Oregon's Justin Herbert, LSU's Joe Burrow, and Georgia's Jake Fromm were all off this weekend but there's still plenty to talk about at the quarterback position starting with usual suspects, Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts and his former teammate at Alabama, Tua Tagovailoa. Both quarterbacks had huge days (it's been a recurring theme this season) and continued to bolster their draft stock.
That wasn't the case for two other first-round hopefuls. Utah State's Jordan Love had his worst outing of the season while Washington's Jacob Eason continues to knock the rust off after sitting out last season.
Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
Jalen Hurts' 24 pass attempts in Saturday's drubbing of Texas Tech were the most he has thrown all season, and his 17 completions were three short if his highwater mark against Houston on Sept. 1. Put another way: Hurts has needed few opportunities to show just dominant he can be in Lincoln Riley's system, and in the process, the former Alabama backup has catapulted his name into the draft conversation.
Exactly when Hurts will hear his name called next spring is a long way from being decided, but a year ago his primary duty on game days was to cheer to Tua Tagovailoa, the man who took his job at halftime of the 2018 National Championship Game and never relinquished it. Hurts is now in Oklahoma where he's following the surprising success stories that preceded him; Baker Mayfield was a walk-on who won the Heisman Trophy and was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. Kyler Murray was a first-round pick of the Oakland A's, which is why everyone expected him to play baseball.
Like Mayfield, Murray won the Heisman and went first overall in the spring. Put another way: In weeks leading up to their final seasons in Norman, Okla., no one could have imagined that either Mayfield or Murray would be first-rounders, never mind the top selection in their respective draft classes.
And that brings us back to Hurts, who has been a model of efficiency in four games, both with his arm and his legs. In the 55-16 win over Texas Tech, Hurts was 17 of 24 for 415 yards, with 3 touchdowns and an interception -- his first of the season. For an idea of just how good Hurts has been under Riley, his 70.8 completion percentage against the Red Raiders was his lowest of the season. And his 9 rushes for 70 yards were the second-lowest totals of 2019.
While it's hard to deny Hurts' talents -- both physically and as a leader -- it's hard to put a finger on just how much of his success is due to his abilities, Riley's scheme, the playmakers around him, and the fact that the Big 12 doesn't play much in the way of defense. Of course, we heard the same qualifiers about Mayfield and Murray when they entered the draft. For now, we're working from the premise that Hurts has a ton of upside, is still really young, and is still developing. And through the first month of the season, the results have been impressive.
On Oklahoma's second drive, and facing a 2nd and 16 deep in its own territory, Hurts hit Charleston Rambo in stride 50 yards downfield in what became a 71-yard gain.
It's hard to overlook just how much time Hurts had in the pocket, and that will almost never be the case at the second level. We saw that again two drives later when Hurts surveyed the field with all the urgency of someone taking a stroll through the park, found CeeDee Lamb wide open in the middle of the field, and Lamb did exactly what you'd expect and ended the play in the end zone:
But here's where Hurts differentiates himself from the rest of the 2019 QB class:
When Hurts decides to leave the pocket, he becomes an elite running back, smooth, sneak, elusive and big. He's listed at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds and he looks bigger when he's on the move. And to be clear, running is not his first instinct on a designed pass play. Instead, he will go through his progressions, work to buy time within the framework of the play -- he might do this better than anyone in college football -- and often runs as a last resort.
This was the best game of Hurts' burgeoning career in Oklahoma though we'll have to wait two more weeks for his biggest test yet when the Sooners travel to Austin to face No. 11 Texas.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
If Jalen Hurts had the best game of his Sooners career, Tua Tagovailoa had just another outing for the Crimson Tide. When it's phrased like that, Tagovailoa sounds like a replacement-level quarterback, a game manager who is doing what his coach asks of him but not much else. Of course, that couldn't be further from the truth. Not only is Tagovailoa one of the best players in college football and the presumed favorite to go first overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, but he is playing at such an insanely high level that we've become conditioned to expect 343 passing yards, 5 touchdowns, no turnovers and that he complete three-quarters of his attempts.
And the thing is, this is pretty much what Tagovailoa has done! (In five games, he's averaging 343 passing yards, 4.6 passing TDs, 0 interceptions and a completion percentage of 76.4.) But like Hurts, it's sometimes difficult to discern where Tagovailoa's talents end and the first-round talents around him begin. Think about it this way: Daniel Jones got crushed for his pedestrian college numbers but Jones played at Duke, where the offensive line was in shambles and his receivers regularly dropped eminently catchable passes.
