The ACC has been playing for five weeks, the SEC just wrapped up its third week of action, and next week we'll get the Big Ten back on the field -- which means even more quarterbacks with NFL aspirations to evaluate. For now, let's review the weekend performances for the unquestioned best player in the 2021 draft class, a rising star and a group of passers who are hoping to improve their stock with solid performances.
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Trevor Lawrence remains the best player in college football, and by the spring he'll likely be one of the 10 best players in the NFL. He's coming off another impressive performance, even by his own standards, setting career highs in passing yards (404) and touchdowns (5) in just over two quarters of work. TWO! Lawrence, perhaps wanting to show that he is, in fact, from this planet, did throw an interception although you could argue that his receiver could have done more to make a play on the ball. Either way, it was Lawrence's first pick of the season, to go along with 15 touchdowns and a 73 completion percentage.
You can see all five first-half TDs here but two stand out above the rest. First, the accuracy and arm strength are hard to wrap your brain around...
HUGE day thus far for Trevor Lawrence who has straight up 🔥 the Yellow Jackets on 22/27 passing for 391 yds & 5 TD!!! (1) Clemson looking every bit the top team in the land, as they have DOMINATED Georgia Tech 52-7, and it’s only Halftime 🤯 pic.twitter.com/eQ6PP64EIl— Oracle Sports (@OracleSports1) October 17, 2020
... Until you see this touchdown pass from a few minutes earlier:
There is no way Lawrence isn't the first-overall pick. The only question is whether the Jets will be the team to select him (and, frankly, it's tough to envision a situation where the Jets win a game and don't somehow end up with the top selection in the 2021 NFL Draft).
Meanwhile, if you're looking for holes in Lawrence's game ... well, we wish you luck. He did throw an interception -- his first since October 19, 2019, and forcing an off-balance throw downfield was, in fact, a poor decision. But those are the mistakes you can live with when Lawrence is capable of everything else. The ball comes out on times, with accuracy and pace, and he confidently gets through his progressions. Granted, it helps to have Clemson's offensive line, and that type of protection likely won't be the case on a team like the Jets (Joe Burrow can confirm that his NFL O-line play hasn't quite resembled what he experienced in college).
Lawrence also has the athleticism to not only buy time inside the pocket, but to win with his feet downfield -- we saw him outrun Ohio State to the end zone in the January playoff game. If we're going to knock him for anything, Lawrence doesn't throw with much anticipation but he hasn't been asked to. Unlike a year ago (when, we remind you, Lawrence through his last interception before Saturday), there is no Joe Burrow making his way up draft boards. There's certainly a chance for Justin Fields to ball out once Ohio State takes the field, but we already knew he was a top-10 talent. All that's left to decide is which team will win the Lawrence sweepstakes.
Mac Jones, Alabama
Mac Jones' evening got off to an inauspicious start when his first pass attempt ended up in the arms of a Georgia defender. In his defense, Jones was hit while as he threw it and the ball wobbled in the air like a short punt. That, it turns out, was the low point for Jones who went on to throw for 417 yards (for the second straight week, and exceed 400 passing yard for three games in a row) with four touchdowns and the aforementioned pick. As CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso wrote a week ago, "Everyone's starting to realize Jones is underrated as a quarterback," which was again confirmed on Saturday night. Jones comes into the evening completing 70 percent of his throws that traveled 15 or more yards downfield and that deep passing accuracy was on display against a stout Georgia defense that includes a secondary filled with draft-eligible talent.
Of course, Jones and this Alabama offense has some "draft-eligible talent" too, starting with two of the best wideouts on the planet in Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith. When it was over, Waddle had six catches for 161 yards and a score and Smith had 11 catches for 167 yards and two scores. The rest of the Alabama offense combined for seven catches, 89 yards and a touchdowns.
