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Checking in on the quarterbacks that could be available for the Titans in the 2020 draft class

There is a pretty big game featuring two of them coming up this weekend in case you hadn’t heard.

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Mississippi v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Three weeks ago we started browsing the 2020 quarterback class for potential options for a Titans team that seems highly likely to be selecting a passer at or near the top of next year’s draft. I figured now would be a good time to update our list with the Alabama-LSU game coming up on Saturday featuring the two quarterbacks that most view as the consensus top prospects at the position, Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow.

Before we jump into the quarterbacks, I want to do a little mythbusting of ridiculous comments that you’re likely going to hear from Titans fans over the next six months...

“I don’t want them to take anymore quarterbacks from [insert college or conference of any failed former Titans QB here].”

This one is hyper annoying to me for some reason, because it’s so ridiculous. You’ll absolutely hear people say versions of this:

“No to Tua, I don’t want any more Hawaiian QBs.”

As if Marcus Mariota’s lack of pocket presence or injury issues were a result of the island he grew up on.

“I don’t want anything to do with another [Oregon, LSU, Washington, Texas] quarterback... just look at how [Mariota, Mettenberger, Locker, Young] turned out.”

By this logic, the Titans should be looking to draft Alcorn State quarterback Felix Harper in the first round. Or maybe they should take Jarrett Guarantano from Tennessee. Sure, he got benched for a freshman, but that Peyton Manning fella turned out alright in the NFL.

Mariota, Mettenberger, Locker, and Young couldn’t have less to do with the pro prospects of Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Jacob Eason, or Sam Ehlinger. None of these guys are even playing for the same coach or in the same system as their predecessor. Imagine how the Chiefs would have felt if they’d passed up Patrick Mahomes just because Kliff Kingsbury and Graham Harrell didn’t have successful pro careers after leaving Texas Tech.

SEC fans are bad about doing this to other conferences too. I overheard a conversation at lunch the other day as two guys were talking about the QB situation and how they hoped the Titans don’t draft another Pac-12 quarterback. Now we’re ruling out whole conferences based on the results of two players? Did the Pac-12 ruin Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck? Stop with this nonsense. If the player is good, he’s good. It has nothing to do with the sticker on the side of his helmet or which conference he plays in.

“The Titans are going to screw this up like they always do.”

First, I get it. This is a franchise that’s in a pretty nausea-inducing dry spell when it comes to quarterback play. Steve McNair’s MVP season in 2003 is a loooooong time ago at this point. The Titans have failed now with three consecutive swings at a top ten quarterback.

However, can we please stop with the “woe is me” mindset?

Vince Young was drafted in 2006 by Floyd Reese with Jeff Fisher as head coach. We all know that the real reason Young was selected was because late owner Bud Adams famously declared “VY is my guy” and strong armed his football staff into taking the Texas quarterback.

Jake Locker was drafted in 2011 by Mike Reinfeldt to go with head coach Mike Munchak.

Marcus Mariota was drafted in 2015 by Ruston Webster to pair with head coach Ken Whisenhunt.

Bud Adams was the controlling owner during the Young and Locker picks, while the very brief and comical Susie Adams-Smith/Tommy Smith period of ownership oversaw the Mariota pick.

The point of all that is... none of these people have anything to do with the Titans any more. Sure, Susie Adams-Smith still technically owns a third of the franchise, but she’s listed her share of the franchise for sale and seems to no longer want anything to do with owning an NFL football team. The rest of these characters are long gone.

Amy Adams-Strunk, Jon Robinson, and Mike Vrabel — or whoever the coach is by the time the draft gets here — have nothing to do with selecting those previous quarterbacks. So unless your theory is that team President/CEO Steve Underwood or contracts guru Vin Marino are secretly influencing scouting and selection of quarterbacks or that the fireball logo is somehow inhibiting guys from being able to read a defense, I don’t want to hear about how “the Titans never pick good quarterbacks”.

The fact is, we have no idea if Jon Robinson and his scouting staff are going to be good at identifying and selecting a quarterback. If you want to judge him on Luke Falk... well... go for it, but you should admit that grabbing a developmental QB prospect with the 199th overall pick is quite different than drafting the face of your franchise in the first round.

We also don’t know whether whoever is on the offensive staff next year will be good at developing a quarterback. Obviously, things didn’t click with Mariota — and there are a million different ways to cast blame for why they didn’t click based on your personal perception which we don’t have to re-litigate here — but maybe they will with a different quarterback.

Whether or not they can find and develop that player remains to be seen, but I can tell you with a great deal of certainty that Floyd Reese, Mike Reinfeldt, and Ruston Webster are going to have nothing to do with it.

