Josh Allen has prototypical size and can throw the ball out of the stadium, but his accuracy has been questioned. Baker Mayfield checks the production and competitiveness boxes but evaluators worry about his stature and some moments of questionable judgment.
Is Wyoming's Allen the next Carson Wentz? Can Oklahoma's Mayfield follow Drew Brees as the next highly successful six-foot quarterback? How those questions are answered – how NFL teams fall on the two dichotomies above – will help determine how the draft unfolds before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on the clock at pick number seven.
The 2018 class of quarterback draft prospects is deeper than usual, and wildly talented, but also still very difficult to predict in terms of where each passer will land. For teams hoping to grab one of these QBs, and for teams hoping to see an early run on the position in order to push other talented prospects down the board, Allen and Mayfield appear to be the most volatile variables.
USC's Sam Darnold and UCLA's Josh Rosen are widely considered the more polished prospects and are good bets to go in the top 10. Louisville's Lamar Jackson and Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph have strong first-round potential but are not often mentioned as top-10 picks. There is far less consensus on Allen and Mayfield.
There are seven expert mock drafts on NFL.com, for instance, and six of them have Darnold in the top spot. The one dissenting opinion puts the USC star at number two. All seven analysts also have Rosen among their top six picks; in other words, he too will go before the Buccaneers on the clock, if these experts are correct.
In contrast, those seven experts (Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks, Charley Casserly, Peter Schrager, Charles Davis, Lance Zierlein and Chad Reuter) are all over the board on Allen and Mayfield. Three of the seven have Allen going among six picks before the Bucs, but the other four all have him outside the top 10. Four of the seven analysts put Mayfield in the top six, but the other three have him at 11 or lower, including one with the Sooner star all the way down at #17. Only one of the six has both Allen and Mayfield in the top six – the dream scenario for teams not seeking a quarterback. Oh, and that one dissenter on Darnold going first? He gave that honor to Allen.
Given his healthy draft stock, it's not surprising that Darnold chose not to throw at the Combine. However, with so much to potentially gain, and so many NFL minds to sway, Allen and Mayfield eagerly put their skills on display on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Both came to Indy fully expecting to dominate. Allen didn't hesitate when asked if he was the best quarterback in the building.
"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "I don't mean to say that in a cocky way, but I think every quarterback should think that. If you're not thinking that you're the best quarterback in this draft, you probably shouldn't be here. Everybody does things well in their own aspect and we're all different, we all have our pluses, our minuses, but if you don't have the mindset that you're the best quarterback in this draft, you're not going to fare well in this league."
Mayfield would rank the prospects differently, of course.
"What makes me the best option? Accuracy, I can make any throw," said the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner. "Winning that's the most important, but the way I've been able to get my guys around me to play, not just the offensive players around me, the other 10 guys, but defensive guys, special teams, the energy I bring, the passion I bring, it's infectious. So you can ask anybody on that Oklahoma staff, that's what I bring to the table and it helps us out."
Obviously, both passers are well aware of the scouts' specific misgivings. Mayfield is shorter than most successful NFL quarterbacks, and his perceived missteps off the field or on the sideline have invited unflattering Johnny Manziel comparisons. According to Mayfield, who confidently said he could turn around the Cleveland Browns if they took him first (or fourth) overall, the first bit of criticism is unimportant and the second is inaccurate.
"Height doesn't matter – you see guys like Tyrod Taylor, Brees, Russell Wilson, they've proven that it doesn't matter," he said. "If you want to say anything else, I've got three years of tape you can watch. Height doesn't matter at that point, I think I had less batted balls at the line of scrimmage than the other guys here and I'm pretty sure I'm a shorter guy too, so it doesn't matter.
"Teams ask me about my character, but until you sit down and talk to me directly, you might have image that's portrayed in stories or headlines. But I love the game, I'm up front and honest, I know exactly what I'm about and that's the most important thing. What you see is what you get. I've always been brutally honest and some people don't like that because it's rare now days. But I go into these meetings and I'm just myself. I want to get drafted to a team that knows exactly what they're getting.''
Allen played against lesser competition at Wyoming and didn't exactly dominate at that level, or shine when the Cowboys played against the likes of Nebraska, Iowa and Oregon. In three games against those schools, Allen completed exactly 50% of his passes, threw for 142.3 yards per game and had a 1-8 TD-INT ratio. His career completion rate of 56.2% speaks to the questions about his accuracy. But Allen thinks he can duplicate the transition that Carson Wentz quickly made from North Dakota State to NFL MVP candidate for the Philadelphia Eagles.
"You see a lot of smaller-school guys go on to the NFL and have success," noted Allen. "Carson Wentz, Derek Carr for example. Carson would've been the MVP this past season had he not gotten hurt. The transition from Year One to Year Two was exceptional for him. I was able to talk to him last year. I haven't talked to him much this year. but just knowing that we played in the same system, obviously people like to compare me to him and I look at that as a compliment. He's a fantastic football player, fantastic quarterback and I take those highly that people put me in the same sentence as him, because he's a really good one."
Allen and Mayfield started their workouts on a good note, with perfectly acceptable 40-yard dash times of 4.75 and 4.81 seconds, respectively. Both are considered exceptional athletes, even with the aforementioned perceived flaws. And both have plenty of game tape for scouts to watch. Still, their every pass on Saturday will be scrutinized closely as QB-needy teams try to figure out which ones they like the best and how early they have to consider drafting them.
Ultimately, those are decisions that will affect not only the teams looking for new field generals, but also those hoping that coveted prospects at other positions fall farther down the draft. That's why the draft stock for Allen and Mayfield – perhaps altered in some important way on Saturday – will be important to watch in the weeks ahead.