Over the last four years, I have scouted 64 quarterbacks for the NFL draft. I didn't realize the number was that significant until I looked it up and, as is customary to be asked around this time of year, I'm beginning to hear the questions on how exactly the 2020 NFL Draft quarterbacks stack up to recent classes.
The 2018 quarterback class saw five signal-callers go in the first round; we aren't likely to see that many go in 2020. Does that mean the 2020 class is worse? Not necessarily.
To put this year's quarterback class into context, I have compiled my collected analytics, film notes and player grades on each of the last four seasons of quarterback prospects scouted — all 64 of them. As you'll find with any scout, my evaluation scoring and methodology has steadily evolved over the last four years; so to ensure my rankings are apples to apples, I've recalibrated the final grades of prior years' prospects to reflect my current scoring model and ranked the quarterback prospects accordingly.
The general approach has not changed. I evaluate quarterbacks (and all positions) based on position-specific traits and then supplement their film with analytic measurements to add context and refine final grading and ranking.
How does the 2020 quarterback class stand up? Here are my 12 highest adjusted quarterback assessments from the last four drafts combined and what I had to say about each one at the time.
Author’s note: The only changes in player scoring were made to make all player evaluation criteria equal to that of 2020 prospects and edited for clarity. There were no hindsight alterations made to film grades of past quarterback prospects.
12. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech (2017)
What I said then: "Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes has the highest ceiling of any quarterback in the 2017 class. The conundrum with Mahomes is one similar to that that faced Johnny Manziel coming out of Texas A&M: Mahomes is at his best with easy reads or when the play breaks down and he is allowed to freelance. Mahomes has the physical skill set to be an All-Pro; he has the arm talent to drop throws in from all angles. Yet he currently struggles with timing concepts and full-field reads. Prior to the draft, Mahomes must prove that this style of play is a product of his environment at Texas Tech. If not, there will be a steep learning curve to accommodate for such a stylistic clash in preferred play and running a fully functional and sustainable style of offense. Mahomes is a true boom or bust player, but if he is able to mentally recondition himself and gain consistency in his mechanics he will be a star in the NFL."
What I say now: Needless to say, the reigning Super Bowl champion and MVP went somewhere that successfully ironed out his warts and placed him into an environment that promoted better timing and operation of the offense. Would Mahomes have found this level of success if he went to say the Cleveland Browns in 2017? Probably not. But he didn't and that makes two things a reality. Mahomes reached his star potential for starters. The other?
I was too low on him. Period.
11. Sam Darnold, USC (2018)
What I said then: "Sam Darnold is an exciting young player with the ceiling to be a blue-chip NFL player with more consistent post-snap diagnosis and more disciplined feet. He’s calm and cool under pressure and has impressive maturity in key game situations, such as third-down and red-zone passing. He has a good track record when working on the move and flushed off of spot; directed several key come-from-behind victories throughout his career; seems almost oversensitive to rushers in the pocket and is terrific to find gaps to slip out and throw from on the move. Darnold will bounce around throughout the pocket and is always light on feet and ready to slip rushers. He moves almost like a boxer within the confines of the pocket. A passing offense with a tendency to push the ball down the field would optimize his arm ability."
What I say now: So far this one is trending about how I'd expected. The flashes continue to be enticing but we're reaching the point where we're going to need to start worrying about Darnold's supporting cast and coaching staff in New York. He's going to continue to have some hurdles to clear in order to reach his potential in the pros.
10. Jordan Love, Utah State (2020)
What I say now: "Jordan Love has franchise quarterback qualities and should be regarded as a prospect with a Pro-Bowl ceiling. Love's statistical regression in 2019 isn't indicative of regression in skills or decision making. He was a victim of a poor supporting cast in many instances. Love will need patience and must go to a team with coaching staff able to nurture, develop and cater passing schemes to where he thrives. He isn't plug-and-play but he's a potential game-changing QB."
Love won't be for everyone, but he is for me. If you told me in two years that he ends up being one of the best two passers from the 2020 class, I'd believe you. But if you told me he'd flop hard, I'd also believe you. Love, like Mahomes, will need to go to the right situation in order to see him blossom at the pro level.
