This week’s edition of Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback was headlined by a bold prediction: “This is going to be the most talked-about [NFL] draft in history.” That quote came from Gil Brandt, the Dallas Cowboys’ former vice president and the NFL’s current go-to draft guru. If anyone can make an accurate gambit on the future of the league, Brandt, who spent three decades with the Cowboys, would be your man. Yet somehow, the prediction of a life-changing, league-altering draft seems almost too good to be true.
There are only two weeks left until this year’s NFL Draft is underway in Texas. But is Dallas really capable of changing all that much? After all, those three days of lottery picks could be described as the most overhyped event of every year of pro football. The same storyline seems to play out on an annual basis. A few prayers for Cleveland, a few misty-eyed moments over touching stories of players who overcame adversity, and then the smoke settles and the real work begins.
I’m not saying that the draft isn’t important. The players selected over those three days set the tone and the foundation of the future of every team in the league. But the draft is a bit of a shot in the dark. For the past year, scouts at every team have been doing their best to predict the future value of a player, and that isn’t an exact science.
Every football fan knows this story. Todd Marinovich was picked before Brett Favre. Tom Brady went 199th overall. All too often, the greatest stars are overlooked or ignored in the draft, and those who go in the first round end up peaking in college.
Even former Trojans have seen this play out. Former USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, for instance, was a second-round pick last year, then burst onto the scene with the Steelers to become a household name in Pittsburgh and around the NFL. Smith-Schuster ended up posting better stats and making a bigger impact on his team than other first-round picks, such as Corey Davis and Mike Williams, were able to at their respective teams.
The draft process is ultimately unpredictable, a series of well-researched guesses that sometimes pan out and sometimes crash and burn. So why might this draft be the one that changes everything? Perhaps because it’s stacked with an unbelievably expansive lineup of dependable future stars.
We’ll get to the quarterbacks, but first, when talking about this draft, you have to talk about Saquon Barkley. The former Nittany Lion has every tool in his belt to become an All-Pro player in a handful of years. He’s powerful, he’s explosive and when he has the ball, it’s impossible to tear your eyes away from him. If you watched Barkley play a single snap last season, you know that any team can depend on him to shoulder the run game of an offense, even as a rookie.
In any given year, Barkley would probably go in the top four. But not this year. And that’s because of the quarterback class, a group of five young players who each have the potential to become something special.
A lot of scouts, analysts and fans have argued that this class isn’t all that special because of the obvious question marks surrounding each quarterback. Josh Allen has the arm, but not the accuracy. Sam Darnold has the go-get-it attitude and the natural vision, but he tosses too many interceptions. Josh Rosen talks too much; Lamar Jackson runs too often; Baker Mayfield is, well, Baker Mayfield.
But in my opinion, the focus of these criticisms proves the difference between this quarterback class and those of the past. Many of the critiques brought up for each of these quarterbacks define how the young player might not become a star. But I think it’s hard to argue that each of these five athletes will become consistent, dependable starters. And at least a few of them will grow to become stars.
This is how this year’s draft could change everything. As the day nears, many experts are predicting that the first five picks could easily be quarterbacks, with Rosen and Darnold expected to take the first and second slots. This means that the frontrunners of five teams could be completely different next year. Even more importantly, it means that five teams could have veritable superstars in the making running the show next season.
If anyone needs proof of how quickly a young quarterback can make a difference, they only have to look east to Philadelphia, which is still basking in the glow of the Super Bowl victory that Carson Wentz set up in his sophomore season. The Eagles traded up to clinch Wentz in the 2016 Draft, and after an impressive showing as a rookie, he went on to lay the foundation for the dangerous Philly offense that overthrew Brady this season.
The coming-of-age season for Wentz was only the beginning of a shift that is soon to develop throughout the NFL, with Patrick Mahomes taking over the reins in Kansas City and Deshaun Watson returning to full health in Houston. The addition of five new quarterbacks with the potential to make similarly big splashes in their rookie seasons means that this is going to be an explosive year of football to watch.
This year, the NFL has a major shakeup in the works. Fans across the league better strap in and prepare for the ride.
Julia Poe is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” runs Tuesdays.