Quarterbacks were on stage Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine, with each of the so-called Fantastic Five leaving strong impressions in his own way.
USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson are projected as first-round selections by NFLDraftScout.com.
Given that Darnold and Rosen played in the second largest media market in country, perhaps it wasn’t surprising they came off as the most polished. Both looked comfortable with hundreds of media members asking questions and the cameras rolling, making eye contact with interviewers and delivering insightful comments and entertaining anecdotes.
The steely-eyed focus that helped Darnold develop a reputation as a clutch player at USC also stood out on the podium. He is ranked as my top-rated prospect in part because he possesses the intangibles required as a field general, which includes the confidence in his own game.
Often criticized for an elongated throwing motion, Darnold calmly responded.
“I’m not trying to change my throwing motion at all. I think I get the ball off pretty quick. There is kind of a wind-up, but I think I get it off quick and that’s what matters,” Darnold said.
And he’s right.
Rosen also lived up to his reputation — which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Whereas Darnold appeared confident, Rosen looked almost smug at the podium. He sported a bit of a smirk as he answered questions, starting some of his replies before reporters even finished their questions. Some of his answers sounded rehearsed — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — but some scouts tell me they think Rosen will struggle to fit in with teammates in an NFL locker room; based on this interview, I can see their point. I’ve compared Rosen to Jay Cutler throughout the process and that is not just because they share Pro Bowl-caliber accuracy.
Allen surprised me.
He comes off as confident and eager to please, with an “ah shucks” personality that I’ve watched charm scouts in the past — and, more importantly, inspire teammates.
One of the biggest questions for a player coming from a relatively small program is, can they handle the big stage? Allen looked comfortable in the spotlight, sharing his post-Combine plans to continue working out in preparation for his Pro Day, as well as his intention to go to Laramie, Wyoming, a week early to reunite with teammates and friends to ensure there would be no distractions when the on-campus workout arrives.
It should come as no surprise that Mayfield was the most confident of the group.
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner proudly proclaimed himself to be the most accurate quarterback in the draft and his 70.5 percent completion percentage — with 43 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 2017 — certainly back up his assertion.
The bravado that makes Mayfield so fun to watch on the field also makes him charismatic off of it.
Given his playing style, size and fun-loving personality, Mayfield won’t be a fit for everyone. There will be plenty of old-school coaches who will be turned off by his style, but the fire that burns within Mayfield is obvious, and some — including teammates I’ve spoken to — find it inspiring.
Because Jackson is one of the most remarkable athletes at the Combine, regardless of position, it isn’t difficult to understand why some are eager to project him to receiver. But he is strictly a quarterback on my board, showing steady improvement as a passer with the velocity, accuracy and touch to make every NFL throw.
Jackson was funny and confident, causing media members to laugh out loud on many occasions, stating emphatically on several occasions he is a quarterback and will not run routes or even the 40-yard dash this week.
That said, his answers were quite short and simple in comparison to his peers. There is no getting around the fact that Jackson is not the eloquent speaker and commanding presence at the podium that some prioritize as the face of the franchise.
Where these quarterbacks are drafted (and how they ultimately fare in the NFL) is perhaps the single most compelling element to the 2018 draft. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the intangibles demonstrated in interviews won’t play an important role in both, especially in a position group as tightly packed as this one.