While the Chicago Bears’ Week 12 victory over the New York Giants may have quelled some immediate panic in the Windy City, concerns remain over the future of quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
To that end, we at PFW are going to start diving deeper into the options outside of the Bears’ roster to address the quarterback room. In this piece we will recap some of what we saw from the potential draft prospects this past week on the collegiate gridiron, as well as taking a deeper dive into one individual prospect.
Burrow continued his impressive senior campaign in LSU’s victory over Arkansas, completing 23 of 28 passes for 327 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Part of what led to his rise up draft boards - even well before the injury to Tua Tagovailoa - was on display Saturday night. Burrow’s third touchdown pass of the evening, a 50-yard scoring strike to Ja’Marr Chase, came on a vertical throw when the QB was facing some interior pressure and a hand in his face. Burrow’s demeanor in the pocket and competitive toughness have been hallmarks of his 2019 season, and will make him a draft favorite come springtime.
Herbert’s up and down season continued on Saturday night, as the Oregon Ducks suffered a stunning upset in Tempe. His performance against the Arizona Sun Devils was emblematic of his senior year. He completed 20 of 36 passes for 304 yards and a pair of touchdown, but also threw two critical interceptions in the fourth quarter that gave Arizona State the chance to pull the upset.
The first came on a sprint-out concept when Herbert was much too slow to throw a comeback route and the pass was left too far inside, giving the defender a chance to make a play on the football. The second came when Herbert struggled to handle a low snap and then threw to his first read who was blanketed in coverage.
Herbert still has some raw traits and promise that scouts will love, but his shaky performance against ASU as well as an early season loss against Auburn will have some doubting his potential.
Oklahoma kept their playoff hopes alive on Saturday night with a 28-24 victory over TCU in Norman. In the win, Hurts competed 11 of 21 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns, to go with an interception. The quarterback’s biggest contributions came on the ground, where he was the Sooners’ leading rusher with 28 carries for 173 yards and two more scores.
He will be a tough evaluation from a projection and scheme-fit viewpoint. There is certainly a path where he could be a dangerous NFL quarterback, but finding a team willing to construct an offense around his style of play might be a difficult proposition. We do know that Hurts will be a darling of the evaluation process from a meeting standpoint. Every report out of Tuscaloosa and now Norman is that Hurts is an impressive young man and a true leader in the locker room and on the field. For the quarterback position, that matters a great deal.
The Georgia Bulldogs gutted out a 19-13 victory over Texas A&M, but Fromm turned in another mediocre performance in the win. He completed just 11 of 23 passes for 16 yards and a touchdown, and while the scoring strike was a beautiful fade route in the end zone, Fromm’s play this year has me wondering about his ceiling as a passer.
I do remain convinced that he has a solid floor as a quarterback, which could make him an intriguing Day Two pick. In the right environment and offense he could develop into a well-rounded quarterback, but this Texas A&M film might not be a reason people point to when his name is finally called on draft day.
Of course, he could decide given his play this season to return to campus...
Another quarterback who might have a tough decision to make is Love from Utah State. He came into the 2019 season as a darling of the football evaluation world, and his raw traits and impressive arm strength are still things that scouts will love whenever the junior decides to enter the draft.
But Saturday night against Boise State Love hand another up and down performance. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown, to go with an interception that was returned for a score. That play highlights a bit of the risk-reward that comes with Love. He has incredible arm talent but sometimes that leads to a quarterback trusting his arm too much, creating situations like this:
Even with mistakes like this, coaches and scouts are going to look at the arm talent, pocket mobility and athleticism and believe they can get Love to play at an NFL level on their team. Reports indicate that scouts are finding it hard to quit Love, and if he continues to hear that he is a viable Round 1 prospect, it is hard to see him passing up the draft.
This week we will dive a bit deeper into Eason, but for now we have to highlight what was a shaky performance from him and the Washington offense. The Huskies fell down early and trailed 13-0 at halftime in Boulder against Colorado, and while Eason threw a touchdown in the second half to get Washington back in the game, it was not enough as the visitors fell 20-14.
Eason has great arm talent and some good athleticism for the position, but he makes some curious decisions as a passer and his pocket presence can be lacking at times. In addition, the Washington offense is not exactly catered to his strengths as a quarterback, which makes the evaluation process difficult. Some are starting to step away from the idea of him as a top-flight passer, and with a year of eligibility remaining Eason could decide to forgo the draft. I still think there is a good quarterback inside of him, but he’ll need to show something in the season finale to convert some new doubters.
