Sean Payton 'wouldn't be surprised' if Sam Darnold is only QB 'left standing' in 4-5 years

From the time he taunted Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, to the time he mockingly led a "Skol chant" during a game against the Vikings, to the time he got upset at Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter and let him know with an awkwardly tense hand shake, Saints coach Sean Payton has never tucked his emotions away the way someone like Bill Belichick does. Almost always, Payton's been honest and vocal about his feelings.

So, it shouldn't come as a surprise to hear Payton giving a brutally honest assessment of this year's crop of quarterback prospects, who are set to enter the NFL in less than two weeks at the April 26-28 draft. 

On Saturday, Payton ripped this year's quarterback class during an interview with The MMQB's Peter King, saying that he doesn't think any of the prospects are as good as Andrew Luck or Carson Wentz and adding that he "wouldn't be surprised" if only Sam Darnold is "left standing in four or five years." 

"I don't see Luck in this draft, and I don't see Carson Wentz, who I liked a lot coming into the draft," Payton said. "I'd feel a little bit uneasy if I were at the top of this draft and I decided I had to have a quarterback. The pressure to get a quarterback is so great in this league, I get that. But we can't create 'em. I wouldn't be surprised if only one of these guys is left standing in four or five years, and if so, I'd guess it would be Sam Darnold."

Funnily enough, most experts have described this quarterback class as top-heavy in nature. Josh Allen supposedly has one of the greatest arms in the history of football, Josh Rosen has been one of the most highly touted prospects since high school, Baker Mayfield just won the Heisman Trophy, and Darnold has been called a combination of John Elway and Jesus.

But Payton apparently doesn't think too highly of Rosen, Mayfield, and Allen -- and maybe Lamar Jackson too, though it's unclear if he would include Jackson with the quarterbacks who will get picked at the beginning of the draft. To this point, Jackson seems to be regarded as the fifth-best quarterback in the draft, but he should be off the board at some point in the first round. 

The thing is, the Saints are actually in the market for a quarterback. Even though they retained Drew Brees by giving him a two-year contract this offseason, the Saints can't keep delaying the inevitable forever. Brees, 39, is nearly at the end of his NFL career, and the Saints don't have his successor in place. Which is why many pundits, including me, have been mocking a quarterback to the Saints in the first round. 

The Saints sit at No. 27 in the draft order, which means they're probably not getting Rosen, Mayfield, Allen or Darnold. But there's a chance, albeit a slight one, that Jackson could fall to them. If that happens, the Saints would likely have a difficult time passing on a prospect who appears to have a promising future in the league provided that he gets time to learn from the brightest NFL minds. Enter: Payton and Brees. Even if Jackson isn't available -- I have a hard time believing he'll get past the Patriots at No. 23, at the very least -- the Saints could pull the trigger on Mason Rudolph, another developmental prospect with promise. Again, it's unclear if Payton's criticism extends to Jackson and Rudolph or if it pertains strictly to the top-four prospects. 

Or maybe this is all just Payton's way of Jedi-mind-tricking the rest of the league into passing on the top quarterbacks so that one of those guys can fall to him.

Star Wars /

If that really is the case, Payton shouldn't expect to generate the same kind of results that Obi-Wan got. The Browns are almost definitely taking either Darnold or Allen with the first-overall pick, the Giants could draft a quarterback with the second pick, the Jets will undoubtedly select a quarterback with the third pick, the Broncos are in play for a quarterback at No. 5, and the Bills and Cardinals could be looking to move up for a quarterback -- not to mention that the Patriots have suddenly entered the quarterback market

As Payton said, "The pressure to get a quarterback is so great in this league." And this year, there are a whole host of teams -- including the Saints -- under pressure to get one.

Finally, it's worth noting that nobody -- including Payton -- actually knows which quarterbacks will become the next Carson Wentz and which quarterbacks will become the next Ryan Leaf. History tell us that NFL teams have no idea how to evaluate quarterback prospects. And that's unlikely to change this year or next year or the year after. Maybe Payton is right in that most of the quarterbacks in this year's draft won't be standing in five years. Maybe this is going to be the best quarterback class in history of the draft. Nobody knows.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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