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Over the next few weeks, I'll be providing quick NFL Draft previews for 2018 fantasy-relevant prospects at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end positions.

As a general format, the previews will be in two parts, with the exception being tight end. Part one will feature previews on the highest projected draft picks at the position. Part two will take a look at a few of the deep sleeper prospects who could gain traction through the draft process, but have desirable traits already built-in from their college production.

To kick off the series, we'll start with the highly-rated QBs in a potentially historic class.

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The NFL Draft Prospects

Before I jump into the player analysis, I want to introduce several of the statistics that I'll be using:

  • Adjusted Yards Per Attempt (AYA)
  • Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt (ANYA)
  • Net Yards Per Attempt (NYA)

These three stats factor in sacks, touchdowns, and interceptions to properly describe a QB's level of play. The equations for these statistics can be found here. Now, let's meet the prospects.

 

Sam Darnold, USC

There was plenty of speculation surrounding Darnold after a Cotton Bowl performance that left much to be desired. As late as the afternoon of January 3, reports were swirling that Darnold was leaning towards a return to USC and then by that evening, he had entered the NFL Draft. But now that he has declared, let's take a look at Darnold's production and what type of prospect he'll be.

Darnold's stock significantly increased after the 2016 season where he threw for 3,086 yards, 31 TD, and nine INT with a completion percentage of 67.2 percent. Darnold began the season as the backup to Max Browne, but took over after two weeks and helped lead the Trojans to a 10-3 season ending in a Rose Bowl win against Penn State.

Darnold raised eyebrows with his Rose Bowl performance, however:

Cmp Att Pct Yds TD Int Rush Att Rush Yards
Sam Darnold USC 33 53 62.3 453 5 1 5 20

After that game, it was clear that Darnold would be one of the highest rated QB prospects in the 2018 class and he was the favorite to be the top pick.

GP PCT ANYA AYA NYA
2016 13 67.20% 8.79 9.02 8.22
2017 14 63.10% 7.60 8.50 7.73
Career 27 64.89% 8.10 8.72 7.93

There was a clear regression for Darnold in 2017, who saw an increase in his sacks and interceptions which led to the decrease in ANYA and AYA. Darnold still managed to keep his AYA well over the 7.0 threshold that you'd want from a top pick. His career 64.89 completion percentage ranks behind only Baker Mayfield of the projected top QB picks.

Despite seeing regression in his 2017 season, Darnold entered the Cotton Bowl as the favorite to be the number one pick in the draft, but his performance left more questions than answers. Darnold failed to throw for a touchdown and committed three turnovers.

He could help solidify the top draft position with a strong performance at the combine, with a particular emphasis on ball velocity and three cone. Draft position has historically been the best indicator for fantasy success along with these combine drills and final season AYA. If Darnold remains a top-five pick, as expected, he'll project well as a future fantasy QB.

Darnold could be a valuable dynasty asset immediately because he'll likely be given an opportunity to start right away. In a single-QB 12-team dynasty league, he'll likely be worth a late second or early third round rookie pick which could solidify itself as a second if he lands in a favorable situation.

 

Josh Rosen, UCLA

Those who have followed "Chosen Rosen's" career at UCLA aren't surprised to see him as a top projected pick in the NFL Draft. The former 5-Star recruit finished his high school career with over 9,400 passing yards, 90 passing TDs, and 730 rushing yards. Pair that with his near-perfect NFL physique and Rosen's college career was always expected to fall short of the full four years.  His freshman year helped accelerate the hype for Rosen's future draft potential.

Josh Rosen GP COMP ATT PCT YDS TD INT QBR
2015 UCLA 13 292 487 60.00% 3668 23 11 134.3

Averaging over 280 yards per game with a better than 2:1 TD to INT ratio, it's no surprise that Rosen had both analytic and film scouts excited for the future.

GP PCT ANYA AYA NYA
2015 13 60.00% 7.02 7.46 7.09
2016 6 59.30% 7.36 8.18 7.46
2017 11 62.50% 7.51 8.40 7.36
Career 30 60.82% 7.28 7.96 7.27

Rosen increased his AYA each season despite being labeled as disappointing. His raw numbers from 2016 and 2017 don't tell the whole story as Rosen missed time during each year. During his senior campaign, however, Rosen improved his TD to INT ratio from 2:1 up to 2.6:1.