I wanted to highlight some under-the-radar quarterbacks to close out this part of the piece, and we will start with a quarterback who etched his name in some school record books on Saturday. Iowa’s quarterback currently sits at second all-time in school history with 66 touchdown passes, eight behind Chuck Long, and third all-time in passer yardage, just 302 yards behind second place. He has two more games to add to those numbers.
He did not get into the end zone on Saturday in Iowa’s win over Illinois, but he did produce perhaps one of the more memorable plays of his career with this pocket escape and downfield throw:
Now, every draft season there is a quarterback whose name starts to catch fire in January during the Senior Bowl circuit, and I would nominate Stanley as the passer to watch for those accolades in early 2020. Playing in the Iowa offense gives him that background that evaluators love, the “pro-style” passer who turns his back to the defense on play-action drops into the pocket. Plus, the level of experience he brings to the position is going to make him a strong participant during the white board sessions with teams. He might not be a dynamic prospect, but we have seen players with this background rise up boards during the process. Stanley could as well.
Last year we saw a one-year starter light it up for Mike Leach and then go onto success at the Senior Bowl and beyond. Could Gordon follow in Gardner Minshew’s footsteps? The senior passer is putting up prodigious numbers for Washington State this season and that continued on Saturday night in the Cougars’ 54-53 victory over Oregon State. Gordon threw for a season-best 606 yards and completed 50 of 70 passes, including six touchdowns and three interceptions. In the victory he set conference records for passing yardage in a season (4,920) and touchdown passes in a season (45).
Believe me, I will have much, much more on Gordon in the coming weeks and months. I am extremely intrigued by what he brings to the table. But I will mention this: His prowess in working underneath and against zone coverage schemes truly stands out. For an offense that looks to attack in that area of the field, Gordon could be a great fit in Chicago.
Deep Dive - Jacob Eason and the Middle of the Field
Let’s close this out by taking a bit of a deeper dive into Eason. In each of these pieces we will put a quarterback under the microscope and examine some of the traits that either are promising for his potential, or point to areas of concern.
This week we can take a look at Eason and his ability to read the middle of the field and manipulate defenders with his eyes. As previously mentioned, his might be a difficult evaluation given the Washington offense. The Huskies run a ton of screens, and they can account for a large number of his attempts. For example, of the 25 dropbacks I charted in his game against Hawaii, 11 were screen passes.
What this means is that evaluators will need to dig deeper into his tape. Scout the traits and not the scheme is the rule.
It also means that the Huskies’ offense will use their reliance on screens to their advantage in the downfield passing game, as they do on this design against Hawaii:
Washington shows the Warriors a screen to the left side of the field, with the slot receiver showing a block on the boundary defender while the outside receiver angles back for a potential screen throw. Eason (#10) brings his eyes there first, and then to the middle of the field on the vertical release from the wing tight end. That bit of manipulation puts the free safety in a bind and creates space for the backside post route:
The quarterback rips in a perfect throw for the touchdown. On the end zone angle you can see how ideal the placement was on this pass:
Eason’s ability to read the middle of the field shows up as well on the shallow cross design. On this read and throw against BYU, Washington is able to convert a third down opportunity when the quarterback diagnoses man coverage and makes the right read with the football:
Washington would return to this design to close out that very drive. Only on the second implementation of shallow cross, the quarterback makes a good “no throw” decision. Eason sees that a backside defender is in position to jump the crossing route in BYU’s zone coverage, so he pulls the football down and rolls out to his left. That is when he finds a receiver left wide open in the back corner of the end zone for a score:
The Cougars drop into zone coverage, and the underneath defenders take away his primary reads, the two crossing routes in the middle of the field. Rather than forcing a throw into a precarious situation, Eason pulls the football down and buys time, rolling to his left. That is when the vertical route along the left boundary becomes uncovered, and the QB makes a good throw along the sideline for the touchdown.
Later against BYU the Huskies turn to another fake screen concept, and it gives us a chance to close this out by seeing Eason again manipulate a defender in the middle of the field. Facing a 2nd and 10 in the red zone, the Washington offense aligns with Eason in the shotgun and they show another fake screen to the left side of the field:
On the right side the Huskies run “dino,” or double-post. Watch as Eason comes out of the mesh fake with his running back and then moves his eyes from the fake screen, to the inside post and finally to the outside post for the touchdown.
The end zone angle has a perfect view of how Eason’s eyes influence the safety and create just enough room for this throw. And it is a perfect throw:
Eason still has his flaws, and there will be more than enough time to cover those. Furthermore, he may decide to return to school. But reading the middle of the field is an area where he has shown some promise, and if he decides to enter the draft that might be one of his strengths as a prospect.