The two biggest events of my year – the NFL Draft and Avengers: Infinity War – have collided in the same general timeframe, taking much of my thinking and creative process with them. The culmination of this power struggle has resulted in the only decision that made any sense to me: compare the quarterback class of 2018 to the Avengers, both in powers and in personality.
Here’s my best shot at it. These comps aren’t perfect of course, and I’ll look forward to hearing which ones you all think should be different.
Josh Rosen – Thor
Many have tried to peg Rosen as Ironman, a comparison that certainly has some merit. Rosen has been known for his against-the-grain opinions and having an entitled air, but having met him, watching him in countless interviews and hearing his teammates talk about him, I just don’t think that’s the case.
The issue with establishing Rosen as a personality that rubs some people the wrong way is that there really isn’t even one documented encounter or statement from him that deserves that narrative. He’s well-spoken, thoughtful and is described by his teammates as a diligent worker who seeks knowledge from everyone he comes in contact with.
Ironman is a semi-narcissist, and that just isn’t Rosen from all my observations of him. I liken him more to Thor for several reasons. First, Thor is often described as the most powerful Avenger, and Rosen was my QB1 in this class. Like Thor when he lost his hammer, there was a time where Rosen struggled early in the 2017 season when his arm wasn’t at full strength. But when his velocity returned later in the season, so did his ability to drive the ball into tight windows or drop a dime over the top of a defense. When Thor got Stormbreaker…well, you saw the movie. Things got real.
At full strength, Rosen is the best passer in this class, but he’s been befallen by injuries before, as has Thor. The superhero lost an eye and his hammer to his sister, was left to die in an explosion in space by Thanos and was even stripped of his power and banished to Earth by his Pops. Like Thor at the end of Infinity War, I believe Rosen will be even stronger as his career moves forward.
But even from a personality perspective, there are similarities. Where Ironman comes off as cocky, Thor is simply very confident in his abilities and finds it humorous/disrespectful when others doubt that. That’s Rosen to me, fully aware of his abilities, yet confident that his play on the field has spoken for itself. He’s not brash or arrogant in his carriage like Ironman, but he plays for keeps and won’t back down from anyone. Prod him enough, and eventually you’ll get the full force of his abilities, as the NFL will eventually experience.
Sam Darnold – Captain America
This one is easy, especially from a personality perspective. Darnold’s clean-cut, traditional makeup identifies very strongly with Captain America, and despite his youthfulness, he carries himself with a demeanor that denotes an older, wiser prospect. At times Darnold can get reckless on the battlefield, but he’s able to throw and move with anticipation as a passer, identifying the enemy’s strategy and quickly countering it with his own ability to create outside of structure.
Like Steve Rogers, Darnold put USC on his back for some impressive performances during his career, showing the leadership skills and poise in big moments that also makes Captain America the ideal top dog on the Avengers’ squad. Darnold is reportedly all in on football as well, shunning distractions and wowing teams with his mental NFL-readiness for a redshirt sophomore. Remind you at all of Rogers’ commitment to Avenging above all else, a position that he reiterates to Black Widow at the end of Age of Ultron?
NFL teams believe they are getting a winner on and off the field in Darnold, a leader who was born for big moments and destined to elevate everyone around him with the tangibles and intangibles that he brings to the table. Like Captain America, Darnold doesn’t have the greatest set of physical or athletic tools, but he still decisively checks the boxes in those areas, while offering impressive traits from the neck up.
Josh Allen – The Hulk
At first, I nabbed Allen as Spiderman. Young, oblivious at times to the danger he puts himself in, but certainly talented. But the more I thought about it, the more Allen seemed to identify with the Hulk’s powers and Bruce Banner’s personality.
Teams raved about how smart Allen is off the field, noting how well he identifies and articulates concepts on the whiteboard. But when the bullets start flying, mental processing and astute decision-making go out the window. Allen becomes an enigmatic passer, capable of anything, but often inefficient and careless in the way he executes. Those same traits get the Hulk into trouble on more than one occasion, and his teammates, from Ironman and Black Widow in Age of Ultron or Ironman, Dr. Strange, Thor and others in Infinity War, often have to bail him out of a tight spot.
Sometimes, when you need it most, Allen’s talent just doesn’t come out at all. See, every game in college that he played against Power 5 competition. It was ugly. Similarly, when the Avengers needed the Hulk to show up several times in Infinity War, he just couldn’t rise to the occasion. Instead, he needed his teammates to elevate him, and Ironman to offer him a suit so he could join the battle in Wakanda.
Banner still does all he can, and contributes to the team’s efforts in every way possible, but when it comes time to put it all together out on the battlefield, he can be as reckless, destructive and even disappointing as he is deadly. Still, there is that little piece of hope that if the Hulk or Allen could ever learn to control their gifts and focus them in a more efficient manner, the results could be epic.
Lamar Jackson – Spiderman
Ridiculously elusive. Incredibly flexible and athletic. Consistently saves those around him with his performance in action.
Remember the scene in Infinity War, when Thanos throws a moon at Ironman and the impact causes three other unconscious heroes to fly up in the air, before eventually falling toward a certain death? It’s Spiderman who swoops in and webs all three of them to safety (yep, I just used “webs” as a verb).
Jackson operates in much the same way. He’s a little wild, very eager and consistently ready to show off his abilities. Just when all looks lost, Jackson and Spiderman can swoop through the air at the last second, with more tricks up their sleeve than you can possibly imagine (especially when Spiderman gets his new suit).
