MOBILE, Ala. — In need of a starting quarterback, the Broncos asked Senior Bowl organizers to put Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield on the North team.
“If John Elway asks you to be on their team,” Mayfield said, “you don’t say no.”
There’s only one reason the Broncos GM got his wish, though: the Texans, coaching the South, found their quarterback last year. Like the Bears and the Chiefs, the Texans traded up to draft a signal-caller despite a widespread belief that the 2018 quarterback draft class was stronger than it was in 2017.
It might be time to re-evaluate that.
A year later, neither the Texans nor the Bears would likely swap out the quarterbacks they drafted — Deshaun Watson and Mitch Trubisky — for any of the four expected to be selected in the first round this year. The Chiefs are pleased with Patrick Mahomes, too, though he started only one game last year because veteran Alex Smith led the NFL in passer rating.
The added bonus is that Watson, Trubisky and Mahomes aren’t rookies any more — a full NFL offseason often leads to the biggest leap of a young quarterback’s career.
“It’s all about what you do when you get there, to the building, what you do when you get to the organization,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said Wednesday. “Whatever people say about you, I don’t know if that’s a big deal. I know a guy like Deshaun Watson, he doesn’t listen to any of that. He’s just trying to do what’s best for the team when he shows up in the building in
“I think it’s a good group of guys. You’ve got Mitchell and you’ve got Deshaun and you’ve got Mahomes — and you’ve got some guys in that class that are good pro football players.”
The Texans traded their first-round pick this year to the Browns to move up and pick Watson, who starred before tearing his ACL. They made the move after considering the crop of quarterbacks expected to turn pro in 2018.
“I know that our scouts go out on the road and they’re collecting information on not just guys who are draft eligible for this year, but they’re also looking to the future for next year,” O’Brien said. “I know that people in our organization were very aware of what the class was coming up.”
Two of the four expected to be drafted in the first round — Mayfield and Wyoming’s Josh Allen — are on the Broncos’ North squad this week. UCLA’s Josh Rosen and USC’s Sam Darnold, who both left school early, will be the focus of the NFL Scouting Combine.
Mayfield has been the better of the two Senior Bowl quarterbacks this week, practicing with confidence and reassuring teams that he is dependable despite a season that included a taunting via crotch grab and planting his team’s flag midfield after a road win.
“People want to portray the bad-boy, the Johnny Manziel stuff,” he said Tuesday. “But I love the game of football.”
More than four inches taller than Mayfield, Allen checks all the boxes. Per Zebra Technology, which tracks players at the Senior Bowl, Allen rifled a pass at a ridiculous 66.14 mph during Wednesday’s practice.
“Josh Allen has an unbelievable arm,” Iowa State’s Allen Lazard said. “He separates himself in that category, for sure.”
Allen, however, has struggled all week with his accuracy. Mayfield has shown a lighter touch, but stands shorter than 6-1.
Perhaps Rosen and Darnold test their way into superstardom next month. Short of that, though, the 2017 draft class won’t pale in comparison.
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