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Rough Draft: Quarterbacks Dominate Early 2018 NFL Draft Talk

Each week, ROTB Lead Writer Justin Higdon provides a quick rundown of the latest NFL Draft-related news, notes and takes. Plus, a look ahead to the weekend’s most intriguing matchups.

NCAA Football: Louisville vs Purdue Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, I’ll provide a quick rundown of the latest NFL Draft-related news, notes and takes. Plus, a look ahead to the weekend’s most intriguing matchups.

In the Spotlight

Lamar Jackson QB Louisville

Prior to last spring's NFL Draft, a narrative developed that the 2018 quarterback class would put the 2017 group to shame. Despite Mitch Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson all coming off the board within the top 12 picks, analysts breathlessly fawned over the prospects of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen all turning pro next year. Lost in the mix was reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. Former NFL defensive lineman Anthony "Booger" McFarland even suggested that a position change to wide receiver would be Jackson's best career move.

McFarland isn't the only person to make this suggestion, and probably won't be the last, but Jackson has shrugged off such talk and forged ahead. While his highly-touted quarterback competitors stumbled through uneven or poor performances last weekend, Jackson looked sharp. His delivery was quick and decisive, and his arm looked strong as he snapped off a number of "Sunday throws." He also appeared to be making a concerted effort to stay in or near the pocket and look downfield when he may have previously taken off running.

Jackson threw for 378 yards and two TDs, he completed 8/11 passes for six first downs on third down, and went 3/4 with three first downs on third and long. While his passing was the focal point, Jackson added 107 yards on the ground. His only hiccup was a botched exchange with the running back on an early trip to the red zone. Jackson's accuracy and pocket play will be monitored closely this season, but in the "what have you done for me lately" world of NFL Draft analysis, he has an early leg up in the race to be the first quarterback selected.

Riser of the Week

Clayton Thorson QB Northwestern

I didn't hear much talk about Thorson during the offseason, but the fourth-year junior began his third season as the Wildcats starting quarterback by leading his troops to a 31-20 win over Nevada. The Wheaton, IL native completed 74% of his passes for 352 yards and two scores, and added a pair of goal line rushing touchdowns. While Thorson converted only four first downs on 10 third down passing attempts, he scrambled for 13 yards on a third-and-12, and converted two fourth downs passing and one rushing, coming through down the stretch when it mattered most.

Thorson isn't some unknown commodity. He's a good-sized kid, a former four-star recruit, with an NFL-caliber arm and athleticism. Thorson has also improved steadily each season. Nevada won't be his toughest test, but he chewed them up with a career-best day, and thrust himself into the 2018 NFL Draft discussion.

Slider of the Week

Josh Allen QB Wyoming

I traveled to Iowa last weekend to get an up-close look at the player many analysts blessed with a first round grade last December. Having seen Allen throw five interceptions against Nebraska last season, and scuffle through inconsistent stretches against San Diego State and BYU, I was already skeptical of his lofty placement on draft boards. His outing last weekend did nothing to change my tune.

Allen appeared hamstrung by conservative play-calling during the first half that gave him few chances to display his strong arm. In the second half, when things opened up a bit, Allen's supporting cast let him down. His best play of the day saw him elude pressure, step up and fire a running strike downfield to the end zone.

The ball was right on the money, but Allen's wide-open receiver failed to secure it while in bounds. Originally called a touchdown, the play was overturned on review, and Allen and company exited the weekend without scoring a touchdown.

After the game, Allen said the Iowa defense was the toughest he'd face this year. The Hawkeyes gave him little room to breathe, pressuring the Wyoming QB relentlessly. Allen was sacked three times and threw two cringeworthy picks, the second coming on a screen pass.

Despite his arm strength and athletic ability, Allen has fallen on his face against his best competition. In three games against FBS opponents outside of the Mountain West, he's completed only 56% of his passes, averaged 5.5 yards per pass attempt, and thrown three touchdowns versus nine interceptions. Trying to convince anyone that he is a first round NFL prospect at this point is going to be a hard sell.

Boxscore of the Week

Josh Rosen QB UCLA

35/59 491 YDS 4 TD 0 INT

Rosen's performance Sunday night wasn't even a tale of two halves. Through three quarters the UCLA junior was 16/33 for 199 yards, had fumbled on a brutal front-side sack, and had taken a costly fourth down sack. But in the fourth quarter, while Texas A&M's defense choked the game away, Rosen went 19/26 for 292 yards and four touchdowns. Again, that was just in the fourth quarter. Rosen helped his team climb out of a disastrous hole he helped dig, with a little luck - one pass slipped through the hands of an Aggie defensive back for a long, tip-drill TD - and a "fake spike/clock the ball/touchdown" okie-doke that brought back memories of Dan Marino. Unreal.

Looking Ahead

Pitt at Penn State Saturday 3:30 PM ET

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley piled up 130 yards from scrimmage and five TDs last year, but it was all for naught as Pitt pulled off the upset. Grad transfer QB Max Browne looked efficient if unspectacular in his debut for the Panthers last weekend.

Auburn at Clemson Saturday 7:00 PM ET

Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham passed for two touchdowns and ran for another as Auburn tuned up against against a Sun Belt team last weekend. This week he faces a Clemson D-line led by daft-eligibles Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell.

Oklahoma at Ohio State Saturday 7:30 PM ET

Two top-five teams battle in Columbus in prime time. Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield, who went 19/20 passing last weekend against UTEP, faces an Ohio State defense that shook off a slow start to finish with five sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble in a win over Indiana last week. Buckeye cornerback Denzel Ward finished the game with a pick and five pass breakups.

Stanford at USC Saturday 8:30 PM ET

Coming off a bumpy start against Western Michigan, USC quarterback Sam Darnold faces a Stanford secondary led by cornerback Quenton Meeks. Trojans running back Ronald Jones II and Bryce Love of the Cardinal are both coming off productive opening week rushing performances.