2020 QB draft rankings, pre-NFL Combine edition
The NFL does not allow much of a break. Just three weeks have passed since the Kansas City Chiefs stormed back to beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, and amidst the talk of a new collective bargaining agreement comes the unofficial beginning of the 2020 NFL season: The NFL Scouting Combine.
All of the big-name quarterbacks will be in attendance next week in Indianapolis. How much on-field work we will see out of them — especially Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow — remains to be seen.
You have likely seen a few mocks and big boards already out there. Many have the same names in the same order. My top five excludes one quarterback who has appeared in many first-round mocks and bumps another up into his place.
- Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama)
Bowl game: DNP v. Michigan
Tua Tagovailoa is the best quarterback prospect to enter the NFL since Andrew Luck in 2012. He can make every throw an NFL quarterback needs to make and does so with elite accuracy. The status of the dislocated hip Tagovailoa suffered Nov. 16 will determine where in the first round Tua is drafted.
Durability issues plagued Tagovailoa throughout his time at Alabama — the dislocated hip Tua suffered against Mississippi State was the fourth lower-body injury of his college career. As the cliche goes, the best ability is availability, and that goes double for a franchise quarterback. No smart team will invest a high first-round pick in a player with bad medicals.Tua’s medical evaluations in Indianapolis will be a crucial step in remaining atop teams’ draft boards.
Thus far, Tagovailoa’s medicals have been positive. Doctors said Tua would make a full recovery almost immediately after his surgery in November and echoed that sentiment earlier this month. Tagovailoa also plans to work out for NFL teams in April, per AL.com’s Mike Rodak.
As long as he is healthy, Tua Tagovailoa is a step ahead of every other quarterback prospect in the 2020 draft class. He is a future franchise cornerstone and has the tools to join the elite class of NFL quarterbacks.
Potential fit: Miami
The Dolphins are in prime position to get their quarterback of the future but must be aggressive in doing so. A trade package that sends the nos. 5, 26 and 70 picks to Washington for the second overall selection (or one that sends the nos. 5 and 39 picks to Detroit if Washington is set on taking Chase Young) should be enough to bring Tua to Miami Gardens. Ryan Fitzpatrick is expected back in 2020, and his presence will allow Tagovailoa to sit, learn the pro game and get healthy, all while the ‘Fins probably earn another high pick in 2021.
- Joe Burrow (LSU)
Playoff games: 29/39, 493 yards, 7 TD, 0 INT v. Oklahoma; 31/49, 463 yards, 5 TD, 0 INT v. Clemson
Joe Burrow earned headlines during LSU’s national title-winning campaign, breaking records and expectations en route to the second-ever 15–0 season in college football history.
Expectations will never be higher for Burrow, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and national champion. The bright lights that come along with those accolades will not always be kind to the former LSU Tiger and Ohio State Buckeye.
Burrow’s arm strength is good, but it is not elite. NFL defenders are faster and smarter, the throwing windows smaller, and the margin of error slimmer. The difference between good and elite suddenly becomes very important.
Teammates lauded Burrow for his toughness, and while that may fire up the rest of the offense, it isn’t smart to voluntarily take hits. Burrow needs to take a page out of fellow Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson’s playbook and learn to slide or run out of bounds.
Burrow is a good quarterback, a smart player who does not lose his composure and throws with good anticipation. There is a very real possibility, however, that Burrow is not a franchise quarterback. Burrow is not the quarterback he was in 2018 — when he completed less than 58 percent of his passes and threw for less than 200 yards in seven games—and he’s not the quarterback he was last season.
The true Joe Burrow lies somewhere in between. That’s certainly not a bad option for quarterback-needy teams.
Potential fit: Cincinnati
This isn’t projection — Burrow is almost certainly going to end up in southern Ohio. However, I don’t love his fit in Cincinnati. The Bengals were 21st in adjusted sack rate, 26th in run blocking, and 29th in offensive DVOA last season, per Football Outsiders. At best, Burrow will have Tyler Boyd and a 32-year-old A.J. Green to target, with a porous offensive line and a mediocre offensive coordinator in Brian Callahan. That is a far cry from the cushy surroundings Burrow had in Baton Route last season.
