Yes, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert are considered the two best draft-eligible quarterbacks and if you keep reading we'll confirm as much. But for the second time in four weeks, we're starting QB Stock Watch with LSU's Joe Burrow. He's been one of the best players in college football -- and one of the most surprising stories over the first month.
And Burrow proved again on Sunday that he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with Tagovailoa and Herbert, and the biggest question right now is if he can continue to play at this level after decidedly mediocre numbers in 2018, his first year as the Tigers' starter.
With Jaylen Hurts and Oklahoma off, we check in on Jake Fromm and Jordan Love, two other QBs who could make their way into the first-round conversation.
Joe Burrow, LSU
Burrow came into the 2019 season as just a guy. No disrespect, but the LSU senior completed just 57.8 percent of his passes in 2018 for a modest 2,894 yards, 16 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Yes, he was on the radar of NFL teams, but as a likely late-round prospect ... unless he could completely transform his game in one offseason. And that's exactly what has happened.
In four games, Burrow is completing a mind-boggling 80.6 percent of his throws and he's already more than halfway to last year's passing-yards total (1,520), and with 17 touchdown's he's has already exceeded last year's mark. Also worth noting: his yards per attempt have gone from 7.6 in '18 to 12.3 this season. Put another way: there's a lot to like.
Against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Burrow was clinical in ways we typically save for Tua Tagovailoa. He got the ball out on time and with accuracy and showed touch on downfield throws. Granted, he was playing against an indifferent Vanderbilt defense that had few answers, but that shouldn't take away from what Burrow showed he was capable of. Here's his fourth throw of the game; he finds Ja'Marr Chase in the middle of the field and Chase does the rest:
This was a recurring theme; before Burrow departed in the fourth quarter (and let's be honest, with some of the hits he took in the backfield, you could make a case that he should've been on the sidelines before halftime), he completed 35 of 34 throws (73.5 percent) for 398 yards, 6 touchdowns and no interceptions. And even when Burrow was pressured, he often saw it coming, had the poise to move within the pocket, and connect with one of his receivers, who was usually wide open (see Chase's first touchdown above).
Here's Burrow's second touchdown to Chase, this one requiring touch to the outside shoulder because Vandy had good coverage:
And here's Burrow standing in the pocket knowing the pass rush is bearing down on him, then getting high-lowed while delivering another ball downfield that only his receiver could make a play on.
Has Burrow been outta-nowhere fun to watch? Absolutely. Not only that, he's one of the best senior quarterbacks in college football based primarily off what he's accomplished this season. There's still plenty of football left, and more than anything, Burrow will need to play with consistency as the competition gets tougher. But no one's off to a better start.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Tagovailoa does so many things well and we document it every week in this space. He's poised in the pocket, he's one of the most accurate deep-ball throws in college football -- and he's also insanely accurate on short and intermediate routes, too. Tagovailoa's ball placement is second-to-none and it allows his playmakers to catch the ball in stride and, more times than not, find themselves celebrating in the end zone.
And that's the thing: It's one thing to dominate one overmatched opponent after the next, but how will Tagovailoa's game translate to the NFL once the playing field is leveled? That's what the Dolphins -- and every other team desperate for a franchise quarterback -- will have to determine. For now, it's tough to find too many flaws in Tagovailoa's game. In the touchdown above, Henry Ruggs, one of the fastest players in the country, cruises to a 74-yard touchdown after catching the ball with the nearest defender three yards behind him.
Then, in the second quarter, Tagovailoa gives a shoulder fake to free the defensive back, Jerry Jeudy blows past said defender on an out-and-up, and he's five yards clear when he hauls in the touchdown pass.
(We'll talk more about this play below with Justin Herbert.)
Tagovailoa finished 17 of 21 with 293 yards, 5 touchdowns, no turnovers, and this comes a week after a 28-of-36-for-444-yards effort against South Carolina in which he threw ... 5 touchdowns with no turnovers.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
Here's what we wrote in last week's mock draft about Herbert, who we had going No. 1: "Through three games, Herbert's completing 73 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and no interceptions -- and he's yet to complete fewer than 71 percent of his passes in any of those games. Through three games last season, Herbert completed just 57 percent of his throws -- and in two games didn't even hit 50 percent -- with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. He was smart to return to school for his senior season and if he continues to play as he has thus far, he'll challenge Tua Tagovailoa to be the first QB drafted."