“The Titans won’t lose enough to get a top pick so they have no shot at getting [insert QB here].”

Even if the Titans lose out and finish 4-12, they are almost certainly not going to wind up landing the top overall pick. There are too many really bad teams this year that have pretty much no hope of getting to four wins. The 0-8 Bengals, 1-8 Redskins, 1-7 Dolphins, 1-7 Falcons, and 1-7 Jets aren’t all winning three or four more games.

If the season mercifully ended today, the Titans would draft 13th overall. That’s about where I’d expect them to end up at the end of the season. They could sneak up a couple spots towards the top ten with a poor close to the season, maybe even ending up with a single digit pick if they go 6-10 or worse.

However, they don’t necessarily have to finish with a top two pick to guarantee themselves the chance to draft either Tua or Burrow — if that’s who they covet — they just need a team who already has a franchise quarterback and is willing to make a deal. Most of the twelve teams ahead of Tennessee have either an established franchise quarterback or a young QB that was highly drafted in the last two years:

  1. Bengals (0-8) — QB Pick
  2. Redskins (1-8) — Dwayne Haskins (1st round pick in 2019)
  3. Dolphins (1-7) — QB Pick
  4. Jets (1-7) — Sam Darnold (1st round pick in 2018)
  5. Falcons (1-7) — Matt Ryan
  6. Giants (2-6) — Daniel Jones (1st round pick in 2019)
  7. Browns (2-6) — Baker Mayfield (1st round pick in 2018)
  8. Buccaneers (2-6) — QB Pick
  9. Broncos (3-6) — Drew Lock (2nd round pick in 2019)
  10. Raiders (via 3-5 Bears) — Derek Carr
  11. Cardinals (3-5-1) — Kyler Murray (1st round pick in 2019)
  12. Lions (3-4-1) — Matthew Stafford

Sure, there could be a Josh Rosen-Kyler Murray scenario in play, but those are the exception, not the rule. The Titans should be rooting for the Bengals, Dolphins, and Bucs to win as many games as possible for the rest of the season while the other teams on this list lose. The Bengals and Dolphins play each other in Week 16.

Trades to go up for a quarterback are always expensive and Chase Young’s presence as a Myles Garrett-esque defensive prospect complicates matters a bit. Getting a team like the Falcons, for example, to part with the opportunity to draft an elite pass rusher and slide all the way back to where the Titans are likely to pick would be a tough sell.

However, moving up into the top five is certainly possible. Both the Rams and Eagles did it in 2016 from spots similar to where I would expect the Titans to wind up picking this year. We are still a long way from the final draft order being set and a lot can happen over the next eight weeks. If you want to get an idea for what the pick cost to move up for a quarterback might be, this is a good recap of all the recent trades for passers in the first round. You can safely assume that the Titans would have to part with at least their 2021 first round pick to make the move, but if you get the right QB, it’s always worth it.

There is also a chance that those teams at the top don’t end up liking the same quarterbacks that the Titans do. The class is going to be pretty deep this year and draft boards are often not as perfectly aligned from team to team as fans might expect. Just because you think that Tua and Burrow are the clear top two, doesn’t mean that the Bengals or Dolphins will by the time next April rolls around.

With that out of the way, here is my update on the potential members of the 2020 quarterback class:

1. Joe Burrow, LSU

Class: Redshirt Senior

Size: 6’-4”, 216 lbs

2019 Stats: 205 of 260 (78.8%) for 2,805 yards (10.8 YPA), 30 touchdowns, 4 interceptions

Burrow has continued to roll in recent weeks, helping his LSU Tigers remain undefeated with wins over Mississippi State and Auburn. He’s already broken the school record for touchdown passes in a season, total touchdowns in a season, and 300-yard games in a season with four games left to play. He’ll almost certainly break Rohan Davey’s record for passing yards in a season by the Bayou Bengals are done with their game against Ole Miss on November 16th.

However, the big game for Burrow is upon us. He’s already passed tests against Texas, Florida, and Auburn with flying colors, but all eyes will be on Tuscaloosa this Saturday for LSU-Bama. A big game on the road with the national spotlight shining directly on him would help continue his momentum towards the top QB spot on draft boards.

He’s already there for me though. His combination of accuracy, anticipation, leadership, and pocket mobility make him the best overall prospect in the class to me. That being said, there are some that still project Burrow as a mid-first round type grade so it’s not a complete slam dunk that he’s the first or second QB off the board.

2. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

Class: Junior (eligible to return to school)

Size: 6’-1”, 218 lbs

2019 Stats: 145 of 194 (74.7%) for 2,166 yards (11.2 YPA), 27 touchdowns, 2 interceptions

Tua suffered a high ankle sprain during Alabama’s 35-13 win over Tennessee three weeks ago and was forced to sit out of the team’s win over Arkansas the week after so we have barely seen him play since the last time I wrote about the quarterbacks. Now coming off a bye week, he’s expected to play in the No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup with LSU on Saturday.

The injury issue is something that has to be considered when discussing Tua as a prospect at this point. He had problems staying healthy in 2018 and this same ankle issue popping up again, this time on the opposite leg, seems to be a bit of a red flag.

As a player, there is a ton to like about Tua. He’s able to win both within and outside of structure effectively. He’s fantastic in the pocket and a real load to bring down thanks to his thick, powerful build. I’ve made the comparison before, and I’ll stick with it... Tua is very reminiscent of a left-handed Russell Wilson.

The consensus on Tua is much tighter. Most still have him as QB1 and those that don’t absolutely have him as QB2. He won’t fall outside of the top five barring some major medical red flags between now and draft day.

3. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma

Class: Senior

Size: 6’-2”, 219 lbs

2019 Stats: 133 of 180 (73.9%) for 2,469 yards (13.7 YPA), 21 touchdowns, 3 interceptions

Hurts is a guy that I have moved way up my board recently. He continues to put up video game numbers for Lincoln Riley. Since our last update, he’s gone 16 of 17 for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 52-14 pasting of West Virginia and then 19 of 26 for 395 yards and a touchdown in a shocking 48-41 upset loss to Kansas State. During those two games he’s also put up another 171 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground in addition to his prolific passing stats.

The ridiculous numbers are one thing — and certainly, Riley’s fantastic scheme has something to do with those — but the way Hurts is producing these stats is legitimately impressive. He’s been college football’s most accurate thrower in the intermediate 11-19 yard range and the second most accurate deep passer according to charting from Ian Wharton.

Add that downfield accuracy to his powerful arm, elusiveness, and leadership qualities, and you have a pretty attractive quarterback prospect. Most don’t have Hurts quite this high right now, but I think he’s made a real argument for first round consideration.

4. Jacob Eason, Washington

Class: Redshirt Junior (eligible to return to school)

Size: 6’-6”, 227 lbs

2019 Stats: 186 of 285 (65.3%) for 2,297 yards (8.1 YPA), 20 touchdowns, 5 interceptions

Eason’s Huskies have lost two of their last three to drop to a disappointing 5-4 on the season and he’s a little bit of a rollercoaster with really high highs and really low lows. Two weeks ago he outplayed Justin Herbert despite his team losing a close 35-31 game against Oregon and then the very next week he threw a game changing pick six and had a killer fumble deep in his own territory that allowed Utah to come back to beat Washington 33-28.

There is a lot to like about Eason. He’s got the prototypical size-arm strength-accuracy combination that the NFL has traditionally gone crazy over. However, there are questions about his decision making, especially under pressure, and about his “mental makeup” as some quotes from Matt Miller’s recent article brought to light.

As to the mental makeup, scouts have talked about this all summer and now into the fall with Eason. No one has accused him of being a bad person, but the dreaded “football character” that is often talked about in scouting circles isn’t seen positively for Eason. Football character can mean different things to different evaluators, but when pressed on specifics regarding Eason, one regional scout said: “He’s just not very mature and doesn’t handle the little things well that you want at the position. Honestly, going back to school [for his senior season] could be good for him to grow up.”

The sample size is still relatively small with Eason. His only other year as a starter was his freshman season at Georgia in 2016 and most of that work holds very little bearing on the player he is three years later. It wouldn’t be entirely shocking to see him go back to school for his senior season, but if he comes out, I suspect his physical tools will convince a team to take him before the end of Round 1.

5. Justin Herbert, Oregon

Class: Senior

Size: 6’-6”, 237 lbs

2019 Stats: 200 of 288 (69.4%) for 2,329 yards (8.1 YPA), 24 touchdowns, 2 interceptions

Opinions will vary wildly on these next two guys. Some still have Herbert at the QB2 in this class, most have him no lower than QB3.

Like Eason, it’s not hard to understand what people might see in Herbert. He’s got elite size, a cannon of an arm, and combines that an surprising amount of athleticism. If the whole quarterback thing didn’t work out, Herbert could probably make the transition to tight end if he wanted to. He’s that athletic.

The questions with Herbert are plentiful though. He’s had more than his fair share of injury issues during his college career and struggles to avoid taking big shots. Herbert also struggles with pocket awareness, and while his overall completion percentage is very good, that number is boosted by an offense that throws a ton of passes at or behind the line of scrimmage. Downfield, Herbert has the arm to make all the throws, but his accuracy comes and goes.

