2020 NFL Draft QB Watch: From Tua and Herbert to sleepers worth knowing, the 12 QBs to keep your eyes on in 2019
After Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert, who are the other possible first-round passers?
The 2019 quarterback class didn't have nearly the depth of the one that preceded it. Ultimately, thanks to Kyler Murray choosing football over baseball, three quarterbacks were taken in Round 1. From the perspective of August, there are two bona fide first-rounders in the 2020 class, but that will almost certainly change over the next eight months.
With that in mind, here's a first look at the quarterbacks you should be watching once the college season gets under way in a few weeks.
Cream of the crop
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Here's the problem: Tagovailoa is listed at just 6-foot-1. Here's the counter to that problem, which is why no one will care that he's short by NFL quarterback standards: Russell Wilson, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray all look up to Tagovailoa and one is the league's highest-paid player, the other is the defending Rookie of the Year, and the other is the first-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft who was named the Cardinals' starter from Day 1. Put another way: You don't have to be a 6-foot-5 pocket passer to have success.
Instead, Tagovailoa has been wildly successful because he's both accurate and athletic; he completed 69 percent of his throws last season (43 TDs, six INTs) and while he rushed for just 190 yards (with five TDs), his ability to buy time and create throwing lanes is unmatched. Tagovailoa doesn't have elite arm strength, and that will be a talking point in the coming months (and one of the biggest differences between him and Wilson, Mayfield and Murray) but it's hard to find too many other holes in his game. But we keep coming back to this stat from 2018: Tagovailoa had the highest passing efficiency rating (199.4) in Division I history.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
Herbert checks all the boxes and then some; he's 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, can throw the ball out of the stadium and is a great athlete. A year ago he was considered the best quarterback in the 2019 class -- except he chose to return to school, where he'll be joined by his brother, an incoming freshman who plays tight end. Coming back for his senior season was also the right move after Herbert's uneven '18 campaign; he struggled with accuracy, completing just 59 percent of his throws after connecting on 68 percent of passes as a sophomore.
But there's a reason Broncos general manager John Elway was reportedly smitten with Herbert last fall, and it's the same reason NFL teams will be watching him closely over the coming weeks and months. He's clinical in a well-formed, clean pocket and can consistently deliver downfield strikes hitting receivers in stride. And while Herbert can occasionally stare down targets he shows the ability to come off his first read to find his secondary and tertiary options. If there's a knock, it's that Herbert doesn't take enough chances and that he needs to improve his accuracy, but his upside -- and we've seen glimpses of it during his college career -- is what makes him so enticing as a prospect.
Eyeing the first-round conversation
Jake Fromm, Georgia
Fromm doesn't have the athleticism or arm strength of Tagovailoa or Herbert and he isn't a threat to run. He's a three-step-and-out thrower, accurate and timely on short routes, and shows good touch on intermediate routes. But it's also important to remember that is just 20 years old and entering Year 3 as the Bulldogs' starter -- he's going to continue to improve. By how much is the QB calculus that NFL teams will need to do. Fromm improved his completion percentage from 62 to 67 percent and his TD/INT from 24/7 to 30/6. He needs to be better in the face of pressure (of course, this applies to just about every quarterback on the planet) and consistently make better decisions, but Fromm has the tools to be a first-round pick.
K.J. Costello, Stanford
Costello made a big leap from 2017 to 2018, improving his completion percentage from 58.8 to 65.1 and his TD/INT from 14/4 to 29/11. He also more than doubled his passing yards (1,573 to 3,540). He ranked first in deep passing yards last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and was fifth in big-time throws. There's a lot to like about Costello's game -- he's a traditional pocket passer who plays in a pro-style offense who is tough, stands tall in the pocket, and willing to take a hit to deliver ball on-time -- but he can sometimes get sloppy with his mechanics and that affects his accuracy.
