With possibly four quarterbacks taken in the first five picks and five (maybe six) quarterbacks taken in the first 32 selections, each of the teams that writes the name of a quarterback on a first-round draft card will believe that they are getting a franchise-changing guy. In the end, up to half (or more) could be dead wrong.
History tells us that quarterbacks have a ceiling that can’t be determined until they’re in the NFL and either busting through it or bumping against it. Most if not all incoming players have flaws, especially the quarterbacks.
Ultimately, success or failure will hinge not only on the ability of the player to adjust to the next level but also on factors beyond his control, such as the ability of his coaching staff at the next level to get the most out of him. Five quarterbacks went in round one 19 years ago, with Tim Couch to the Browns at No. 1, Donovan McNabb to the Eagles at No. 2, Akili Smith to the Bengals at No. 3, Daunte Culpepper to the Vikings at No. 11, and Cade McNown to the Bears at No. 12. They collectively failed more than they thrived.
McNabb was the best of the bunch, a fringe Hall of Famer who’ll maybe get in years from now via the Seniors Committee. Culpepper had some very good moments (including a stellar 2004 season), but a serious knee injury in 2005 derailed his career. The rest — Couch, Smith, and McNown — had largely disastrous NFL careers. Combined, the not-so-Fab Five won a total of zero Super Bowls.
For Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, and Lamar Jackson, it’s impossible to know who’ll thrive and who’ll fail. Where they end up will be a major factor, whether it relates to quality of coaching, the manner in which personalities mesh, and/or the overall stability of the organization. The teams that take the wrong guys (or who fail to develop a guy who otherwise would have done well) will have to deal with the disappointment of swinging and missing, along with the regret that comes from leaving star players on the board, like the Browns and Bengals did in 199 with the likes of Edgerrin James, Torry Holt, and Champ Bailey.
This year, one or more teams will be passing on the likes of Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, and Minkah Fitzpatrick for a quarterback who quite possibly will fail. Or maybe they’ll simply take the wrong quarterback, like the Browns did in 1999 by taking Couch over McNabb. (Then again, maybe McNabb would have been Couch under Chirs Palmer and his successors in Cleveland, and Couch would have been McNabb under Andy Reid in Philly.)
Regardless, as the hype builds for the 2018 draft, it’s important to remember that we don’t know — and won’t know — which of the quarterbacks expected to be picked in round one will be worth a damn until enough time passes to allow their skills, abilities, weaknesses, and achievements to be fully evaluated. For those teams who take quarterbacks at the top of the draft and fail, the good news is that they’ll soon be in position to try it again.