The NFL Draft is just over two weeks away, and with live sports elsewhere on hiatus, there is an even greater spotlight on this year’s crop of prospects. The 2020 Draft will look very different, as it will happen virtually, with teams drafting from home and there being few pro days and individual workouts so teams are reliant more on game film and what information they got on players from the Combine than ever before.
As always, the quarterback class garners the biggest headlines, as it includes the presumptive top overall pick as well as a few other potential top 10 picks in the mix. In this space we will begin our positional big board series with the signal callers, looking at various tiers of quarterbacks, from those that may start immediately to mid-to-late round picks to wild cards that have the highest potential variance.
We start with the top tier, that we believe features two former SEC quarterbacks that have separated themselves from the pack.
Joe Burrow: Burrow has the full toolkit, as draft folks like to say. He’s hyper accurate, smart with the football, and has the arm strength to push the ball downfield when the time calls for it. He has ample mobility and simply doesn’t make backbreaking mistakes. Even in his first season at LSU in 2018, he was fairly efficient and didn’t turn the ball over. Then he got in an offense tailored for him by Joe Brady and company and took off to a new level. The lesson there is, he’s got all the tools and you need to mold what you do to amplify those things rather than try to force him to do whatever you prefer as a coaching staff.
Tua Tagovailoa: The areas of concern with Tua Tagovailoa are: 1. He’s had a handful of injuries, with the most recent one being a dislocated hip, 2. He was surrounded by blue-chip athletes at the other 10 offensive positions at Alabama, which will not be the case relative to the competition in the NFL. I would, however, implore folks to ignore both of those, because Tagovailoa is a marvel. While undersized, he boasts a strong arm with elite accuracy, processes the game remarkably well, makes good decisions, has the mobility to extend plays if need be, and is an all-time gamer. He very well might have been our QB1 if he stayed healthy, regardless of Burrow’s Heisman-winning campaign. A stat: Burrow set the NCAA record for passer efficiency (202) last season. He topped a record set by Tagovailoa (199.4). However, before he got hurt, Tagovailoa was on pace to obliterate his own record with a passer rating of 206.9. Don’t overthink this, teams that need a signal caller. Just take him.
Jordan Love: It is easy to see Love and compare him to Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen. Both are Mountain West products with strong arms, all the natural talent in the world, and the ability to improvise. The difference: Unlike Allen, who never really put it all together in college, Love was outstanding as a redshirt sophomore, completing 64 percent of his passes for 3,567 yards, 32 touchdowns, and six picks. He took a step back in his redshirt junior campaign — his head coach left, while the offense returned one other starter — but still completed a hair under 62 percent of his passes for 3,402 yards with 20 scores and 17 interceptions. He could use a year of being coached up, and a situation like the Chargers, who have Tyrod Taylor and can be patient with him, might be perfect. There’s no guarantee Love pans out — he could go in the first 10 picks, he could be in for a tumble towards the end of round one — but if he does, he has the potential to be special.
Justin Herbert: The Oregon signal-caller has always looked the part, but his production is maddeningly inconsistent, particularly against top competition. He has games where he looks like a guy worthy of top-pick hype (see his back-to-back last season against USC and Arizona), but then follows that with a performance like he had against Arizona State. His footwork can get lazy and he oscillates between being terrified of taking risks and then overcompensating with overconfidence in his arm strength that will get him in trouble. He has the tools to be a starter in the NFL (including running ability that he showed off during the Rose Bowl) and he wowed folks during the Senior Bowl, but color me skeptical that he’ll ever shake free of some of his bad habits. That’s not to say he’s not worth a first round pick, but I’d feel much better about him going in the 20s (to Jacksonville or New England) than in the top 10.
Jalen Hurts: Will he be an All-Pro signal caller? Probably not, but we would not bet against this dude being something in the league. Hurts has the toughness, poise, and competitive spirit that front offices love, and while he is not a finished product, he’s shown the signs of being a really good modern quarterback. He’s safe with the football (sometimes to a fault), more than comfortable with his legs, and showed that he can impact games with his arm while at Oklahoma, completing a tick under 70 percent of his throws for 3,851 yards, 32 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. A patient team will help him continue to grow as a passer, but even if that does not happen, he’ll raise the level of any QB room he’s in. For a team with a quarterback need at the end of round one or the top of round two, Hurts is the guy.
Jake Fromm: What an interesting evaluation Fromm is. He can’t run, isn’t a particularly great athlete, and doesn’t have a strong arm at all. He will also rarely make the wrong decision before or during plays, will memorize the team’s entire playbook within 10 minutes of getting it, played in a very conservative, run-heavy offense in college (thereby limiting what we know about him as a player), and approaches quarterbacking like an ultra-savvy point guard who just knows how and where to put the ball for his guys. Going sometime on Day 2 sounds about right, and at the bare minimum, he has a long career ahead of him as a backup/perfectly respectable spot starter.
