Gabriel: Predicting starting timeline for each of 5 first-round QBs

Darnold might play the earliest, but Browns will benefit most from getting Mayfield on field

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In April’s draft, four quarterbacks were selected in the top 10 — including Baker Mayfield going first overall — and five total passers came off the board in Round 1. Recent history has shown us that when a quarterback gets selected high, the club that selects him finds a way to get him on the field early. History has also shown us that playing a young quarterback early is not always the best thing for the player. Nevertheless, let's offer our best guess on which of the five first-round quarterbacks will see the field first.

Working back from the bottom of Round 1, it currently doesn’t look as if Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson will be forced into action anytime soon. The Ravens have established veteran Joe Flacco ahead of Jackson, and Flacco isn’t about to sit in favor of a rookie. Yes, Flacco’s play the past couple of years has not been his best, but he gives the Ravens a much better chance to win than Jackson does at this point.

Jackson would be better off sitting and learning this year and only seeing action if the Ravens are either winning or losing by a lot. Because of Jackson’s rare speed and overall athleticism, the Ravens may install some packages in which they can utilize his unique athletic traits, but that would be only a few plays here and there, not full-time duty.

Josh Rosen, whom Arizona selected with the tenth overall pick, could play early and may well be the starter when the season opens. Sam Bradford was signed in free agency to be the starter — and when he is on his game, he can be very good. Arizona's plan right now is for Bradford to be the starter in 2018, but as we all know, Bradford has a huge durability problem. He’s one hit away from not being able to play.

In OTAs, Rosen has looked good while getting some reps with the first team. Coming from a pro-style offense at UCLA, he might be more ready than the other rookie quarterbacks to step on the field. He is very intelligent and will have no problem picking up the offense. In his case, it’s the intangibles, not physical gifts, that could cause Rosen to falter. The veterans on the Cardinals roster have to accept him.

One thing helping Rosen is that Arizona has a new coach in Steve Wilks. Wilks is a no-nonsense type of coach and he will help Rosen mature as a pro. As a new head coach, Wilks doesn’t have any pressure on him to play Rosen before he is ready. My feeling is Rosen will be at his best, ready to go if anything happens to Bradford, which it will.

Buffalo parted with a lot to move up and draft Wyoming’s Josh Allen with the seventh overall selection. That does not mean the Bills will force him into action before he is ready to play. Allen may have the most upside of any of the first-round quarterbacks because of his athleticism and arm talent, but he is the least ready to play.

As strong as Allen’s physical traits are, he lacked accuracy as a college player and needs work on his mechanics, most of all his footwork. Playing at a lower level of competition in college than Buffalo's other quarterbacks also works against him.

The Bills signed AJ McCarron in free agency, and with this now being his fifth year as a pro, he is ready to be a starter. The hope in Buffalo is that McCarron can be a successful bridge quarterback while Allen learns. The last thing the Bills want is for Allen to play too soon and lose confidence if he doesn’t play well. McCarron gives the Bills the best chance to win in 2018.

USC product Sam Darnold went to the Jets as the third overall pick. Looking at the roster, Darnold may have to play, even if he isn’t ready. The expected starter in New York is Josh McCown. McCown turns 39 next month and has limitations, but he can win. The question: Is playing McCown the best thing for the Jets' coaching staff and front office? If McCown plays, the Jets have to win or head coach Todd Bowles and GM Mike Maccagnan could be in in trouble.

If Darnold plays early and plays like he is going to be a future NFL star, that may buy Maccagnan and Bowles time. It may not be necessary for the Jets to win in that situation but rather show the arrow is pointed up and the future is bright. Using that reasoning didn’t bode well for John Fox in Chicago last year when Mitch Trubisky played well. The difference was that Fox and Bears GM Ryan Pace weren’t joined at the hip, like Bowles and Maccagnan are.

There also is a Catch-22 in that situation. If Darnold plays and doesn’t do as expected, that works against Bowles and Maccagnan. Regardless, the Jets haven’t had a name quarterback in a long time, and Darnold has to be the answer. For that reason, I fully expect him to start — if not in Week 1, a prime-time visit to Detroit, by Week 4, a trip to Jacksonville, at the latest.

Cleveland's Baker Mayfield was the first overall selection in the draft. Shortly after the pick was made, Browns coach Hue Jackson proclaimed that trade acquisition Tyrod Taylor will be the Browns starter. I have heard that claim several times by clubs selecting a quarterback early in the past. It never holds true.

Yes, the Buffalo Bills made it to the Playoffs with Taylor at quarterback last season. But the Bills did that in spite of Taylor, not because of him. They tried to replace Taylor during the season because he is just too limited. Taylor doesn’t process quickly and struggles to throw the ball down field — and I don’t see that changing.

Jackson is under fire, but GM John Dorsey is new and very safe. Jackson, who went 0-16 last season and is 1-31 since 2016, is in an almost no-win situation. If Taylor plays, the Browns have to win, and if Mayfield is the quarterback, it will be all about his development. We saw with the Rams and Jared Goff two years ago, that if the proper coaching staff isn’t in place to develop a young quarterback, it can be a nightmare. Is Jackson the right coach for Mayfield?

Former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley was brought in to run the offense and develop not only Mayfield but Taylor as well. It will be up to Haley and QB coach Ken Zampese to get Mayfield playing well early. Haley is a premier NFL coach, and I believe he will do exactly what he was brought in to do.

I feel that Mayfield is the best quarterback in this draft class. I also feel that, even though he is a rookie, he gives the Browns the best chance to improve. I have seen every snap that Taylor has had the last two seasons, and I don’t believe he can win in the NFL. The Browns staff will see that sooner rather than later. In college, Mayfield was on the big stage and performed well. I expect that to carry over to the NFL. He may not be the Week 1 starter, but Mayfield will start before the 2018 season is half over, and the Cleveland Browns will be better for it.

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