Tagovailoa has no such problem and if anything, his biggest worry is keeping everyone happy, from Jerry Jeudy to Henry Ruggs to DeVonta Smith to Jaylen Waddle, the Crimson Tide's four wide receivers, all of whom will be high-round picks, either in 2020 or 2021. On Saturday, it was Smith's turn to shine and, my word, he did that and then some. Tagovailoa found Smith 11 times for 274 yards and 5 touchdowns which, even by Alabama's lofty standards, qualifies as completely and utterly ridiculous.
Here's No. 1, which came on the fourth play of the game:
Yes, Tagovailoa was only tasked with throwing a slant but look at it! The timing, the precision, hitting Smith in stride, who then did the rest, taking an 11-yard throw and taking it 63 more yards to the house.
It's easy to forget just how easy Tagovailoa makes it all look -- he moves well in the pocket, subtly avoiding a rusher with a shoulder feint or a quick step to his right or left, and then moving up a half-yard to buy himself time as his receiver clears the linebacker or smokes the safety. And through it all, Tagovailoa remains accurate. Here's touchdown No. 4 to Smith:
And touchdown No. 5:
Good luck choosing a favorite but you could give 95 percent of the quarterbacks in college football that kind of time in the pocket and they're not completing these throws. Who knows how Tagovailoa's game would translate to, say, the Dolphins, but his accuracy, even when moved off his spot, is what makes him such an attractive prospect.
Jordan Love, Utah State
Jordan Love has rightly gotten a lot of first-round buzz, and there's so much that he does that that has NFL teams intrigued. But after a hot start against Wake Forest in Utah State's opener, he's struggled with consistency. Here's what we wrote on Sept. 3, after that Wake Forest game in which Love threw 3 touchdowns but also had 3 interceptions:
The first thing that gets your attention is how the football explodes out of Love's right hand. Then you notice how, when he's on, Love can put the ball anywhere he wants. The issues start to crop up when he tries to do too much. We saw a lot of good and some bad against Wake Forest -- and also many of the reasons NFL teams are intrigued by Love. He makes hard throws look effortless, and has the ability to put the ball on a line or have the touch to clear the underneath defender.
Love had his worst outing of the season on Saturday night against Colorado State, a team whose defense was allowing 40 points a game coming into this one. And, yes, the rain was heavy at times in the second half, and the temperatures were in the 30s, but that's exactly what NFL teams want to see -- how does Love respond to adverse conditions?
Against the Rams, the answer was "not great." Just like a week ago, Love, who plays out of the shotgun, struggled with the C/QB exchange. It wasn't entirely his fault but it's an issue that needs to be sorted out. Once the ball was in his hands, Love can be special. He's at his best when he's on rhythm -- the ball comes out when his back foot hits the ground, and he's usually accurate and the velocity is obvious.
Love's best throw came early in the 2nd quarter; he had all day in the pocket, his receiver wins downfield, and Love, under no pressure, hits him in stride for an easy touchdown:
Later in the quarter, Love rifled the ball to his receiver on an out route that should've been caught. On the next play after the incompletion, Love went back to the same receiver on the same route with a wholly different result:
The ball appeared to float on Love and it was easily intercepted.
Then following a touchdown pass just before the half, Love came back in the 3rd quarter and tossed another pick, again on an out route to his right that was late and underthrown.
Love has first-round talent, no doubt, but right now he's not, in our mind, a first-round pick. That can change, of course; it's only September, and 12 months ago Kyler Murray was playing baseball and few people outside of Columbus knew much about Dwayne Haskins. But the reality is that for all his physical gifts, Love gets jittery in the pocket at the first sign of pressure -- even if it's not there -- then tries to rely on his arm strength to make downfield throws, even when his feet aren't set. (As was pointed out during the CBS Sports Network telecast, Love entered the game completing just 33 percent of his passes when under pressure.)
Jacob Eason, Washington
Jacob Eason had a quiet Saturday afternoon against USC. He was 9 of 14 for 97 yards at halftime and finished 16 of 26 for 180 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. As we've seen over the last month, Eason has all the physical tools NFL teams look for in a franchise quarterback but he's also raw; he played in just three games in 2017 before leaving Georgia, and he sat out the 2018 season before becoming the Huskies' starter ahead of the 2019 campaign.
He has one of the best arms in college football and through five games Eason is completing 71 percent of his throws. It's noteworthy that two of his worst efforts came against two of the Huskies' toughest opponents: Cal (a 20-19 loss on Sept. 7) and USC (a 28-14 win). He managed to complete 60 percent of his attempts against the Bears and 61.5 percent against the Trojans.
And that's the thing: Eason's measurables are off the charts but will his game be ready for the NFL after taking so much time off? There's not much to point to from Saturday's game but we'll just refer you to two touchdown passes Eason made against BYU last week that will convince some quarterback-needy general manager that Eason is worth the risk.
Eason faces Stanford this week, then in two weeks the Huskies host No. 13 Oregon.