|Left Outside||Left Middle||Right Middle||Right Outside||Total|
Outside the Pocket: 0/1 (plus 1 throwaway)
Under Pressure: 1/2 (plus 1 throwaway)
Red Zone: 4/5
3rd/4th Down: 3/6 (1 conversion)
Forced Adjustments: 1
Through the first four games of the season, Washington QB Jacob Eason delivered on the mounting hype he has received since he was a five-star recruit in 2016. Cal's defense gave him a run for his money early in the year, but Eason had been otherwise fantastic and given reason for NFL Draft analysts to start legitimately buying into him as opposed to clinging onto his recruiting status and a handful of highlight throws from his freshman year at Georgia.
Taking on a ranked USC squad should have been the perfect stage for Eason to prove himself. USC entered the game with a third-string QB, so a shootout was not likely, but the Trojans had a decent 52nd-ranked SP+ defense heading into the contest. That is not a great defense by any means, but it is better than any defense Eason had faced to this point in the year aside from Cal. For Eason to put up a good performance against a decent USC defense en route to earning a conference win could have done wonders for his NFL draft stock.
Alas, Eason was just okay. He was not bad; he was not particularly impressive. Eason threw zero touchdowns to zero interceptions while maintaining a 6.9 yards per attempt average. Despite stunning arm strength and a cabinet full of talented receivers, Eason hardly cut it loose the way many expected him to. He was instead relegated to quick game and check down duty.
For whatever reason, Washington’s offensive game plan was conservative. This has not typically been the approach with Eason at QB seeing as he has a rocket for a right arm and a willingness to use it. Just five of Eason’s charted attempts were thrown beyond 10 yards. The safe approach was not Eason’s fault, either, as many of the Huskies’ route combinations did not offer him many options down the field.
The conservatism was clearest in the red zone. All five of Eason’s red zone attempts were thrown within five yards of the line of scrimmage, two of them being screen passes. The other three passes were either slants, hitches, or quick outs — and were Eason’s only viable options on the play. Washington didn’t even really try to test the end zone. They went for the “safest” yards they could rather than give their talented quarterback a chance.
It’s tough to say why Washington opted for the lax approach all game. Perhaps the coaching staff believed they could beat USC’s defense by stretching the field horizontally rather than vertically. Maybe it was just a bad day in the booth from the offensive coordinator. Or the Huskies may have been trying to skate through game showing as little of their offense as they could because they believed they could beat a USC squad led by a third-string QB without having to reveal much. Whatever it was, it made for a limited performance from Eason on a stage that could have done wonders for him with respect to his draft status.
To be fair, Eason did try to get aggressive in his own way. Eason made three throws that were charted from the hash to the opposite boundary, i.e. snapping the ball from the left hash and throwing all the way toward the right boundary. He also made a handful of throws that were technically charted as the opposite “middle” portion of the field, but were borderline calls as far as charting location goes. If Eason’s coaches wouldn’t let him throw down the field, he was going to find a way to throw the ball as far as possible on a given play. QBs with Eason’s booming arm strength can get away with those throws, though, and Eason hit or got close on a few of them.
Eason’s best throw down the field, among the few chances he got, was on a play-action strike over the middle. The throw came off of one of the handful of snaps he took from under-center, all of which were play-action passes or running plays. Though the offense is primarily shotgun based, sprinkling in a few play-action shots from under-center to complement their run game meshes well with Eason’s skill set as a strong, aggressive passer.
Eason executes this play to perfection. He gets through his drop cleanly, rips it as soon as he hits the top of the drop, and places the ball right on the mark. The tight end was able to run was able to barrel forward for another ten yards or so, giving Washington their lone 25-plus yard passing gain of the day. Considering the tight end has nobody immediately on him, the throw looks wide open, but Eason still had to throw this ball over the top of a linebacker. It’s not an immaculate throw by any means, but it’s a solid play that he will be asked to replicate plenty of times in the NFL.
Unfortunately, precious few other throws on the day showcased any sort of notable talent from Eason. He threw with good accuracy throughout the game, but the limited game plan mostly left him throwing quick passes. While he played well, it was not the game plan anyone wanted to see Eason be asked to execute.
What Eason did get a chance to showcase, however, was his ability to scramble around and buy himself time outside of the pocket. Eason is not a great or eager threat to run past the line of scrimmage, but he is more than athletic enough to make moves outside the pocket and avoid taking sacks.
