Having examined the top tier of quarterbacks for the 2020 NFL Draft – at least as they stand right now – we can turn to the next group of quarterbacks. These three passers could also find their way into the first round. Whether because of their raw talent, the number of teams that could be looking for a new quarterback, the fact that quarterbacks always get pushed up the draft boards, their play down the stretch or some combination of these factors, these three players are still names you could hear in the first round. Yet right now, I would consider these players likely early Day Two selections.
We can start with University of Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts. The transfer from Alabama is producing extremely well this season under Lincoln Riley, completing 71.5% of his passes for 1,758 yards and 17 touchdowns with just three interceptions. In addition, Hurts has contributed with his legs, rushing for 630 yards and eight touchdowns and an average of 8.5 yards per carry.
As we will discuss in a moment, Hurts does benefit from playing in the Big 12 and in a system that gives the quarterback opportunities to make throws all over the field. However, as we say in the scouting world “scout the traits not the scheme.” When digging deeper into Hurts and how he plays the position, there are certainly traits that will translate to the next level.
Hurts has plenty of arm talent and the ability to make throws to all levels of the field with velocity and good ball placement. On this play against UCLA, Hurts (#1) carries out a mesh fake with his running back in the backfield, then squares his feet and shoulders to deliver on a seam route in the middle of the field with good velocity and placement:
The placement on this throw works for me because he puts the ball on the trailing shoulder of his receiver, which can be ideal for throws in the middle of the field. Quarterbacks need to protect their targets in this area with safeties lurking, so this placement from Hurts accomplishes that goal while still giving his receiver a chance to pick up additional yardage after the catch.
On this throw from Hurts against UCLA, the quarterback delivers again in the middle of the field with velocity into a narrow throwing window:
Here we see Hurts carry out a designed pump fake to the boundary, before resetting his feet to make this throw on an intermediate in-cut. The feet are determined here, and not lazy, as he makes sure to again square himself to deliver this pass with velocity and good placement.
On this throw from Oklahoma’s game against Texas Tech, we can see not only the arm talent, but the footwork as well as Hurts’ ability to work through a progression read. Hurts comes out of another mesh in the backfield and immediately flips his feet and hips to the right, to read a dual curl concept. With the receivers to that side of the field covered, the quarterback then resets to the middle of the field to find a deep sit route coming from the opposite side of the formation. Without hesitation, Hurts pulls the trigger on this route and delivers with velocity:
Footwork is so critical to playing the quarterback position, and they are a window into the mind of the passer. Here we can see Hurts working through his reads and keeping his feet under him as he does, similar to what we saw from Gardner Minshew last season.
Of course, Hurts’ athleticism is a big factor in his success this season. His numbers as a ball carrier are impressive, but his ability to create in and out of the pocket is also an element he brings to the table. Here against UCLA, we see the quarterback first use his athleticism to extend a play, and then his eyes to find a target downfield in a scramble drill situation:
With the initial coverage taking away his primary reads, Hurts is forced to roll to the right and buy time for his receivers downfield. While many athletic quarterbacks struggle to throw after making that initial transition from passer to runner, Hurts here makes a good throw downfield on the move on this corner route for a touchdown.
Finally, yes, we had to include what many are calling his “Heisman Moment:”
On this play from Texas we see the footwork, athleticism and strength from Hurts as he escapes pressure, passes the ball behind his back from one hand to the other, skips away from trash at his feet and then makes a strong throw late in the play for a big gain.
As far as red flags go, Hurts’ draft stock might hinge a bit on how two current NFL passers complete their 2019 seasons: Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. The past two first overall selections both came out of this offensive system, and we all know that there are questions about how they would transition to the NFL. Should they start to struggle – or struggle more in the case of Mayfield – teams might be wary of drafting Hurts early. But given his talent, work ethic and success at two different programs, Hurts – at least in my mind – is playing himself into the earlier rounds of this draft — regardless of how people feel about the Riley system.
Next up is Jake Fromm from the University of Georgia. The junior signal caller, who has been the starter for this team since taking over as a freshman during the 2017 season, has not put up the kind of numbers that the other quarterbacks have this season but he has a few things working in his favor when it comes to draft stock. Fromm has completed just over 70 percent of his throws for 1,371 yards and nine touchdowns, with three interceptions. He has posted these numbers while working with a new crop of receivers, a process that Fromm has admitted will take some time.
