I've said throughout this 2018 NFL draft process that I believe Sam Darnold is the best quarterback in this class. But that's just my opinion. I know Louis Riddick likes Baker Mayfield and Mel Kiper has Josh Allen as his No. 1 signal-caller. That lack of consensus is representative of conversations I've had with NFL personnel evaluators, and it's why I think this is the most interesting QB class in 19 years of evaluating the NFL draft.
How does this year's crop compare to quarterbacks taken in the first round since 2008? Let's take a look. Below are my grades and excerpts from my scouting reports for every first-round QB over the last decade, along with the grades for the top five guys -- Darnold, Allen, Josh Rosen, Mayfield and Lamar Jackson -- in this class. These are in order of highest grade (Andrew Luck) to lowest (EJ Manuel).
Note: The "as a prospect" blurbs are how we viewed each player coming out of college. The grades are from my final evaluations before they were drafted.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (2012)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 1 overall
As a prospect: "There's no such thing as a can't-miss prospect, but Luck has everything you're looking for in a quarterback. In terms of physical tools, he has a prototypical frame, strong arm and above-average pocket mobility. In terms of his football intelligence, he has a strong understanding of how to run an offense and he makes sound decisions on the field. Finally, there's no question about his ability to step into an NFL huddle and take charge of it."
In the NFL: It has been a mixed bag for Luck, who has made three Pro Bowls and threw for 4,761 yards and 40 TDs (only 16 INTs) in the 2014 season. He has played in only 22 games over the past three seasons, though, and missed all of 2017 with a shoulder injury.
Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (2008)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 5 overall
As a prospect: "Matt Ryan doesn't have the arm strength of a JaMarcus Russell, and he isn't a dynamic open-field runner, but he is clearly the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year's draft class. He has better-than-average arm strength, he's accurate and he understands the game. A lot has been made of the amount of interceptions he threw during his senior season at Boston College, but it's important to remember that he didn't have a strong receiving corps and that BC put the ball in the air far more often in 2007 than in years past."
In the NFL: Ryan has a 95-63 record as a starter and has missed only two starts since being drafted. He has been named to three Pro Bowls, one All-Pro Team (2016), won an MVP ('16) and outside of a historic meltdown should have a Super Bowl title to his name.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2015)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 1 overall
As a prospect: "Winston is one of the best prospects we've evaluated the last 10 years at the skills that translate to the NFL level, including making pro-style reads, going through progressions and throwing with anticipatory accuracy. He is also a good on-field leader. The concern with him has to do with his off-field behavioral and maturity issues."
In the NFL: Winston's career has been a bit disappointing so far, with 69 TDs to 44 INTs and a record of 18-27. He made the Pro Bowl his rookie season, but the Bucs haven't made the playoffs yet under his guidance.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (2010)
Pre-draft ranking in 2010: No. 3 overall
As a prospect: "There are concerns about the system Bradford played in at OU and the season-ending shoulder injury he suffered last year, but we still think he's an excellent value here. His shoulder has clearly healed and his arm may be even stronger than it was before the surgery. We also believe he has the mental aptitude to make a successful transition to the NFL."
In the NFL: Bradford has always been extremely talented -- and extremely injury prone. Now with his fourth team (Arizona), he has started only 80 games in his career.
Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins (2012)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 2 overall
As a prospect: "The two things that set RG III and Luck apart are concerns about RG III's durability and how long it will take for him to transition to more of a pro-style offense. While there are concerns about the pro-style offense, he's done it enough in college that you know he'll be successful in the NFL. If Luck is 1, then RG III is 1A. In fact, he has an even stronger arm and he moves just as well. If he stays healthy, he'll be the quarterback Washington so desperately needed and well worth the picks they gave up to get him."
In the NFL: Griffin was incredible as a rookie, leading the Redskins to the playoffs and throwing 20 TDs to five INTs. But after his injury he went 5-15 as a starter in Washington and was inactive the entire 2015 season. He signed with Cleveland in 2016, was out of football in 2017 and recently signed on as a backup with the Baltimore Ravens.
