From months to weeks to days, the NFL Draft Countdown has literally reached hours. It won't be long now until Commissioner Roger Goodell will walk to the podium at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX and place the Cleveland Browns on the clock. Then following just two selections, the New York Jets will make one of their most important decisions in recent memory.
"This quarterback draft — like every draft — drives the top end of this thing," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock in a recent conference call with reporters.
Last April, three teams moved up on the first night of the draft in order to select quarterbacks. The Bears, the Chiefs and the Texans all made trades in order to secure their selections of Mitchell Trubisky (No. 2), Patrick Mahomes (No. 10) and Deshaun Watson (No. 12). More than a month ago, the Jets made their first major move of the 2018 draft while sending a trio of second-round picks to Indianapolis in order to get to that third overall spot.
Barkley in Blue?* *Most pundits believe the Browns will either select USC's Sam Darnold or Wyoming's Josh Allen with the first overall selection. But the crosstown Giants have people guessing throughout the league as running back Saquon Barkley has been the name most linked to the No. 2 spot, but NYG general manager Dave Gettleman has not tipped his hand.
"If they fall in love with the quarterback who they think is their franchise guy for the next ten years, that has to trump everything else regardless of fans that want Barkley or whatever, and you have to take your quarterback," Mayock said of New York's NFC representative. "However, if you have any concern whatsoever, there are three great position players there, or you can trade down. And I think the furthest he would be willing to trade down would be 6, which is where Indy is, because if he went to 6, and quarterbacks now go 1, 2, and 3, he's still going to get Chubb, Barkley, or Nelson. So I don't think he's going past 6, and if he stays at 2, as much as he likes his hog molly, I still think that Barkley will be the guy."
Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan has declared quarterback is a position of interest for his team and added that there are some "very good" QBs in this class. The respected Mayock has Darnold rated as his top signal caller, pointing to his dual prowess from inside and outside the pocket. Then there is the intriguing case of Allen, arguably one of the most physically gifted passers ever to come out of college.
"He has to get his eyes and his feet connected. And he needs about a thousand reps and he needs to sit in a room behind Eli Manning or Drew Brees or Tom Brady," Mayock said of the Wyoming product. "He needs a year behind those guys learning how to be a professional, but I love his intangibles. The kid loves the game. He's willing to work. He's really athletic, which gives me hope for his footwork. I'm kind of buying into the kid, as is a lot of the league."
Baker in Green?* *After Darnold and Allen, Mayock ranked Rosen and Mayfield third and fourth, respectively, in his positional rankings. Although he believes Rosen is "the most natural thrower" in the draft, Mayock is concerned with the UCLA passer's injury history that included a shoulder ailment and a pair of concussions.
"From a Jets perspective, will they embrace the swagger of Mayfield — which is pretty significant — and he might play really well and be successful, obviously, on Broadway," Mayock said when asked about what Maccagnan would do faced with a decision between the two. "Rosen, again for me, it's more the durability issue than anything else. So if Maccagnan stepped up at 3 and took Mayfield, it would not surprise me at all."
Wild Cards* *Would it be a surprise if six quarterbacks are taken in Round 1 Thursday night? Lamar Jackson declined to run in Indianapolis and at the Louisville pro day, but he consistently beat defenses with his arm and his legs on Saturday afternoons. Jackson accounted for 119 touchdowns in college, improving as a passer each year and operating in an NFL-like offense under Bobby Petrino.
"The guy I'm most excited about is Lamar Jackson. He's the most exciting athlete in the draft," Mayock said. "I think somebody in the first round is going to make a philosophical and schematic commitment to this kid and change what they do offensively. And it might not be this year where he makes a significant move. But I think long term, I can't wait to see what Lamar Jackson becomes."
Mayfield may not be the only Big 12 quarterback from an Oklahoma school who will have reason to party Thursday. Mason Rudolph completed 63.2% of his passes at Oklahoma State while leading the Cowboys to a 32-9 mark as a starter, throwing for 13,618 yards with 92 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.
"The two things in my head with Mason Rudolph are, number one, for a 6'5", 240-pound guy, he's got fairly average arm talent. I don't want that to be overblown because arm talent is overblown," Mayock said. "But he doesn't blow you away with an ability to drive an 18-yard far hash comeback. Number two, and what I think is a little bit more important, in today's NFL, you've got to have some escapability, some ability to buy some extra time. I think he struggles with that a little bit. When he's got time with clear feet and clear vision, he can drive the ball, and I think he has the best deep ball touch and accuracy in this draft."