9. Lamar Jackson, Louisville (2018)
What I said then: "Lamar Jackson has all-world potential but requires patience and continued coaching to help him meet his ceiling. Throwing on the move and coming up clutch while protected is huge, and he has made huge plays as a runner as well. He can struggle when boxed into the pocket to make sound decisions and be quick to disperse the football prematurely and into danger. Jackson has made notable improvements in two seasons but still has some lapses thanks to casual throwing style. He will fail to work the hips through some throws, which forces the ball to sail and not be driven through to the desired target with consistency. Jackson is a potential game-changing QB but has more incurred risk given his playing style and need for consistency passing downfield."
What I say now: The growth we saw from Jackson in 2019 was thrilling to watch, and the Baltimore Ravens deserve a lot of credit for embracing his style of play and not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Lamar's "all-world" potential was realized early on. He became just the second unanimous MVP in NFL history after blowing the opposition away. Up next? Unseating Mahomes and the Chiefs in 2020.
8. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma (2019)
What I said then: "Kyler Murray is a fascinating draft prospect. His size presents limitations to consistently see intermediate breaks in the middle of the field and will pose an injury concern in the NFL. Murray has speed, escapability, a powerful throwing arm and enough general accuracy to allow gifted catch point receivers to adjust and ensure the catch. He has made some big-time plays in key game situations (against WVU and Texas in 2018). He has composure under pressure is effective to force a missed rusher. If he's flushed up the pocket, he's running. Murray is willing to wait out a target when rolling away from pressure. He’s comfortable in the chaos and his sudden delivery allows him to shoot the ball out quickly under duress. Murray’s mobility can betray him at times, as variance in accuracy expands as he throws on the move outside the pocket. He will work in vast degrees of release point as needed but still generates velocity. Murray is not a one size fits all prospect but in an offensive utilizing RPO/spread concepts, he can be an explosive weapon and effective starting QB."
What I say now: Murray is off to a great start and the Arizona Cardinals have a good marriage going on between him and head coach Kliff Kingsbury. This is as much as we've seen an NFL team embrace the college spread in recent memory and Arizona stands to benefit from being a bit of a trendsetter. Murray will need to continue to grow, but he's well deserved of this ranking among his peers — after you swap out the next two names on the list for Jackson and Mahomes on an amended list, of course. The good news? The Cardinals are off to a hot start this offseason after trading for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to help bolster Murray's supporting cast.
7. Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina (2017)
What I said then: "North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky may be a one-year starter, yet the play he's put on the field suggests he is wise beyond his years. Trubisky will still get caught against trap coverages from time to time, but he plays with a level of poise and control of a much more seasoned quarterback. Trubisky shows a good command of his offense; he's active and vocal in making adjustments at the line of scrimmage and does well reading defenses after the snap to make option based throws. He has had a high percentage of throws that are underneath, inflating his numbers and there's still a good deal of quality play and NFL caliber reads/route combinations as is. Trubisky is a clutch player who makes big-time throws and converting pressure plays. He may need some patience if he's to play early on as he continues to master his skillset but is a potential cornerstone piece."
What I say now: Whoops. Can I say whoops? If we're applying hindsight, Trubisky is probably between 12th and 15th on this list, rubbing elbows with Drew Lock and Dwayne Haskins. I was too eager to buy into Trubisky's ceiling off of a small sample size. It served as a valuable lesson for me, as I assumed growth would happen without any indication of whether or not that would actually be true.
6. Josh Rosen, UCLA (2018)
What I said then: "Josh Rosen is an excellent pro prospect and should be regarded as a potential franchise player. At times, he’s guilty of trying to do too much. When operating in a rhythm, Rosen can be unstoppable as a drop back passer. He’s capable of dissecting defenses from the pocket, even against strong efforts in coverage. His situational awareness to know when to take risks. Rosen's aggressive mentality to push the ball, mechanics, pocket presence and arm talent makes him an excellent fit for a vertical passing offense."
What I say now: Whoops, again? This one is the biggest flop on my list. I was certain Rosen was a polished pocket passer who had enough mobility to extend within the pocket. It's pretty hard to get a gauge on just how far off Rosen really is, given that he's now had four offensive coordinators in 24 months (and an additional three in three seasons at the college level). But what we do know is the Miami Dolphins traded a second-round pick for Rosen one year ago and it quickly became apparent that he wasn't the cerebral quarterback he was billed to be. He struggled to keep his head above water in Miami as the team tried to teach him the basics of calling protections and making checks at the line of scrimmage; things we now know Rosen had never been asked to do before.
5. Justin Herbert, Oregon (2020)
What I say now: "Justin Herbert has all of the physical tools to become a franchise quarterback, particularly for a vertical passing offense. Herbert presents as a player with consistency issues on timing throws and troublesome lapses under pressure. Ball security is another issue. Herbert will need to be aided by high-level interior offensive line play to protect him from consistent duress. If everything clicks, he's a top tier talent. But the wrong situation could be nuclear."
Herbert is a bit of a difficult study because his supporting cast at Oregon was frustratingly bad. The same can be said for a number of other quarterbacks on this list, however. Where do I ultimately stand with Herbert? He's not the most intrinsic playmaker off script, but he's got a high floor and an even higher ceiling when you consider he's finally out of Oregon’s offense.
4. Deshaun Watson, Clemson (2017)
What I said then: "Clemson's Deshaun Watson entered the 2016 season as the consensus top quarterback prospect, yet his junior season did not materialize as many would have hoped. Watson struggled to hit the intermediate and deep throws with consistency that his film has suggested he has the ability to complete. Watson's protection of the football took a step backward as well. He is at his best on plays that involve moving him and the pocket alike; he is highly accurate on the run and will put a high amount of stress on the edges of defenses (and the respective secondary) when throwing and attacking on the move."
What I say now: Watson is a star. His nose for big plays is one of the best in the league and he's constantly elevating the play of those around him. My fear is that the Houston Texans will be unable to successfully build around him and he'll be constantly asked to do too much to prop up his team. We all scoffed when Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney referred to Watson as college football's Michael Jordan, but perhaps he was on to something. Watson is a special, special quarterback.
3. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (2020)
What I say now: "Tua Tagovailoa's only question falls onto his durability after suffering multiple ankle injuries and a dislocated hip. His exposure and mastery of the 2018 vertical offense and 2019 West Coast offense concepts at Alabama provide easy projection to the NFL. He's an elite passer with rare intangibles, short-area quickness and accuracy. Tagovailoa has never met a stage that was too big either. This is a face of a franchise player who, if healthy, will be an elite quarterback soon before long."
If you've got a crystal ball lying around, I would love to take a gander. My only apprehension here is Tagovailoa’s durability and if the team who drafts him can harness his playstyle to ensure he gets the ball out in a timely manner to protect himself as much as possible. If they can, Tagovailoa feels destined for great things. If they can't, we may never see him fully realize his potential.
2. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (2018)
What I said then: "Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield fits best in an offense with primarily intermediate routes. This would allow Mayfield's pocket mobility and field vision to gain chunk plays. He is one of the most clutch passers in recent memory. Key game situations and down/distances consistently bring out the best of him. He will stand in the pocket and stare down pass rushers in order to pull the trigger. Mayfield owns the field with personality and composure. He’s a true team leader by example, has mastered his offense and has systemically been given more on the plate in terms of the passing offense. Mayfield has become less greedy and more selective with big-play shots and more content to take what defense is conceding. He understands zone and man coverages in post-snap. His running package should be present sparingly. He could start immediately in the NFL."
What I say now: I will not hit the panic button after a train wreck of a season in 2019. Former Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens appeared overwhelmed by the job of running his team throughout the year and never realized the team’s potential. Mayfield tossed a high number of interceptions, but nearly half of them hit his receivers on the hands before being intercepted. Between that and some shaky play at offensive tackle and Mayfield should be given the benefit of the doubt for now. His magical stretch in 2018 should be more of the barometer of what we're expecting in 2020 and beyond.
1. Joe Burrow, LSU (2020)
What I say now: "With elite football intelligence, Joe Burrow solves nearly every riddle a defense can pose to him before the snap. He’s a refined pocket passer with an innate sense of the pocket and will defeat pressure with his legs and arm alike. Burrow projects best into a modern spread offense, where he can diagnose soft spaces in the defense and read the full field of play to disperse the ball. With intangibles through the roof, Burrow is a face of the franchise prospect and plug and play starter."
Burrow is coming off the most dominant single-season performance in college football history. He shredded the competition at every turn. No, he's not the biggest, he's not the fastest and he doesn't throw the ball the hardest. But he's so impressive at taking mental inventory before the snap, he's incredibly difficult to rattle and he's pinpoint accurate. Burrow has all the makings of a great one.