Mark Sanchez, New York Jets (2009)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 7 overall
As a prospect: "Sanchez doesn't have as much arm strength or the same body of work as Matt Stafford, but on the other hand teams have fallen in love with his intangibles and accuracy during the offseason. There's a lot to like about his pocket presence and ability to elude the rush. We are concerned about rushing him into the starting lineup, but if any of this year's quarterback prospects have the mental toughness to learn on the fly Sanchez is the one."
In the NFL: Sanchez led the Jets to two straight AFC Championship Games, but it was downhill after that. He has been a backup since 2014 with Philadelphia, Dallas and now Chicago.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (2009)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 8 overall
As a prospect: "Stafford has very good upside. He has a very strong arm, good size and adequate height. In other words, the sky's the limit for Stafford. Our concern is that he lacks elite intangibles. This is problematic when you look at the situation in Detroit. The best-case scenario is Stafford winds up as the Lions' franchise quarterback for years to come. In order for that to happen, however, the Lions need to bring him along slowly and that's going to prove difficult. If they rush him, the Lions risk losing out on their investment."
In the NFL: Stafford has improved every season and played every game the past seven seasons for Detroit. With only one Pro Bowl selection and no playoff wins, he hasn't produced as some fans may have liked. But the Lions clearly have their franchise QB, who is only 30.
Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars (2011)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 5 overall
As a prospect: "Gabbert has the frame, intangibles and arm strength teams look for. He is a tough leader who can play through pain and rally his teammates, and while he needs to improve his pocket mobility and ability to handle pressure he has the toughness and foot speed to do so. It's somewhat surprising he fell this far because he is the most accurate of the top three quarterbacks on our board, and he has the football acumen to make the transition from a college spread scheme to a pro-style offense."
In the NFL: Gabbert has been a bust, going 5-22 with the Jaguars before being traded in 2014 to San Francisco. He hasn't thrown for more than 12 TDs in a season and is currently a backup with Tennessee.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins (2012)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 12 overall
As a prospect: "Tannehill is one of the most talked-about prospects in this draft. On one hand, there are concerns about his lack of experience and his inability to win games late last year. On the other hand, he has all the physical tools and mental toughness teams look for in a starting quarterback. It's also important to point out that he's more accurate than the numbers suggest, because his receivers dropped so many balls last year that it skewed his completion percentage and hindered his ability to win games."
In the NFL: Tannehill played all 64 games in his first four seasons for the Dolphins, but only 13 over the past two seasons, including missing all of last year. He has flashed potential, but missed the Dolphins' lone playoff appearance since he arrived in Miami after suffering a partial ACL tear in Week 14 of the 2016 season, and has 106 career TDs to 66 INTs.
Sam Darnold, USC (2018)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 4 overall
As a prospect: "There's no question that he developed some bad habits with his footwork (lazy/sloppy with lower-body at times) and ball security (dangling ball with one hand when moving in the pocket), but both are correctible. The bottom line is that Darnold is the most complete quarterback in the 2018 class and he has the type of makeup that most good NFL starters possess. Darnold grades out as a high-level NFL starting quarterback and he projects to be a top-five pick."
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (2011)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 15 overall
As a prospect: "Newton has the physical tools -- frame, arm strength, mobility -- teams covet, and he proved this past season he can play at a high level while dealing with the kind of adversity that comes with the territory for first overall picks. He flashes above-average accuracy when his footwork is sound but he is the definition of a boom-or-bust prospect. He played in a run-heavy scheme that simplified his reads and signaled plays in from the sideline. It doesn't mean he can't be successful running a pro-style offense. It just means that he faces a steeper learning curve. Inconsistent footwork causes him to miss the strike zone too much, and he needs to do a better job of keeping his eyes downfield when forced to move around. Finally, there are the polarizing intangibles. Some question his maturity and ability to win over the locker room at the NFL level, while others point to his record as proof that he's an effective leader. He led his team to a JUCO championship two years ago and led Auburn to the 2010 FBS championship."
In the NFL: This scouting report holds pretty true heading into Newton's eighth season. He has only a 58.5 percent career completion percentage and can miss some easy throws -- but he can also fit the ball into the tightest of windows. He has been to three Pro Bowls, won an MVP award and has a 7-7 postseason record. He has also run the ball more than 100 times every season outside of 2016 and has been exceptionally durable (missed three starts in seven seasons).
Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans (2015)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 5 overall
As a prospect: "Mariota has prototypical size, outstanding intangibles and football intelligence, and rare athleticism for a QB. He has a strong arm, a quick release, and he is very accurate when throwing on the run. His ability to improve his accuracy and overall efficiency on throws that require anticipation - as he transitions from Oregon's up-tempo spread system to an NFL offense -- will be critical to his success."
In the NFL: Mariota has had injury issues, including a broken fibula in Dec. 2016, but has led Tennessee to a winning record in two of his three seasons and won a playoff game last season. He still can improve his accuracy and needs to cut down on turnovers (15 INTs last season), but Mariota seems to be on an upward trajectory.
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars (2014)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 18 overall
As a prospect: "Bortles is our top QB in this year's class. He has prototypical size, mobility and outstanding intangibles. He is not a finished product and needs some work with his lower-body mechanics to improve velocity and accuracy. However, he shows excellent poise inside the pocket and has great instincts when extending plays and working off schedule. Bortles' game reminds us a lot of a young Ben Roethlisberger."
In the NFL: Bortles is one of the most polarizing players on this list. He holds only a 21-40 record as a starter in Jacksonville, but led the Jaguars to the AFC Championship Game last season and had three touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoffs. His accuracy is still spotty and he has 64 INTs in four seasons. It will be interesting to see if he can carry the momentum from last season.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles (2016)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 10 overall
As a prospect: "One of the top two quarterbacks in this class, Wentz is blessed with a strong combination of size and athleticism. He has very good arm strength to make all the necessary throws. He displays quality accuracy at all three levels. There are some concerns about his lack of experience and making the jump from the FCS level. However, Wentz has the tools, football intelligence, maturity and leadership skills to develop into a quality starting QB in the NFL."
In the NFL: Early returns on Wentz look terrific. The Eagles gave up a lot to get him, but he went 11-2 as a starter last season, threw 33 touchdowns to seven interceptions, and was an MVP candidate before tearing his ACL. The arrow is pointing up.
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams (2016)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 11 overall
As a prospect: "Goff is an experienced three-year starter who is one of the most natural passers in this class. He has excellent pocket presence and feels pressure naturally to buy time while going through progressions. Goff shows accuracy and touch with the ability to deliver from an uneven platform. He has added weight and that eases concerns about his durability. He might need time adjusting to an NFL playbook coming from a wide-open system. He is one of the top two quarterbacks in this class and has the tools and acumen to develop into an above-average starter."
In the NFL: Goff had a historically poor seven-start rookie season in 2016, before excelling under new head coach Sean McVay last season. His decision-making was much improved and he was tied for second in the NFL with 8.0 yards per pass attempt. This will be a big season for him.
Josh Rosen, UCLA (2018)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 11 overall
As a prospect: "Rosen is the best pocket passer in the 2018 draft and is NFL ready. Accuracy, touch and timing are his best traits. Throws from a balanced base. Gets the ball out on time. He lacks ideal mobility and turnovers have been an issue (26 INTs and seven fumbles lost in 30 starts), but the reality is that Rosen carries an elite grade based solely on his tape. If a quarterback-needy team at the top of the draft passes on Rosen it will have everything to do with concerns regarding his durability and "football character."
Josh Allen, Wyoming (2018)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 12 overall
As a prospect: "Allen has elite arm strength and his accuracy is good when his feet are set properly. Also has better-than-average accuracy when on the move. Allen is one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks to come out of college in the last five years. His ceiling is incredibly but so too is his bust potential. The team/situation he's drafted into will be far more important to his success than his draft slot."
Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans (2011)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 25 overall
As a prospect: "The concerns about Locker's inconsistent accuracy from within the pocket were expected to hurt his stock more than they did in the end. He must improve his footwork and the consistency of his release, but he has all the physical tools, enough size, strong arm and excellent mobility. There are no questions about his intangibles, either. Locker is the kind of player who can command the huddle and win over a locker room. If he can improve his fundamentals and ability to hit receivers from within the pocket he will prove to be worth the pick."
