It happened 35 years ago and nothing has come close to it since.
The 1983 NFL Draft was the best quarterback draft ever. It produced three Hall of Famers in John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly, a solid starter in Ken O’Brien, a Super Bowl starter in Tony Eason and a really good announcer in Todd Blackledge.
Sixteen years later, the 1999 Draft was supposed to rival that ’83 Draft when five quarterbacks were taken in the first half of the first round.
Of that quintet that featured Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown, only McNabb reached stardom, or a Super Bowl.
Culpepper had his moments before injuries curtailed what could have been a fine career. The other three never came close to their potential or hype.
Which leads to this 2018 NFL Draft to be held in Dallas, April 26-28.
For the first time since 1999, five quarterbacks are expected to be selected in the first round.
“They’re going to go,’’ a long-time scout said. “But like always, one, maybe two, will make it and the others will be average, at best, and out of the league, at worst. It happens all the time, but every year you hear about these quarterbacks. They’ve been chasing that ’83 draft for a long time now.’’
This year’s Fab Five includes Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, of Oklahoma; another Heisman winner in Lamar Jackson, of Louisville; Sam Darnold, of Southern Cal; Josh Rosen, of UCLA; and Josh Allen, of Wyoming.
“Overall, it’s a solid group,’’ the scout said. “They all have their good qualities about them. But they all have some flaws, as well.’’
Mayfield, who this scout ranks as the best of the five, is the only senior of the group. Jackson, Allen and Rosen are juniors and Darnold is a red-shirt sophomore.
“He’s got everything you look for in a quarterback,’’ the scout said of Mayfield. “If he were a half-inch taller, there wouldn’t even be a conversation that he was the best. I mean he sees the field well, he makes all the throws and he’s a winner.’’
In his Heisman-winning season, Mayfield (6-1, 219) took the Sooners to the BCS Final Four and lost an incredible overtime game to Georgia.
Over his past three seasons in Norman, Mayfield finished in the top four of the Heisman voting three times. This past year he put up a NFL quarterback rating of 141.7 with 43 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. In three years he had 119 touchdown passes to 21 interceptions.
“People make a big deal about size,’’ the scout said. “It’s a different game today. He’s not any smaller than Russell Wilson or Drew Brees.’’
Jackson, who a lot of draftniks have as the fifth of the five quarterbacks, and who former GM Bill Pollian thinks should switch to wide receiver, ranks second with this scout.
“His detractors say he runs too much,’’ the scout said of the Louisville QB. “A lot of those are designed plays for him. I think he’s going to do well [in the NFL]. He’s gotten better and better every year. He reminds me a little of [Carolina’s] Cam [Newton] when he was at Auburn.’’
Jackson (6-3, 207) won the Heisman in 2016 and finished third this year. His QB rating was 103.5 this year with 27 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. A spectacular runner (3,974 yards, 49 TDs), he’s just a 57.4% career passer, but did improve his percentage each season.
Darnold (6-4, 223) was a two-year starter for the Trojans with a QB rating of 99.9 this year. He threw 26 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions.
“Off the field you love him,’’ the scout said. “Real good character, says and does all the right things. He’s got the intangibles you look for, too. He’s a playmaker. He just [makes] a lot of bad decisions and turnovers and that worries you. If he’s making those in college, what’s he going to do in the pros? He’s got a lot that you look for, though. You can take a chance with him.”
Allen (6-5, 233) has an NFL passer rating of 89.2 for his career at Wyoming, including an 83.7 this year when he threw 16 touchdown passes and six interceptions. His completion percentage was 56 percent, the same as it’s been throughout his college career.
“He looks the part,” the scout said. “He’s a good athlete. He has a lot of bad tape, especially at that level. I mean he played in a bad conference.
“Somebody will still take him high. But are we going on what the tape is and production and winning, or is this a guy who looks like he should be an NFL quarterback and how he throws the ball?”
Rosen (6-4, 219) is another who has mixed views from scouts. Some love him, some not so much. He compiled a quarterback rating of 98.5 this season with 26 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in his third year as a starter for the Bruins.
“He looks the part when he throws the ball, but he lacks the rest of the assets you need to be a winning quarterback,” the scout said. “Off the field he doesn’t have that profile you want for someone leading your team. He’s a talented pocket passer when things are clean, but things aren’t clean all the time in the NFL. He needs things to be perfect and they’re rarely perfect.”
Just like the NFL Draft, especially when it comes to quarterbacks.
With the help of a long-time NFL scout, here is a breakdown of the best players at each position in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Best of the Best:
Quarterback: Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma: Mayfield (6-1, 220) threw 43 touchdown passes and just six interceptions for the Sooners in his Heisman Trophy winning season. “He’s got everything you look for in a quarterback,’’ the scout said of Mayfield. “If he were a half-inch taller, there wouldn’t even be a conversation that he was the best. I mean he sees the field well, he makes all the throws and he’s a winner.’’
Running Back: Saquon Barkley, Penn State: Barkley (5-11, 231) rushed for 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns and caught 54 passes for another 632 yards and three touchdowns for the Nittany Lions last fall. “I put him right there with [Ezekiel] Elliott [of the Cowboys] and slightly ahead of [Leonard] Fournette [of the Jaguars],’’ the scout said of the last two No. 4 overall picks. “He’s actually more versatile than both of them. Fournette is more powerful, but [Barkley] is more shifty and he has better hands.’’
Wide Receiver: Calvin Ridley, Alabama: Ridley (6-1, 190) caught 63 passes for 967 yards, an average of 15.3 yards per catch, for the National Champions. “He’s the No. 1 [receiver], no question,’’ the scout said. “He’s athletic, he’s fast, he has good hands. He just needs to get a little stronger.’’
Tight End: Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin: Fumagalli (6-6, 248) caught 46 passes for 547 yards in a Badgers offense that struggled in the passing game last fall. “It’s really an average class [of tight ends],’’ the scout said. “[Fumagalli] is the most complete of all of them, so he’s No. 1 in my opinion.’’
Offensive Line: Quentin Nelson, Notre Dame: Nelson (6-5, 330) out of Red Bank Catholic High School, located in Red Bank, NJ, started every game at guard the past two seasons for the Fighting Irish. “He’s a top 10 pick and you don’t say that too often for a guard,’’ the scout said. “He’s as good as [Zach] Martin [former ND guard now with the Cowboys] was coming out, maybe better.’’
Defensive End: Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State: Chubb (6-4 1/2, 272) had 10 sacks each of the past two seasons for the Wolfpack. “He’s really good,’’ the scout said. “He’s more consistent than [Myles] Garrett [the No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 Draft] was. He’s tough, real tough.’’
Defensive Tackle: Vita Vea, Washington: Vea (6-5, 340) had 43 tackles, 3.5 sacks and batted down four passes for the Huskies last fall. “He’s legit,’’ the scout said. “I really like him. He’s a lot like Haloti Ngata [Pro Bowl player for the Ravens and Lions].
Linebacker: Roquan Smith, Georgia: Smith (6-1, 225) had 137 tackles, 14 of those for a loss, 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for the National Runners-up. “He’s a little small, but he’s really fast,’’ the scout said. “He’s not quite as explosive as Ryan Shazier [Steelers] was, but he makes plays.’’
Defensive Back: Joshua Jackson, Iowa: Jackson (6-1, 192) intercepted eight passes and returned two for touchdowns last fall for the Hawkeyes. He also had 18 passes defensed. “He’s long and athletic with real good cover skills,’’ the scout said. “Reminds me a little of Tre White [Bills].’’
Photograph provided by Adrian Curiel