2020 NFL Draft QB Stock Watch: Joe Burrow once again makes his case as the best QB in college football
The LSU quarterback had another outstanding performance, this time helping the Tigers get past the Florida Gators
We're at the halfway point in the 2019 college football season and a lot of the names we expected to show up -- Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm -- have, for the most part, done just that. But in Joe Burrow we've also been treated to one of the biggest surprises through the first month and a half.
The LSU quarterback has been one of the best players in college football. He came into the week a solid Day 2 pick and before it's all said and done we won't be surprised if he works his way into Round 1. In fact, he may end up hearing his name called before some of the other, more popular passers we've highlighted in this space in recent weeks.
Joe Burrow, LSU
Joe Burrow might be the best quarterback in college football. That may like a ridiculous thing to say a month and a half into the college football season but Burrow, who completed just 58 percent of his passes a season ago, is not only a completely different player, he's gone from a Day 3 afterthought to a legit Day 1 selection. He had his best performance of 2019 on Saturday in the biggest game of the season for LSU. Facing the 6-0 Gators, Burrow was clinical. He finished 21 of 24 for 293 yards, 3 touchdowns and no turnovers. Yes, he was aided by a stout running game -- Clyde Edwards-Helaire went for 134 yards and 2 scores -- but Burrow was all but unstoppable. There weren't any jaw-dropping plays we often see from Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa, but Burrow does all the little things to put his teammates in position to succeed. His accuracy has been next level, and on something as straightforward as a slant, Burrow has an uncanny ability to throw the perfectly placed ball that allows his receiver maximum yards-after-the-catch potential.
That accuracy was evident on Burrow's first touchdown throw to Ja'Marr Chase with cornerback C.J. Henderson, a likely Day 1 pick, in coverage.
That's an NFL window and Burrow was perfect.
Burrow is also sneaky athletic (he reminds us of Daniel Jones in that sense) and is quite confident running with the ball when his passing options aren't there. But running is usually a last resort; Burrow moves well in the pocket to buy time and avoid pressure, and he is very good at keeping his eyes downfield. And while he was rarely pressured against Florida -- the ball came out quickly and confidently on nearly every dropback -- even when he was Burrow just kept making plays:
Justin Jefferson did the heavy lifting, but Burrow put the ball right on him, allowing Jefferson the opportunity to break a tackle and get the first down.
And on the game-deciding 54-yard touchdown pass, yes, Chase was WIDE OPEN. But Burrow had to hit him in stride to ensure a touchdown. If that ball is even slightly underthrown defensive back Brad Stewart likely gets over and knocks Chase out of bounds.
Back in August, there were high expectations for the 2020 quarterback class and Burrow had made things immeasurably more interesting by his play over the first half of the season.
There's no questioning Fromm's pre-snap understanding of where he needs to go with the football but the physical questions -- primarily, does he have the arm strength to make every NFL throw, especially under pressure -- will follow him throughout his career.
Yes, he's the beneficiary of one of the country's best offensive lines and running games, and that will be hard to replicate at the next level unless he lands with a winning franchise, but it's not like Fromm hasn't had his moments. He looked like a young Drew Brees several weeks ago in the win against Notre Dame, but like Jalen Hurts below, Saturday was Fromm's worst effort of the season.
He finished 28 of 51 for 295 yards with a touchdown and 3 interceptions. Those 51 attempts were a career high at Georgia and Fromm hadn't completed fewer than 54.9 percent of his throws since Week 5 of the 2018 season when he attempted just 15 passes in the Bulldogs' 41-0 drubbing of Tennessee.
As has been the case for much of the season, Fromm's deep-ball accuracy wasn't always there but he remains very good on short and intermediate throws. This pass just before halftime was one of his best on the day. He takes a half-step to his left to buy time in the pocket and hits Lawrence Cager in the tiniest of windows:
A few plays later, though, Fromm made one of the worst decisions of the season, an off-balance throw to the sidelines that resulted in a pick six.