If Rosen's measurables match the expectations, he could see his stock ascend to the conversation for top pick. Rosen is expected to have a desired height, weight, and ball velocity. If Rosen falls out of the top five of the draft, it would be a major draft night surprise.

Rosen or Darnold will be the top two rookie QBs in rookie drafts. Whichever QB goes first overall will have an edge for first drafted in dynasty leagues. Similar to Darnold, he projects as a late-second or early-third round pick.

 

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

The next two QBs are where the film and analytics scouting community will have drastically differing opinions. Since I fit into the latter of those two communities, we'll start off with my favorite QB prospect in the class. Mayfield lost his two top RBs and the 2016 Biletnikoff award-winning WR after a record-setting 2016 season and managed to improve his numbers and win the Heisman trophy.

Baker Mayfield GP PCT ANYA AYA NYA
2013 TEXTCH 8 64.10% 5.50 6.32 5.96
2015 OU 13 68.10% 8.99 10.39 8.06
2016 OU 13 70.90% 11.41 12.30 10.24
2017 OU 14 70.50% 11.71 12.91 10.34
Career 48 68.54% 9.49 10.61 8.70

It's pretty clear to see when you compare Mayfield to the other prospects that he is the most efficient of the bunch. He has the highest career completion percentage and his career AYA over 10 is nearly two more than both Darnold and Rosen. But let's just focus on his AYA during his final two seasons. Since 1956, here are the top five leaders in AYA, according to Sports Reference.

Rk Player AY/A Year School
1 Baker Mayfield 12.91 2017 Oklahoma
2 Baker Mayfield* 12.3 2016 Oklahoma
3 Robert Griffin III* 11.85 2011 Baylor
4 Russell Wilson* 11.83 2011 Wisconsin
5 Bryce Petty* 11.67 2013 Baylor

Not only was Mayfield the most efficient QB of all time in 2016, but he then improved upon it despite losing his top two RBs and top WR.  In addition to Mayfield having the best season according to AYA, but he also holds the all-time record for Passing Efficiency Rating and Passing Yards Per Attempt.

Rk Player Rate Year School
1 Baker Mayfield 198.9 2017 Oklahoma
2 Baker Mayfield* 196.39 2016 Oklahoma
3 Russell Wilson* 191.78 2011 Wisconsin
4 Robert Griffin III* 189.48 2011 Baylor
5 Colt Brennan* 185.96 2006 Hawaii

 

Rk Player Y/A Year School
1 Baker Mayfield 11.45 2017 Oklahoma
2 Michael Vick* 11.35 1999 Virginia Tech
3 Baker Mayfield* 11.08 2016 Oklahoma
4 Ty Detmer 11.07 1989 Brigham Young
5 Robert Griffin III* 10.68 2011 Baylor

From a production standpoint, there's no question that Mayfield is the cream of the crop in the 2018 class, but that doesn't make him a lock to be drafted at the top. He hasn't been officially measured, but it's expected he'll stand just over six feet tall. "Big QB" truthers will tell you that this is a big red flag, but take another look at those lists above. There's another similarly-sized QB on two of them (and is 12th in the third list) who should be considered when reviewing this prospect.  While many see Mayfield as the second coming of Johnny Manziel, he's a far superior passer and while he shares some of the creativity that Manziel showed, he's far closer to Russell Wilson with his effectiveness.

Mayfield will need to have a strong showing at the combine in the interview process and drills to solidify himself as a high draft pick. With some character concerns related to his previous arrest and on-field issues, Mayfield may have to prove to certain GMs that he's not the second coming of Johnny Football personality wise. If he can be a combine standout, Mayfield could go top five if a GM is willing to take a risk.

Mayfield's draft stock is highly variable and for fantasy purposes, he could be hindered greatly if he slips beyond the first round. While there's a chance he's the next Russell Wilson, Mayfield could face a similarly challenging path to starting that Wilson faced. He's worth a later pick in rookie drafts because there's a chance he's the top QB of the class, but if Mayfield is drafted as a backup, he's only worth a late round flier selection.

 

Josh Allen, Wyoming

Alright, I'll start this off with complete honesty. I don't like Josh Allen. I'm a stats guy and he's not a high quality prospect from a statistical standpoint, but the Wyoming QB is projected as a top 10 pick because of his physical traits and scout reviews which is why we have to take him seriously as possible dynasty asset.