But what he has going for him in terms of draft positioning is the “pro-style quarterback” tag. Every draft cycle there is a passer who rises up boards during the process because of his NFL “readiness.” Perhaps he works from under center, perhaps he runs a bunch of play-action passing plays where he turns his back to the defense, perhaps he runs more “NFL concepts,” but whatever the reason, the QB catches buzz during the pre-draft process. A few years ago players like C.J. Beathard and Nathan Peterman were given that tag, and last year it was Clayton Thorson.
Hmmmm …maybe those are not the comparisons you want to hear…
But when you watch Fromm, you see a lot of the little things and nuances to playing the position that translate well to playing QB in the NFL. Watch his eyes on this play against the University of Tennessee:
I love how Fromm trains his eyes in the middle of the field, but comes to this curl route along the right sideline very late in the play to make a snap throw. This displays a great understanding of coverage and scheme here, as Fromm knows exactly what to expect from the defense and uses his eyes to manipulate the secondary.
Here is another example of Fromm’s eyes as he works through progressions in the passing game:
On this play against Murray State, you can see Fromm working the passing concept to the left side of the field, before coming to a deep sit route over the football and throwing a strike with good velocity and placement.
Again in his outing against the Racers, you see the eye work on this downfield throw:
Fromm opens to the right here and flashes a pump fake on a potential running back screen, before coming to the left to throw a go route along the opposite sideline.
The Bulldog passer will also benefit from the “pro-style offense” tag thanks to plays like this. On this throw against Murray State, Georgia runs a mirrored hoss concept (hitch-seam), a route design that you see from teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots. Here, with the “middle of the field open” the inside seam routes convert to skinny posts to attack that area of the field, and Fromm reads the coverage perfectly and throws a good ball to the left with velocity:
This is a great read and a solid throw made on time and in rhythm.
Fromm will face some questions about his ceiling as a passer. His arm strength might limit him schematically, and his reputation as a “game manager” could make other quarterbacks more intriguing options given their ceilings in comparison to Fromm’s. But he does a lot of the important, little things, well enough that he will attract serious consideration as the calendar flips to 2020. In addition, if the Bulldogs make a deep run this season, there will be more opportunities for Fromm to stand out on the big stage.
As for his habit of spinning the ball in his hands as he drops in the pocket, you just know that “generic anonymous scout” is going to find a way to turn that into a red flag…
During the “Summer Scouting Season” there is usually a quarterback or two that rises up the early draft boards from lower-tier schools. A few years ago it was Carson Wentz, then it was Josh Allen, and last year it was Daniel Jones.
This year, two names from out west caught the attention of the scouting community: Jordan Love from Utah State and Cole McDonald from the University of Hawaii. While both have struggled at times this season with turnovers, Love is still getting attention as a potential first-round selection because of his impressive arm talent and athleticism.
That arm talent was on display in Utah State’s season opener against Wake Forest. On this touchdown toss we can see Love “click and climb” in the pocket before delivering a strike on a boundary vertical route for the score:
There was also this impressive hole shot on a wheel route against Wake Forest:
Love threw a pair of touchdowns in Utah State’s victory over Colorado State a few weeks ago, and the first came on this deep post route over the top of the defense. On this snap we see the quarterback use his eyes to manipulate the defense a bit, and then makes this deep shot play look so effortless with his mechanics and release:
It was a throw from later in that game against the Rams that best exemplifies Love’s impressive arm talent. On this touchdown throw, Love uncorks another deep pass, this time from an unsettled base and platform:
Love comes to this route in the middle of the field late in the play, after opening up to the left side of the formation. With his feet unset below him, he is still able to get this throw over the top of the defense for a score.
Now, to this point in the season, Love has more interceptions (eight) than touchdown passes (six) so his mistakes and inconsistency are going to be an issue should he declare for the draft. He was given a big stage last week when Utah State traveled to Death Valley to take on LSU (and first-round prospect Joe Burrow) and Love completed just half of his passes and threw three interceptions. So turnovers and mistakes will be an issue. Also, the Aggies run a very uptempo offense where many of his pre-snap decisions are determined from the sidelines before the snap. That might be the wave of new NFL offenses, but it may still leave some scouts wondering about his transition to the league.
Of course, there are even more passers who could work their way up draft boards over the next few months. Players such as Jacob Eason, Ian Book, Sam Ehlinger, Brian Lewerke, and even McDonald could still generate some buzz as draft season unfolds. But right now, these three – plus the three passers in Tier One – look to be in solid position for the 2020 draft cycle.