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Rosen at rest: Preseason Week 3 rookie QB breakdown

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Cardinals rookie QB Josh Rosen didn’t play in the third preseason game... but his draftmates all did. How does the rookie QB landscape look after three games?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys
The only time Rosen got onto the field Sunday was for the post-game handshake.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

With the third week of the preseason over, we’ve now got three games’ worth of stats and film on all five first-round rookie QBs… all except for Josh Rosen, that is. Coach Wilks held Rosen out of Sunday’s win against the Cowboys with a minor-sounding thumb injury. (Not that they needed him in the dominating victory.)

But Rosen’s draftmates all played in the pivotal third preseason game, so it’s worth checking in to see how they did, as well as seeing how their overall preseason performance thus far compares to Rosen’s. He’s had one golden game and one not-so-golden game. Did he rise or fall in the rookie QB rankings despite not playing last week? The stats/tape of the other QBs will tell us. So let’s dive in.

Baker MayfieldCleveland Browns

Stat Line: 8/12, 76 yards, 0 TD/1 INT, 3 carries for 10 yards, 2 sacks taken

Preseason Totals: 26/45, 363 yards, 2 TD/1 INT, 10 carries for 32 yards, 4 sacks taken

Quick Thoughts: Mayfield was mostly bottled up this week in an ugly 5-0 win against the Eagles. The Philly D is talented and deep, and they likely studied a little tape on the first overall pick, both of which led to his mediocre numbers—including his first INT. (Which didn’t really seem to be his fault, as his intended receiver ran into a defender: see 5:29 on the tape.) Still, even with this slightly subpar showing, Mayfield has impressed this preseason and should have the Browns’ QB job sooner rather than later. Check Mayfield’s tape here.

Trending: Steady ↔

Josh AllenBuffalo Bills

Stat Line: 6/12, 34 yards, 0 TD/0 INT, 1 carry for 3 yards, 5 sacks taken

Preseason Totals: 24/45, 210 yards, 2 TD/0 INT, 7 carries for 50 yards, 7 sacks taken

Quick Thoughts: I’ve been somewhat high on Allen this preseason, but he had an absolutely nightmarish game in his first preseason start. It was like an even more extreme version of Rosen’s debut (minus the snapping issues). The Bengals D-line was seemingly in the Bills’ backfield before the snap on several plays, racking up 5 sacks and countless hits. It’s hard to judge Allen’s play too harshly after this game, as his WRs were dropping passes even when he had time to throw (see 3:33 on the tape). But if this is what happens when Allen gets the start against a prepared defense, it’s gonna be a long season in Buffalo. Check Allen’s tape here.

Trending: Down ↓

Josh RosenArizona Cardinals

Stat Line: DNP (thumb injury)

Preseason Totals: 16/29, 148 yards, 1 TD/0 INT, 0 carries for 0 yards, 0 sacks taken

Quickish Thoughts: Obviously, Rosen didn’t play due to the thumb injury, but it’s worth noting that there was a bit of a concern among draft analysts about Rosen’s injury history at UCLA. And the last thing Cardinals need is to have to worry about Rosen’s durability given starter Sam Bradford’s own Mr. Glass-like reputation. But, like I said above, the injury sounds minor and Wilks was just being proactively conservative with his rookie QB. And it sounds like he at least has a chance to play in the preseason finale against the Broncos, so we may yet get one more look at Rosen before the preseason is over. (I hope we see him out there, personally.)

Trending: Steady ↔

Sam DarnoldNew York Jets

Stat Line: 8/16, 86 yards, 1 TD/0 INT, 2 carries for 13 yards, 0 sacks taken

Preseason Totals: 29/45, 244 yards, 2 TD/1 INT, 4 carries for 21 yards, 3 sacks taken

Quick Thoughts: Darnold was… fine against the Giants, just like he’s been all preseason. The Jets really haven’t asked him to do much, and he’s looked relatively competent within the confines of their very conservative offense. (It seems like every other throw is a quick toss to an RB flaring out of the backfield.) He hasn’t thrown the ball downfield much, but he has had success on play-fakes and designed rollouts (and has been fairly mobile as well when needed). This week, he stayed in the pocket a bit more with positive results (see the two throws starting at 2:28 on the tape). But all the other QBs have had their Ron Wolfley “Wow!” moments; Darnold has merely been steadily adequate. Check Darnold’s tape here.

Trending: Steady ↔

Lamar JacksonBaltimore Ravens

Stat Line: 7/10, 98 yards, 1 TD/0 INT, 3 carries for 39 yards and 1 TD, 1 sack taken

Preseason Totals: 21/43, 266 yards, 2 TD/0 INT, 12 carries for 86 yards and 2 TDs, 4 sacks taken

Quick Thoughts: Last week was a breakout game for Jackson (albeit against the Fins’ unimpressive backups). I’ve been critical of Jackson’s abilities as a passer to this point, but I can’t deny he looked much better against the Fins. His throws looked crisper than they have thus far, and he made a few nifty plays downfield (see 2:41 on the tape). And he’s obviously a threat anytime he runs the ball. I still question whether he would be an effective every-week starter right out of the gate, but you can’t argue with his production so far. Could he be this year’s Deshaun Watson? Check Jackson’s tape here.

Trending: Up ↑

Final Thoughts

After three weeks, here’s how I’d rank each of the rookie QBs based on their preseason stats and tape:

  1. Baker Mayfield (↔)
  2. Lamar Jackson (↑)
  3. Josh Rosen (↔)
  4. Josh Allen (↓)
  5. Sam Darnold (↔)

With only one strong game (and one dud) on his resume, Rosen drops a spot in the rankings behind a surging Jackson, who has scored in every preseason game and just had a monster game. Both are still behind Mayfield, who looks like he could (and perhaps should?) be starting in Week 1, and ahead of Allen and Darnold. Allen has looked very impressive at times, but he’s clearly trending downward after last week’s disaster of a starting performance. But his line and receivers gave him absolutely no chance in that game, so I can’t drop him below Darnold just yet, who is perhaps being held back by his own offensive coordinator himself. All that said, none of these guys has been *bad*, or even below-average. I like what I’ve seen from each of these young gunslingers.

Although their coaches have yet to make a final (public) decision, all five of these guys could see the field this week in the preseason finale. We’ll check in next week for a final breakdown/ranking as we enter the regular season. If you have any thoughts on what you’ve seen from these rookies, or what you hope to see from Rosen if he plays this week, go ahead and drop us a comment! It’s going to be fascinating to follow these guys throughout their rookie seasons.