This play, though it ended in an incompletion, is a good example of Eason’s cool reaction to pressure and ample mobility. Eason sees a free rusher coming off the right side almost as soon as he finishes the fake handoff. Instead of panicking like many QBs would, Eason immediately flipped his shoulders to bail out of the opposite side of the pocket. The scramble drill frees up the rest of USC’s DL to chase him, but since he separated from the initial rusher, Eason bought enough time for himself to lob a pass to a running back in the flat. Knowing the defender near the running back was playing underneath, Eason almost certainly threw the ball high and away on purpose, so as to make for a harmless incompletion rather than a potential interception. The throw was half throwaway, half prayer that could have been a reception if he put just a tad less on it.
The play looks like a scramble drill gone wrong that ended with an incompletion, but at every point in the play, Eason did the right thing. In a perfect world, he feathers the ball ever so carefully into the running back’s hands, but from the position he was in, even the best QBs probably only complete that ball one out of 20 times. Eason’s instant awareness of the rusher and football IQ to know he needed to flip his shoulders to bail in the opposite direction is impressive.
Flipping shoulders is a necessary tool because it is often the fastest way to get a QB’s feet moving and away from the immediate threat. Many of the best playmaking QBs in the league — Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson — are as good as they are outside the pocket because they are quick to flip their shoulders when necessary and climb back up toward the line of scrimmage (if possible). That is not to say Eason is in that category right now, but it bodes well for him that he has proven he can do it with such comfort and fluidity.
If there was anything to harp on Eason for post-snap, it was his ball placement on a few of his underneath throws. Eason was fine for a majority of the day, but many of his quick game throws were on timing routes, which should be easier for a QB to throw accurately. When asked to throw shallow crossers, however, Eason didn’t show his best.
It may seem excessive to criticize Eason for this play given the result, but he got away with a play he shouldn’t have. Eason leaves this ball on the receiver’s back shoulder rather than out in front of him. The receiver had to reach backwards for the ball and slow his momentum. If the defense were in a better position to make a play, like most NFL teams will be, then this play gets cut short well before the receiver can scoot past the first-down marker. Eason went unpunished for the exact same mistake later in the game as well. Top-tier NFL QBs are supposed to generate extra yardage opportunities for their skill players through impressive ball placement and Eason was streaky in his ability to do so versus USC.
As for the other point to hit with Eason, it appeared as though he was taking signals from the sideline all game. Almost every time Eason changed something at the line of scrimmage pre-snap, it came after he took a look toward the Huskies sideline.
Taking signals from the sideline is common practice all throughout college football, but the best prospects typically develop the maturity to handle protections, checks, and audibles at the line by themselves. For example, Jake Fromm from Georgia, who dethroned Eason for the starting job there, does an excellent job of taking on pre-snap responsibility and making calls at the line by himself. Even Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma had a lot of autonomy at the line of scrimmage in Lincoln Riley’s spread/Air Raid offense — the style of offense analysts most link to taking signals from the sideline
Now, this is not to say Eason will never develop out of this. It’s possible the coaching staff don't want to operate any other way and choose not to give Eason responsibility, even if he is capable of handling it. However, until Eason shows on film that he is making these calls on his own, there is a bit of uncertainty in projecting how well he will handle a more diverse, intensive NFL playbook.
In all, Eason’s skill set is difficult to get a gauge on. The past five games Eason has started at Washington are his only five starts since being Georgia’s leading man in 2016. Within those five games, Eason has played exceptionally three times (Eastern Washington, BYU, Hawaii) and been mediocre twice (Cal, USC). It should come as no surprise that Eason has performed worse versus better competition, but he has a combined zero passing touchdowns and one interception through those two games versus Cal and USC. One would have to imagine a better QB prospect would be able to show up better in games like this. For reference, Drew Lock had a similar split at Missouri, where he dunked on non-winning teams and struggled to look functional versus winning teams.
Eason’s best-case scenario based on everything he has shown to this point is Matthew Stafford. Stafford, like Eason, is a solid athlete with a booming arm and a propensity to let loose whenever possible. The way they move, survey the field, and choose where to attack is similar. Over the years, Stafford has had a handful of good seasons, but he has largely hovered right around average. A lot of teams would be happy with “average” QB play at the right price, but Eason even getting to Stafford’s level requires a lot of projection. Eason is nowhere near as mentally ready as Stafford was back in 2009.
There is still over half a season left for Eason to prove himself. For now, Eason is probably Day 2 prospect that needs to ride on the bench and soak in the offense for a year or two before being thrown into the fire. The good news is, that still makes Eason better than all but a handful of QBs in this draft class. The bad news is, it would take a miracle for him to finish this season at a comparable level of play to the top guys such as Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama), Justin Herbert (Oregon), or even Jake Fromm (Georgia).