Smith, whose slight build has some NFL folks concerned, doesn't play like he's at a size or strength disadvantage. His first TD came on a wheel route where he got himself wide open:
Then he followed that up with a Grown-Man Catch in the back of the end zone:
Meanwhile, Waddle, who might be the fastest player in football -- and that includes former teammate Henry Ruggs III -- left Tyson Campbell (who has been in the first round of our recent mock drafts and is a really, really good player) in his jet wash on this route. My word, man.
So, yes, Jones probably isn't having this type of success if he's playing for Mississippi State. But it also requires a special talent to deliver those deep balls accurately and on time. Jones' accuracy suffers when he's asked to make plays off-platform, or when he's hurried in the pocket, and he's a prototypical pocket passer who doesn't have the athleticism to win with his feet. That said, he's smart, reliable, gets through his reads quickly, and usually delivers the ball where it's supposed to go. There's a lot of value in a player like that at the next level.
D'Eriq King, Miami
King wasn't asked to do a lot against Pittsburgh. Miami didn't look to push the ball downfield in the first half, which is something King does well, and instead leaned on the running game and the short-passing attack to get out to a 14-6 lead at the break before winning 31-19. King did throw four touchdowns but all four were of the wide-open variety. Still, this is a nice throw that hits tight end Will Mallory in stride down the seam:
But King was guilty on several occasions of throwing late to the outside, which led to a pass breakup early in the game and an interception in the third quarter.
His other interception came just before halftime, on a tipped pass. Which brings us to another concern: At 5-foot-9, King has very little margin for error, and tipped passes will be a part of his game when he's throwing from the pocket.
King also spent much of the game running for his life; Pittsburgh's defensive line was a problem from start to finish, and it allowed King to flash the athleticism that has served him well throughout his college career. That athleticism is a double-edge sword, however, and King took more hits than you'd like to see from your quarterback. And while King can buy time with his feet, he needs to get the ball out on time with more consistency.
K.J. Costello, Mississippi State
Welp. Three weeks ago K.J. Costello was fresh off throttling LSU and catapulting himself right back into the draft conversation. On Saturday, he was benched in the third quarter after losing a fumble in what would be the Bulldogs third straight loss. He also struggled to hold onto the snap, bobbling the ball on at least three occasions, and threw another interception, bringing his season total to 10.
For some perspective, Costello threw for 623 yards and five touchdowns and two interceptions against LSU in the opener, and in the three games since he's thrown for 644 yards one touchdown and eight picks.
Coach Mike Leach said before the game that Costello was "not necessarily" on a short leash but it's certainly understandable why he was benched. The Mississippi State offensive line didn't help matters, regularly blowing assignments and leaving Costello in no-man's land, but there's no one to blame for Costello's lone interception than, well, Costello. On the Bulldogs' second drive, he overthrew his receiver on a deep post route, defensive back Myles Jones had inside leverage throughout the route and Costello still threw it. It was a bad decision before the ball left his hand and all that was left to determine was if Jones would haul it in.
The Mississippi State offense struggled again against a defense that dropped eight and rushed just three. As a result, Costello often looked unsure of where to go with the ball, opted for checkdowns, and regularly those checkdowns came up short of the sticks. This wasn't all on Costello but there's no denying he's playing poorly in recent weeks.
Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Mond had a mostly quiet Saturday afternoon, in part because the attention was focused on just how poorly his counterpart, K.J. Costello, played. A week after a stellar effort against the Gators, Mond went 13 of 23 for 139 yards with two touchdowns and a pick in a game where running back Isaiah Spiller did much of the heavy lifting (he rushed for 114 yards and scored twice) and Mond connected on short and intermediate passes to just four different receivers -- including this pitch-and-catch 51-yard touchdown dump-off to Chase Lane:
Mond looks the part, and when he's playing with confidence he can be really good. NFL teams need to see more consistency from him one play to the next though there's not much to take away from Saturday's performance just because he wasn't asked to do a lot against a Mississippi State team that was too busy self-destructing to worry ab out Mond and the Texas A&M offense.