Quarterbacks aplenty, but figuring who’s going where has thrown NFL draft experts


Decoding the first round of the NFL draft is as simple as 1-2-3.

Problem is, there’s no consensus on who 1-2-3 is.

It’s a safe bet that at least two of those will be quarterbacks, with Cleveland choosing first, followed by the New York Giants and Jets.

Unlike other years when the top pick had come into reasonable focus by the eve of the draft, the opinions and predictions Wednesday were as fickle as the shifting North Texas winds.


“Usually we know who the No. 1 player is going to be in every draft, but we don’t even know,” said Florida State safety Derwin James, among the 21 prospects who will attend Thursday’s first round of the three-day draft at AT&T Stadium.

Those players — minus Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who arrives Thursday, and Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is not attending — participated in the league’s “Play 60” event Wednesday before their media availability.

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen clearly has tired of the mock-draft mania.

“You guys have got to stop asking about who’s going 1-2-3,” he said to a group of reporters, sounding exasperated. “I. Don’t. Care. I just want to play football and belong to a team, that’s all it is.”

This much is clear: Quarterbacks are the focus, and the top three candidates for that No. 1 spot are USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, and Mayfield. The only time quarterbacks have gone 1-2-3 was in 1999, when Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, and Akili Smith were the top three selections.

For most of the offseason, Darnold has been the odds-on favorite to go first to the Browns. But recent reports have suggested he could be supplanted by the strong-armed Allen — his training roommate in Capistrano Beach — or by the undersized Mayfield, who is believed to be the favorite of respected scouting consultant Scot McCloughan.

Let the speculation begin. There’s one suggestion that the Giants would take Barkley second, but only if Darnold is off the board. If Darnold is there, the theory goes, the Giants would be compelled to take him rather than serving him up to the Jets and 10 years of haunting New York headlines if he transforms Gang Green into a winner.

With a nod to the late Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part.

“I told my marketing people, ‘Just keep me busy throughout this whole week,’” Darnold said. “I just want to be busy the whole time, so this thing moves a little bit faster.

“There’s nothing to prepare [for]. Just going in the green room and sitting with our families and waiting for my name to be called. Doesn’t get much easier than that.”

Then there’s Rosen. He’s most likely to go somewhere between the Jets at No. 3, and Buffalo Bills at 12, with the Denver Broncos lurking at No. 5. There’s also the possibility Buffalo or Arizona could elbow their way into the top six to address the position.

In short, it’s just what the NFL wanted for its marquee offseason event: intrigue.

“It’s been the longest four or five months of my life,” Allen said. “Shoot, the draft could have happened a month ago and I would have been completely fine with that. But I understand that everybody has to do their due diligence.”

It isn’t all about the quarterbacks. This class has a lot of good running backs and defensive playmakers, as well, and an unusually high number of excellent interior offensive linemen.

But the NFL is a passing league, and the spotlight is unfailingly trained on the players who throw the ball.

A wild card in the mix is Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has an outside chance of going in the top 10 but is more likely to hear his name called in the teens or perhaps by New England at spots 23 or 31. He visited the Patriots for a private workout.

Jackson, fleet of foot, acknowledged he’s stylistically different than the 40-year-old Tom Brady.

“I can run different from any quarterback I’ve seen,” said Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner. “But you’ve got to know how to throw the ball, especially with coach [Bill] Belichick looking at you.”

The stoic Belichick threw the youngster a curveball.

“He was laughing with me when we were talking,” Jackson said. “I’m always seeing him so serious. Even when he won the AFC championship, he just passed the trophy like he was so serious about it. I was like, man, he’s probably going to be hard. But he was cool and laid back.

“We were just happy, having a conversation. I was just happy he was giggling. He started laughing and I’m like, ‘Oh, snap!’ ”

And there it is. Jackson hasn’t even been drafted and he’s already had his first NFL snap.

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer