, the Jets have experienced their share of turnover and discord going back to the demise of the Mark Sanchez/Rex Ryan/Mike Tannenbaum days, but Darnold comes into a great situation here. He doesn't bear the burden of being the first overall pick, the team across town, the Giants, passed on him to allow him to fall to three, and he gets to learn from the best teaching pro in the business in Josh McCown. McCown is as willing and passionate about cultivating the young guys in the quarterback room as there is in this league, and he played just well enough in 2017 before getting hurt that there isn't a need for Darnold to start from Week 1. A mid-season change could come off quite well, the Jets were a better team than expected a year ago and the cast around him ain't bad. There isn't any false hope about Darnold having to turn this franchise around in 2018 and while New York presents a unique microscope, even a modicum of progress from him after the failures of Sanchez and Geno Smith and Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg will be championed by desperate Jets fans. I like this fit, and this is probably the best quarterback in the draft, too.
2. Josh Rosen, Cardinals
Like Darnold, he had other teams in front of him decide to go in another direction. He was the last of "The Big Four" to be selected and he almost fell out of the top 10 entirely. He goes to a place where both veterans are of little impediment due to various reasons, and both, truthfully, should be plenty thankful just to be earning their respective paychecks, The odds of Sam Bradford getting through half a season unscathed, much less a full season under center, are bleak. Rosen is probably the most pro-ready of the bunch and he will be able to grow in relative anonymity in Arizona compared to some of the markets these other quarterbacks landed in. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has worked with plenty of young passers of various pedigree and will blend Rosen in nicely, I figure. Sure, I suppose there is some level of concern since so many (FOOTBALL MEN!) seem to take issue with how Rosen thinks and what he says and I guess that could create complications with the Cardinals, but somehow I think this kid will be just fine on the field and off.
3. Josh Allen, Bills
Over time, this pick has the potential to make or break the regime of Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane, but for right now, Allen should be able to get his legs under him. Nathan Peterman is going to have a hard time living down the five first-half picks he threw at the Chargers last season -- as unfair as that might be -- and AJ McCarron was like the only guy who couldn't get paid on the wild QB market this offseason. He was literally the last one standing when the Bills decided to break his fall with a soft landing spot, knowing all the while they still weren't done trading up for a future franchise quarterback. Remains to be seen if Allen can correct his footwork and accuracy issues and be who the Bills drafted him to be, but this regime will go to all lengths to try to put the right cast around him and they can roll McCarron out there for a few weeks to see what he can do while Allen continues to prepare and learn. I don't see this group throwing him into the deep end before he is ready, though the concerns others had about the flaws in his game seem warranted to start.
4. Lamar Jackson, Ravens
This is going to get dicey in Baltimore. There is no real way around it. But luckily for Jackson, the public will be clamoring for him and not the former Super Bowl MVP who has started in Baltimore for the past decade, which isn't always the case. Nevertheless, I don't see things being real chummy between Jackson and incumbent Joe Flacco, and adding the polarizing Robert Griffin III to that quarterback room makes it even more of a potential personality minefield. Jackson and Flacco could not be more diametrically different on pretty much every level, and unlike say McCown, this is not a guy who signed up for some sort of mentoring/handing-the-baton role in 2018. But Flacco's contract virtually assures him not being back in 2019 and the fans will want to see plenty of Jackson and the staff is tasked with essentially developing two offenses given how different these two quarterbacks operate. With essentially an entirely new cast of skill players on offense, this isn't a group with ties or allegiances to Flacco like in recent years, which is another subplot to watch closely. Which quarterback does the locker room rally around, and how soon? These preseason games are going to be must-see TV in Baltimore for the first time in a looong time, and if Jackson is anything close to as electrifying as he was in college, it's going to get interesting real soon. Don't get me wrong, I love the pick of Jackson at the end of the first round and it's a gamble the Ravens absolutely had to make, but there may be some undercurrents to wade through initially.
5. Mason Rudolph, Steelers
Brooding Ben Roethlisberger is borderline surly about this pick, to the point where the future Hall of Famer went from mulling retirement this time a year ago to now openly pining for a new contract in the press. Three to five more years, eh? Let's just say he's not there to bring this kid along and everyone knows it. The question is -- will it actively stunt Rudolph's development? Stepping into this situation, with this particular quarterback essentially sending a message to his teammates and fans that the Steelers did him wrong and wasted a third-round pick on the rookie quarterback is not the cloud under which I'd prefer to start my NFL career. The good news is no one expects the kid to play for like three years; the bad news is injuries happen especially to older quarterbacks who aren't as mobile as they once were, and what happens if Rudolph has to play sooner than anyone expected? Big Ben isn't one to merely let things go, and the team is also going through a transition on offense with longtime coordinator Todd Haley gone. Let's just say Rudolph is going to be earning his paycheck even if he never throws a pass this season.
6. Baker Mayfield, Browns
Anytime you are a first overall pick who isn't seen as a can't-miss type -- a Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, etc. -- there is going to be cause for concern. And when the Browns are the team that passes on everyone else to take you in that spot -- even if under new management -- well, let's just say that history is not on your side. And when the kid quarterback comes with baggage like this -- grabbing his crotch, running from the cops, rubbing plenty of people the wrong way -- and does it in the backdrop of the Johnny Football debacle, well, the football world will be watching closely. Adding a troubled soul like rookie receiver Antonio Callaway to the offense -- alongside Josh Gordon -- could make things interesting and Mayfield is going to have to navigate a pro style offense and being in formations other than the shotgun. Can his body hold up to the rigors of the NFL game? Tyrod Taylor will basically be in a prove-it situation in Cleveland, where success could vault him to a $20M-a-year contract elsewhere, and head coach Hue Jackson enters the season on the hottest hotseat ever, going 1-32 the past two seasons yet somehow keeping his job. It's rarely boring with the Browns, and Mayfield just might be the guy to finally put all of this misery behind them, but if he does he'll be thriving where so many others have failed and he will do so under the backdrop of those who came before him. Tough gig.