Depending on whom you ask, it’s quite possible that the question of which quarterback is worthy of being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft will net four different answers.
There’s a case to be made for and against each top prospect — USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, and Wyoming’s Josh Allen — and those cases have been made meticulously throughout the past several months. One of those many arguments, especially as it related to the NFL, where the competition level will heighten immensely, is the level of competition each faced at the collegiate level. On the surface, that edge certainly favors Mayfield.
SB Nation’s Jason Kirk detailed the level of completion each NFL quarterback prospect faced throughout their respective careers, and among the top four prospects, none faced more top-10 pass defenses (4), top-30 pass defenses (11), or top-60 pass defenses (27) than Mayfield.
“It’s reasonable to second-guess the numbers put up by skill players in offense-prone conferences,” Kirk said. “But don’t act like Mayfield was playing laser tag every Saturday. In 2017, he played well against the SEC champ. In 2016, he faced the Big Ten’s Playoff rep and an Auburn that nearly beat national champ Clemson. In 2015, he faced Clemson itself and beat a nine-win Tennessee in Knoxville.”
“Plus, it’s not like every Big 12 defense fits the stereotype,” Kirk added. “TCU and Texas were top 20 in 2017 Defensive S&P+, and Mayfield torched the Horned Frogs twice.”
Bearing those raw numbers in mind, though, it’s worth mentioning that Mayfield did play 18 more career games than Rosen, and 21 more than both, Darnold and Allen. With Darnold seeing a top-10 passing defense three times and a top-30 pass defense nine times throughout his USC tenure, the redshirt sophomore did face a higher percentage of of top-10 (11.1) and top-30 (33.3) pass defenses, as opposed to 8.3 and 22.9 percent for Mayfield, respectively.
Those percentages don’t exactly swing things out of Mayfield’s favor, as he still saw higher caliber pass defenses much more frequently than Rosen and Allen, and in terms of his overall body of work, Mayfield’s 48 career games, of course, makes for an impressive body of work.
Is that clear edge over Rosen and Allen in the competition category worth placing Mayfield ahead on draft big boards? Will Mayfield seeing more competent defenses en masse, in comparison to Darnold, who did see them at a slightly more consistent clip, be enough to push Mayfield ahead of The Golden State gunslinger?
That’s one of the many questions NFL scouts and decision-makers have been aiming to answer, and will continue to do so until April 26.