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2018 NFL Draft quarterback watch list: Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, others to watch

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With college football starting up next month, it’s never too early to get to know prospects to watch for the 2018 NFL Draft. Today, we focus on the quarterbacks.

It wasn’t that long ago that our focus and energy was invested in the 2017 NFL Draft — a draft that I would call a success for general manger John Lynch and his front office. The trades and picks that he made, especially on day one were impressive. From the early outlook, the San Francisco 49ers may have some gems in later picks such as running back Joe Williams and tight end Greg Kittle. With training camp, preseason, and opening kickoff soon to arrive we will soon find out the impacts the newest members of the red and gold will have on the team.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers-Press Conference Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Even though it is only July, I know everyone is already getting excited for the 2018 NFL Draft (well, maybe not everyone), and with college football kicking off next month it doesn't hurt to get to know potential draft eligible prospects for next year. The 49ers are expected to be better this season than in 2016, however there is no denying that the team is in a massive rebuild. This past draft was crucial for the 49ers, and early reviews are mostly positive. The 2018 Draft is just as important, if not moreso if the 49ers hope to return to the postseason and become contenders.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers-Minicamp Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback … The position that is the most exciting and intriguing in the draft, and football in general. With very, very few exceptions a team cannot win a Super Bowl without a reliable and talented signal caller. Out is Colin Kaepernick, who was within five yards of getting the 49ers their sixth Super Bowl. Out is Blaine Gabbert…who is simply…a backup quarterback. In is a pair of former Chicago Bear’s, Brian Hoyer, who will open the season as the team’s starter, and Matt Barkley … the most likely backup.

Also on the roster is third round pick C.J. Beathard out of Iowa. Beathard was an interesting choice, especially in the third round. However, what I like about Beathard is that he ran a pro-style offense, called plays in the huddle, and plays a similar game to a certain Washington quarterback. However, I am left to wonder if any of the quarterbacks on the roster are the longterm answer? If I was a betting man, my answer would be … no.

The 2018 quarterback class is expected to be more talented than what the 2017 class had to offer. So talented that the first three names called in next year’s draft could all be passers.

Today’s article is dedicated to upcoming potential draft eligible prospects. The key word here is potential. While these names are eligible, some may opt to return to school the following year, so nothing is set in stone. These rankings are bound to change at some point, but for now, heading into the season here are the top five quarterbacks all 49ers fans should get to know before college football gets rolling.

1. Sam Darnold, QB - USC - Redshirt Sophomore

6’4 - 225 lbs
Round Projection: 1st
2016 Stats: 3,086 yards, 31 touchdowns, 9 interceptions

NCAA Football: Southern California Spring Game Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Strengths

Sam Darnold burst out onto the scene and saved USC’s season, earning and helping them clinch a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State in January. Darnold has the size and physique you look for in a pocket passing quarterback. Darnold’s ball placement on short, intermediate, and long passes is consistent and mostly on point. He places the ball only where his receiver can make a play. He is a quick decision maker in the pocket, and utilizes his quick feet to scramble and avoid pressure and taking sacks from oncoming defenders. While I don't consider Darnold a dual-threat, his ability to consistently extend plays when the pocket collapses is a big plus. His field vision continues to improve, and his ability as a field general and leader is only going to get better with each passing game. He is calm and doesn't let the moment get too big.

Weaknesses

I won't be the first or last to point this out, but Darnold has a unique release. His delivery is on the longer side, and this is something to watch and see if there is any improvement this upcoming season. His motion and delivery is unorthodox — not to say it’s bad, it’s just different. Darnold is not the fastest quarterback eligible for next year’s draft. I wouldn't want him making too many plays with his legs. While I don't want to call this a weakness, just a statement — that is, he did this for one season — let’s see him follow up last season’s fireworks. However, for now he is my number one quarterback to watch.

2. Josh Allen, QB - Wyoming - Junior

6’5 - 222 lbs
Round Projection: 1st
2016 Stats: 3,203 yards, 28 touchdowns, 15 interceptions.
Highlights

NCAA Football: Poinsettia Bowl-Brigham Young vs Wyoming Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Strengths

Has the physical tools and frame evaluators seek in a single caller. Plays in a pro style offense, and plays under center more often than not. Has quick feet and smooth movement, and can make passes both in the pocket and on the move when the pocket collapses. Even for someone his size, he has speed to make plays on the run and extend drives. Can find his receivers in tight lanes and small windows. His release is quick and on point, and the ball has a lot of zip coming out of his hands. Watching tape, I don’t see Allen staring down his receivers or locking on his first read which is always a plus.

Weaknesses

There were times throughout the season where Allen would bail from the pocket instead of completing a pass. While a strength is his zip and velocity, his touch and placement on certain passes need improvement this upcoming season. Allen needs to do a better job protecting the football this season, and try to lower his turnovers. He had 15 interceptions this past season. I would like to see him raise his completion percentage from last season. His deep ball placement needs improvement as well, and this links with his velocity and explosive release.

If Allen can produce a better blend of touch with his velocity it will only improve his draft stock moving forward.

3. Josh Rosen, QB - UCLA - Junior

6’4 - 210 lbs
Round Projection: 1st
2016 Stats: 1,195 yards, 10 touchdowns, 5 interceptions

NCAA Football: UCLA at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Strengths

One of the most anticipated freshman when he arrived on the UCLA campus two years ago. Rosen had a very impressive debut for the Bruins. Like with our first two quarterbacks on the list, Rosen has the physical tools and frame desired for the position. One of my favorite things about Rosen on tape is his delivery. Of all the quarterbacks I have watched these last couple of seasons, Rosen’s release is the smoothest. He makes it look easy and simple. Yet it is quick, wicked, and effective. He plays in a pro-style system, under center, and constantly goes through his reads and progressions. On multiple occasions he utilizes play action. Rosen is a quick decision maker, who can change plays on a dime, and throw defenders off balance. Rosen never panics, and stays strong in the pocket more often than not. He is not afraid to take a hit when pressure is oncoming. Of all the quarterbacks on this list, Rosen has the best chance to overtake the number one position when the dust settles on the draft lead-up.

