Will they start? If not, when will the rookie QBs play?
By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer
Will they start? If not, when will they play?
While there are many scenarios that can dominate the spotlight as the NFL season kicks off, with five teams there is only one.
The first-round rookie quarterback.
Eventually, they all will get the chances to be the franchise guy. For such teams as the Browns and Jets, it’s been a long and futile search to find their man.
This Cleveland version of an NFL club arrived in 1999 and still is searching. For New York, the last true franchise QB was Joe Namath, and his historic Super Bowl triumph was 50 seasons ago.
Buffalo (Jim Kelly), Arizona (Kurt Warner), and Baltimore (Joe Flacco — not elite, but he won a championship) haven’t been so empty at the position.
So what sort of progress did the Browns’ Baker Mayfield, Jets’ Sam Darnold, Bills’ Josh Allen, Cardinals’ Josh Rosen and Ravens’ Lamar Jackson make so far?
BAKER MAYFIELD, No. 1 overall pick — For excitement alone, this guy can’t miss. Of course, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill have had similar skillsets but not a lot of success (or good health) in the pros.
Mayfield has worked hard, played well enough and seems to understand he needs to be patient while learning behind Tyrod Taylor. Mayfield has been a consummate teammate — yes, there were knocks on him about it that appear totally unfounded — and Mayfield even dressed up as GM John Dorsey for the team’s rookie talent show. The impersonation earned him laughs and respect.
In games, he has shown poise in the pocket, kept drives alive with runs and he has the ability to keep his eyes downfield while under pressure.
But barring an injury to Taylor, Mayfield is a backup for now.
“When I look at what Baker has done, walking in here, handling everything form the media to his teammates to all of the expectations and all of that, I think that he has been outstanding,” coach Hue Jackson says. “I can’t say that enough. He is handling all of this the right way, and I think that is very, very important for his future and what he is trying to accomplish.”
SAM DARNOLD, No. 3 overall pick — He’s the front-runner to be the starter when the regular season opens after a solid summer and preseason.
It’s been pretty clear this has been Darnold’s job to lose from the moment he took the field three days late after some haggling over his contract. And, it’s more than the numbers, which aren’t eye-popping: 29 of 45 for 244 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. It’s the way Darnold has handled himself in games, showing the instincts of a veteran when plays break down around him.
“He moves to the next play,” offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said. “For a young kid, that’s unbelievable. He doesn’t dwell on it, he moves on. Actually, when he has a mistake, usually the next play he’s more focused, more intense and he usually does better that next play. He’s a mature 21-year-old and nothing is too big for him. He doesn’t get down on himself.”
JOSH ALLEN , No. 7 overall pick — The Bills gave up on Taylor by trading the third-year starter to Cleveland, mostly due to his inability to fit the pocket passer mold coach Sean McDermott prefers. Buffalo then traded up five spots to draft Wyoming’s Allen with the seventh pick, understanding the strong-armed but raw player would require time to develop.
Allen remains a work in progress, reflected in his hesitancy in his first preseason start, a 26-13 loss to Cincinnati. Allen got little protection from a patchwork offensive line and finished with fewer yards passing (34) than the 39 yards he lost while being sacked five times.
That was considered a step backward — inaccuracy again was an issue — after he showed promise in combining to go 18 of 32 for 176 yards and two touchdowns while overseeing the second- and third-stringers in his first two preseason games.
Returning backup Nathan Peterman has put up the best numbers of Buffalo’s three quarterbacks, but is he really the future? No, Allen is.
JOSH ROSEN, No. 10 overall pick — Never one to lack confidence, Rosen impressed coaches and teammates from the moment he arrived in camp, quickly absorbing offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s offense. Rosen said he believes he’s “pretty much gotten better every day I’ve been here.”
He shows his emotions after a bad play, but has drawn none of the negativity from within the organization that seems so pervasive from the outside, where he’s sometimes criticized as being too smart, too cocky, having too many outside interests for his own good.
Rosen has been all football and has praised Sam Bradford for the help he’s provided. Bradford returns the compliments.
“He’s hungry for information,” Bradford says. “It seems like he’s always trying to learn something. It doesn’t stop in the meeting rooms. Even at the dinner table he’ll ask me. It’s fun to be around someone like that and to hopefully try to be able to help him.”
Rosen sat out Sunday night’s win in Dallas with a jammed thumb after hitting it on a helmet during practice early last week.
Bradford is the unchallenged starter, but given his injury history, it will be no surprise if Rosen at some point has to take over the offense this year.
LAMAR JACKSON , No. 32 overall pick — After looking very much like a rookie in Baltimore’s first three preseason games, Jackson showed marked improvement in his fourth go at it. Facing the Dolphins, Jackson ran for a touchdown and threw for a score.
“I’m working my way up right now,” he said. “Fourth preseason game, I felt like I did pretty good. But there’s still room for improvement.”
Coach John Harbaugh said, “We’ve seen it in practice where he’s done some really good things, but we hadn’t really seen it in a game yet. And today just fell into place for him a little bit.”
Jackson won a Heisman Trophy at Louisville. He understands that Joe Flacco is the starter, so the rookie is striving to learn from both Flacco and RG3 and seems willing to wait for his time to shine. The Ravens’ performance behind Flacco early in the season could determine if and when Jackson gets a shot.
AP Pro Football Writer Dennis Waszak Jr. and Sports Writers David Ginsburg, John Wawrow, Tom Withers and Bob Baum contributed.
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