The evolution of the 2019 quarterback class was strange and full of odd twists. At the start of last college football season Kyler Murray was an afterthought as an NFL prospect. Daniel Jones was a first-round long shot.
Murray, of course, stormed college football, won the Heisman Trophy, and became the first overall pick in the draft by the Arizona Cardinals. Jones shockingly catapulted into the top 10, getting taken sixth by the New York Giants.
Was 2019 an aberration, or should we continue to expect the unexpected when it comes to the trajectory of quarterbacks in the draft? Here’s what we know and don’t know going into this college football season.
The intriguing top tier
You probably know these guys — and for good reason.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (junior): This year’s recipient of the annual Russell Wilson comparison is Tagovailoa. The Crimson Tide quarterback has the prerequisites for the honor. Like Wilson, he’s not overly tall, but he’s stout at 6’1 and 220 pounds. He’s an accurate passer, and in his first season as the starter for Alabama completed nearly 69 percent of his throws. And again, like Wilson, he can make plays on the move and handles pressure better than most quarterbacks.
Really, other than freaky arm strength, the knocks on Tagovailoa are silly things outside of his control.
It’s true, Alabama currently has three NFL wide receivers, including possible top-five pick Jerry Jeudy, and Tagovailoa is the beneficiary. He’s also been dinged because of injuries. He had surgery for a high-ankle sprain last season and played through a knee sprain. His height might get questioned, but who cares at a time when Murray and Baker Mayfield get taken with the first overall pick?
Justin Herbert, Oregon (senior): Herbert can be a maddening quarterback. When he’s on, he’s the best quarterback prospect in this class. He has size at 6’6 and 237 pounds, and he’s a very good athlete. When Herbert has to make off-schedule passes outside the pocket he moves around with ease and resets his feet to deliver the ball. His deep ball is NFL ready and he can make spectacular plays look routine. He checks just about every box you want in a franchise quarterback.
Herbert’s consistency and accuracy are the big issues. Some of the latter aren’t on Herbert. Oregon’s receivers dropped a considerable amount of passes. Still, part of that reflects on Herbert. His completion percent dropped from 67.5 percent in 2017 to 59.2 percent in 2018. In one six-game stretch in the middle of last season, it was just 55.6 percent.
The inconsistency is mostly on easy throws. While Herbert can make big plays, some of the easy ones in the short passing game are missed.
Jake Fromm, Georgia (junior): Fromm is a strange case. From strictly a skills standpoint, he’s not as purely talented as Tagovailoa or Herbert. His arm is solid and his size at 6’2, 220, is pretty dang average. He hasn’t thrown for 3,000 yards in either of his first two seasons.
Maybe it’s his drive or will, but Fromm continues to overcome. In the 2017 season when starter Jacob Eason got hurt (more on him later), Fromm took over and the five-star blue chipper never got his job back. In 2018, Georgia brought in another five-star quarterback in Justin Fields (more on him next year). No matter to Fromm. Although Fields got a few snaps here and there, Fromm was the leader of an offense full of future NFL players. Fromm also had a star-making performance in last year’s SEC title game, nearly leading an upset of Alabama while throwing for 301 yards and three touchdowns.
While Fromm needs to play more consistently and show he can work more of the field, teams will love his accuracy and intangibles.
K.J. Costello, Stanford (junior): After starting seven games for Stanford in 2017, Costello took off last season, In 13 starts, he threw for 3,540 yard and 29 touchdowns. His best asset as an NFL prospect is his accuracy. Costello throws with anticipation and, like Fromm, fits the ball into a tight window. But his upside comes thanks to an impressive deep ball.
Stanford’s offense lost a lot of playmakers after last season, including Costello’s top three pass catchers: JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Trenton Irwin, and Kaden Smith. Running back Bryce Love is also gone. Stanford’s success on offense this season will be based on Costello’s arm.
Seniors to know
In the last five drafts, 16 quarterbacks have been taken in the first round. Only two of them — Baker Mayfield in 2018 and Carson Wentz in 2016 — were seniors, though Jones and Josh Allen (2018) were redshirt juniors. Each of those four played in the Senior Bowl and saw their draft status rise at the all-star game.
These are the quarterbacks going into the 2019 season who could also use a good Senior Bowl:
Nate Stanley, QB, Iowa: Among draft nerds, Stanley was first notable as a favorite of ESPN’s Todd McShay. And you can argue that Stanley greatly benefited from throwing to first-rounders T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant last season. But if he plays well this season, he’ll get serious looks. With bookend NFL offensive tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs protecting him, Stanley should have plenty of time in the pocket to pick apart a defense.
Steven Montez, Colorado: Unlike Stanley, Montez has at least one sure thing target, receiver Laviska Shenault. The 6’5, 230-pound Montez has size and one of the stronger arms in the class. But he’s been inaccurate over the middle of the field. Montez is the type of player who could need a big season, and a big Senior Bowl, to rise all the way into the top 32.
Joe Burrow of LSU, Brian Lewerke of Michigan State, and Shea Patterson of Michigan are all intriguing seniors who, for one reason or another, haven’t yet taken a big step forward as a prospect.
Take note just in case
Last season, Murray showed that at quarterback we sometimes don’t know what will happen. At this time last year, Murray was going to be a pro baseball player.
These quarterbacks aren’t crossover stars like Murray, but it’s worth keeping them tucked away.
Jordan Love, Utah State (junior): Love teeters between the first group and this one. It’s easy to see why Love is an NFL prospect. The 6’4, 220-pound junior started six games as a redshirt freshman in 2017 and took over as the starter in 2018. He threw for 3,567 yards and 32 touchdowns last season while ending up as a Davey O’Brien Award semifinalist. What makes Love so intriguing is his fast release and easy arm strength.
While Love can rely too much purely on his arm, and plays in a screen-heavy offense, he has every tool teams love. Right now, he has long odds for the first round in 2020, but a betting person would be wise to gamble on Love.
Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (senior): Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley has coached the last two No. 1 picks (Murray and Mayfield). Hurts may have lost his job to Tagovailoa, but he should still get a look in the NFL. He’s a good athlete, and in his career has thrown 48 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions.
Jacob Eason, Washington (junior): Eason hasn’t even won the starting job in Washington yet. But because of his blue-chip high school status and size at 6’6 and 227 pounds, he’s going to get every shot at being an NFL starter.
Blake Barnett, South Florida: Barnett has been a college football journeyman, going from Alabama to Arizona State to junior college and now to South Florida. But don’t forget, he actually was named the starting quarterback for the Tide before Hurts took over in 2016. And there’s something about 6’5, 230-pound quarterbacks the NFL will always love.
The only QB guarantee
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence isn’t draft eligible. But go ahead and pencil him as the No. 1 pick in 2021. No pressure.