In the NFL: The concerns about Locker's inconsistent accuracy proved true, as he had a career 57.5 percent completion percentage and 27 TDs to 11 INTs. He went 9-14 as a part-time starter in four seasons with Tennessee before retiring.
Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns (2014)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 22 overall
As a prospect: "Manziel is the most polarizing player in this year's draft. On the downside, there are concerns about his ability to make plays from within the pocket and stay healthy in the NFL. Plus, his off-the-field behavior has some wondering if he'll be the kind of leader who's the first player in and the last player out of the building. On the plus side, he's a fierce competitor when he takes the field, he has above-average arm strength and he is an escape artist who can buy time for his receivers to get open and break long runs when he gets a lane to scramble."
In the NFL: Manziel's maturity has certainly been an issue, as he lasted only two tumultuous seasons with Cleveland before being cut. He's currently attempting a comeback.
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (2018)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 18 overall
As a prospect: "Russell Wilson is the closest NFL comparison for Mayfield in our opinion, but there are still some obvious flaws in that comp. Mayfield is one of the most polarizing players in this class, in large part due to his outstanding football character and leadership but debatable maturity. In our opinion, Mayfield grades out as a good NFL starter but he clearly comes with some red flags (measureables, footwork, played in spread offense). When all said and done; Mayfield is a likely top-10 pick in the 2018 NFL draft."
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens (2008)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 29 overall
As a prospect: "Flacco certainly has the makings of a franchise quarterback. He's tall enough to scan the field from the pocket, flashes good pocket presence and has the strongest arm of any quarterback in this year's class. However, he isn't nearly as polished as Matt Ryan and he played against a lower level of competition at Delaware. Keeping that in mind, he's going to have a steeper learning curve, so it's going to take time for him to realize his potential."
In the NFL: Whether or not you believe Flacco is elite, he has had sustained success at the NFL level. He's 92-62 as a starter, has missed only six starts in 10 seasons and has reached the playoffs six times, including a Super Bowl victory. He's also 10-5 in the playoffs.
Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings (2014)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 28 overall
As a prospect: "A poor performance at his pro day, concerns about his lean frame as it relates to his ability to handle NFL punishment and average arm strength are legitimate concerns that caused Bridgewater's stock to drop substantially. There is a lot to like about his tape, though, and he could prove to be a steal with that in mind. He reads coverage, anticipates well and shows excellent footwork in the pocket. His ability to handle and beat pressure also stands out."
In the NFL: Bridgewater led the Vikings to the playoffs in 2015 as a Pro Bowler, before blowing out his knee in training camp prior to the 2016 season. He has thrown only two passes since then and signed on with the Jets this offseason.
Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears (2017)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 27 overall
As a prospect: "Only was a one-year starter (13 career starts) and will need time to develop and hone his craft. He's an accurate passer with the frame and quality pocket awareness, mobility and arm strength to develop into an effective NFL starter."
In the NFL: It's way too early to make a determination on Trubisky. He had an up-and-down rookie campaign, in part due to his inexperience and in part due to a lack of offensive playmakers.
Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans (2017)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 28 overall
As a prospect: "Watson's ability to transition to a pro-style offense will ultimately dictate whether or not he succeeds in the NFL. A proven winner, there's no denying he has the physical tools and rare intangibles to develop into a franchise quarterback."
In the NFL: Watson was tremendous in his rookie season (19 TDs and 8 INTs) before tearing his ACL. He made some rookie mistakes, but his athleticism and playmaking ability were undeniable. Hopefully, he comes back healthy this season.
Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns (2012)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 48 overall
As a prospect: "Weeden is accurate and can get the ball out of his hands quickly, plus he has a very strong arm. However, there are concerns about his ability to make sound decisions under pressure. He has to improve his ability to beat the blitz. His age (28) is a concern, but it's not a significant red flag. If he starts early in his career, they can still get six or seven years of quality football out of him."
In the NFL: Another Browns first-round QB miss. Weeden came into the league as a 28-year-old rookie but never progressed. He went 5-15 with Cleveland and finished his career with 31 TDs and 30 INTs.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings (2011)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 45 overall
As a prospect: "Ponder has had problems staying healthy and there are concerns about his durability going forward, but he has had the opportunity to show his toughness and there is a lot to like about his willingness to play through pain. He doesn't have the strongest arm and will have some trouble driving the ball downfield, but he does an excellent job of anticipating and delivering the ball in stride on short-to-intermediate routes. He is also light on his feet and can buy time within the pocket."
