2020 NFL Draft Prospects Preview: Quarterbacks
The 2020 NFL Draft is still on schedule to take place from April 23-25. It will serve as a welcomed event for many of us who are adjusting to life without professional sports. Current circumstances will turn this year’s draft into a throwback of sorts. The public events set to take place in Las Vegas have been canceled. Most schools have canceled or postponed their pro days, and prospects will likely be sitting at home when they get “the call” from their new employers. There will be no loud chorus of boos from a live audience for Roger Goodell, and there will be no awkward hugs between the commissioner and the player selected. Still, the show will go on, and I will look at some of the players who are likely to have a fantasy impact at the next level.
I will first begin with the quarterbacks. As is always the case, several teams are searching for their signal-caller of the future. There are quite a few intriguing prospects on this list. Some seem like sure things, while others carry question marks. The quarterback landscape can change quite a bit throughout a player’s collegiate career. If you were to ask nine months ago, who the first quarterback off the board in 2020 would be, you would likely get a couple of different answers. Most would have said Tua Tagovailoa after he nearly won the Heisman in his first season as a starter in 2018. Some would have countered with Oregon’s Justin Herbert. Though both are highly likely to have their names called in Round 1, there is a new consensus number-one overall pick.
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2020 NFL Draft Prospects – Quarterbacks
Joe Burrow, LSU
Joe Burrow was not expected to be in this spot after failing to earn any significant playing time at Ohio State. Despite redshirting his freshmen year, he still could not grab a hold of the starting job in Columbus. He attempted just 39 passes over his freshmen and sophomore seasons before transferring to LSU. Burrow had a modicum of success in the Bayou in 2018 but busted out in a big way in 2019. Burrow had one of the best passing seasons in NCAA history last season. He threw for 60 touchdowns versus just six interceptions and averaged a massive 10.8 yards per attempt. Burrow punctuated his ticket to Cincinnati with a dominant playoff performance. He torched Oklahoma for seven first-half touchdowns in the National Semifinal before tossing a handful of touchdown passes in the National Championship game against Clemson.
Burrow showed incredible accuracy, with an adjusted completion percentage of 81.9 percent last year. That was second-best in the country per Pro Football Focus. He also completed a whopping 63.7 percent of throws 10 or more yards downfield. Burrow earned the highest passing grade of any college quarterback during the PFF College era (2014-19). Despite recent reports, I expect the Cincinnati Bengals to select Burrow with the first overall pick. If he does land in Cincinnati, Burrow will be tested behind the Bengals’ sub-par offensive line. The unit ranked 26th in both PFF’s pass-blocking metric and Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate. Burrow is not expected to be a factor in 2020 redraft leagues, but he does have a talented cast around him. Joe Mixon should still be a borderline first-round fantasy pick, while A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd will likely settle in as weekly WR3 and Flex plays, respectively.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Tua Tagovailoa is the biggest wild card in this year’s draft. If not for a dislocated hip suffered back in November, the Crimson Tide phenom would vie for the top spot in this year’s draft. Recent reports regarding Tagovailoa’s have been conflicting. A couple of weeks ago it was said that he had fulfilled his medical obligations and received glowing reports from a recent medical re-check with an independent doctor that was facilitated by the NFL Combine. But reports last week suggested that Tagovailoa failed multiple NFL physicals. Tagovailoa burst onto the scene as a freshman when he relieved Jalen Hurts at halftime of the National Championship game and helped lead Alabama to a thrilling comeback victory. He threw for 43 touchdowns and 11.2 yards per attempt as a sophomore in 2018 and was on pace to exceed those numbers as a junior before the injury.
Tagovailoa displayed great accuracy during his time in Alabama but does not have top-end arm strength. This can be a factor when making throws toward the sideline, particularly from the far hashmark. Scouts have noted that he tends to rush when his first read is not available. When healthy, he can extend plays with his legs, but his accuracy dips a bit when on the move. He has “happy feet” at times and struggles when the pocket breaks down. Most of these flaws are correctible at the next level under the proper tutelage. There is a lot of upside here even with a medical history that is less than ideal. Tagovailoa is likely to be selected within the first five picks come draft day. He makes for a very intriguing selection in Dynasty formats but should not be considered in Standard formats in 2020.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
Evaluators have been keying in on Justin Herbert since he threw 19 touchdowns in eight games as a true freshman back in 2016. Since then, however, many have been disappointed in the Oregon star. After once again looking solid in eight games as a sophomore, Herbert regressed by nearly every measure as a junior in 2018. Herbert completed just 59.4 percent of his passes that season and showed a tendency to disappear at inopportune times. He bounced back to some degree as a senior but overall failed to live up to the lofty expectations set for him following his first 16 collegiate contests. Accuracy remains a concern when trying to forecast Herbert’s NFL potential. He was just 50th in FBS in accuracy on passes less than 10 yards downfield per PFF. His downfield throws weren’t much better, as he completed just 48.9 percent of throws beyond the 10-yard mark.
There is still a lot to like about Herbert’s game, however. Herbert won the MVP of the Senior Bowl and displayed elite arm talent and athleticism at the NFL Combine. He ran a 4.68 40-yard dash and finished in the 98th percentile with a 1.56 10-yard split. He also has ideal size for the position. Herbert checks in at 6’6” and 236 pounds. If Herbert can land in the right situation, he can be a factor right away. However, it is more likely that he will compete with a veteran for a job rather than being anointed a starter right off the bat. That would make him more of a target in Dynasty formats.