Josh Allen GP COMP ATT PCT YDS YDS/ATT YDS/G TD INT ANYA AYA NYA
2015 WYO 2 4 6 66.70% 51 8.5 25.5 0 0 8.50 8.50 8.50
2016 WYO 14 209 373 56.00% 3203 8.6 228.8 28 15 7.27 8.28 7.55
2017 WYO 11 152 270 56.30% 1812 6.7 164.7 16 6 5.85 6.90 5.68

Had Allen left after the 2016 season, there would have been concerns about his limited sample size, but his efficiency wouldn't have come into question. His 2017 is raising eyebrows in a very negative way. His completion percentage is still lower than you'd want, his AYA dropped more than a full yard, and against a lower level of competition he's averaging less than 175 yards per game.

Because he plays at a small school and is physically gifted, Allen is often compared to fellow small school QBs, Carson Wentz and Ben Roethlisberger. While he may share some traits with them, he fails to measure up statistically over his college career.

  Comp. % AYA ANYA NYA
Josh Allen 56.24% 7.71 6.68 6.78
Carson Wentz 64.05% 8.80 8.13 7.71
Ben Roethlisberger 65.49% 8.40 7.44 7.35

Allen wasn't as accurate as either QB and failed to lead him team to the same level of success that either achieved. While it's fair to label them as physical comparisons, they're not talent comparisons.

Josh Allen is going to make or lose his money at the combine. If he performs as one of the top QBs in the drills, he could see himself drafted in the top five. There have even been reports that the Browns are infatuated with him and are strongly considering him at number one overall.

Allen would be my fifth or sixth dynasty QB in the class if he's selected anywhere other than number one overall. If he's selected number one overall, he would likely rise up to four. In a single-QB 12 team dynasty league, I wouldn't select him in a four round draft. In a two QB league, I'd consider him in the third round if he lands in a position to start.

 

Lamar Jackson, Louisville

I'm not sure that any QB prospect has been more criticized for having an awesome ancillary skill.  Maybe it's because he's under 6-foot-2 and weighs under 215 lbs, but it's hard to argue that Jackson doesn't have the look of an exciting NFL player.

Lamar Jackson GP COMP ATT PCT ATT/G YDS YDS/ATT YDS/G TD INT SCK SCK YDS ANYA AYA NYA
2015 LOU 12 135 247 54.70% 20.6 1840 7.4 153.3 12 8 26 -186 5.62 6.96 6.06
2016 LOU 13 230 409 56.20% 31.5 3543 8.7 272.5 30 9 46 -330 7.49 9.14 7.06
2017 LOU 13 254 430 59.10% 33.1 3660 8.5 281.5 27 10 29 -160 7.82 8.72 7.63

There are a couple of red flags on Jackson's stat line. His completion percentage has never exceeded 60 percent and his AYA dropped during his final season. But in that same line of thinking, his completion percentage has improved each year and he took fewer sacks during his 2017 campaign. His progression as a passer, as shown by his increased completion percentage and yards per game, is why Jackson can make a legitimate case to remain a QB at the next level when he'll inevitably be pressed to change positions.

But what really stands out for Jackson is his rushing ability.

Lamar Jackson Class Pos G Att Yds Avg TD
2015 Louisville FR QB 12 163 960 5.9 11
2016 Louisville SO QB 13 260 1571 6 21
2017 Louisville JR QB 13 232 1601 6.9 18

Jackson will finish his career with more than 250 rushing yards more than consensus top RB, Saquon Barkley.

Jackson ended his college career with a subpar performance against Mississippi State, but that game appears to be a clear outlier. His four interceptions represented 40 percent of his season total and it was only his second game during his career with more than two interceptions. Both his ANYA and AYA dropped by 0.5 yards from that one game. Had his season ended prior to then, Jackson would have seen improved efficiency across the board following his Heisman trophy season.

With a creative offensive coordinator that embraces Jackson's ability to move, his ceiling could be the top QB in the class. At worst, Jackson should be selected in the fourth round of rookie drafts because of his potential for fantasy stardom. But if he goes to a team that is willing to start him using a Run-Pass Option offense, a case could be made that Jackson should be the first QB selected in dynasty leagues.

 

More 2018 Dynasty League Strategy