Opinion | Fans need patience with rookie quarterbacks


Jacob Hutchinson, sports editor

The best part of the NFL draft – besides the rapturous, near-constant boos that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell receives – is the reactions from fans and analysts in the seconds following each draft pick.

The internet has nailed down a formula for its reaction to picks. There’s an immediate reaction: boos, cheers, crying and rarely, indifference. Then comes a rapid-fire analysis of the pick.

When the Cleveland Browns selected quarterback Baker Mayfield as the first pick of this year’s draft, the overwhelming reaction was “Oh, classic Browns.”

To be fair, the Browns are a historically terrible franchise. They went 0-16 last season, and 1-15 the season before that. The last time the Browns made the playoffs was in 2002, when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. That record does not inspire confidence, so it’s logical to assume the Browns are making another mistake.

But when people look at this new crop of quarterbacks, they should take a breath and get some perspective. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was a third-round draft pick who was viewed as too undersized to be successful. Wilson has now won a Super Bowl and remains the Seahawks’ starting quarterback, while that year’s No. 2 overall pick, Robert Griffin III, has floundered after a series of injuries following a stellar rookie season.

There is no perfect criteria that determines whether a player, especially a quarterback, will be a bust or a star.

Maybe Josh Allen turns out to be the best quarterback in the draft. Maybe the decision by the Buffalo Bills to trade up to No. 7 overall and draft him pays off. Maybe he is nurtured by a coaching staff that works the shortcomings out of his game and allows him room to fail without being demonized.

That is all unlikely, but to assume that players’ fates are sealed when they have not yet reported to camp is absurd.

All of the quarterbacks drafted in the first round this year – Mayfield, Allen, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson – have the talent to be starting quarterbacks in the NFL. That’s why they were all picked in the first round. But if they’re forced into an unforgiving system that does not fit their unique abilities and asks too much of them too soon, they can become busts.

I’m a Jets fan. I don’t know if Darnold will become our franchise quarterback like Joe Nahttps://ftw.usatoday.com/2018/04/2018-nfl-draft-matt-hasselbeck-josh-allen-film-breakdownmath was. Darnold, at 20 years old, is the youngest quarterback to be drafted this year. He seems to be a very nice guy with a nice family, a great work ethic and a lot of potential. But he also has issues with his mechanics and turns the ball over often, which seems like it should be a red flag for a position that centers almost entirely around throwing the ball. Experts say these issues are fixable.

What I hope for Darnold is that he’s benched in his first year, and is eased into the starting position – if he earns it – in his second year. I’m not suggesting that the Jets refuse play him solely because he’s young, just that he is given time to mature, understand the NFL and get comfortable with the Jets’ offensive system.

But it seems all too common for young quarterbacks to be rushed into action. I know the lifespan of the average NFL player is short, and the nature of the sport demands winning sooner rather than later, compared to sports like the NBA, where tanking is pervasive, and patience can prove fruitful. But the pace of the NFL shouldn’t matter when dealing with your franchise quarterback. The most important position on the field should be given the most care and patience.