Sifting Through The Polarizing 2020 Quarterback Class

For a draft topped with two of the most surefire prospects in the past 10 years, the 2020 quarterback class offers one of the more puzzling and polarizing pool of prospects we’ve encountered.

Not all of that is these prospects faulst, though.  The coronavirus pandemic has stifled normal operations for every NFL team and the league office itself.  The draft is literally being held via a Zoom call, which seems to be going great so far.  Teams haven’t been able to sit down with prospects and talk for as long as they’d like to (The Combine helped but ultimately wasn’t enough).  They haven’t been able to bring them to their facilities, show them around and get a vibe for what type of person they are..  Most importantly, team doctors haven’t been able to get their hands on prospects and evaluate them medically, which means that teams are picking practically blind-folded to anything but what they see on tape.

If it seems truly ridiculous that this is happening, well, it is.  The draft should have been postponed, but in common NFL fashion, they pushed through and acted like nothing happened, putting everyone at a disadvantage except those atop the league office, who admittedly are smart to put the league at even more of a forefront in the media/content landscape.  It’s just a shame that it has to be at the expense of its own teams and the people who run and work for them.  

For one top quarterback, none of these unforeseen circumstances matter at all.  For another, Thursday night could be an absolute roller-coaster ride.  For the last of the top tier, it’s the tape that’s in question and subject to debate rather than anything else.  

Below are four select picks from this year’s mock draft, which consists of two rounds for the first time ever and will be rolled out over the course of the next couple days before Thursday night.  All four picks below are quarterbacks, and a couple of their landing spots within in the NFL and on draft night(s) might surprise you.

No.1, Cincinnati Bengals: QB Joe Burrow, LSU

It only took a generational quarterback prospect for the Bengals to cut bait and move on from the Andy Dalton era, which reflects most poorly on owner Mike Brown’s refusal to hire a GM and keep Marvin Lewis as the head coach for five years too long.

Anyways, the Bengals have finally moved on from a long period of average football, and get to start anew with the guy who posted perhaps the best college football season of all-time.

When Burrow first showed up at LSU in the Fall of 2018, his impact was immediate.  LSU finally had a quarterback that could throw the football more than six yards down the field.  The offense was dynamic (for LSU’s standards, at least).  Burrow was a revelation for one of the most grit-and-grind programs in the country.

Turns out, he was a revelation for the whole country and the NFL as well.

Joe Brady came in a year later and turned Burrow into a monster.  Now the Panthers offensive coordinator, Brady has actually been a cause of concern for Burrow – draft experts are skeptical of only one year of insane production and the massive jump he took from 2018 to 2019.

That jump actually has less to do with Burrow and more to do with Brady.  Burrow didn’t put up the numbers he did in 2019 during his first season with the Tigers, but he did have a similar impact on the offense.  It was Brady that turned everyone else loose, which came thanks to scheme adjustments and players gaining more experience (like Ja’Marr Chase).

The Tom Brady comparisons for Burrow are reasonable.  No, Burrow will probably not win six Super Bowls – that’s not the point here.  The point is that neither quarterback has a cannon for an arm, but can absolutely dot up defenses with precision accuracy.  The term “making throws” isn’t overused with Burrow.  They’re also both excellent at recognizing defenses and making changes at the line of scrimmage.  That doesn’t mean Burrow will be the leader Brady is, or have the clutch ability that he does, but in terms of pure football aspects, the similarities are there, and Burrow has the advantage going forward.  He’s taller, more athletic and can actually escape pressure.  Plus, he’s going No. 1 overall in the draft.  Everyone believes in him, and because of that, the doubt that surrounded Brady won’t be clouding around Burrow.

No.5, Miami Dolphins: QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

The Dolphins would obviously not like to have to trade up to land him, and there could be a pretty likely scenario in which they don’t have to.  

Miami isn’t competing against Detroit at No.3 overall for Tagovailoa They’re competing against possibly Los Angeles and any other team who might be attempting to trade up to the spot.

That could mean an all out bidding war in trade talks, but we’re not going to project that here.  Instead, Miami lands their guy and doesn’t have to do a thing but call the pick in.