In the NFL: Ponder led the Vikings to the postseason in 2012 (along with Adrian Peterson's MVP season), but was injured before the playoff game. Outside of that season, he went 4-15 with Minnesota and was a backup on several teams through the 2016 season. He hasn't thrown a pass in a game since 2014.
Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos (2016)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 38 overall
As a prospect: "At just under 6-foot-7 and 244 pounds, Lynch has one of the strongest arms and highest ceilings in this class. He's an above-average athlete, showing the ability to extend plays with his mobility and pick up first downs when he scrambles. Lynch lacks polish, though. He played in a scheme that simplified his reads, and he doesn't always see the entire field despite his height. He fails to locate the open man at times."
In the NFL: Lynch has had a disappointing career so far, starting only four games in two seasons. With Case Keenum signed this offseason in Denver, Lynch will have to fight for playing time.
Patrick Mahomes II, Kansas City Chiefs (2017)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 44 overall
As a prospect: "Only the third FBS player with multiple seasons of 5,000 total yards of offense, Mahomes faces a steep learning curve transitioning to a pro-style offense and his mechanics are all over the place. However, he's a hard worker with an outstanding skill set, including a powerful arm and terrific arm talent."
In the NFL: Mahomes played well in his one 2017 start. Kansas City traded away Alex Smith this offseason, so Mahomes will enter 2018 as the presumed starter.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2009)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 46 overall
As a prospect: "In terms of natural ability you couldn't ask for anything more in a QB prospect. At 6-foot-6, Freeman is tall enough to scan the field from the pocket. He's big enough at 248 pounds to bounce off would-be tacklers and is mobile enough to pick up yards with his feet when nothing's available downfield. The concern we have is his ability to absorb an NFL offense and adjust to the speed and complexity of NFL defenses. There couldn't be more of a red flag for a quarterback when it comes to film evaluation than that."
In the NFL: Freeman had a terrific sophomore season (25 TDs, 6 INTs, 10-6 record) but struggled outside of that year. He had three seasons with at least 17 INTs and played in only five games from 2013-15.
Lamar Jackson, Louisville (2018)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 43 overall
As a prospect: "Jackson is a very difficult evaluation, as no player in college football the last two years has been more explosive with the ball in his hands. But he needs a lot of refinement as a passer -- specifically when it comes to his inconsistencies with progression reads, anticipation and ball placement. There's also legitimate concern about his potential durability given his slight frame (6-2, 216) and inevitable high volume of carries in the NFL. Simply put; he's too dynamic not to find ways to get the ball in his hands, but he might not be refined enough as a passer right now to hand him the keys to an NFL offense as a rookie."
Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos (2010)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 65 overall
As a prospect: "Tebow is a long way from developing into a functional NFL quarterback, and he might never become one. We have concerns about his footwork and elongated delivery, and his struggles at the Senior Bowl only magnified those issues. He has reworked his delivery, but has had only a few weeks to make those changes. However, he brings intangibles that set him apart from almost any other player in this draft, and if he doesn't work out as a quarterback he showed at the combine that he has enough athleticism, determination and toughness to become an H-back and work as a signal-caller in short-yardage and Wildcat situations. Still, this was a surprising pick."
In the NFL: Tebow never did become a "functional" NFL quarterback, but did lead his 2011 Denver team to the postseason (including a win). He was 8-6 as a starter, but managed only 17 career TD passes in two seasons as a QB.
EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills (2013)
Pre-draft ranking: No. 77 overall
As a prospect: "There is no questioning Manuel's physical tools, size, mobility and leadership qualities. However, the tape reveals concerns about his ability to get through progressions and make sound decisions under pressure. He also needs to improve his spotty accuracy, because he forces his receivers to adjust too often."
In the NFL: Probably the most shocking first-round QB on this list, Manuel started 10 games his rookie season -- and then eight games total over the next four seasons. He has 20 TDs and 16 INTs for his career, and is currently a backup QB in Oakland.