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Ranking Rosen: Comparing the debut seasons of 2018’s rookie QB class

With the regular season over, it’s time once again to compare the five 1st-round rookie QBs—including our own Josh Rosen.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
Josh Rosen played more than initially expected in 2018. How did he perform relative to the other 1st-round rookie QBs?
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2018 NFL season finally in the rearview (at least for non-playoff teams like the Cardinals), we can once again check in on the rookie QB class, including the Redbirds’ own Josh Rosen. We compared Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson throughout the preseason, and again at mid-season.

Rosen held up fairly well in those previous comparisons. How does he hold up now with the regular season over? Let’s find out by comparing each rookie QB’s win/loss record, counting stats, efficiency stats, and performance in various rating metrics. Spoilers: Rosen doesn’t exactly come up smelling like roses this time around.

Win/Loss Record

Rookie QB Win/Loss Record Comparison

QB Record as Starter Winning % Team Record
QB Record as Starter Winning % Team Record
Mayfield 7-7* 0.500 7-8-1
Darnold 4-9 0.308 4-12
Allen 5-6 0.455 6-10
Rosen 3-10 0.231 3-13
Jackson 6-1 0.857 10-6
* I’m giving Mayfield credit for the team’s Week 3 win over the Jets in which he entered with the Browns down 14-0 in the 2nd quarter.

These numbers are almost purely reflective of the state of each team’s roster. The Ravens are a playoff team, the Bills were one last year (it’s true!), the Browns are on the upswing, and the Jets and Cardinals are in the midst of rebuilds (whether their ownership wants to admit it or not). But it’s interesting to note that each team was worse off without its rookie QB. In fact, the Browns, Jets, and Cardinals didn’t win a single game without their #1 draft pick under center. So it looks like each team made the correct decision by putting these guys in the lineup.

But the standout here is clearly Lamar Jackson, who lifted a sub-.500 team to the AFC North crown and a playoff berth once he was inserted into the lineup. Part of that is due to his drastically different style of play from Joe Flacco’s (and the lack of film on him), but the 6-1 record during the most important weeks of the season speaks for itself. Mayfield playing .500 football for a Browns team that had gone 1-32-1 the previous 2+ seasons without him is also impressive. I was surprised that Allen was merely a game under .500 as starter—that’s a pretty talent-barren roster, especially on offense, for a team that made the playoffs last year. Finally, Darnold and Rosen did what they could for cellar-dwelling teams—that is to say, not much, but better than the teams’ other options at QB.

Counting Stats

Rookie QB Counting Stats Comparison

QB Games Started Passing Yards Passing TDs INTs Rushing Yards Rushing TDs Fumbles Sacks
QB Games Started Passing Yards Passing TDs INTs Rushing Yards Rushing TDs Fumbles Sacks
Mayfield 13 3,725 27 14 131 0 7 25
Darnold 13 2,865 17 15 138 1 5 30
Allen 11 2,074 10 12 631 8 8 28
Rosen 13 2,278 11 14 138 0 7 45
Jackson 7 1,201 6 3 695 5 12 16

Since win/loss record isn’t necessarily indicative of a QB’s play, let’s take a look at the surface-level stats of each QB to get a better idea of how they played. Looking at the chart above, one name clearly stands out: Baker Mayfield. He threw for nearly 1,000 yards more than second-place Darnold—and, oh yeah, he set the record for most TD passes in a season by a rookie. He’s more than lived up to expectations as the #1 overall pick this season. (I did think he’d make more of an impact running the ball though.)

Of the rest, Jackson put up solid numbers in just seven starts. If you were to say, double his numbers in the chart above to give him similar playing time as the others, he’d blow them out of the water. But his numbers are still impressive as-is, especially the rushing yardage. (Although the fumbles are obviously a concern.) Darnold and Allen have very similar numbers when combining passing and rushing stats—and solid numbers for rookies, at that. Lagging far behind the rest is Rosen. He had very similar passing stats to Allen (who struggled mightily as a passer in the first half of the season) but the latter’s rushing stats more than compensate for that. And while Rosen undoubtedly played behind the worst O-line of any of these guys, quite a few of those 45 sacks are on him for holding onto the ball for too long. Unfortunately for Cardinals fans, Rosen’s surface numbers are easily the worst out of the five rookie QBs.

Efficiency Stats

Rookie QB Efficiency Stats Comparison

QB Completion % YPA TD% INT%
QB Completion % YPA TD% INT%
Mayfield 63.8 7.7 5.6 2.9
Darnold 57.7 6.9 4.1 3.6
Allen 52.8 6.5 3.1 3.8
Rosen 55.2 5.8 2.8 3.6
Jackson 54.5 7.1 3.5 1.8

Counting stats are only a piece of the puzzle, however—the whole picture becomes much more clear when you take efficiency stats into account. (Note that these are passing statistics only—rushing is not taken into account here at all.) These efficiency stats are also in Baker Mayfield’s favor. He has by the highest completion %, YPA, and TD%, as well as the second-lowest INT%. Jackson also fares well here, with the second-highest YPA and lowest INT%, which largely mitigates his second-lowest completion %. Darnold has solid numbers for a rookie, and he drastically improved his TD%/INT% numbers from the first half of the season. Allen’s deficiencies as a passer are magnified here—he has the lowest completion % and worst INT%.