Tagovailoa’s medicals have been a massive concern in the pre-draft lead-up, and rightfully so.  The guy has dealt with a lot in college, and one of those many injuries he sustained was a horrific and rare one.  With the current climate taking its toll on the draft, more and more skepticism about Tagovailoa’s medicals is being lobbed out there.  Teams don’t really know right now.  Because of the circumstances, teams are forced to pick based on what they believe, not what they know, and that can be really scary.

Tagovailoa just might be worth that risk though.  If he was 100 percent healthy and injuries weren’t a concern, it’s not far-fetched to say there’d be a debate about the No. 1 overall pick right now. Tagovailoa’s accuracy is the best out of perhaps anyone this decade.  That’s adjusting for yards per attempt; you know, actually throwing the football downfield a little bit, perhaps more than five yards (Sorry, Jake Fromm).  The No. 1 skill we always talk about quarterbacks needing to have is the ability to truly make throws.  Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, (younger) Tom Brady, Russell Wilson… those guys aren’t dinking and dunking it downfield like an Alex Smith, (younger) Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garroppolo (Sorry, but it’s true!)… you get the point. Tagovailoa has that skill, and not only is it his best one, but it’s the best out of anyone’s in a long time.

Sure, the arm strength isn’t as good as some would like it to be.  But when you can dot up defenses the way Tagovailoa does, it really doesn’t matter.  In general, people aren’t only overreacting to his arm, but they’re probably underrating it.  His arm is good, not great.  The qualms about it could just be a case of lefty-bias.

Miami should be hesitant about trading up for Tagovailoa given the health concerns, but if he’s here when they’re up, they have to take that chance.  Otherwise, bring on the tank for next season, because Miami didn’t enact this tanking scheme for someone who has the question marks that Justin Herbert and Jordan Love do.

No.24, New Orleans Saints: QB Justin Herbert, Oregon

Let’s make one thing very clear: obviously, Justin Herbert will not be available at No. 24 overall and it is very unlikely that New Orleans ends up with him in any scenario.  The same will go for the quarterback we discuss next.

This is more about making a point regarding Herbert, who despite being QB3 on the Sports Hub big board is miles behind between QB2.

Nothing points to Herbert as being a generational talent, like Tagovailoa and Burrow could be.  He’s got a good arm, though it’s more about how the ball comes out of his hands than the arm strength itself (A trait similar to Tagovailoa).  He’s also tall – really tall.  That’s the whole book with Herbert: arm, zip and height.

You can see why teams like him though.  That zip on his passes is at times incredible to watch.  In the first half against Arizona State this past season, he was dotting the Sun Devils up.

Things changed later in that game though, which was a contest that could serve as a microcosm for Herbert’s evaluation as a prospect.  He started missing throws badly, which led to balls being sailed over receivers heads.  He occasionally missed so bad that it seemed like a miscommunication between him and the receiver, but it wasn’t.  It was just a really off-target throw.

Herbert needs to go to a situation where things are absolutely perfect in order for him to be a successful quarterback.  He needs serious development in some areas.  He needs to sit for at least a season and learn.  He needs some of the best coaching the NFL has.

New Orleans is perfect.

It seems extremely likely that this will be Drew Brees’ last year.  Sean Payton basically said so here, which seemed like a slip-up that revealed a dark truth.  In addition, Brees agreed to a broadcasting contract with NBC even though he’s not retired yet.  That doesn’t seem like the type of deal NBC would do if it was too far into the future, which makes it likely that it’ll commence in the next year or two.

With the Saints, Herbert gets an all-time quarterback to sit and develop behind for at least a season and a coach who’s innovative and has a knack for offensive development.  Just look at how terrifying Payton has made the likes of Taysom Hill, Deonte Harris and Tre’Quan Smith.  Those guys would be close to nobodies on any other team.

In New Orleans, Herbert would have a chance to be a successful NFL quarterback.  In Miami, probably not.  With the Chargers, possibly.  With the Raiders, possibly as well, although they should wait a year and attempt to land one of the top guys next year, in a QB class that could be a lot more intriguing than the one we’re currently evaluating.

