Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear … actually just earlier this year, when NFL riches and achievements were glittering on the horizon for four young hotshot college quarterbacks who had risen to the top of everyone’s 2018 draft boards, and teams and their fans were lining up to prod, time, test, work out and interview each one to determine the perfect fit for the season ahead and beyond.
Was Sam Darnold your franchise QB, the young man with the great height, drive and grasp of the game from Southern Cal? Or maybe you were on “the Baker Train,” a devotee of Oklahoman Baker Mayfield’s fiery style, mobility and team spirit. Or perhaps one of the Joshes was your serious choice — Josh Allen, the raw, big-armed, mobile Cowboy from Wyoming, or Josh Rosen, the tall UCLA Bruin who had the intelligence, accuracy and mechanics to make an immediate splash.
Of course, the draft sorted these matters out months ago. The Jets maneuvered to tap Darnold at No. 3 after the Browns completed their top-of-the-draft surprise to grab Mayfield and before Allen went to the Bills at No. 7 and Rosen to the Cardinals at No. 10. And all four members of the Top 10 QB Class of 2018 have gone on to see extensive action already — no year or two of seasoning while holding clipboards and running scout teams.
And not surprisingly, all four looked a lot like, well, most twentysomething QBs look when they take the reins right out of the box in their NFL careers. There have been some amazing successes and a lot more growing pains.
After 10 weeks of the season, we wanted to compare the four rookies to see how well each is doing and where each might need to improve over the final seven weeks and heading from there into their sophomore seasons. Some of the stats below you’re very familiar with, but perhaps you haven’t seen much of the unofficial drive rate percentages that we’ve presented below the old stand-by metrics.
In pure bulk numbers, not averages/percentages, Darnold has been at the head of the pack. He has the most games, starts, plays and drives and his offense has produced one more point than Mayfield’s Browns, a function of Sam’s taking every snap in the first nine games of the Jets’ season.
But by some standard quarterback measures, Mayfield’s season to date has been the most impressive of the class. He’s the only one of the four completing more than 60% of his passes, the only one with more touchdowns thrown than interceptions, and the only one with a passer rating above 70.0. He’s also been sacked the most. Darnold is the only one of the quartet to reach three starting victories, although Mayfield could be asterisked, since his 2-5 record doesn’t include his “relief win” leading the Browns from behind to the Game 3 win over Darnold and the Jets in his first pro action.
This next chart shows some unofficial drive percentages for each rookie’s offense — touchdowns drives, turnover drives (not just by the QB but by the entire offense), punt drives and 3-and-out drives. Mayfield’s 20.9% TD drive rate is impressive, not far below the NFL average for all QBs of 22.7%, and his turnover drive rate isn’t far from the league leaders’ rates around 6.0%. Darnold and the Jets have punted the least among the rooks, Allen is last among the first-year men in all four categories.
Our last chart shows some more drive metrics. Darnold, with short-drive games vs. Jacksonville and Minnesota, has seen his plays/drive average dip to 4.7, lowest in the rookie class, but his 23.1 yards/drive (including penalty yardage for and against) is second-best as is his resulting 4.9 yards/play. And Darnold 3.1 plays for every point his offense has scored is not far off Mayfield’s 2.9 plays/point (fewer plays needed per point is better). Allen’s yards/drive, yards/play and plays/point are all lowest among the league’s 35 QBs who have logged at least 40 drives.