Weaknesses

Durability has to be the biggest factor here. Rosen suffered a season ending shoulder injury involving nerve damage. He is expected to make a full recovery and enter this season healthy. Another early red flag is character concerns. Rosen is not afraid to express his views and opinions. According to sources this has rubbed teammates the wrong way. Leadership can be a question as well. Rosen will need to do a better job protecting the football. He put himself in bad positions where the ball was stripped from his hands from oncoming defenders.

If Rosen can stay healthy, show strong leadership, and take better care of the football, he can potentially be the number one overall pick next April.

4. Mason Rudolph, QB - Oklahoma State - Senior

Height: 6’5 - 235 lbs
Round Projection: Late 1st Round
2016 Stats: 4,910 yards, 28 touchdowns, 4 interceptions
Highlights

NCAA Football: Alamo Bowl-Oklahoma State vs Colorado Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Strengths

The common theme with this quarterback class is that most of them have the physical tools to play the position. Rudolph can be added to this growing list. On tape, Rudolph makes the NFL throws that scouts seek and get intrigued by. Rudolph is poised in the pocket and will not panic when pressure is oncoming. He has the ability to go through his progressions, even when his first read is taken away from him. His velocity is a plus, and his release is quick and on point. Rudolph has the strength to make all the throws scouts seek, including good deep ball accuracy.

Weaknesses

Unlike the first three passes on this list, Rudolph plays in a spread system at Oklahoma State. He will need to adapt and learn to play under center, and call plays in a huddle. On film I almost never saw Rudolph take snaps under center, and run play-action — concepts that are major components in an NFL offense. I also have doubts about Rudolph’s ability to make pre-snap reads. Unfortunately with the system he is in at Stillwater, I’m not sure this is an area where he will make improvement. There have also been criticism’s with his hands being small for a passer. See game tape against Oklahoma last year where he struggled to grip the football.

There is a lot to like about Rudolph, however I am a bit surprised he didn't declare this year. He has a major hill to climb if he hopes to surpass the three names ahead of him on this list.

5. Lamar Jackson, QB - Louisville - Junior

Height: 6’3 - 203 lbs
Projected Round: 2nd
2016 Stats: 3,543 yards, 30 touchdowns, 9 interceptions. 1,571 yards rushing, 21 touchdowns rushing, average 6 yards per carry.
Highlight video

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Louisiana State vs Louisville Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Strengths

If anyone put up video game numbers last season in college football, it was hands down, Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson. In short, Jackson put on a show for the ages. Just watch his game tape against Syracuse. He was a one-man wrecking crew in that game. His explosive speed and ground attack numbers were some of the best highlights and plays produced at the collegiate level. As a passer, Jackson has a quick and efficient release, who can find his receivers in tight windows. I really like the zip he produces on his passes. For the offense that he plays out of in Louisville he lined up under center more than I had originally expected. He is poised and calm under pressure. When the pocket collapsed, no one escaped pressure with more ease than Jackson. His straight line speed is above and beyond, and he is projected to be the fastest quarterback in this upcoming draft should he declare.

Weaknesses

Perhaps I am overestimating, placing Jackson in the top five. My major question with Jackson is this: Can he play quarterback at the next level? He will need to bulk up considerably. He has a lean frame, and with the amount of running that he commits to, makes him vulnerable to big hits and potential injuries. I need to see more passes from the pocket, and the ability to go through his progressions. If his first read is taken away from him, he wants to tuck the ball and run (sound familiar 49er fans?). His deep ball accuracy will need improvement as well.

Bottom line: With all the talent that Jackson possess — he did after all win the Heisman Trophy, but so did Johnny Manziel and RGIII — he needs to show the nation that he can play more like a pro-style quarterback. For now, he is a quarterback with a run-first mindset. He will be one of the most intriguing prospects, if not the most, to watch in college football this season.

Best Of The Rest

Chase Litton, QB - Marshall - Junior
6’6” - 223 lbs
Round Projection: 2nd-3rd
2016 Stats: 2,612 yards, 24 touchdowns, 9 interceptions
Highlight video

NCAA Football: Marshall at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Luke Falk, QB - Washington State - Senior
6’4 - 205 lbs
Round Projection: 3rd
2016 Stats: 4,468 yards, 38 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
Highlight video 1
Highlight video 2

NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jarret Stidham, QB, Auburn - Redshirt Sophomore
6’3 - 210 lbs
Round Projection: 4th
Stats: 1,265 yards, 12 touchdowns, 2 interceptions

Riley Ferguson, QB - Memphis - Senior
6’4” - 210 lbs.
Round Projection: 4th-5th
2016 Stats: 3,698 yards, 32 touchdowns, 10 interceptions
Highlight video

NCAA Football: Boca Raton Bowl-Memphis vs Western Kentucky Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Nick Fitzgerald, QB - Mississippi State - Junior
6’5 - 230 lbs.
Round Projection: 4th-5th
2016 Stats: 2,453 yards, 21 touchdowns, 10 interceptions.
Highlight video

NCAA Football: St. Petersburg Bowl-Miami (Ohio) at Mississippi State Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

What are your thoughts on these rankings? Thinking of a quarterback who did not make this list? Do you have a different top five? Please share in the comments below! Thank You for reading!