The 2018 QB class was supposed to dominate the game of football. From the Heisman winning Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson, the can’t miss So-Cal QBs in Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold to the “project” Josh Allen, the 2018 QB class should serve as an important lesson for quarterback needy teams in the similarly stacked 2023 NFL draft.
The 2018 QB Class
Like every NFL draft, the 2018 iteration saw some top prospects become NFL stars while others have struggled to simply stay in the league. The 2018 QB class is no different, ranging from one on a practice squad to two potentially battling for MVP.
The High Performers
For a second, let’s flashback to the 2018 draft. The Buffalo Bills had just made their first playoff appearance since the late 1990s before being bounced by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the first round. Despite the euphoria of ending the drought, the Bills understood they weren’t likely to advance much further with Tyrod Taylor at the helm.
After watching the first few picks of the night, the team made a draft day swap with Tampa Bay to snag one of the most controversial prospects in the 2018 QB class; Josh Allen.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens watched the night unfold and knew that Joe Flacco was unlikely to lead the team back to a Super Bowl. As a result, the traded back into the first round, acquiring pick number 32 to take the last member in the highly-touted QB class; Lamar Jackson.
Since entering the league, Jackson has won an MVP while Allen very well might take the award home this season. Both teams have been frequent playoff teams and it wouldn’t be surprising to see either team advance to at least the second round of this year’s Postseason.
The Low Performers
The big debate with the 2018 QB class was who would go first, the trendy Baker Mayfield who seemingly came out of nowhere to win the Heisman, or Sam Darnold, who ranked near the top of most mock drafts since he signed his letter of intent with USC?
Looking to break an extraordinarily ugly list of quarterbacks and add some swag back into the building, the Browns settled on Mayfiled. Meanwhile, the Jets knew the Giants (picking second overall) were in-love with Saquon Barkley and despite having had a miserable roster filled with more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese, jumped from number 6 to number 3, resulting in Darnold landing on Broadway.
Finally, the last of the 2018 QB class was Josh Rosen. At one point, Rosen looked like a very professional quarterback but questions about his work ethic led to some concerns about his long-term ability. Nevertheless, the Arizona Cardinals didn’t want to wait another year and jumped from 15 to 10, despite a similarly porous roster.
In hindsight, perhaps it’s not unsurprising that these QBs were unsuccessful in the NFL.
Rosen was the first to go after a terrible year in the desert. The Cardinals struggled that season going 3-13 and with the first pick and the chance to take Kyler Murray sent Rosen to Miami. Currently, he is on Cleveland’s practice squad after stints in Tampa, San Francisco and Atlanta.
Darnold was kicked to the curb before last year by the Jets and moved to Carolina where he is joined by Mayfield. Baker dazzled early but locker room friction and a constantly changing coaching staff saw the team move on from the former 1st overall pick this past offseason.
What the 2023 NFL Draft Should Learn
The 2018 QB class should serve as a stark warning for the 2023 NFL Draft. When looking at drafting a young quarterback, teams should first take a very intrinsic look at their roster. Those that were unsuccessful in the 2018 QB class all had similar situations yet ignored these red flags with the hopes of finding the next franchise savior.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing young quarterbacks is trying to adapt and learn a new, more sophisticated system, once entering the NFL. For the 2018 QB class, those that struggled had the most turnover on the coaching staff.
Mayfield saw his first professional coach, Hugh Jackson, fired after 8 games. Gregg Williams had until the end of the season before being replaced by offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, who similarly lasted only one season.
Darnold started with Todd Bowles for a season before the Jets decided to bring in an offensive-minded coach. Despite a failed tenure in Miami, the Jets hoped Adam Gase’s second run as a head coach would be more effective. Sadly for Darnold, it was not.
Meanwhile, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson have been exclusively coached by Sean McDermott and John Harbaugh.
Rosters Filled with Holes
Another issue that impacted the growth of the three “failed” prospects of the 2018 QB class were rosters that weren’t quite ready to support a young QB. With the 2023 NFL Draft rapidly approaching teams that need a QB should start addressing their current rosters.
The Bills knew they needed a pass catcher to further develop Allen. As a result, the shipped a plethora of picks to Minnesota to pick up Stefon Diggs. The Allen to Diggs connection has quickly become one of the most dominant in the NFL. Now the Bills could have kept the picks and drafted Justin Jefferson, but either way they would have added a talented pass catcher for their young QB.
Meanwhile, the Ravens drafted both Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews in the same draft as Lamar while adding Marquise Brown in the first round of the following season, giving Jackson a handful of talented players to grow with.
Besides drafting Darnold and signing Isaiah Crowell, the Jets did little to surround their young QB with weapons. Add in an offensive line that consistently ranked in the lower third of the league, it was never very likely that Darnold would succeed.
Looking Forward to the 2023 NFL Draft
With the 2023 NFL Draft coming relatively soon, teams will start seriously looking at the young QBs in this year’s loaded class. In a class that could see five QBs drafted again in the first round, teams should look at the 2018 QB class as a perfect example of what to do and what to avoid. If not, the quarterbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft might quickly resemble those from the 2018 QB class that struggled.