Finally, to continue the theme, Rosen’s efficiency stats are arguably the worst of the five—he’s barely ahead of Jackson in completion %, he has by far the lowest YPA and TD%, and his INT% is tied with Darnold for second-highest. Yes, he played behind a terrible O-line and with a dearth of talent at the skill positions, but even so, it was up to Rosen to be efficient with the football, and he was unable to do so. The question now becomes whether he developed any bad habits that the new coaching staff will need to correct, or if he will be able to start with a clean slate and a (hopefully) better offensive cast around him in 2019.

Rating Metrics

Rookie QB Efficiency Metrics Comparison

QB QB Rating Total QBR PFF Grade
QB QB Rating Total QBR PFF Grade
Mayfield 93.7 53.9 84.5
Darnold 77.6 48.4 64.7
Allen 67.9 52.8 65.5
Rosen 66.7 26.1 49.1
Jackson 84.5 45.2 58.5

First things first, Baker Mayfield has the highest rating in all three metrics, and he’s actually above average for all QBs (not just rookies) in each. The Browns clearly have a keeper on their hands. Things get a little interesting when you look at who is behind him in each metric, however. Jackson finished second in standard QB rating—which doesn’t take into account rushing stats. (His low INT% is doing a lot of work there.) And, surprisingly, Allen finished second in the other two metrics (which do take into account rushing stats) despite his deficiencies as a passer. I suspect Allen’s strong statistical finish to the season and 3-3 team record down the stretch (with the three losses by a combined 20 points) are responsible for that. Darnold’s ratings in each metric all indicate he was an average passer in 2018—not bad for a rook.

Of course, once again, Rosen ranks last among the rookies in each metric. In fact, among qualifying passers, Rosen is dead last in the league in QB rating and Total QBR, and only ahead of the DolphinsRyan Tannehill in PFF grade. And it gets worse. In QB rating, there’s a 10-point gap between Rosen and Allen and the rest of the league. In Total QBR, Rosen is 9 points lower than the second-lowest score (Tannehill). And in PFF grade, Rosen is also 9 points below Jackson for third-lowest grade. So not only does he rate poorly, but there’s a nearly unassailable statistical case to be made that he was the worst QB in the league last season. We’ll explore in a future column what this means for his future development, but suffice to say that the Cardinals should be concerned about their rookie QB.

Final Thoughts

After reviewing the statistical categories discussed above, here’s how I’d rank the five 1st-round rookie QBs in 2018:

  1. Baker Mayfield
  2. Lamar Jackson
  3. Josh Allen
  4. Sam Darnold
  5. Josh Rosen

Remember that this is simply a ranking of how these QBs performed in 2018 and is not any commentary on how they will develop or perform moving forward. That said, Baker Mayfield had by far the most impressive rookie season of the five—he “won” every category but win/loss record (where he finished second). Despite playing much less than the others, I don’t think there’s any argument against putting Jackson at #2 here—and he’s the only one still playing, after all. Choosing between Allen and Darnold was tough—they scored the same number of TDs, while Darnold was the stronger passer and Allen was dominant running the ball. Since we’re just considering this season, I gave the nod to Allen due to his superior record and slight advantage in the advanced metrics. (I do think Darnold will prove to be the better QB overall though.)

And what about Josh Rosen? Well, he had the worst record, least impressive statistical resume, lowest efficiency stats, and worse performance in the ratings metrics. I don’t think even the staunchest Rosen defenders in the RotB commentariat (you know who you are) could argue against his 5th-place finish here. You could argue that he was put in the toughest situation and had the least amount of help—and you’d be right—but the numbers don’t lie. And the tape backs that up—Rosen performed about as well at the eye test as Mr. Magoo. You can probably count the number of truly impressive throws he made this season on your fingers. He flat-out stunk this season. But it’s also worth pointing out that the plan wasn’t for Rosen to start 13 games when we drafted him. Was this dismal season just the result of Rosen being forced into the lineup before he was truly ready? Perhaps.

Along those lines—and I’ll say this loudly for the people in the back—this performance *doesn’t* mean that Rosen is a bust, that he wasn’t worth the 1st-round pick, that he can’t develop into an above-average starter. As we’ve seen in recent years with Jared Goff and Mitchell Trubisky, having a poor rookie season isn’t a death sentence for your career. However, players like Blake Bortles and Paxton Lynch serve as reminders that you can’t just throw out a poor rookie season either. QB development in the NFL is hard. And the Cardinals simply can’t afford to get it wrong with Rosen—so they’d better get this coaching hire right.

It’s your turn, Cardinals fans—how would you rank these five rookie QBs? Were we too hard on Rosen? Can you make a case for ranking him higher than 5th? Share your thoughts in the comments.