That was Fromm's first interception of the year (though not his last interception of the game), and the lack of arm strength was apparent because Justin Herbert or Jacob Eason would have little trouble rifling that ball out of bounds.
Pick No. 2, which came midway through the 4th quarter, was a miscommunication between Fromm and his receiver, but he came back with less than two minutes to go and the Bulldogs trailing by seven to complete one of the most impressive throws of the season in the back of the end zone to get Georgia to overtime.
Fromm was sacked three times -- and pressured on several other occasions -- after taking just one sack in the previous four games. That clearly affected his performance but will also be a way of life in the NFL. The bottom line: Fromm is a rhythm passer that is most comfortable getting the ball out on time. He struggles when he has to improvise, or when he's forced to target deep receivers.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
Justin Herbert had his worst statistical day of the 2019 season but if you watched him play vs. Colorado he looked every bit the first-round talent. He finished 18 of 32 for 261 yards with 2 touchdowns and no turnovers but he was plagued by at least four dropped passes, including two in the end zone. With three NFL general managers in attendance, Herbert did show some of the arm talent that could make him the first-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. There was the big-time 42-yard throw to Mycah Pittman late in the 1st half that got your attention:
And the first series of the 2nd half ended with this touchdown toss, which required both accuracy and zip:
All told, Herbert wasn't asked to do much against an overmatched Colorado defense. He was sacked just once, rarely faced pressure, and with plenty of time in the pocket he was able to go through his progressions and step into his throws. And while Herbert completed a season-low 56.3 percent of his throws (unlike a year ago when he completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in eight games), the concerns aren't about his decision-making or accuracy. But whether he'll face the type of competition in the coming weeks that will give NFL evaluators a window into how he might perform at the next level.
Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
We've spent much of our time in this space praising Hurts, who transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma and looked every bit the NFL quarterback as his Sooners predecessors, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. There were the inevitable discussions about him working his way into the first round, in part because he has finally been able to show his talent, in part because Lincoln Riley's system brings out the absolute best in the passers that play for him.
And all of this may still hold but Hurts' stock took a dip after Saturday's effort in the Red River Showdown against Texas. Yes, Oklahoma won, 34-27, and it wasn't really that close, but Hurts struggled. He completed a season-low 57 percent of his throws and while he tossed 3 touchdowns, he fumbled in the red zone (to his credit, after a long run) and threw an inexplicable interception in the end zone:
Hurts rolls rights, and instead of throwing the ball away, he forces a pass across his body -- while falling backwards, mind you -- into the end zone. It took a good play from the Texas defender but that ball is intercepted 100 times out of 100 at the next level.
Despite the poor passing day, Hurts continued to have success as a runner; he finished with 131 rushing yards and a score this play is just a reminder of how dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands:
Wide receiver CeeDee Lamb reminded everyone with his performance (10 catches, 171 yards, 3 touchdowns) why he's one of the best players in college football, but it was Hurts' ability to avoid a sack -- while maintaining possession behind his back -- and find Lamb downfield that was one of the most impressive things we've seen all year:
Hurts is still learning the position and he'll continue to have growing pains, but his talent is undeniable.
Statistically speaking, Tua Tagovailoa had one of his toughest games of the 2019 campaign against Texas A&M. He completed a season-low 61.8 percent of his throws (21 of 34) and his 293 passing yards was tied for second-lowest of the season. Tagovailoa also tossed his first interception and it came late in the first half in the end zone:
Still, Tagovailoa tossed 4 touchdowns to four different receivers, including the weekly pitch-and-catch with DeVonta Smith, who took a simple slant 47 yards to the house:
There wasn't much to glean from Tagovailoa's performance because it resembled a lot of what we've seen this season: Tua takes advantage of some of the best receivers on the planet, the defense is chocked full of players we'll see in the NFL, Alabama invariably jumps out to an early lead and cruises to victory. Yes, they only won by 21 points against the Aggies, and yes that was the Crimson Tide's smallest margin of victory this season, but we have yet to see Tagovailoa tested late in a game in 2019, primarily because he's already been replaced by his backup.
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