The 1983 NFL Draft is famous for its first-round run on quarterbacks, and rightfully so. Not only did that draft set a still-standing record with six passers going in the opening frame, but it was largely a successful group. Todd Blackledge (7th overall) didn't really work out for the Kansas City Chiefs, but four of the other five – John Elway (1st), Jim Kelly (14th), Tony Eason (15th) and Dan Marino (27th) – started in Super Bowls and the fifth, Ken O'Brien, had a reasonably strong career that included two Pro Bowl selections. Elway, Kelly and Marino are all in the Hall of Fame.
The 1999 NFL Draft came closest to that 1983 record with five quarterbacks selected in the first round. That group did not come close to replicating the combined success of the '83 first-rounders, however. Donovan McNabb (2nd) and Daunte Culpepper (11th) were NFL stars at their peaks and McNabb played in a Super Bowl, but Tim Couch (1st), Akili Smith (3rd) and Cade McNown (12th) all proved to be draft busts.
It will likely be a long time until we know if the 2018 NFL Draft produces the kind of quarterback riches that came out of the Class of 1983 or the smattered disappointments of the Class of 1999. It will only be three weeks, however, until we find out if the Class of 2018 has a similar volume of first-round passers to those two years. And the answer will probably be yes.
It would be surprising if any of the consensus top four quarterbacks – Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen, in some still-mysterious order – falls out of the first round on April 26. If any other QB-needy teams becomes enamored of Lamar Jackson and/or Mason Rudolph, the 2018 Draft could tie that 1983 record.
For my latest Roundtable discussion with Team Reporter Casey Phillips and Buccaneers.com Contributor Carmen Vitali, we're going to focus on that quartet near-certain first-rounders. Where those four quarterbacks fall is of great interest to the Buccaneers and their fans, not because Tampa Bay is in the QB market but because those selections will have a great impact on which players are available at pick number seven. That's where the Buccaneers are currently sitting, eagerly waiting to see how the first six selections play at.
So let's try to figure that out. Each of the three of us is going to predict which teams will draft Allen, Darnold, Mayfield and Rosen, and at what spot in the first round. We'll also share our thoughts on what those projected picks will mean for the Buccaneers. As usual, these predictions are solely our own and are not meant to represent in any way the thoughts or strategies of Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht, Head Coach Dirk Koetter or any of the team's draft decision-makers.
For this particular roundtable, we did not want to see each other's answers before making our own predictions. Therefore, order didn't matter and we will just present our predictions alphabetically.
1st. Sam Darnold, Cleveland, Pick #1
2nd. Josh Allen, Buffalo, Pick #2 (via trade)
3rd. Josh Rosen, N.Y. Jets, Pick #3
4th. Baker Mayfield, Arizona, Pick #5 (via trade)
Reasoning:I am projecting the top four quarterbacks to all be drafted before the Bucs pick at #7. Is part of this wishful thinking since it would guarantee the Bucs have a shot at one the "Big Three" non-QB prospects? Sure. But it's also because this year feels different. This offseason has seen more movement than most with trades involving both players and draft picks. So I think at least one team will jump from behind the Bucs into the top six spots to grab a quarterback, and maybe two.
In the years since the newest collective bargaining agreement, it has been more acceptable for teams to make a move like that since all it would cost them is draft capital, not a boat load of actual capital (like Sam Bradford money). Teams like the Rams are showing how you can go all in to take advantage of the cheap years of your quarterback's rookie contract.
Quarterbacks participate in drills during the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Photos by AP Images.
Darnold feels like the safest pick for the Browns, and they still have a chance to land another key piece to their team just a few picks later knowing they've secured their quarterback. After that, I predict the Bills will trade up to pick Allen. But I definitely agonized over whether that trade would be with the Giants at two or the Broncos at five. Allen's ceiling and upside are incredibly high. His arm stole the show at the Combine. The knock on him has been accuracy issues and a lower completion percentage from college. But with AJ McCarron, the Bills could afford to sit Allen for a year and develop him if they think it's necessary.
The Jets have already traded up, and they clearly did so to get their quarterback. And I believe they traded to pick #3 and not any higher because they would be happy with any of the top three guys. But I would have gone with Rosen over Allen even without that Bills trade because I don't think the Jets want another "project" guy if they can avoid it. Allen may have a bigger upside, but the Jets prefer someone pro-ready and accurate, which is Rosen.
After the Browns pick a non-QB at #4, that brings us to the Broncos at #5. I think Denver was the main threat to pick a quarterback outside of the Browns, Jets, and Bills, but with the first three guys off the board, they weren't crazy enough about Mayfield to turn down the draft capital they could acquire in a trade, or deal with Mayfield's off-field concerns or brashness. The Cardinals might have tried to wait to get Mayfield later, but three QBs coming off the board with the first three picks will set off a bit of a panic and force the Cardinals' hand.