Day 2 with something to prove
Jordan Love, Utah State
Love doesn't play in a Big Five conference and isn't well known -- yet -- by the average college football fan. But that will change; he's quietly one of the best quarterbacks in the country and could make the leap from the Mountain West to the NFL with a strong 2019 campaign. He completed 64 percent of his throws during his redshirt sophomore season ('18) and he passes the eye test with flying colors. But beyond his 6-foot-4, 220-pound fame, Love stands tall in pocket, he's well-balanced and steps into throws. And while he shows some mobility/athleticism, he's not a runner; he only rushed for more than 15 yards once all season. The ball explodes out of his hand and Love is adept at avoiding sacks, but he struggles with pressure.
Shea Patterson, Michigan
Patterson has good arm strength and delivers the ball accurately and on time when the reads are clear. He'll sometimes lock onto his first read, and if that read isn't there his head will drop and he'll look to run. Related to that, Patterson is an athlete who can win with his feet. He'll need to improve his pocket presence; he can be calm in quiet pocket but struggles against pass rush -- antsy feet sometimes lead to poor decisions -- and he doesn't always set his feet and can make mistakes when throwing off his back foot.
Nathan Stanley, Iowa
Stanley, a senior, has improved his completion percentage, passing yards and yards per attempt from his sophomore to junior campaigns. He has a plus arm and moves well in the pocket but had a tendency to stare down targets and that can lead to poor decisions and, ultimately, turnovers. Has all the tools to be a special player but the question is whether he can put it all together in the coming months.
Names looking to make a move
Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Ehlinger is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and he remains a work in progress. That said, he has shown vast improvement not just from 2017 to 2018 but from last September to January; he completed just 53.8 percent of his throws (two TDs, two INTs) vs. Maryland in the season-opening loss but in the final two games against Oklahoma and Georgia, on the big stage of the Big 12 Championship and the Sugar Bowl, he combined to complete 67 percent of his passes. His arm strength is a concern and he'll need to be more decisive in the pocket if he wants to improve his draft stock. Worst case, Ehlinger, a junior, could return to school in 2020.
Jacob Eason, Washington
Here's what we know about Eason: He played in 13 games and attempted 370 passes during his freshman season at Georgia in 2016. He's thrown seven passes since, all in 2017, because he was benched for Jake Fromm, and that prompted him to transfer to Washington before 2018. Now, with Jake Browning trying to make it in the NFL, the job belongs to Eason. But without seeing him in action for nearly two seasons, we're mostly projecting the type of player he will be. It's clear he has the tools -- at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, he certainly looks the part, and he has the arm strength to make every throw look easy. But the junior will need to knock the rust off early to convince NFL teams that he's ready to make the jump.
D'Eriq King, Houston
We'll repeat what we said above about Tagovailoa: Yes, King is only 5-foot-11, but in today's NFL that doesn't matter. Like Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray, the Houston quarterback has the mobility to keep a defense on its heels. King, who switched from wide receiver to quarterback during the '17 season, rushed for 674 yards last season (and 14 TDs) and completed 64 percent of his throws (36 TDs, six INTs) in 2018. He'll need to improve his arm strength and accuracy on short passes, but King is a dynamic playmaker who can beat you in different ways due to his pass-catching background.
Kelly Bryant, Missouri
Bryant succeeded Deshaun Watson at Clemson in 2017 and completed 66 percent of his passes, though he threw just 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Bryant was named the starter last season but was benched for Trevor Lawrence after four games. He decided to transfer and take a redshirt, which is why he's now at Missouri, succeeding Drew Lock, for his senior campaign. Has the athleticism to extend plays but needs to improve his pocket presence to improve his draft stock.
Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
Hurts is a leader, which he exemplified last season while playing behind Tagovailoa. He only attempted 70 passes in 2018 but the highlight came in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia when he replaced an injured Tua and finished 7 of 9 for 82 yards and a touchdown, and added another 28 yards on the ground, and another score. Now he's in Oklahoma, where we can't wait to see what he does in Lincoln Riley's offense. Remember, neither Mayfield nor Murray were considered first-round picks -- let alone first-overall selections -- heading into their final college seasons.
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