Last year's QB Watch was a roller coaster of emotion: Joe Burrow came out of nowhere to be the top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Tua Tagovailoa suffered a serious hip injury in late November, Justin Herbert never quite played up to his potential while Jordan Love had a disappointing junior season after a sophomore campaign that made him a preseason media darling. All four QBs were first-rounders.
Not surprisingly 2020 is going to be different, primarily because we're still in the middle of a pandemic and two of the Power 5 conferences, the Pac-12 and Big Ten, aren't playing football (though the Big Ten may ultimately decide to do so). In fact, we're midway through September and the SEC has yet to play a game, which means that we haven't seen the likes of Kyle Trask or Kellen Mond or KJ Costello. And then there are those quarterbacks who have either opted out (Jamie Newman), whose seasons are currently on hold (Tanner Morgan), or whose seasons have been altogether canceled save one exhibition game next month (Trey Lance).
There will be plenty of time to evaluate those prospects, but for now, here's our first look at the 2020 class now that the ACC and Big 12 schedules are underway.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Go back 11 months and there were some concerns about Trevor Lawrence. Remember that? After a stellar freshman campaign, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick whenever he declared for the NFL Draft looked human at times. In Lawrence's first seven games in 2019 he had 14 touchdowns to go with eight interceptions. But over the final eight games, he tossed 22 touchdowns and didn't throw another pick the entire season.
On Saturday in the season opener against Wake Forest, Clemson's junior quarterback looked like second-half-of-'19 Lawrence -- and maybe even somehow better than that. He finished 22 of 28 for 351 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers in just three quarters of work, but Lawrence actually outplayed his stat line. We counted at least three drops by his receivers, including two in the end zone, and oh, right, he added two rushing touchdowns, which now gives him 12 for his career.
There was very little to nitpick about Lawrence's performance against Wake and so much to love. Here's his very first throw of the game:
And here's Lawrence showing off both his arm and his accuracy:
You might think this is a replay of what you just saw but note that Lawrence doesn't get his feet set and is still able to make this throw look easy:
Trevor Lawrence throwing an Out with a CB blitz running at him.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) September 13, 2020
Being able to throw "off platform" is so important to be a QB. Lawrence is using nothing but his core strength and arm to make this throw and he still throws a perfectly on-time and accurate ball. pic.twitter.com/YRnIQfjXhq
Then there's the touch on this throw into the back of the end zone:
A lot of times, especially this time of year, you're looking for glimpses that remind you why a quarterback can play at the next level. With Lawrence, it happens on just about every snap. He's the No. 1 overall pick (duh), and that would be the case if Joe Burrow Joe Burrow'd this season at LSU instead of in 2019.
Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State
We're huge Brock Purdy fans. There's a lot we like about his game based on his 2019 tape. Here's what we wrote about him heading into the season:
Purdy gives us a Baker Mayfield vibe when we watch him because of his athleticism; he moves well in pocket, keeps his eyes downfield, is willing to make tough throws -- and perhaps more importantly, take a hit for a chance to complete a downfield pass. Purdy also throws with good anticipation and will lace balls into tight windows even when easier checkdown throws are available. His accuracy on short an intermediate passes, even when forced off his spot, is impressive.
And we saw much of that against Louisiana in the season-opener on Saturday. Unfortunately, we saw a lot of other stuff that has tempered some of that preseason enthusiasm, at least for a week. The 23rd-ranked Cyclones had their doors blown off at home, 31-14, and while Purdy played well in spots, the lack of consistency and questionable decision making is what his critics will remember.
Purdy finished 14 of 35 with no touchdowns and an interception. That said, he played much better than the box score indicates. He was accurate on short and intermediate passes, putting the ball on his receivers and allowing them to gain yards after the catch. Purdy also has Burrow-type athleticism that not only allows him to buy time in the pocket but to make plays with his feet downfield. He was also victimized by at least three dropped passes and his wide receivers and tight ends struggled all day to get open.
But Purdy, who was intercepted deep in his own territory trying to force the ball to a well-covered receiver, could have been picked off on three other occasions, too, primarily because he insists on throwing the ball into coverage. That's something he's going to have to rectify if he's going to make his way into the Day 2 draft conversation. Still, despite the rocky start, we remain bullish on his NFL prospects.
Other QBs of note
Texas' Sam Ehlinger lit up UTEP to the tune of 25 of 33 for 426 yards, five touchdowns and no turnovers as the Longhorns cruised to a 59-3 win. And D'Eriq King's debut in Miami (he transferred from Houston) got off to a good start; he was 15 of 23 for 141 yards and a passing touchdown, and he added 83 yards on the ground and another score as the Hurricanes beat UAB, 31-14. Ehlinger reminds us of Tim Tebow if Tebow was a more polished passer. But Ehlinger's just as tough. He also throws with anticipation and is accurate to all three levels. He needs to do a better job of processing what the defense is giving him, which is why another college season was in his best interest.
Meanwhile, King played in just four games last season for Houston before announcing he would redshirt; several months later he left for the U. He's listed at just 5-foot-11, which would have been a bigger issue before the likes of Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa came along, but he'll need to show he can harness that big-time arm into a reliable weapon; he managed to complete just 52.7 percent of his throws in those four games in 2019, though he averaged 64 percent in his first three years at Houston.
QBs we're looking forward to seeing this week
Kyle Trask, QB, Florida vs. Ole Miss (Sept. 26). "Steady as she goes" might be the best way to describe Trask's game. He's not flashy but he's efficient, and in the NFL the ability to do the right thing from one play to the next is more important than flashing once a series while drives stall out. Before taking over for Feleipe Franks last season, Trask had played in just three games. He played in 12 games in 2019 and completed 66.9 percent of his throws with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Trask's nickname should be 'Textbook' because his footwork in the pocket is consistently on point, and more importantly, he gets the ball out on time, accurately, and he rarely looks confused by what he sees pre-snap. While we're not expecting him to make a Burrow-like leap in '20 we wouldn't be surprised if he continues to improve and Trask finds his way into Round 1 conversations in the spring.
KJ Costello, QB, Mississippi State vs. LSU (Sept. 26). Costello is hoping a move from Stanford to Mississippi State will do for him what playing for Mike Leach did for Gardner Minshew and Anthony Gordon at Washington State (Minshew threw for 4,779 yards in '18; Gordon totaled 5,579 yards in '19). Leach is in his first year at Mississippi State and Costello, who played in just five games last season for the Cardinal because of injury, is looking to jump-start a once-promising college career.