Jackson is also a master improvisor, capable of thinking quickly on his feet and reacting in a manner that can be deadly to the opposition. Remember when Spiderman drops the “Aliens” movie reference and comes up with the plan to save Dr. Strange at the drop of a hat in Infinity War? That was Jackson on the football field every Saturday, consistently saving the day with his last second ability to improvise and react to any situation, regardless of the danger to himself.
But I also like the parallel between Jackson and Spiderman as people. Peter Parker was unpopular in school, bullied in certain versions of the saga and toiled in relative obscurity until he received his powers. Jackson has been doubted as a quarterback by many, billed as not smart enough, not big enough and not accurate enough at different points in the process. Both have the underdog label stamped all over them, but neither have shied away from opportunities to step up and show the world who they are. Spiderman as a superhero despite his age and background, and Jackson as a quarterback despite the doubters and his unorthodox skill set.
Baker Mayfield – Ironman
This one should be obvious to everyone. Cocky. Borderline arrogant. Blunt to the point of being acerbic. Brilliant, both on and off the (battle) field. Inspiring as leaders, yet very much march to the beat of their own drum. To some, they both will seem more about themselves than the team, but in the end, their true colors show and they emerge as the vital difference-maker, even on a team full of difference-makers.
Ironman likes to have a plan going into every battle, and Mayfield’s preparation and execution suggest a very similar approach. Mayfield’s style of play is often a well-processed artistic display of skill, but it can adapt into improvisation if needed. Both characters thrive off of creating, preparing and executing when things are at their bleakest. At times both can become a bit frazzled when their best-laid plans crumble, but the pair typically finds the ability to rise above the circumstances and overcome.
At the end of the day, this one will always come down to their personalities. Mayfield has made some questionable decisions over the course of his career, from grabbing his junk on the sideline to getting arrested for public intoxication and resisting arrest. Tony Stark can relate, as he messes up on a consistent basis in the films, from creating Ultron to breaking up the Avengers to failing to listen to reason from several of his teammates.
Sometimes, Stark’s ideas end up in brilliant solutions that save the team. Sometimes, he puts the squad in harm’s way with his choices as well. But in the end, Ironman and Baker Mayfield are wildly popular regardless of their weaknesses, because we find them to be relatable, entertaining and clear-cut winners at what they do.
Have I mentioned that both talk trash to their opponents incessantly? That was the similarity that sealed this comparison for me. Perhaps Dr. Strange said it best when he called Stark a “douchebag” in Infinity Wars, but that sure didn’t stop us from fighting back the waterworks when Ironman got stabbed by Thanos, now did it?
Kyle Lauletta – Hawkeye
Lauletta has had to fight against the “tools and ceiling” argument as a quarterback, given his limited arm strength and inability to “make all the throws”. Regardless of his refined approach, astute mental processing and strong accuracy in the short-to-intermediate range, Lauletta simply has some limitations that will always keep him from being one of the better quarterbacks in the league.
Hawkeye is fairly similar. He’s fun to watch at times and has terrific intangibles, but he has no true superpower, he’s limited in hand-t0-hand combat and his age has slowed him down a bit. Still, there are times when Hawkeye is the difference between the team winning and losing. Remember when he stops bad Wanda from mind-controlling him in Age of Ultron, then gathers up the rest of the team from under her spell? Like Lauletta, Hawkeye needs a strong supporting cast and plenty of protection (moment of silence for Quicksilver), but he’s fully capable of putting forth a winning performance when all of that is present.
I think this quote by Hawkeye to Wanda near the end of Age of Ultron best sums up the comparison between the two:
“The city is flying, we’re fighting an army of robots, and I have a bow and arrow. None of this makes sense. But I’m going back out there because it’s my job.”
Lauletta is going to take the field at some point in the NFL as a starter. His ceiling may be limited, his abilities may feel like a bow-and-arrow against an army of robots on a flying city, but I fully believe you’ll be able to count on him to do his job, night-in and night-out, regardless of his weaknesses. There’s a certain reliability about both characters that makes you want them on your team.
Mason Rudolph – War Machine
War Machine is great, right? He’s crazy loyal, even with a narcissistic colleague (looking at you, Ben Roethlisberger), he’s got a clean-cut personality, he’s tougher than he looks and yet….nobody would want to watch a movie about him, perhaps moreso than any other character in Infinity War.
That’s Rudolph for you. In a great offense, in the perfect system, in the perfect conference for him, he produced and filled out the box score, not dissimilar from War Machine’s body count on the battlefield at Wakanda, as he flew above the fray while the rest of the team did the dirty work below. In a perfect situation, Rudolph is capable of being effective, and his highs can exact a massive toll on the opposition by way of the deep ball.
But when coverages get more complicated, pressures become more intricate and the speed of the game gets faster, there are a lot of questions about how Rudolph will perform. He’ll miss some throws that don’t have a high degree of difficulty, and he’s a limited athlete who won’t be able to live off of creating outside of structure. Rudolph looks overwhelmed at times on tape, and makes some costly mistakes as a result.
Try as he might, War Machine will never be able to take on the top-level villains, and there’s a reason he’s consistently in jeopardy throughout the Ironman and Avengers movies. And try as he might, he can never best Ironman (Mayfield), either when the two go head-to-head, or in his impact out on the battlefield.
War Machine is an awesome sidekick and a good fighter, but if he’s the feature piece in the Avengers story, things get a lot less enjoyable to watch, and the chance of victory against the ultimate competition goes out the window – fast. I fear Rudolph may always have the same narrative surrounding him; good in small doses, but never someone you want to see take the reins as a face-of-the-franchise type of quarterback.