Now it's been four games and Saturday's opponent wasn't FCS Montana but Pac-12 rival Stanford. And this was the best game of 2019 for Herbert, at least statistically. He completed a season-best 79.2 percent of his throws for 259 yards with 3 more touchdowns and no interceptions. For the year, he has 14 touchdown passes and has yet to throw a pick. And as we've said every time we've seen him this season, Herbert looks more confident, more comfortable in the pocket, is better at going through his progressions and doesn't force things downfield like he did in 2018. And he's doing it all while many of his best pass catchers are banged up with injuries (which is exactly the opposite of Tua's situation in Alabama. And understand, this isn't Tua's fault, just the reality of two of the best draft-eligible quarterbacks vying to be the No. 1 pick.)
This second-quarter touchdown to Jacob Breeland was reminiscent of the Tua-to-Jeudy TD above. Herbert uses a shoulder fake to free the defender but instead of having a wide-open Breeland to toss the ball to, Herbert has to squeeze it into a tight window, but one where only Breeland can make a play on the ball. This is nice:
Herbert came back to Breeland in the 4th quarter on a similar play, but this time Breeland got himself "Jeudy wide open" for another TD:
As Pro Football Focus' Mike Renner notes on Twitter, more than 20 percent of Herbert's pass attempts have been screens, which account for his high completion percentage. That said, that completion percentage is up 15 points from a year ago, and his downfield throws have been much improved too.
Jordan Love, Utah State
Love and the Aggies were off last week so we were excited to see him against San Diego State on Saturday night. The evening, in a word, was sloppy. We saw glimpses of what makes Love so intriguing, starting with the arm strength, but there were four muffed or fumbled snaps throughout the game, some missed throws, some dropped passes and a bunch of questions. The ball explodes out of Love's hands, and he shows the ability to let it go before the receiver is out of his break, something that will be imperative at the next level. But when he doesn't get his feet set, or throws off-balance, his accuracy suffers. And this isn't to say Love can't throw on the run -- because he can -- but when he rushes, usually because he's under pressure, the results have been mixed.
But there's still so much to like. Love trusts his arm, even in the face of a heavy pass rush because he knows he can snap one off to an outlet receiver at the last second. And that arm also allows him to fit the ball in tight spaces, which is especially evident when he's on time with his delivery. Take the first drive of the 2nd half, with Utah State leading 20-3. Facing 3rd and 3, Love throws this laser to move the sticks:
Love had more two huge first-down conversions late in the game to preserve a 23-17 victory, and he finished 30 of 47 for 293 yards with no touchdowns and no turnovers.
We like to think of him as the ultimate point guard -- he's a fantastic distributor based on what the defense gives him. Like every other quarterback in college football, he just needs to play with more consistency.
Jake Fromm, Georgia
If Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa are making their presence known with six- and five-touchdown performances this week, Jake Fromm is quietly going unnoticed. But he's a first-round talent and he continues to prove it every week. Yes, we know, the big question is with his arm strength, and in particular, his deep-ball accuracy. But the more we watch Fromm the more we see glimpses of a young Drew Brees. Fromm was unflappable against Notre Dame on Saturday, finishing 20 of 26 for 187 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions.
That TD came with 13:19 to go in the game with the Bulldogs leading, 20-10, and in the face of an all-out blitz:
When the ball left Fromm's hand, Lawrence Cager was at the 7-yard line and Fromm put it on his back shoulder, three yards deep into the end zone. That's an NFL throw every day of the week. Fromm's second-best throw of the night was actually an incompletion. With 8:33 to go in the 3rd quarter, Fromm found Demetris Robertson in the back of the end zone but the ball just went off his fingertips. The Notre Dame defensive back had good coverage but he wasn't in position to make a play on the ball.
Fromm isn't putting up the gaudy numbers of Burrow, Tagovailoa or even Herbert (he has only thrown for more than 200 yards once), but if he continues to play at the level we've seen for much of the 2019 campaign, he'll be in the first-round mix.