We’ll get to this later in the week, but the pick before New Orleans is the Patriots. There might be some surprise that New England passed on Herbert in the mock considering the value they’d get at this point, as the Patriots have very similar organizational traits that fits what Herbert needs. But understand a couple things: one, in New England, there’s currently no one for him to sit behind.  Jarrett Stidham and Herbert are a year apart in NFL experience.  Herbert won’t learn and drafting him makes Stidham look like a wasted pick a year ago.  Two, as time passes on after Tom Brady’s departure, and the likes of Cam Newton and (gulp) Jameis Winston still remain available, it seems more and more likely the Patriots are going to roll with what they have in Stidham, and give him a true shot at becoming the next franchise quarterback.  Them going QB really high in this draft seems unlikely.  Taking a flyer on James Morgan doesn’t really move the needle that much, and doesn’t represent a true threat to Stidham.

No.46, Indianapolis Colts: QB Jordan Love, Utah State

Like we did with Justin Herbert, lets make one thing absolutely clear: Jordan Love will not be available at No. 46 overall and it is very unlikely he’ll end up with the Indianapolis Colts by the end of this weekend.

There’s a legit chance he goes ahead of Herbert on Thursday night, and could even be the second quarterback drafted if things shake out unexpectedly.  But there is no chance he falls out of the top 20.

The reason he is available at this point in this mock is because the Utah State product is going to get someone fired.  That may be the person who took him or the person who passed on him, but Love is bound to be the reason at least one GM is out of a job due to a confusing college resume.

Love is exactly what happens when teams miss completely on Patrick Mahomes (By the way, this site completely missed on him as well).  Their strengths and weaknesses as prospects out of college align closely: big arm, above-average mobility with serious accuracy issues.

Teams don’t want to miss on the next Mahomes, who has an argument for being the most talented quarterback of all-time.  They fell for the trick of believing that his inaccuracy out of school would detract from his arm talent, and ultimately waste it.  It’s overcorrection time, and Love is the prospect at the center of that market shift.

Love could simply be just a “correction” in the market of inaccurate, big-armed quarterbacks.  If he was a better desicion-maker and limited his turnovers, perhaps that would be the case.  He’d be a much more appealing quarterback if decision-making was a positive on his scouting reporting.

Calling Love a poor decision-maker might be an understatement.  The quarterback led all of Division 1 in interceptions thrown last season with 17.  He threw just three more touchdowns than he did picks.  Experts have cited Utah State’s heavy restructuring of its offense on and off the field between Love’s sophomore and junior season as reasons for his turnover total in 2019-20, but a jump from six picks to 17 can’t solely be blamed on that.  Love played in 13 games.  He averaged 1.31 a game.

Love’s drawbacks are different than Herbert’s.  Herbert doesn’t tend to make poor decisions.  The former Oregon QB’s turnovers are typically the result of poor accuracy rather than a bad choice being made.  It’s two problems in one, which while scary, also means there’s only a single fix to be made to solve both.

Love has two separate issues.  The inaccuracy and the decision-making, which leads to the turnovers.  For someone who’s touted for his downfield throwing ability, this stat doesn’t bode very well (Neither does it for Herbert, by the way).

We aren’t viewing Herbert as some bomb-it-downfield quarterback though, like we are with Love.  It’s also a stat that shows the separation of Love’s accuracy and turnover problems.  Notice how these percentages are in reference to an open receiver, which cancels out the excuse of having a lack of talent around him and a new system. The stat reflects solely on his accuracy, not his turnovers.

The bottom line is that Love has a lot to overcome, and like Herbert, needs an especially good situation to thrive.  Indianapolis would be perfect, even though it’d be the second questionable move from GM Chris Ballard regarding the quarterback position.

Phillip Rivers signed a one year with the Colts in free agency, and if last year was any indication, next season should be his last.  Despite his struggles, Rivers would be the ideal quarterback for Love to sit behind and learn.  In addition, if anyone can turn Rivers around, it’s head coach Frank Reich, who won a Super Bowl with Nick Foles quarterbacking his offense, was in charge when Carson Wentz played the best football of his career, and had Jacoby Brissett looking above average before T.Y. Hilton got hurt.  Even if Rivers improves, retirement certainly seems possible given his age and ESPN’s looming contract offer for a TV role.  Letting Love learn from the former Chargers quarterback and be coached by Frank Reich might be the best option available for him.  

Wherever Herbert fits best is where Love does as well, but the odds of both of them winding up in one of those situations, and taking advantage of it, are slim.