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NFL Draft: Why Trent Dilfer thinks this quarterback class is like ice cream

Trent Dilfer plays catch on the field before

Trent Dilfer plays catch on the field before an NFL game between the Titans and the Jets on Dec. 17, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. Credit: AP / Wade Payne

Trent Dilfer is a former NFL quarterback, so of course he’d enjoy watching the finer points of good quarterback play.

As a regular person, Dilfer also enjoys the normal things in life. Like ice cream.

“I personally don’t like Rocky Road that much,” he said via phone Tuesday, “but I love mint chip.”

At first glance, football and ice cream have very little in common. But when Dilfer, a 13-year NFL veteran and former ESPN analyst, was asked to break down the quarterback class in Thursday’s NFL draft, the two otherwise unrelated things intertwined about as seamlessly as a soft-serve twist.

“I think generally, everybody likes ice cream, right?” Dilfer said. “It’s awesome. Ice cream is just awesome. But we all don’t like the same flavors of ice cream . . . I think that’s how you have to look at this class. In general, they’re ice cream. They’re all really good. They’re awesome. But it’s what flavor you like of quarterback.”

Indeed, the top five quarterbacks in this class – Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson – all have different skillsets, strengths and weaknesses.

“Darnold is kind of the guy, in my book, that has it all,” Dilfer said during a call to promote Panini America’s upcoming digital rookie cards on draft night via iCollectPanini.com. “He has the temperament, the no-flinch mentality, the natural leadership skills, the physical skillset, the demeanor. I could throw a million terms at this that just works. It works almost anywhere.” ”

But there are those may not like what Dilfer deemed as Darnold’s “universal flavor.” Dilfer pointed out Darnold’s nine fumbles in 2017 – “which drives me bat-crap crazy because I was a fumbler,” he said – and said he also sees a little Brett Favre in Darnold’s game, both good and bad.

“He also has a ‘Superman complex,’ which can be great -- Brett Favre had it. [‘Gunslinger mentality’] is another term for it. I call it the ‘Superman complex’ – where he thinks he can save the day on every play. And he’s got to realize very quickly that you just give up on some plays. It’s the discerning way of playing the game. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, they’ll give up on a play, they’ll just throw it away . . . But I think there’s also part of that that’s admirable. There’s the other side of me that played against Brett Favre and saw him win three MVPs and he ripped my heart out multiple times because he could be Superman when his team needed Superman. And I love that about Sam Darnold. So it’s that yin and yang of, ‘I hate, it I love it, I hate it, oh no, oh no, oh no, YES!’"

Dilfer also mentioned Rosen as the other quarterback in this class who has a chance to play early in his career, noting his football IQ and his sound mechanics.

“Rosen, who learned three offenses at UCLA, has a unique mind, has a very gifted football acumen, is a very clean passer in every sense from the ground up, can process at a high level, will challenge his coaches and players to be perfect, which I think is good, wants to know the why and the what behind everything, which is a good thing,” Dilfer said.

Dilfer offered a lofty pro comparison for Rosen.

“I’m one of the few out there, and I got some pushback on this, but I think he’s Peyton Manning,” Dilfer said. “Peyton was so clean coming out, and was such an intellect, and such a hard personality in the building – in a good way. He just demanded so much from everybody, including himself. And that’s kind of Josh. I think Josh is probably more of a gifted passer than Peyton was at this stage.

“But Josh also has some [Aaron] Rodgers in him. See, you’ve got to remember, nobody knew what a great athlete Aaron was until he sat there and his creative mind took over for those three years he was on the bench. And I use a musician as an example. There are musicians that didn’t know they were gifted musicians until they picked up a guitar. And that’s kind of what Aaron did in Green Bay, was, he picked up a guitar for the first time. He went from being a stringent, stiff, methodical player to an artistic player. And I think Josh has that ability. Josh right now is very clean and organized and by-the-book how he plays, but he has another gear in there, another artistic gear that’s going to come out at some point. And he’s starting to understand it.”

One of the other quarterbacks commonly assigned to the Jets at No. 3 in mock drafts – Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield – has drawn comparisons all offseason to Russell Wilson for being shorter, mobile passers. Dilfer disagreed with that analogy.

“Baker Mayfield is a uniquely gifted passer, can locate the ball all over the field, but is more what I call a ‘timing-tempo’ guy,” Dilfer said. “He’s not a fantastic athlete. He needs to play from the pocket, and he needs to play on time. If he tries to play the athletic game in the NFL, he’s not going to be successful . . . And that’s OK. He’s just going to learn very quickly to be Drew Brees, which is who I think he could be given the right system. A guy that beats you with his brain, beats you with his eyes, beats you with location, beats you with being clutch, beats you with grit and determination and a never-die attitude.”

Dilfer raved about Josh Allen’s traits and compared the Wyoming product to a “probably even more powerful” version of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but cautioned that he’s still a work in progress.

“He has everything 1980s and 1990s football wanted in a quarterback,” Dilfer said. “He is big, strong, athletic, huge arm, tough physically, mentally. I mean, he’s got the trait makeup.

“He’s not a great player yet. He needs to learn how to play the game better. What I’ve been talking about him is he’s a 650-horsepower engine that doesn’t have the car built around to sustain that horsepower. He needs to build the automobile. He needs to have the framework and the nurturing to handle that type of horsepower . . . I think, instead of a first-round player, I’d call him a first-round prospect. He needs to be developed, he needs time, he needs to be nurtured. But I absolutely would love to coach him, and I think he’ll be a star if handled properly in the NFL.”

Then there’s Jackson, the electrifying former Heisman winner who threw for 9,043 yards and ran for 4,132 in three seasons at Louisville.

“He makes the hair on my arm stand up when I watch his tape,” Dilfer said. “He makes me spill my coffee.

“But again, he’s not a first-round player, he’s a first-round prospect. He’s got some technical flaws that need to be ironed out. He needs to understand that he’s a passer first and an athlete second, which I think he does, but it needs to be re-emphasized. And he needs to adapt to the NFL game, which is different than the college game he played.”

So which of these players would Dilfer pick out at the local ice cream stand?

“Darnold is my mint chip,” he said. “He’s my favorite, but boy, do I like the other flavors, too.”

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