Jordan Love, Utah State
Jordan Love is a polarizing prospect in many circles. There was a lot of hype surrounding Love after his 2018 season. That year, he posted a 32: 6 TD: INT ratio while leading the Aggies to an 11-2 record. Love capped his sophomore season with a four-touchdown performance in Utah State’s bowl victory against North Texas. Most of us expected him to take another step forward last season, and the hype train was in full force heading into 2019. However, instead of building on his sophomore campaign, the opposite happened. Love’s numbers dropped across the board last year, and most in precipitous fashion.
His yards per attempt dropped from 8.6 down to 7.2. Love threw just 20 touchdown passes while being picked off 17 times. He had 26 turnover-worthy plays last season and had a disturbing 0: 6 TD: INT ratio on passes less than 10 yards downfield. There are still many who believe Love can turn things around in the right system. He tied for fifth in PFF’s big-time throws metric last season with 31. Love can make all the throws and has a unique ability to avoid sacks. I do not think he will be a starter in 2020, but I believe someone will take a chance on him in Round 1. Love would greatly benefit from a system where he can sit behind a veteran and improve his decision making.
Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
Jalen Hurts is one of several NFL Draft prospects on this list whose career trajectory changed quite a bit in college. Hurts led Alabama to a berth in the National Championship game as a true freshman in 2016. He threw 40 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions in his first two seasons, adding over 1,800 rushing yards and 21 scores on the ground as well. But, he was benched in that year’s Championship Game for Tua Tagovailoa, who led the Crimson Tide to the title. The next year, the job was Tua’s and Hurts was left to play second fiddle. Hurts transferred to Oklahoma for his senior season and did not disappoint. He accounted for over 5,000 yards from scrimmage and 52 touchdowns as Oklahoma made it to the National Semifinal game.
Hurts has plenty of big-game experience and is still just 21 years of age. From a fantasy perspective, he is a very interesting Dynasty pick. He has some warts as a passer. His arm strength is not special and his anticipation on throws is below average. However, his athleticism is off the charts, and he can provide a ton of fantasy value in the running game. We have seen time and time again how rushing ability can buoy a quarterback’s fantasy production. Hurts is not projected to start in the NFL in 2020 and will probably not be selected until Round 3 of this year’s draft. But from a fantasy perspective, I think he has a much higher ceiling than most quarterbacks in this class.
Jake Fromm, Georgia
Jake Fromm took over the starting job for an injured Jacob Eason in the season opener in 2017 and never looked back. Fromm was steady in college, winning 36 games as a member of the Bulldogs. His decision-making and experience in a pro-style system will appeal to many NFL teams. Protecting the football is one of Fromm’s best attributes. Fromm threw just 18 interceptions and had just 28 turnover-worthy plays in his college career.
Detractors will note that Fromm was not asked to carry the load in college. He never eclipsed 3,000 yards in any season and almost all his throws were on schedule and from the pocket. Fromm dropped back to throw at least 35 times in just seven of 43 games. Fromm does not possess the elite physical tools of other top NFL Draft prospects. His arm strength is decent, but not great, and his athleticism leaves plenty to be desired. I think Fromm is the kind of quarterback who can last for a decade in the NFL as a backup/spot-starter. But I do not see him as a consistent NFL starter, and certainly not in 2020.
Jacob Eason, Washington
Jacob Eason was set to be the long-time starter at Georgia in 2017 after having a decent season the year before as a true freshman. But an injury in the season opener allowed Jake Fromm to wrest the job away, and Eason was relegated to backup duty. Eason transferred to Washington, but that meant he had to sit out the 2018 season. After basically being idle for two years, Eason returned to action last September for the Huskies. He threw for over 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns while leading Washington to an 8-5 record and a victory in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Eason has a big arm and has thrived when given a clean pocket. However, he has a history of crumbling under pressure and against better opponents. Eason had one of the lowest grades of all quarterbacks when under duress. He lacks mobility and will not provide much in the running game. Still, he has a lot of potential considering he is just 22 years old and essentially missed two years of action. I would have preferred to see him stay in college for another year to gain some seasoning. Perhaps he can land on a team where he can watch from the sidelines for a year or two before he is asked to lead an NFL team.
Anthony Gordon, Washington State
Anthony Gordon had attempted just five passes in his collegiate career before 2019. Last season, he led the nation in dropbacks, so he was able to put plenty of plays on tape. Such is life in a Mike Leach offense. Leach’s system favors quarterbacks who make quick decisions with the football. In that respect, Gordon did not disappoint. He finished fifth last season in adjusted completion percentage and did a good job scanning the field to find open receivers. But a lot of the positive things Gordon did could be directly attributed to the style of offense the Cougars run. Gordon led the country in passing yards via the screen pass, while finishing outside the top 100 quarterbacks in average depth of target.
Gordon was not the same quarterback when facing pressure and when forced from the pocket. That may be attributed to his lack of experience, which leads to another concern. It took Gordon five years to become a D-1 starter. Such a path does not often lead to success at the next level. He is older than most quarterbacks in this class, yet has less game experience. Gordon is going to be drafted as a project, but I do not expect him to make much of a mark. I do not have any expectations for him to contribute in fantasy football anytime soon. Even in Dynasty formats, I would not be buying.
Best of the Rest
- Cole McDonald, Hawaii
- Nate Stanley, Iowa
- Tyler Huntley, Utah
- Josh Love, San Jose State
- Jake Luton, Oregon State
- Steven Montez, Colorado
- James Morgan, FIU
- Kevin Davidson, Princeton
Check back later this week when Mick continues his look at the top NFL Draft Prospects of 2020.
Also check out Gary Davenport’s 2020 Pre-Draft NFL Rookie Rankings.
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