The NFL Draft is always full of surprises but the first two quarterbacks off the board appear to be a foregone conclusion.
Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa seem to be head and shoulders above the rest, especially with the Crimson Tide star reportedly getting good news in Indianapolis about the recovery of a hip injury that ended his season. Past the top two, however, the debates are raging to the point of ESPN’s experts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay betting $5,000 (to charity) over where prospects Jordan Love and Justin Herbert will be selected.
There are at least a half dozen non-Burrow/Tagovailoa quarterbacks in the 2020 draft who could reasonably argue they have the potential to be starters. Some projections have as many as five quarterbacks being selected in the first round.
The most hotly debated in Indy were Herbert, Love and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, who finished second in the Heisman race.
On Purple Daily, Yahoo! Sports draft analyst Eric Edholm said that this year’s picks might tell us something about where the league is going in terms of quarterback analysis.
“I tend to think that the league is changing,” Edholm said. “We are kind of getting away from the Justin Herbert type quarterbacks. They have a place, I’m not saying that they can’t start in this league but you could even see it in his Combine throwing sessions that he was aiming on the short stuff.”
Herbert is a solid athlete but doesn’t have a running element to his game like Hurts. NFL.com compares him to Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz but there are concerns about his situational awareness and accuracy (he ranked 50th in PFF grade on throws under 10 yards). Quarterbacks with similar tall, strong-armed profiles — a la Blake Bortles, Brock Osweiler, Christian Hackenberg and possibly Josh Allen — have disappointed in recent years but some mocks have Herbert as high as fifth overall to the Miami Dolphins.
“[Herbert] lets it rip and it’s 12-18 yards he has about as good an arm as anybody in this draft and he’ll be right on par with some of the better throwers but he’s going to more fit the old school pro style intermediate passing game,” Edholm said. “Whereas this Mahomes effect and Lamar Jackson effect starts to change people’s minds about what a quarterback is and isn’t, I think people are more open to saying, ‘sure we can design an offense that has college concepts and that plays to the strengths of a Jalen Hurts or Jordan Love.”
Oklahoma’s star quarterback was one of the most polarizing in Indy, according to Edholm.
“I don’t think Hurts is for everybody, I’ve heard some teams love him and some don’t but I still have a hard time seeing him getting out of Round 3. Somewhere between Round 2 and Round 3 somebody is going to say: ‘I believe in this kid to be really, really good.'”
Last season Hurts posted 53 total touchdowns and passed for 3,851 yards while completing 69% of passes. During workouts he ran an outstanding 4.59 40-yard dash, proving that he can be a legitimate rushing threat in the NFL. But there are significant concerns about his arm strength and ability to process in a hyper-fast NFL.
“I think he’s going on Day 2. I think some team is going to fall for him and say, ‘character, athleticism, competitiveness, it’s all off the charts, we’ll work with the other stuff,'” Edholm said. “He has to speed up his clock, he has to work on reading coverages a little bit better but everything else is great and checks boxes.”
It’s unclear whether the Minnesota Vikings would have any interest in a Day 2 quarterback. They currently do not have a QB under contract after 2020 but they could sign Kirk Cousins to a contract extension this offseason. Edholm did not count out a Hurts-Vikings fit.
“If I had to just guess, having not spoken to the Vikings about Jalen Hurts, I would say that’s one of the places that makes sense,” Edholm said. “You are still figuring out whether you’re going to extend Kirk Cousins or if he’s going to be the guy beyond this year and you have to groom somebody behind him. That makes sense. If you want to mix him in for a little bit of a different look here and there, I don’t have a problem taking Kirk Cousins off the field for a play or two or a series.”
As for Jordan Love, he was a darling of the Combine, reportedly nailing interviews and impressing teams. The major concern is that he threw 17 interceptions last year at Utah State. NFL.com compared him to Blake Bortles.
Love’s combine performance boosted him from a second-round projection to No. 6 overall to the Chargers in McShay’s post-Combine mock draft.
McShay wrote: “In apples-to-apples situations, like the Senior Bowl and the combine, Love stood out. He has a huge arm, strong instincts and mobility in the pocket. NFL teams want quarterbacks who can create in today’s game, and that’s exactly what Love does. Philip Rivers won’t be back, and Tyrod Taylor could act as a bridge to Love.”
The other quarterback with some first-round projections is Jacob Eason, who has a rocket arm but unimpressive production with just 3,132 yards, 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Rival Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon was on the opposite end of the spectrum with concerns about arm strength but outstanding numbers, racking up over 5,500 yards with 48 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Georgia’s Jake Fromm also has Day 2 projections but notably had a poor Combine. ESPN’s McShay said that Fromm’s football IQ could help him overcome some physical shortcomings.
“I would argue he’s as smart football intelligence wise as any quarterback in this class,” McShay said. “You talk to anyone at Georgia about his work ethic and the length he goes to have success and you can see how he was able to overcome the lack of elite physical tools, but some of his throws aren’t going to work in the NFL.”
Around the NFL there is great uncertainty surrounding free agent quarterbacks like Teddy Bridgewater, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady, so we might not have a clear picture of which teams will be aiming for a quarterback until free agency is over. For the Vikings, their interest could tell us which direction extension talks are headed with Cousins because even outside the first round there will be opportunities for draft-and-develop QBs.