What It Means for the Buccaneers: It means a party in the draft room like the one we heard last year when O.J. Howard was surprisingly theirs for the taking. If four quarterbacks go before the Bucs pick, they are guaranteed a shot at Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson, or Bradley Chubb. I don't need to tell you the impact any one of those guys could have on this team.
1st. Josh Allen, Cleveland, Pick #1
2nd. Sam Darnold, N.Y. Giants, Pick #2
3rd. Baker Mayfield, N.Y. Jets, Pick #3
4th. Josh Rosen, Buffalo, Pick #7 (via trade)
Reasoning: Yes, the Browns could take Saquon Barkley or Nick Chubb at #1 and still get a quarterback at #4, but we're talking about the most important position on the field and Cleveland needs to make sure they get the best prospect (in their estimation). I'm convinced they will take the quarterback first, and I know that's no kind of stretch. Choosing Allen as that quarterback over Darnold or Rosen is a bit more of a stretch but it's what I've been doing in our mock drafts and I'm not going to change it until I see a good reason to do so. The key here is that the Browns acquired a very viable starter in Tyrod Taylor and thus can take their time smoothing out Allen's rough edges. I think they convince themselves they can turn him into another Carson Wentz.
The Giants are the real mystery here and, in my mind, the team most likely to make my predictions go astray. It has to be incredibly tempting to stay put and add Saquon Barkley to an offense that hasn't featured a 1,000-yard rusher since the days of Ahmad Bradshaw. It might be even more tempting to snatch up Bradley Chubb as the instant replacement for Jason Pierre-Paul, who is now a Buccaneer. Finally, if the Giants were willing to move down they could probably extract a king's ransom out of another quarterback-needy team for that second spot. It would be safer for the upwardly-mobile team then trading into the fifth or sixth spots.
But the Giants have something they haven't had in 14 years: A top-five pick. The last one was in 2004, when they drafted a quarterback named Eli Manning. (Well, actually, they drafted Philip Rivers and immediately traded him to San Diego for Manning.) Manning proceeded to start 214 of the Giants' next 224 games, and he could continue on in that capacity in 2018, but it's just about time for a transition to the next Manning. Just like the Indianapolis Colts found themselves in position to draft Andrew Luck immediately at the end of the Peyton Manning era, the Giants are back at the very top of the draft in a draft that can easily provide their successor. I'm guessing the Giants don't expect to be holding another pick that high for a long time, so they pull the trigger now on the quarterback.
I have no angst about the Jets picking a quarterback. I don't think you trade three second-round picks to move up three spots for any other reason than to assure yourself of a quarterback. The Jets made the deal knowing full well that the two picks in front of them could be quarterbacks, which means they had to be enamored of a third one that is less likely to go first or second. I think that's Mayfield, because it wouldn't surprise me if the Browns are Giants quietly have Rosen at the top of their lists.
Cleveland will have their quarterback already so will use the #4 pick on Barkley or a similarly impactful non-passers. The Broncos might be in the market for a passer but it says here they roll with Case Keenum, continue to see if they have something in Paxton Lynch and wait at least another year to plunge into the QB draft pool. The Colts expect Andrew Luck back at full strength and thus pass on the passers. Which brings us to #7, where Tampa Bay is waiting, and for that I might as well transition into…
What It Means for the Buccaneers: If the draft falls this way, with three and only three quarterbacks in the top six, the Bucs could find themselves in possession of a highly-coveted draft spot. There seems to be a consensus among football analysts that the trio of Barkley, Chubb and guard Quenton Nelson are in a tier of their own among the non-quarterbacks. Any one of those three would hit a need for the Buccaneers and thus would be hard to pass up. But if they're all off the board, Tampa Bay may turn its attention to the secondary. They could stay at #7 and almost surely get the top defensive back on their board. That may be exactly what happens, but in this scenario I also expect the phone to be ringing in Tampa Bay's draft room.
There is, as one personnel man at One Buccaneer Place said to me, no magic "Trade Down" button in that room. The Bucs could be willing to move but unable to come up with an equitable deal. But it seems likely that they would at least get some nibbles. In the scenario I've drawn here, it's the Buffalo Bills who make the right offer, sending over pick #53 in the second round to jump from the 12th spot up to #7. According to the popular NFL trade value chart, that is pretty close to a fair deal, with the Bills overpaying just a little. I'm sure they'd be willing to do that for a quarterback.