- Jake Fromm (Georgia)
Bowl game: 20/30, 250 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT v. Baylor
Jake Fromm is a prime example of how the narrative can significantly change come draft time. The former Georgia Bulldog was a highly touted five-star recruit coming out of high school and quickly became Georgia’s starter as a true freshman. Fromm led the Bulldogs to 36 victories, an SEC title, and if not for the greatness of Tua Tagovailoa, the 2017 national championship would have come home to Athens.
And yet, Fromm is rarely mentioned with the likes of Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and even Jordan Love.
Fromm is limited by average height and arm strength. Height has become less of an issue in recent years, but average arm strength will always be a red flag for NFL talent evaluators.
There are plenty of reasons to believe Fromm will be a successful NFL quarterback. Fromm takes care of the ball (he had 18 interceptions and just four lost fumbles during his time at Georgia) and has exceptional accuracy despite averaging more than nine air yards per attempt throughout his collegiate career. Fromm also isn’t afraid of the big stage. Georgia appeared in two SEC title games, two New Years Six bowls and a pair of playoff contests under Fromm’s watch and the junior quarterback never shrunk under the brightest lights.
Potential fit: New England
Fromm is a smart player with great intangibles, precisely the type of player Bill Belichick covets. Fromm could sit behind Tom Brady, learn from Belichick and the GOAT, and transition into New England’s starting job upon Brady’s retirement.
- Justin Herbert (Oregon)
Bowl game: 14/20, 138 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT v. Wisconsin
Prepare yourselves for the Justin Herbert hype train.
Herbert is the type of prospect that gives NFL decision-makers heart palpitations: A big guy (Herbert is 6'6") with a big arm. The rest won’t matter to one NFL team.
The former Oregon Duck is part Mitchell Trubisky (struggles with progression and field vision) and part Josh Allen (big arm, questionable decision-making). Both players were drafted in the top 10. Neither should have been, and nor should Herbert. Desirable physical traits should not erase a track record of average play.
Herbert’s mediocre showing against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl wasn’t an aberration. In 43 career starts at Oregon, Herbert averaged just 245 passing yards and two touchdowns. Herbert is mobile, but not to the point of making defenses account for his rushing ability. Nothing outside of Herbert’s arm strength is exceptional.
If you’re looking for a bust candidate, start your list with Herbert.
Potential fit: Carolina
Like Trubisky and Allen before him, Herbert will be drafted way too early. If Herbert starts as a rookie, it won’t go well. In a universe where I control the draft, Carolina takes him at no. 38. The Panthers could sit Herbert behind Cam Newton or another veteran stop-gap (Philip Rivers?) in 2020. New Panthers head coach Matt Rhule has the leeway to sit a rookie and ride with a vet next season and should take advantage of that, especially if that rookie is Justin Herbert.
- Jacob Eason (Washington)
Bowl game: 22/32, 210 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT v. Boise State
When Jake Fromm became Georgia’s starting quarterback as a true freshman, Jacob Eason was the man he supplanted. Eason led the Bulldogs to an underwhelming 8–5 record in 2016 while Fromm took Georgia to the brink of a national championship one year later.
Upon transferring to Washington, Eason’s counting numbers improved to acceptable levels. But in 29 collegiate starts at Georgia and Washington, Eason completed less than 60 percent of his passes and averaged fewer than two touchdown passes per game. In his lone season as Washington’s starter, Eason once again led his team to an 8–5 record.
Eason tracks as Justin Herbert Lite, a tall prospect with a big arm, inconsistent play, and average footwork. Eason will likely need multiple years in a backup role before he could be trusted with a first-team offense.
Potential fit: Pittsburgh
When Ben Roethlisberger goes down, so do the Steelers. Pittsburgh needs help at the position and will likely use one of their 2020 draft picks on a quarterback. The Steelers could take Eason on day two of the draft and let him acclimate to the pro game until Roethlisberger calls it a career.