Kyusung Gong/Associated Press
So much can change in one week.
Last Thursday I sat down to write the Scouting Notebook, and we lived in a world where Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa were fighting it out to be the 2020 NFL draft’s top quarterback, with Burrow pulling ahead after an awesome head-to-head matchup the previous weekend.
Now we live in a world where Tagovailoa suffered a devastating hip injury in the second quarter against Mississippi State. His football future is unknown, even though Alabama officials expect a full recovery. The injury turned not only the 2019 college football season upside down, but also the 2020 draft. Teams that were positioning to “Tank for Tua” are left waiting to see how his hip responds to surgery and rehab. A top-heavy quarterback class may have lost one of its pillars.
With Tua down and maybe out of the 2020 draft, it’s a good time to collect the temperature of the quarterback class. Burrow emerged and has run away with the title of QB1, but what does every team that needs a quarterback after the No. 1 pick do? We’ll update you on the other quarterbacks in this class and look at where they might find NFL success.
Justin Herbert, Oregon: You hate to characterize anyone’s stock as rising because of an injury to another player, but that’s exactly what happened for Justin Herbert. The Oregon senior has played well this year—well enough to get serious top-10 pick consideration—but with Tua out indefinitely, Herbert could shoot into the top five.
He’s an interesting study. He has the right body type, has good athleticism and a strong right arm, and yet too often you’re left wanting more attacking plays from him. He’s playing like a 6’6″, 237-pound Jared Goff. Goff, of course, was the No. 1 pick in 2016, so maybe that’s enough to convince the Bengals or Dolphins that Herbert can continue to develop into a high-caliber quarterback.
As is stands, it would be a surprise if Herbert falls outside the top five picks.
Jake Fromm, Georgia: When the season began, many of us were looking at Jake Fromm as a potential Round 1 quarterback, and he still might be, but it will take a team that’s willing to bet on intangible scouting elements.
Fromm is listed at 6’2″ and 220 pounds—not the biggest quarterback in the draft. He doesn’t possess exceptional arm strength and won’t run past anyone as a scrambler. Fromm beats defenses with accuracy, timing, anticipation and football IQ. That reminds me a lot of Teddy Bridgewater when he came out of Louisville in 2014 and became the No. 32 pick. Fromm’s stock is right in that range.
Wade Payne/Associated Press
Franchises that can’t get Burrow or Herbert, and that aren’t comfortable with Tua, could zero in on Fromm as a safe, effective starting quarterback. A team with a lot of speed at receiver and/or a great defense might look at his efficient style and be convinced he’s an upgrade. And in the right system, he could be.
Jacob Eason, Washington: If you’re into physical tools that need developing, say hello to Washington junior Jacob Eason. Formerly a starter at Georgia, Eason injured his knee and opened the door for Fromm to take the starting job. Following a year of sitting out because of NCAA transfer rules, the 2016 5-star recruit is back as a starting quarterback.
In talking to former Georgia players, coaches and NFL scouts over the last year, I’ve constantly heard how physically gifted Eason is. Of the three current and former Georgia quarterbacks starting in the NCAA—Fromm, Eason and Justin Fields (Ohio State)—Eason has the strongest arm. He can reach any area of the field with velocity. If your team is into that, Eason is your guy.
This could make him a trendy selection for a franchise like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where Bruce Arians loves downfield throwers. Same for the Los Angeles Chargers as a post-Philip Rivers selection. Eason has room to rise, but he’s viewed in the Round 2 range if he declares. The key will be acing interviews and workouts in the predraft process.
Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma: Jalen Hurts is one of the hardest evaluations in the 2020 class. He’s graded with a Round 2-3 designation, but that will likely vary wildly among NFL teams, depending on their scheme and what they expect of their quarterback.
Ray Carlin/Associated Press
Let’s look at what Hurts is good at. He’s a quick thrower to the middle of the field and has serviceable accuracy on underneath and intermediate throws. He’s a very good runner, on both designed plays and not. He’s a top-tier leader and has excellent poise when pressured. Those traits are all important enough that a team that’s willing to limit its passing game could invest an early pick in Hurts.
If you’re a franchise that’s more set on winning with a spread-it-out passing attack and wants to take deep shots downfield, Hurts isn’t the best fit. But as we’re seeing in Baltimore and Arizona, if a team is willing to cater the offense to the strengths of the quarterback, beautiful things can happen.
Jordan Love, Utah State: Two months ago I was writing about scouts’ fascination with Jordan Love’s traits, something I never quite understood. Throughout a tumultuous season, the Utah State signal-caller’s stock has taken a big hit, but those traits are still there for those who believe they can develop him with a better supporting cast.
The major concerns with Love are that he’s not a good college quarterback. He’s thrown 14 interceptions and 13 touchdowns this year. And while it’s true that his supporting cast isn’t particularly good, at some point you want a quarterback to at least be remarkable in college. Love hasn’t been.
That won’t stop teams from falling in love with his traits; we’ve seen it before. He has a big arm, a quick throwing motion, good playmaking skills and a willingness to challenge defenses. But this is a buyer-beware situation, and many in scouting circles have advocated for Love to return to Utah State for his senior season or consider a graduate transfer to continue developing.
Jamie Newman, Wake Forest: Here’s a new name to ponder: Jamie Newman. Occurrences of the Wake Forest junior’s name have picked up in conversations with evaluators, as rumor has it he’s considering entering the 2020 draft.
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
Newman has had a fantastic season—27 total touchdowns (five rushing) and nine interceptions while opening up the Demon Deacons offense with the help of star wide receiver Sage Surratt. Newman, who started four games last year, has intrigued scouts with his accuracy and the running element he adds at 6’4″ and 230 pounds. He’s a bit of an unknown given the low number of starts, but he has enough talent to get some folks interested.
