The NFL preseason is underway. As always, rookie quarterbacks are a big story. However, the fact that teams almost never blitz in the preseason coupled with the fact that a good chunk of the defenders the rookies go up against will be insurance salesman and substitute teachers within a month or so make it nearly impossible to get all that enthused about a rookie quarterback who lights it up in the preseason. Rookie quarterbacks had better look sharp this time of year. The conditions will never be friendlier.
Still, a first-round quarterback is drafted on the premise that they are the future of the franchise. It is always fun to predict just when a rookie quarterback will get their first crack at fulfilling that role. So, here is the first of a two-part series featuring some educated guesses as to when this year’s first-round quarterbacks will get their first start.
Lamar Jackson: Simply put, Jackson does not belong anywhere near an NFL field as a starting quarterback when anything relevant is on the line right now. He only completed 40% of his throws in last week’s Hall of Fame game and 57% of his passes throughout his college career. That is a number that rarely gets better for any quarterback as they jump from college to the pros.
Jackson does have tremendous running and overall athletic ability. The Ravens have already said Jackson will see the field this year in some sort of special package. Still, it is a 50-50 proposition at best that he will ever be the one to unseat Joe Flacco in Baltimore.
Flacco gets a ton of heat. However, he is one of the most natural throwers of a football you will ever see. Moreover, the Ravens have always played meaningful games in cold weather when Flacco has been able to stay healthy. That could very well be the case again this year in a weak AFC. He may not produce many of the highlight reel plays that Jackson is famous for, but as long as Flacco stays healthy and keeps Baltimore competitive, Jackson’s first start is nowhere near happening. If and when it does, he may not even be wearing purple.
First start prediction: 2019 or later
Baker Mayfield: For better or worse, the reigning Heisman trophy winner is the future in Cleveland and everyone knows it. Nothing is certain. However, the off-field concerns are bigger than whatever doubt there may be about whether or not Mayfield can play at this level. He showed the ability to do everything asked of a quarterback on the field in college.
However, Hue Jackson is 1-31 in two seasons as head coach in Cleveland. He needs to win a handful of games this year to save his job. We do not know if Mayfield can do that right away. Tyrod Taylor certainly can. He helped lead a similar offensive roster in terms of talent to the playoffs last year in Buffalo. He represents Jackson’s best chance at banking a few much needed early wins.
So, unless Mayfield sets the world on fire in the preseason and the coaching staff is intoxicated by it, Taylor is going to lead this team for a while in the regular season.
However, even though the franchise is finally heading in the right direction, the Browns will not be competing for a playoff spot this year. By the time we get to late October, their record will likely reflect that. At that point, the Browns have nothing to lose by getting a glimpse of the future. It would be wise to make Mayfield’s first start against less than stellar competition.
First start prediction: Week 7 at Tampa Bay
Sam Darnold: Like Mayfield in Cleveland, it is no secret that Darnold is the future for the Jets. What is different is that Darnold appears to have already grown up. Moreover, he played a much more pro-style offense at Southern Cal than Mayfield did at Oklahoma.
Also, Todd Bowles got a contract extension in the offseason. There is always pressure to win in the NFL, but Bowles is certainly breathing much easier than Jackson. The Jets know what they have in Josh McCown, a 39-year-old journeyman with 23 career wins as a starter. Whenever Darnold takes over, McCown will be a great guy to have around. Also, Teddy Bridgewater has barely played since 2015 due to injuries. When you add all of these factors together, the timing for Darnold’s first start seems clear.
First start prediction: Week 1 at Detroit
Be sure to check back next week as Josh Allen and Josh Rosen get the first start crystal ball treatment.