2020 NFL Draft QB Stock Watch: Justin Herbert making his case for why he should be the first QB taken
Herbert made the right decision to return to school but he'll have competition to be the draft's top quarterback
In this week's QB Stock Watch, we start with Oregon's Justin Herbert, whose decision to return for his senior season was the right one -- at least through three games. As a prospect, Herbert passes the eye test with flying colors, and more importantly, he's played with more consistency through three games of the 2019 campaign.
We also check in on familiar faces like Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia's Jake Fromm, as well as Stanford's K.J. Costello, who could make his way into the first-round conversation with a strong campaign.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
It's hard to draw too many conclusions from Oregon's easy win over FCS opponent Montana but there are bigger storylines we can learn from. For starters, Herbert, who finished 30 of 42 for 316 yards and 5 touchdowns, has been much more consistent this season. Through three games, he'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.
We said it last spring and believe it even more now: Herbert did the right thing by returning to school. Despite an uneven 2018 season he still would've probably been the first quarterback off the board but now, without the pressure to perform immediately in the NFL, he's playing with more confidence and consistency while still displaying the insane physical skills that got scouts so excited a year ago. But instead of forcing balls into tight coverage or throwing inaccurately or making the wrong read, Herbert is making a lot of good decisions. Against the Wolfpack, Herbert's first touchdown required timing, arm strength and accuracy and you can check the box for all three:
Yes, Herbert didn't face any pressure but the ball had to come out on time so that wasn't a factor; accuracy was critical, he put it right on tight end Jacob Breeland. Then there's this incredible sequence just before the half where it all comes together: Herbert's pocket awareness, his athleticism and his arm strength to deliver a touchdown throw few other quarterbacks would even attempt much less pull off:
It's a great start to the season for Herbert but the schedule will get considerably tougher in the coming weeks with games against Stanford, Cal, Colorado and Washington over the next month.
Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
Man, Jalen Hurts looks like one of the best football players on the planet but you have to temper that enthusiasm with this caveat. First, Hurts has throttled the likes of Houston, South Dakota and UCLA. Houston didn't play a lick of defense in Week 1, South Dakota was an overmatched FCS opponent last week, and on Saturday, the Sooners dropped Chip Kelly's Bruins to 0-3 on the season.
That said, it's also important remember what Lincoln Riley's system can do for a quarterback. Two years ago, it was Baker Mayfield, the former college walk-on who went on to win the Heisman Trophy and become the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Last year it was Kyler Murray, who everyone figured would play baseball after the season. Instead, he followed Mayfield's lead by dominating for the Sooners, winning the Heisman and going first-overall in the draft.
Hurts, at 6-foot-2, is taller than Mayfield and Murray, and through three games he's out-rushed Murray's three-game total from a year ago: 373 yards to 169 yards. Mayfield, by the way, managed just 313 rushing yards for the entirety of his final season at Oklahoma. Put another way: Hurts is definitely getting drafted, the only question is how high he'll go.
Against UCLA, Hurts attempted just 20 passes, completing 15. Many of those attempts were wide-open looks, as were the huge holes he ran through on his way to 289 passing yards, 150 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
This was one of his best throws, late in the 2nd quarter with the game all but decided:
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Stop us if you've heard this: Tua Tagovailoa was calm, clinical and wildly productive on Saturday. He set career-highs in completions (28), attempts (36), yards (444) and touchdowns (5). But the stats don't tell the story because Tagovailoa rarely threw the ball more than 10 yards downfield and some of the most talented pass catchers on the planet did the rest.
Here's DeVonta Smith, who finished with 8 catches for 136 yards:
And -- heavens, this really happened -- here's Najee Harris:
But throws like this one to Jerry Jeudy is why we should remember that Tua is not only a first-round talent but has first-overall potential:
Tua can still improve as a pocket passer; as it stands, he's more comfortable on the move and freelancing than he is standing in the pocket but these are minor quibbles for one of the best players in the country. Same old Tua. RPO, in-breaking route to DeVonta Smith isn't fair. This was a recurring theme against South Carolina:
K.J. Costello, Stanford
KJ Costello missed last week's game while recovering from a concussion and the Cardinal got off to a rocky start on the road against 17th-ranked UCF. Stanford trailed 21-0 in the first quarter and never got closer than 14 points before losing, 45-27. And Costello, who completed 65 percent of his passes as a junior is just 37 of 64 (57.8 percent) this season with just 2 touchdowns and an interception, and a dismal 5.5 average yards per attempt. That interception came on Stanford's second series Saturday. It was a poor decision from start to finish and Costello paid for it:
But credit to Costello for helping the offense in other ways; on the team's first touchdown, Costello laid a huge block that sprung Austin Jones:
Exacerbating matters: Stanford was on the road against a tough defense -- and they were without left tackle Walker Little, who is out for the season with a knee injury. But Costello showed the same toughness we saw last season, even if the results weren't there. He completed just 48 percent of his throws but two were noteworthy: Standing tall in the pocket amid pressure, Costello hit Michael Wilson in the middle of the field to convert a 3rd and 12 as the 3rd quarter expired. Then, a play later, Costello found Wilson again, this time on a wheel route that resulted in a 23-yard touchdown.
Despite the lopsided loss, Costello remains an intriguing prospect. He's athletic in the pocket, and while he'll sometimes lock onto his first read, hets the ball out quickly and accurately. Costello also shows good touch on passes outside the numbers and when he's on time and in rhythm he can be dangerous.
Jake Fromm, Georgia
Three weeks into the season and Fromm has yet to be tested. He finished 17 of 22 for 279 yards with 3 touchdowns and no turnovers in Saturday's 55-0 win over Arkansas State, and Fromm's day was over just one series into the 3rd quarter. As has been the case thus far, questions about Fromm's game primarily center around arm strength and his deep ball accuracy; he was again efficient from the pocket, often making the right reads and delivering short and intermediate passes accurately and on time, but lack of consistency downfield remains a question, at least in terms of whether Fromm is worth a first-round pick. He just missed freshman sensation George Pickens in the end zone late in the 1st quarter on what would have been a touchdown on a better thrown deep ball.
But again, we know this. And we also know Fromm is really good throwing to other areas of the field. And while Fromm isn't a threat to run, he moves well in the pocket to relieve pressure and had the intermediate accuracy to pinpoint a throw to Pickens' back shoulder later in the first half. Granted, it was an amazing play but it started with Fromm:
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