The deal moves the Buccaneers down five spots, but really only four in practical effect because they would know the team to which they are giving the seventh pick will use it on a quarterback. Thus, they only have to worry about four teams – Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland and Miami, in that order – and if they have multiple defensive backs they like they would almost be assure of getting one at #12.
1st. Sam Darnold, Cleveland, Pick #1
2nd. Baker Mayfield, N.Y. Jets, Pick #3
3rd. Josh Allen, Denver, Pick #5
4th. Josh Rosen, Buffalo, Pick #6 (via trade)
Reasoning: Darnold is my number-one quarterback in this draft. I saw a scouting report that described the USC product as blue collar when talking about his work ethic. The combination of maintaining a workhorse mentality while playing for a big-time program and successfully handling the spotlight I think showcases intangibles that set him apart beyond his on-field play. He's been inconsistent – showing flashes of brilliance two seasons ago where he threw for 31 touchdowns and only nine interceptions in 2016. Last season, his completion percentage went down a bit from 67.2 to 63.1 and he threw 13 interceptions while throwing for 26 touchdowns but with the aforementioned work ethic, I think he will only continue to improve. Cleveland gives him that chance by putting him behind Tyrod Taylor until he's ready to take over the reins.
View photos of USC QB Sam Darnold in college. Photos by AP Images.
So the Jets traded up from the sixth pick to the third with the Colts, presumably to get a quarterback as both Scott Smith and I have previously hypothesized in our various mock drafts. I think New York has a specific target they are going for and that target is Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. Putting Mayfield in the New York market is a little bit concerning considering his off-the-field issues but he's an extremely accurate passer and exceeded a lot of people's expectations at the Combine. The Jets will look to build a team around him so they aren't necessarily in 'win-now' mode, which would give Mayfield time to develop within their system and get adjusted to the NFL game that way.
There's just something about the raw talent Josh Allen seems to have that I think Denver GM John Elway won't be able to resist. Josh Rosen is absolutely more NFL ready but the long ball from Allen is, well, really pretty. He's unproven and even a bit concerning when it comes to his performances against Power-5 teams in college – he had a completion percentage of just 50.0 and threw eight interceptions with one touchdown in three career games against major conference teams. However, in the Mountain West, he threw for over 3,000 yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in three seasons. My money is on Elway banking on Allen's potential and turning the former Cowboy into a Bronco.
Meanwhile, Buffalo needs a quarterback to start quickly so I have to imagine they'd be elated to grab the most NFL-ready of these four quarterbacks by trading up to the sixth spot. I could see a scenario where they trade up to two instead of six and still take Rosen, for the record. That would come at a pretty high price, though. Honestly, I don't think the Giants give up their second overall pick. You want to take advantage of those picks when you have them because let's face it, you don't want to be picking that high next year. The only hesitation with Rosen in Buffalo is how much the Bills' offense is built for a mobile quarterback. I'm not sure it would be an issue but while a good passer, I haven't seen much on how particularly mobile Rosen is. So, here's to hoping their scheme would adjust to him. I have to think it would, given that you have franchise player hopes for a guy you pick this high in the draft.
What It Means for the Buccaneers:* *You'll see that the Browns selecting Darnold will have a bit of a domino effect that pushes the quarterbacks down a little in my scenario. If Darnold is off the board, I don't think the New York Giants take a quarterback with the number-two pick, which means that one of the three big non-quarterback prospects (RB Saquon Barkley, DE Bradley Chubb and G Quenton Nelson) theoretically leaves the board here and is therefore unavailable for the Bucs. The Giants could take the bait from a team who wants a quarterback and trade down, but at the end of the day I think the second overall pick is far too valuable to a team with so many current needs, and talents like running back Saquon Barkley are too few and far between to pass up.
Again, it seems the Jets' reason for trading up was to nab a quarterback, which works in the Bucs' favor since they aren't in the market for one. With one of the big-three non-QB prospects gone at number two, this pick preserves the remaining two at least until the next pick where Cleveland will select again. Unfortunately, since Cleveland has already taken a quarterback with their first overall pick, their fourth overall pick will probably take another one of the big three off the board. But hey, one remains!
Then, Tampa Bay holds its breath at Pick #5 because, while the Broncos are probably in need of a quarterback, there isn't a guarantee that they take one here. It bodes well for the Bucs if they do, as it will keep more options on the board.
Finally, the Bills trade brings a sigh of relief for the Buccaneers. This scenario works out well with the Bucs having plenty of options at number-seven overall because all four of these quarterbacks went in the first six picks. One of the Big Three I've been referencing would be available. Even if it doesn't quite work out that way – you have great secondary options, as well. GM Jason Licht has said that there are definitely more than seven guys they'd love to have so they're sitting in a good spot, regardless.