These rankings are meant to be a far-too-early snapshot of the 2020 NFL Draft class. We use the term “far-too-early” as a catch-all nod to the fact that we’re working without the two most important macro-level data points we’ll use while assessing these prospects next spring – their 2019 seasons, and their complete (and verified) athletic profiles.
Without those two bits of data, we’re forced to do a heck of a lot of projecting. And that’s why these lists vacillate so wildly during the fall and pre-draft process; the further we go, the more data we have to analyze, the evaluations become clearer, the rankings more refined.
This is the first of seven columns coming in my 2020 NFL Draft summer scouting series. Running backs drop Saturday, and receivers are coming next week. After that, I’ll be cooking up a TE/OL combo platter for you before moving on to the defenders.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoyed researching and writing them.
Better in 2020: QB, RB, WR, OT, CB, S
Worse in 2020: TE, OG, C, DL, EDGE, LB
1. Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) | 6’1/218
There’s been some predictable backlash on #DraftTwitter from folks who didn’t start watching Alabama games until the SEC title, but make no mistake about it: Tua is the undisputed QB1 and leader in the clubhouse to be 1.1 in the 2020 NFL Draft heading into the season.
His struggles down the stretch after a historic start to the season were an unfortunate confluence of an extremely painful ankle injury (that required surgery) that coincided with a Georgia-Oklahoma-Clemson gauntlet to end the campaign.
Tua is a dual-threat with elite accuracy and a tantalizing dichotomy of composure and gamble. He’s the Hawaiian Steve Young. He may not have a howitzer, but he led the nation by almost three full percentage points on deep-ball accuracy and threw for 3,966 yards and a 43/6 TD/INT rate on 10.4 YPA against the No. 11 S&P+ strength of schedule in the country (No. 3 SOS by conventional metrics). He's insanely creative, like an impressionist painter.
Tua may have struggled against Georgia and Clemson with a bum wheel, but he laid waste to top-25 S&P+ defenses LSU (5), Auburn (6), Texas A&M (21) and Missouri (25) to the tune of 82-for-128 (64.1%) passing for 1,271 yards (318 per game average) and a 14/1 TD/INT rate. It says here that Tua Tagovailoa is a better prospect than Kyler Murray.
2. Justin Herbert (Oregon) | 6’6/233
Huge and athletic, Herbert could be what we wanted Josh Allen to be. But only if he takes a step forward on the field this fall. Herbert was exceptional in 2017 until half his season was stolen by injury.
In his 2018 return, Herbert flashed that form on occasion (Cal, Stanford, Michigan State). In those games, he looked like a top-three overall NFL pick. But Herbert went through long stretches of abject mediocrity (or worse), including stink bombs against everyone from mighty Washington to solid Arizona State to lowly San Jose State and Oregon State.
When he’s on, Herbert fires made-to-order bullets all over the yard. His velocity is exceptional, like a big fire-breathing hurler. Herbert’s best throws are some of the best you’ll see from the past five classes. But sometimes he gets sloppy in the pocket, particularly with his mechanics.
And sometimes he doesn’t do his due diligence with reading the field, preferring to shuttle it off for a good-enough early-read option instead of peaking to the other side of the field to see if something unexpected has developed. And when all three are happening in conjunction, and he begins to struggle, which must be difficult to come to grips with for a person in possession of so much natural ability, Herbert can sometimes let a bad drive bleed forward into the next.
Herbert’s gifts are from God, and his weaknesses are fixable. Now, I’d like to see him make a legitimate run at the Heisman and lead Oregon to the Rose Bowl. He returned to win big in Eugene and improve his draft stock. Time to prove it.
3. Jake Fromm (Georgia) | 6’2/220
Fromm took a nice step forward last year, with his completion percentage jumping from 62.2 to 67.4 as his YPA average remained a sterling 9.0. I love the accuracy, I love the moxie, I love that Fromm manages to strain the defense down the field while rarely putting the ball in harm’s way.
I also love that Fromm’s been battle-tested from high-level athletic showcases over a period of years. He played in the Little League World Series as a kid and was a ballyhooed prep quarterback featured on the Netflix documentary “QB1: Beyond the Lights” who went on to unseat five-star Jacob Eason as a true freshman.
In the pocket, Fromm is a smooth operator who oozes confidence. He isn’t going to do any damage outside of the pocket, but he has good footwork and feel inside of it, moving to a new spot and resetting when danger is nigh. I love the compact, repeatable delivery – Fromm has clearly thrown a football hundreds of thousands of times to achieve that form.
He processes very quickly, doesn’t give the ball away, and has plus-plus accuracy in the intermediate area. One nice micro-level NFL throwing quality Fromm has is throwing receivers open by being early. He has the utmost confidence in what he’s seeing, and he doesn’t hesitate when he thinks an opportunity has presented itself – even if the receiver he’s throwing to may not realize it quite yet.
Touch, accuracy, and anticipation on a guy who makes sound reads quickly and confidently is a tantalizing combination for an NFL prospect. Where Fromm gets dinged is height (he’s listed at 6’2; Twitter has endlessly debated whether he’s actually 6’1, or if he’s actually a tic over 6’2), lack of athleticism, and lack of a howitzer arm.