Jacob Eason: The lack of in-person workouts might hurt Eason more than any other QB. He has some absolute horror shows on tape (Stanford, Cal, Colorado, and Utah were all disasters), and he needed to get some team to fall in love with his size and arm talent in an in-person workout to vault up draft boards. As is, I’d be surprised if Eason goes higher than the third round and could slip to Day 3 if folks have too many questions from his tape that he can’t answer in a workout.
Anthony Gordon: Like every Washington State quarterback, teams will need to coach the air raid out of him. In one year as the starter in Pullman, Gordon put up admirable numbers — 71.6 percent completions, 5,579 yards, 48 touchdowns, 16 picks — thanks to his quick release, solid arm, and ability to see the entire field. He has to learn how to play quarterback instead of playing quarterback for Mike Leach, but we like him as a solid Day 3 project.
Tyler Huntley: A theme you’ll see is a fondness for Utah guys on our various positional big boards, and Huntley is no exception. He was ubltra-efficient (73.1 completion percentage on 10.3 yard per attempt), had a strong 19-4 TD to INT ratio, and while he doesn’t do a lot that jumps off the screen, he’s just a very solid quarterback and decision-maker. I can see him having a lengthy career as a backup who has success in spot starts if he’s got a quality team around him.
James Morgan: Much like the FIU team as a whole, James Morgan took a step back in 2019. He came into the season as someone worth keeping an eye on, but stumbled both in raw production and efficiency as the Panthers never were able to get off the ground. A look at his 2018 season shows the potential that might get him selected on Day 3, as he’s got prototypical size, quality arm strength, and takes care of the football.
Jake Luton: He’s 6’7, so expect to hear about how tall he is any time he is mentioned on a football broadcast for however long his career lasts, but I’m intrigued by Luton mostly due to his success last year in lifting Oregon State out of the basement of the Pac-12. He was efficient, didn’t turn the ball over, and when he was on, he made some throws that popped off the screen. There’s a lot of the same questions that come with any quarterback of his size (mobility, efficiency in the throwing motion, etc.) but his 2019 campaign was impressive for a program where it’s tough to be impressive, and he’s worth a Day 3 flier from someone.
Khalil Tate: Do you remember when Tate was your favorite college football player? We are, admittedly, suckers for good college players, something that will stick out in our draft boards. Does Tate stick at QB? Does he get moved to running back or wide receiver as a way to show off his dynamic athleticism, showing off his arm on gadget plays for a creative coach? Who knows! Who cares! We just wanna see Tate play football somewhere.
Cole McDonald: Let’s talk about the premiere chaos quarterback of the 2020 NFL Draft. McDonald burst onto the scene in 2018 as he led Hawai’i to wins over Colorado State and Navy to open the season, but the wheels came off late in the campaign. In 2019, it was more of the same as he Jekyll & Hyde’d his way through the season (often varying wildly in success from drive to drive of the same game). He thrived at times in the Run N’ Shoot, putting up video game numbers, but his confidence in his arm pushing the ball down the field led to some of the worst interceptions you’ll ever see. I have no idea what McDonald is at the next level or if he can help a team, but I do know I want to watch any time he’s on the football field, for better or worse.
Shea Patterson: Here is the guy who interests us the most among late-round fliers or UDFAs. Patterson is short, has small hands, and doesn’t have an arm that will knock your socks off. His accuracy fell off between his junior (64.6 percent) and senior (56.2 percent) campaigns, but in terms of yards per attempt (8 both years), touchdowns (22 and 23, respectively), and interceptions (7, 8), he was the same QB. What has been a constant for Patterson: new offensive coordinators. In four college campaigns, he had four separate OCs, five if you count the co-offensive coordinators Ole Miss had during his true freshman year. Maybe he doesn’t pan out, but he can anticipate throws well and move a bit. Get him in a system and let him learn and he may be worth a gamble.
Bryce Perkins: Sadly, I doubt Perkins stays at quarterback, but he was an awful lot of fun at Virginia. He is a bulldozer when he takes off and runs, which is likely why he’ll end up at some H-back/receiver/tight end spot in the NFL, but he was a more than solid quarterback in his senior season. Perkins showed some real progression as a passer, as he threw the ball a lot more and maintained pretty strong efficiency. He has the ability to extend plays and breakdown a defense, and is a comfortable and solid passer in the short game. The mechanics aren’t the best in the world, but given the strides he took last year I would like to see him get some more development time at the QB spot, despite knowing that likely won’t be afforded to him.