Photo: Gary A Vasquez/USA Today Sports
Four quarterbacks were among the first 10 players selected in the 2018 NFL draft. Lamar Jackson, who finished 32nd to the Baltimore Ravens, made it five first-round QBs, the second most ever. The New York Times called it a “quarterback frenzy” in the next day’s paper.
Of the four quarterbacks who have finished in the top 10 – who are expected to jump right in and contribute – only Josh Allen, of Wyoming and the Buffalo Bills, is still with the team that drafted him. Josh Rosen, from UCLA, was released from his sixth NFL team (he still earned $18 million in career earnings, more than $1 million for every touchdown pass he threw in the NFL).
In the NFL, few players thought that top-level quarterbacks coming out of college would wear out their welcome (there are exceptions like JaMarcus Russell and Tim Couch, of course). Perhaps the most notable current case of a high-draft QB sticking around despite teething problems is the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, who has been with his third NFL team since July but may have the best comeback story yet. appears to do so far.
Related: Tom Brady’s poignant homecoming was perhaps his most humane game
It was a bit of a surprise, at least to the mock-draft constructors, that the Cleveland Browns used the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 to select Oklahoma’s 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. Sam Darnold was favored by many to become number 1 in the overall standings.
At just six feet tall, Mayfield didn’t have the majestic presence of a Peyton Manning—and not the terrifying speed and quickness of Jackson, who wasn’t a starter at the start of his pro career, but was the NFL MVP throughout his career. became. second season.
Mayfield was a brash underdog who just got the job done. He grew up in Austin, Texas, but he got no attention from his hometown Texas Longhorns. He went to Texas Tech as a walk-on, won the starting job, then transferred to Oklahoma as a walk-on and won that job. After leading the Sooners to a landslide victory at Ohio State, he planted an Oklahoma flag in center field.
But unfortunately for the Browns, Mayfield’s best performances probably came in television commercials for Progressive Insurance, where he showed surprisingly strong comedic timing. His time in Cleveland ended amid injury trouble and an Instagram beating from his star recipient’s father, Odell Beckham Jr. He was eventually traded to the Carolina Panthers after a Browns career that wasn’t really terrible or really great.
Believe it or not, that trade took place just five months ago. Mayfield was in a quarterback league with, guess what, Darnold, who had flopped after the New York Jets picked him with the third pick in 2018. Darnold was traded to Carolina before the 2021 draft for three draft picks.
Mayfield started the Panthers’ first five games—four of which they lost, leading to the firing of coach Matt Rhule. With Darnold injured, PJ Walker was made the starter, but he was only so-so and then got injured. So Darnold, not Mayfield, was chosen to replace Walker.
Mayfield asked the Panthers to release him last Monday. He was signed the next day by the Los Angeles Rams, who needed a quarterback after Matthew Stafford, who had led them to a Super Bowl victory in February, suffered a scary spinal cord injury.
The Rams won three of their first 12 games and have had a poor season – well, until Mayfield showed up. He didn’t start the Rams’ game against the Raiders last Thursday, but he certainly finished it off, leading a game-winning, last-minute, 98-yard touchdown drive.
“I don’t know if you can write it better,” he said after the game. “Of course we want it to be a little more stress-free, but it’s a damn good story. I’ll be honest with you, so it’s special.”
Mayfield wore a baseball cap to the post-game press conference that read, “This isn’t my first rodeo,” but he smiled and laughed at reporters as he said of the improbable comeback win, “That was my first rodeo doing that. That will I say.”
Three days later, Darnold led the Panthers to their second straight win. While their 5-8 record is still not as popular, Carolina is only one game behind Tom Brady and the fading Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are clinging to first place in the awful NFC South.
Meanwhile, the Browns are 5-8 and not going anywhere. The quarterback Cleveland traded to replace Mayfield, Deshaun Watson, missed the Browns’ first 11 games of the season because he was suspended for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. He was mediocre in his first game back – a victory over the hapless Texans – and Cleveland lost his second game.
The Jets left Darnold after three years in favor of another quarterback they selected in the top five. Zach Wilson was dropped three weeks ago in favor of a quarterback, Mike White, who was drafted by Dallas in the fifth round in that ill-fated 2018 draft. White was drilled in the ribs in a loss to Buffalo on Sunday, with Joe Flacco filling in temporarily. Flacco was the Super Bowl MVP after leading the Ravens to the title in the 2012 season – but was dumped after getting injured, and Baltimore realized that Jackson was going to be a fantastic quarterback. All QBs seem to be connected in some way.
As of now, Stafford will most likely miss the rest of the season, but he won’t need surgery in the off-season, Rams coach Sean McVay said last week, meaning he plans to return. What that means for Mayfield is uncertain, except that he will play against Green Bay on Monday.
After the game against the Raiders, Mayfield said he would just “record as much as he can and drop the pieces where they can.” I have no control over the future. I know I have the next four games here. I try to build on that and be the best version of myself and improve.”
The four quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 in 2018 have combined to one Pro Bowl in 2020 – Allen. , the second choice.
Quarterbacks have to deal with the pressure that players in other positions obviously don’t have, but quarterbacks usually get second and third chances (and sixth chances, in Rosen’s case). Aside from Allen, the top 10 of the 2018 draft has barely seen a frenzy of quarterback success. But Mayfield shows that they are not done yet.