Fromm doesn’t have a noodle, but he doesn’t generate the easy velocity other top prospects do and he can’t hurl the ball 70 yards downfield. Sometimes I wonder if he deliberately avoids certain throws (or sectors of the field) because he doesn’t completely trust his ability to get the ball downfield on time and on the money.
That isn’t the biggest issue in college. But when Fromm moves to the NFL, where the scouting reports are absurdly advanced, he can’t have multiple red “cold” zones when the field is broken into nine sectors. Because if defenses don’t have to defend certain areas of the field vertically, and they don’t have to worry about Fromm beating them with his legs horizontally, he becomes easier to defend.
A decade ago, I think Fromm is a lock first-rounder. But the game is changing into a speed and space affair. In that new normal, Fromm’s path to greatness is following the Drew Brees blueprint and developing elite touch and accuracy. He’s not quite there yet, but Fromm showed in the developmental steps he took last year that he could get there.
He still hasn’t thrown for 3,000 yards in a season. I know Georgia is a run-heavy team, but Fromm is going to get some freebie yards this year working with D’Andre Swift, one of the nation’s best receiving backs.
I want him to translate the rate stats over more usage and make a run at the Heisman ceremony. If that happens, he’s going to cement his spot in the opening stanza next spring. If it doesn’t, staring at the possibility of existing in the Will Grier/Ryan Finley evaluation-value phylum, he may surprise and elect to stick around for his senior year.
4. K.J. Costello (Stanford) | 6’4/215
Costello graded out higher in 2018 by PFF’s metrics than Herbert, Fromm, and the majority of guys you’ll read about below. If nothing else, the NFL is going to appreciate the heck of out of Costello merely for being a classic dropback passer in a pro-style offense, an increasing rarity for top prospects.
Because he isn’t very mobile, Costello has developed a bag of tricks to compensate. His favorite compensatory mechanism is a side-arm sling around oncoming rushers. Costello made a knack last year of abusing smaller Pac-12 defensive backs with JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Kaden Smith down the field. He throws a catchable ball and puts a good amount of air under it if he knows his man is favored in a jump-ball scenario.
Stanford’s offense was built around that deep ball last year. Costello’s arm isn’t elite, but he’s very effective down the field because he’s got a knack for calculating touch and loft on the fly, serving up catchable home run balls. This fall, I think/hope we’ll see Costello do more damage in the short and intermediate sectors.
He’s got the velocity to fire it into a small window to a receiver streaking across the field. But while Costello shows good understanding of his assignments and the defense, he still has technical work to do. He sometimes throws with a lot of limb action, without much thought to what his feet are doing.
When defenses are consistently getting into his face, this issue can exasperate, as he tries to hurry his process along even faster, forgetting fundamentals altogether. If David Shaw can get that sorted out, Costello’s game may take a big jump forward. Technical issues and pocket yips in the face of pressure are staples of many pocket-passer's games early in their college careers.
The ones who work into Round 1 are the guys who iron that stuff out through experience. Trevor Lawrence’s only come by once in a blue moon. The rest of these guys must work for it. I like Costello’s chances. He succeeded amid a cratering offensive line and a limping-to-the-finish-line Bryce Love last year. I think Stanford’s offense is going to have a much clearer identity this fall, and I think Costello is going to thrive.
5. Jordan Love (Utah State) | 6’3/225
This is an admittedly aggressive ranking based on potential. Love combines an NFL arm with strong athleticism and a prototype build. He lit up the MWC for a 36/6 TD/INT ratio last year while ranking No. 11 in the country with 8.6 YPA. In addition, he scored six TD on the ground. He doesn’t take sacks, and when he locks in, he becomes a flammable rhythm thrower who’ll hurt you on the ground if you drop too many guys back and leave a running lane behind.
We’re going to get a verdict on Love in 2018 because Utah State suffered massive defections over the offseason. Former USU HC Matt Wells and OC David Yost both left for Texas Tech, and Love’s top-three receivers, tight end, and lead running back (good luck in KC, Darwin!) all graduated. Yost is a really good play caller. He simplified things for Love by cutting down on his reads.
A streaky player to begin with, Love sometimes appears to be a different quarterback depending on circumstance. This is most easily seen in his ludicrous home/road splits – he averaged 10.6 yards per attempt at home and 6.9 YPA on the road.
Consistency obviously needs to improve. We also need to see Love handle pressure better – he ranked No. 70 last year on adjusted completion % when pressured – and start the process of becoming a full-field reader. I’d also like to see him improve down the field. He was top-30 in the country in deep ball accuracy percentage and piled up 14 TD on balls thrown over 20 yards downfield – but USU’s system and skill talent helped with that.
Love is young and in need of more experience. He’s got the arm talent to improve on his placement and touch, and that’ll be part of his next evolution as a passer along with developing a more holistic approach to field reading. A system change should help facilitate that, even if Love’s counting numbers drop a bit.
Love’s stock is going to be heavily dependent on how he plays in the following six games: Wake Forest, San Diego State, LSU, BYU, Fresno State and Boise State. Hopefully we’ll get two more out of him via the conference title and bowl game. He’s already shown that he can torch bad defenses on talent alone. Now let’s see him outthink competition with superior athleticism.