Though the season has already begun for a handful of teams, college football’s big kick-off comes on Thursday.
It is a season where, from an NFL Draft perspective, all eyes will once again be on the quarterback class.
The 2018 draft class is seen by many as much stronger than that of 2017 at the quarterback position, and it is thought a high number of signal-callers may go off the board in the first round.
There is a whole season for perceptions of the group that are considered likely to declare for the draft to change, but here we look at my top five and assess where they stand going into the new campaign.
1. Sam Darnold (USC)
There has been speculation that Darnold may not declare at the end of the season and choose to play another year with the Trojans instead. But were a draft with him in it to take place tomorrow he would be the undisputed top pick.
Darnold may possess limited experience having only emerged last season but in 2016 he played with the poise of a much more seasoned quarterback. He was calm in the pocket, rarely showing signs of panic while scanning the field.
An extremely accurate quarterback who excels at throwing with timing, Darnold has consistently been able to thread the ball between multiple defenders and can put both velocity and touch on his passes.
He is far from a dual-threat quarterback, but Darnold can escape the rush with his legs and make plays as a runner. Darnold also keeps his eyes downfield while scrambling and is always a threat to complete passes on the move.
Concern has been expressed over Darnold’s throwing motion but, though it is slightly elongated, it is nowhere near as long as that of noted NFL failure Brock Osweiler. Sensing pressure more consistently is the area that Darnold most needs to work on, and he would also be well served by doing a better job of looking off defenders and not forcing balls into coverage.
2. Luke Falk (Washington State)
Luke Falk has received nowhere near the same level of hype as Darnold or the likes of Josh Rosen and Josh Allen but, at this point, he looks a better NFL prospect than the latter duo.
Though his arm strength may not be on the same level as that of Darnold, Rosen and Allen, Falk’s arm is good enough for him to make deep throws with regularity, and he does an extremely impressive job of zipping the ball into tight windows.
Touch throws are also not a problem for Falk and, while attempting passes off the back foot on a consistent basis is not something to be advised, the fact he can regularly complete such throws is a testament to both his arm and his accuracy.
Like Darnold, Falk appears extremely comfortable standing in the pocket. He goes through his progressions and is able to buy time by climbing the pocket, with his abilities with his legs making him a legitimate dual threat who has little difficulty completing passes on the run.
Turnovers appear to be an issue for Falk, who threw 11 interceptions in 2016 and will need to curb the problems he has sailing balls over his receivers if he is to make further strides in his senior season.
3. Josh Allen (Wyoming)
In terms of pure upside, no collegiate quarterback has more than Wyoming’s Josh Allen.
Boasting frankly astonishing arm talent, Allen can put magnificent levels of velocity on his throws and can do so both from the pocket and while on the run.
Allen demonstrates good mechanics and delivers his ball quickly and with anticipation. He is very good at sensing pressure, which he has wherewithal to evade. He extends plays with his legs and a constant threat to pick up yardage as a runner.
While he has largely relied on a one-read system, Allen has shown some ability to go through multiple reads but, in terms of his consistency as a passer, he still has significant strides to make.
Allen will miss high and overthrow open receivers regularly and needs to learn when to take velocity off his passes. His short-to-intermediate accuracy can completely evade him when he is a funk and Allen’s decision-making also needs work, as he is far too willing to force balls into traffic.
4. Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
Though he has attracted plenty of negative attention following his arrest for public intoxication, there is no doubting the talent of Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.
He is an extremely composed dual-threat quarterback who has a knack for gunning the ball into tight windows. Mayfield is a decisive thrower who gets the ball out extremely quickly and is skilled at hitting receivers in stride over the middle.
Mayfield boasts both touch and velocity and, while he has showcased an ability to stand in the pocket and go through progressions, what sets him apart is the length of time for which he is able to evade the pass rush and extend plays.
There are a plethora of examples of Mayfield being chased across the field by multiple defenders before finding the time to reset his feet and locate a receiver in space.
Whether that kind of ability will translate to the NFL remains to be seen but his downfield accuracy needs vast improvement if he is to succeed at the next level. Throws to the sideline also often appear a challenge for a player who will have to cope without two of his most reliable weapons in Joe Mixon and Dede Westbrook.
5. Josh Rosen (UCLA)
Josh Rosen crashed back down to earth in a 2016 season in which he only played six games because of a shoulder injury.
But, after undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder, Rosen can catapult himself into the conversation as a top-10 pick with a strong junior year.
Rosen boasts an obvious live arm and can produce a beautiful deep ball when at his best. He senses and evades the rush well, demonstrating both strong pocket presence and an ability to make things happen on the move, though his mobility is far from good enough for him to be considered a threat as a runner.
The lack of touch Rosen has displayed should be of concern, as should his disappointing habit of missing high with many of his throws.
A lot of simple passes turn into 50-50 balls and his decision-making, particularly when under pressure, has been highly questionable. He has not been helped by drops from his receivers, but both he and his supporting cast will need to make big improvements in order to recapture his 2015 form.