With the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine just days away, now is a perfect time to take a look at this quarterback class. Here are some pre-combine tiers before we all head to Indianapolis, plus with a pressing question answered at the end: Where would Daniel Jones - the prospect - fall in these tiers?
We can start with the two guys at the top. These are the two quarterbacks who I would be most comfortable running out Week 1 of the 2020 season as a starter for an NFL team, and these are the two quarterbacks we can expect to see come off the draft board within the top five of the draft.
Provided, of course, the medical evaluation for Tagovailoa checks out.
As Indianapolis beckons, these two quarterbacks from the SEC enter the Scouting Combine with vastly different things to prove. For Tagovailoa, the most important part of his week is that medical recheck. Word around Mobile during the Senior Bowl week was that the league is still very wary of how Tagovailoa’s hip injury is going to impact him, both in the short-term and in the long-term. This week alone there have been rumblings of a loss of mobility, and future arthritis. Now, I’m not a doctor (although lawyers, even former ones, often think they are) but that sounds scary ... if true. Teams are going to trust their doctors when it comes to his outlook.
For Burrow, the big part of the week for him is probably going to be when he meets with the media. Everyone on the outside of the league probably agrees with him when the young passer says that he has “leverage,” but remember that the NFL decision-makers take a more ... old school approach.
Up next are the second tier of quarterbacks, guys who should be starters in the NFL but might need a bit of seasoning before taking over for a team.
It begins with Herbert, who is coming off a very strong performance during the Senior Bowl and is perhaps in the mix for a top 10 selection. Herbert showed down in Mobile the ability to run an offense outside of Oregon’s system, which is a big question mark for him. The other thing he needs to address according to Herbert himself is his role as a leader for a team. Meetings with organizations are going to be huge for him.
Eason is in a very interesting position as the Combine approaches. He has one of the best arms in the class, and also pairs that arm talent with some athleticism that fits with today’s NFL. We have seen passers like that get pushed up boards before, particularly the past two seasons, and like many I cannot get beyond the idea of Eason pairing with Bruce Arians down in Tampa Bay.
Love is another quarterback that brings that combination of arm talent and athleticism to the table. His 2019 film was littered with mistakes and poor reads, and was underwhelming in the wake of a 2018 campaign that had many optimistic about him rising up draft boards. But talent is hard to pass up, and it would not surprise me at all to see Love’s name called earlier than expected on the opening night of the draft.
Then we get to Fromm, who might be a polarizing prospect in this draft class. He lacks the upper level athleticism, arm talent and traits of the other passers in this tier, but he does bring to the table a solid body of work and comes from an offense that might replicate our standard understanding of a “pro style system.” Scouts and evaluators that place an emphasis on processing speed, progression reads, working under center (although that really matters less and less in today’s NFL) and throwing play-action after turning the back to the defense are going to like what they see in Fromm. He does not have the ceiling of the other passers in this group, but he has the highest floor, and it just takes one team to fall for a player.
Now we get into Day 3 territory, with a collection of passers all of whom have an NFL future, but how they develop and their eventual landing spot will play a larger role in whether that future is as a starter, or as a longer-term backup. All six passers, in my mind, have starter potential, but the fit and the scheme and the development track will need to be right.
Gordon is a very intriguing prospect. He showcases solid arm talent and some aggression as a passer, and also flashes the ability to make a variety of off-platform throws from a variety of arm angles. This was something present on his film, and that was also on display down in Mobile during the practices as well as the Senior Bowl itself. He needs to work on his footwork, as he is often too statuesque in the pocket while working through reads. But there is certainly potential.
Hurts is an interesting evaluation. I think he projects best to a more vertical passing game, as his ability to throw the deep ball with touch and placement is something that jumps out, both on film and when you see him in person. He is also a very athletic quarterback, but that has a drawback when you study him. There are times when he transitions from passer to runner, and is slow to make the transition back ... if he does at all. But the leadership he has displayed throughout his career, coupled with the areas where he excels, is going to endear him to a few different franchises.
Jake Luton is a name that has remained under the radar throughout the pre-draft process, but the Oregon State product has a chance to be a breakout performer out in Indianapolis. He started his college career at the University of Idaho and then moved to the Pac-12, and finally put it together for a senior season that saw him throw just three interceptions. He has a big arm and can move in the pocket fairly well, but as is sometimes the case with taller quarterbacks, he has some mechanical issues (locking the front leg and a violent upper body torque) that can create inconsistency with ball placement. But for a developmental prospect with upside, I like what I see.
Now we get to McDonald. Perhaps it is time for a bit of a confession:
Me getting ready to talk myself back into Cole McDonald: pic.twitter.com/3AR915VjtJ— Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) February 19, 2020
Like some on that brutal hellscape of a website, I was part of the Twitter contingent that planted a flag on McDonald back in the summer. Then, his season got off to a rocky start when he threw multiple interceptions in the opener against Arizona and found his way to the bench. But he finished his season strong (seriously, just watch his final two throws against BYU in the Hawaii Bowl) and I’m believing once more. He can be, well, a “beautiful mess” as I’ve called him in the past, as his mechanics and footwork are often all over the place. Yet he shows great aggression at the position and a live arm. I’m willing to bet on that on Day 3.