Newman may return to Wake—which is probably the smart move—but he’s a name to watch as a 2020 or 2021 quarterback.
—What is Tua Tagovailoa‘s post-hip surgery timeline? One NFL team doctor I spoke to this week, who asked not to be named, said it’s impossible to know yet. The key, he said, is “waiting to see if blood flow returns to the femoral head and to monitor the tissue to see how it responds. If it doesn’t, that’s Bo Jackson. If it does, then a full recovery can be expected.”
If someone pretends to know when a timeline will emerge on whether Tua can play again, they’re guessing. The best information says it will be two to three months before a real prognosis is known. The downside to that is the January 20 deadline for underclassmen to enter the NFL draft. There is a strong possibility Tua will have to make his draft decision without knowing when he’ll be able to play again.
—Arizona running back J.J. Taylor announced he plans to graduate and enter the 2020 NFL draft. A small back at 5’6″ and 185 pounds, Taylor will have to showcase his receiving and return skills to entice pro scouts. An injury-filled 2019 season left him without a full resume of tape to show, making his predraft workouts very important.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
As a graduate junior, Taylor is eligible to be invited to the Senior Bowl. That’s an opportunity he must take if healthy.
—A favorite of many on Twitter and Reddit is Minnesota senior wide receiver Tyler Johnson. I’ve been asked many times this season why I’m not higher on Johnson, who ranks No. 133 on my big board. Johnson is a smaller receiver (6’2″, 205 lbs) and doesn’t show good speed on tape. A basic scouting question, “What does he do well?” leaves no answer.
Johnson recently accepted an invite to the 2020 Shrine Game, an all-star contest held in St. Petersburg, Florida, the week before the Senior Bowl. This is essentially a B-level all-star game to the A-level Senior Bowl; draftable players come from here, and it’s an important part of the evaluation process. That said, it’s notable that the Senior Bowl didn’t invite Johnson, which generally speaks loudly about how the NFL views a player.
Stacy Bengs/Associated Press
—As player evaluation gets into the opening stages of draft season, it’s interesting to note the separation that happens when ranking prospects. There is a strong top 10, as seen below in my updated big board. But after that, this class falls off a bit. There’s excellent wide receiver talent and depth, there are a lot of good running backs and there are some good cornerbacks; other than that, this might be a down year.
1. EDGE Chase Young, Ohio State
2. QB Joe Burrow, LSU
3. WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
4. CB Jeff Okudah, Ohio State
5. LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
6. DL Derrick Brown, Auburn
7. WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
8. WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
9. EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
10. QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
11. DL Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
12. QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
13. S Grant Delpit, LSU
14. CB CJ Henderson, Florida
15. RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia
16. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU
17. RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
18. OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
19. OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
20. LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
21. EDGE Terrell Lewis, Alabama
22. CB Paulson Adebo, Stanford
23. CB Kristian Fulton, LSU
24. WR Devonta Smith, Alabama
25. WR Tee Higgins, Clemson
26. DL Marvin Wilson, FSU
27. DL Raekwon Davis, Alabama
28. LB Dylan Moses, Alabama
29. IOL Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin
30. WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
31. RB J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
32. RB Najee Harris, Alabama
6. Game of the Week
No. 8 Penn State travels to No. 2 Ohio State in a contest that will see the return of defensive end Chase Young following his two-game NCAA suspension for improper benefits. How upset will Young be? Penn State’s offensive line better be ready.
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
This isn’t just about Young, though. Penn State wide receiver KJ Hamler against Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah will be the best test either has faced this year. Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins against stud sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons is an elite matchup. And then you have Penn State’s marquee pass-rusher Yetur Gross-Matos against the Buckeyes offensive line.
It’s not quite LSU vs. Alabama, but this game has plenty of matchups that scouts will watch over and over.
5. Stock Down
Oklahoma wide receiver Charleston Rambo exploded onto the scene in his redshirt sophomore season as the team’s replacement for first-rounder Marquise Brown, but Rambo’s slowed in the second half.
He hasn’t eclipsed 100 yards receiving in a game since September 28, something teams will no doubt focus on when evaluating his play against conference opponents. Since he has two seasons of eligibility remaining, it’s looking like a smart move to return to Oklahoma and attempt to take CeeDee Lamb’s targets next year.
4. Stock Up
The 2020 running back class is turning out to be a good one. A big reason for the increased depth is the development of Alabama running back Najee Harris.
Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
An important part of the game plan the last two weeks, Harris will only become a bigger focal point for Nick Saban and Co. after the injury to Tagovailoa. The junior back’s usage could resemble Derrick Henry’s down the stretch in 2015.
Harris has shown burst, vision and a surprisingly good array of skills in the passing game. He broke into my top 32 overall this week and has a good chance to remain there throughout the process.
3. Sleeper of the Week
It’s impossible to watch Ohio State tape and not come away impressed with linebacker Malik Harrison. A bit of a thumper in the middle of the scheme, Harrison is a heat-seeking missile when tracking down running backs and has excellent speed when running alleys to attack the ball.
Harrison is outside the top 50, but he’s trending upward each week with his continued good play.
2. Tailgate Tour
Our Stick to Football tailgate tour was recently announced. If you get a chance to come out, these tailgates are free fan events with no ticket to the game required:
Nov. 23: Cal at Stanford (Palo Alto, California), 8:00 a.m.
Dec. 7: SEC Championship Game (Atlanta)
Jan. 20, 21: Senior Bowl (Mobile, Alabama); Draft Picks Taproom, 7:30 p.m.
1. Stick to Football is back in house this week, with our podcast episodes also available on YouTube as a video series. Check out the podcast and subscribe if you haven’t already. We will also post a ton of behind-the-scenes content on our Instagram page.