Jets attempt to defy history with bold leap of faith for a quarterback

Darnold shows off arm at pro day (0:55)

Potential No. 1 pick Sam Darnold puts on an impressive showing at his USC pro day despite the wet conditions. (0:55)

During an idle moment Wednesday at the USC pro day in Los Angeles, Mike Maccagnan walked over to chat with some spectators behind the fence. Making small talk, the affable general manager said he was there to scout a wide receiver.

He was kidding, of course.

Anybody who follows the NFL knows the New York Jets' top football executive flew across the country to check out Sam Darnold -- a quarterback. Some of the biggest names in coaching and personnel were there for the same reason.

When the Jets traded up three spots on Saturday, climbing to No. 3 in the NFL draft, it was akin to posting a billboard message in Times Square:

We're going to pick a quarterback.

It was a necessary move (have you been following the past 45 years?), but even necessary moves come with risk. What makes this uniquely precarious is that Maccagnan won't be on the clock for another five weeks, which means he made the trade not knowing which quarterback will be available.

Most talent evaluators are risk-averse, especially when they're dealing with the unknown. Clearly, Maccagnan has identified three players (presumably, quarterbacks) that he'd be comfortable taking with the third pick.

By doing so, he's thumbing his nose at history.

History is down on quarterback-heavy drafts. When multiple quarterbacks are drafted in the top third of Round 1, it's safe to assume at least one will be a bust. Actually, it's rare for an entire first round to produce two quality passers, let alone three. A possible exception could be the 2016 draft, when Jared Goff and Carson Wentz went 1-2.

Since the celebrated Class of 1983, which included future Pro Football Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino, only one first round has produced three quarterbacks with multiple Pro Bowls. We're talking about the Class of 2004 -- Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.

One mega-class in the past 34 years.

Tacitly, Maccagnan is saying he thinks the Class of 2018 could be one of the greatest in history because there's a decent chance he could end up with the third quarterback off the board. He hasn't commented publicly on the overall strength of the class, except to say at the scouting combine that he's "kind of excited" to see the top prospects perform.

Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey called it a "very good quarterback draft class." New York Giants GM Dave Gettleman was less effusive, saying, "It's an interesting class. All shapes and sizes, all flavors. This is like Howard Johnson's back in the day."

The Browns are expected to take Darnold with the first pick. The Giants could pick a quarterback or running back Saquon Barkley or trade down.

Then the Jets are up. They would have to be in love with two of these three QBs -- Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen -- or else the trade up doesn't make sense.

There has been only one draft since 1983 in which quarterbacks went with the first three picks -- 1999, with Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith.


Couch and Smith were busts, as was Cade McNown (12th). McNabb was very good, and Daunte Culpepper (11th) was solid before a knee injury.

In 2006, it was Vince Young (third), Matt Leinart (10th) and Jay Cutler (11th) -- two busts and a perennial tease.

In 2012, it was Andrew Luck (first), Robert Griffin III (second) and Ryan Tannehill (eighth). When healthy, Luck is a franchise player, but RG III is out of the league and Tannehill is the epitome of mediocrity. The draft's winningest quarterback (Russell Wilson) was picked in the third round and the richest (Kirk Cousins) was a fourth-rounder.

In 2011, quarterback-needy teams lost their minds, taking Jake Locker (eighth), Blaine Gabbert (10th) and Christian Ponder (12th) -- all washouts. The only franchise player is Cam Newton, the No. 1 overall pick.

You get the picture: Typically, there are only one or two special quarterbacks each year. It's hard enough to identify them when you know which ones will be available. In theory, the Jets' bust probability will decrease if only one QB has been taken before their selection, but it's still a leap of faith.

A similar scenario unfolded in 1998, when future Hall of Fame general manager Bobby Beathard traded up to the No. 2 spot, not knowing which quarterback he would get. At the time, he said he'd be happy with either of the two top prospects.

The Indianapolis Colts took Peyton Manning. Beathard's San Diego Chargers happily took the other guy.

Ryan Leaf.