Now we come to the exact opposite style of quarterback, in Nate Stanley. The Iowa product is another name that is flying under the radar, but he also has potential to make a name for himself out in Indianapolis. He’s similar to Fromm, in that he comes from a more “pro style” offense and you’ll seem him tasked with making throws off of play-action after turning his back to the defense, and he has an NFL arm. He is not the most athletic QB in this group, but with some improved footwork in and around the pocket, he can grow into an NFL passer.
That brings us to our first of three non-combine players, in Tyler Huntley from Utah. Huntley was one of college football’s most efficient passers last season, and his passing efficiency of 177.6 was third in the FBS, behind Burrow (whose mark of 202 is now the best in FBS history) and Hurts. In fact, Huntley’s mark places him 25th all time.
As I wrote about here, Huntley is perhaps at his best when things break down in the pocket. It should not come as a secret, but that tends to happen in the NFL. He might not be in Indianapolis but write him off as an NFL prospect at your own peril.
This last tier contains more of the “lottery pick” quarterbacks. Players that have potential and a solid trait or two that they can hang on, but will needs some growth and development to carve out a role in the league.
We can start with James Morgan, the FIU product with a pretty big arm to go with some athleticism. He has some questions to answer regarding his processing speed and decision-making, and there are many examples of him forcing throws into traffic on film, but the arm talent is impressive. Against Old Dominion, for example, he somehow fit a throw through multiple defenders while moving to his left and away from his dominant arm. A strong showing in Indianapolis could solidify a draft spot for him.
Lewerke, like McDonald and Love before him, was a darling of draft circles during the summer scouting season a few years back. But he endured two difficult seasons to close out his college career, struggling with injuries in 2018 and throwing 13 interceptions this past season. He has never cracked the 60 percent completion mark, which is a red flag for those who live by the “Parcells Rules,” but has some athleticism and can create outside of the pocket and off structure.
Kelly Bryant is a passer that I’m developing a soft spot for. He has some inconsistencies with his mechanics, which leads to inconsistency with his ball placement. If he cleans up his footwork and his upper body (specifically getting his left shoulder involved more to generate torque) he could improve his placement. He also brings some athleticism and competitive toughness to the table. As we get into the later rounds, I’d be happy if my team took a shot on him.
Perkins is another non-combine participant who had a case for an invitation. He gave that Virginia offense a jump start this season, and has a good enough arm to play in the league. Perkins also brings athleticism to the table, and can create with his legs outside of the pocket. He does not have a huge body of work demonstrating his ability to work through progressions on a consistent basis, but with the evolution of the game he could run a lot of what teams are implementing in today’s NFL.
Patterson showed some NFL potential during his time in both Michigan and Mississippi, but consistency was a main trait that was lacking in his game. Against Iowa this season, he would follow up an NFL-level throw on a deep out route with an absolute head-scratcher of a decision. That played out as well down in Mobile, when he started strong in the first day of practice but then faded as the week went on. He’ll need some work, but could find a way to stick on a practice squad early in his career.
The same could be said for Steven Montez. He was also very inconsistent during his time at Colorado, and that inconsistency could be seen sometimes on the same route design, against the same coverage, against the same team, on sometimes even the same drive. That is something I highlighted in this piece titled “The Curious Case of Mr. Montez.” There is potential, but he does have a steep development curve in my mind.
We can close out these tiers with two FCS products. Cookus went through a few different injuries during his time at Northern Arizona, but has an NFL arm and moves pretty well in the pocket. Davidson waited his turn at Princeton, but turned in a very solid season for the Tigers this past year and parlayed that into an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game. He has some mechanical issues (particularly with low ball carriage) that he could stand to clean up, but there is potential with him as well.
Now back to Daniel Jones
Now here’s what New York Giants fans are probably wondering: Where would our guy fit in this season?
Perhaps I am not the guy to ask that question. I’m sure you all remember my ... rather low opinion of Jones from a season ago. But I ate my crow like a good little boy and was very impressed with what the Duke product put on the field this past season. Taking him as a prospect and dropping him into this group, I would put him into that second tier of passers, behind Herbert and in the mix with Eason and Love. Given what those two quarterbacks bring to the table (arm talent and athleticism) that would seem to make sense.
For those wondering if the Giants made the right decision drafting Jones and not waiting until this year, well, consider this. Sure, there is a possibility the Giants could have been in position to draft one of the top two guys this year if they had waited, but it is not like Burrow and Tagovailoa are sure things. Especially when you consider Tagovailoa’s medical concerns. In addition, by drafting Jones when they did, the Giants got both a year of experience out of him, as well as the potential to maximize Saquon Barkley’s rookie contract. Being a year ahead on developing their rookie quarterback gets the Giants a year closer towards cashing in on the rookie contract of their star RB ... before Barkley himself looks to cash in.