Like Eason, he also got knocked for his mental makeup in the same piece from Miller.

“I’ve never understood the love with this kid. He might look the part, but he’ll get someone fired. He doesn’t have it.” If you’re a longtime reader here or listener of the Stick to Football podcast, you’ve no doubt heard scouts’ concerns about Justin Herbert’s mental makeup. He’s been called “soft” a lot—and in private conversations with a former member of the Oregon football staff, I’ve heard the same concerns. “He lacks a killer mentality” is how one area scout put it this week.

This may be too low for Herbert given his physical abilities, but to me, he and Eason are very similar. I just prefer Eason a touch more.

6. Jake Fromm, Georgia

Class: Junior (eligible to return to school)

Size: 6’-2”, 220 lbs

2019 Stats: 143 of 204 (70.1%) for 1,685 yards (8.3 YPA), 11 touchdowns, 3 interceptions

Fromm has already become 2020’s version of what Josh Allen was in 2018: the quarterback that scouts like, but everyone else loves to make fun of. You won’t go a single Saturday without seeing hundreds of “Jake Fromm is trash” takes on Twitter. However, Fromm continues to stick pretty high on most draft boards from those who talk to scouts.

The reason for the split seems pretty obvious. Jake Fromm is boring to watch as a quarterback. He doesn’t have the big arm that Eason or Herbert have. He doesn’t have the electric athleticism that Hurts has. He’s not putting up the huge video game numbers than Tua and Burrow are. The things he does well — according to quotes from scouts — are all the things that you can’t watch on your TV. He’s incredibly bright with a football IQ that has been compared to Andrew Luck that he uses to keep Georgia in advantageous calls throughout games. He’s got excellent anticipation and accuracy in the short-to-intermediate range and he’s an great leader off the field. None of that is exciting to watch, even if they do help win football games.

Comps for Fromm range all over the board from Case Keenum to Andy Dalton to Drew Brees (yes, that’s a real comp for him that I’ve seen from multiple respected scouting analysts). I do think there is potential for him to succeed at the NFL, but his lack of arm talent will limit him to fitting specific systems that don’t require a lot of vertical, downfield throws or deep outbreaking routes.

7. Jamie Newman, Wake Forest

Class: Redshirt Junior (eligible to return to school)

Size: 6’-4”, 245 lbs

2019 Stats: 166 of 247 (67.2%) for 2,059 yards (8.3 YPA), 20 touchdowns, 5 interceptions

Newman hasn’t made it on most top quarterback prospect lists just yet, but he probably should start getting some consideration. At 6’-4” and 245 pounds, he’s a physical specimen with plus arm strength and athleticism.

Getting Wake Forest to 7-1, a top-25 ranking, and the 17th highest scoring offense in the country is no small feat in his first full year as a starter. The small track record is really all that’s keeping him from being talked about with the rest of this group, but having watched him live a few times now, I think it’s time to start the conversation.

Newman plays with poise and confidence in the pocket and shows the ability to make throws all over the field.

He has a big test coming up on November 16th when Wake travels to Clemson. That will be the game to watch to see if Newman can make a push up draft boards late in the season.

8. Jordan Love, Utah State

Class: Junior (eligible to return to school)

Size: 6’-4”, 220 lbs

2019 Stats: 176 of 295 (59.7%) for 2,014 yards (6.8 YPA), 9 touchdowns, 12 interceptions

Jordan Love is not the 8th most talented QB in this class. In fact, he might be the most gifted when it comes to natural arm talent. His arm isn’t as strong as Eason’s or Herbert’s, but Love can make all the throws and he can make them off-platform and with pinpoint accuracy. This quote from Dane Brugler’s recent quarterback rankings provides some insight into how the NFL still views Love even after his struggles this season.

NFC East scout: “We’ve got our guy (quarterback), but if we were in the market, Love has the best raw talent and potential of this group. Just scratching the surface.”

That being said, his 2019 season has been nothing short of a disaster as his stat line would suggest. There are some reasons for those struggles — he lost a lot of talent around him as well as his head coach/playcaller — but having watched Love a lot this year, he’s also just making poor decisions.

His decision after this season will be very interesting. He’s still got another year of eligibility, but if there is still a demand for him from NFL teams I think there is at least a chance that he goes ahead and declares for the draft. The other possibility is a graduate transfer after this season to a big time program to show what he can do when surrounded by elite talent and coaching.

If he does enter the draft, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him sneak into the first round, maybe even as the third or fourth quarterback off the board due to his immense upside. He would need to land in a spot that can afford to be patient with him though. Love needs a team that will work with him to develop the mental side of the game.

I had Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger on this list last time, but I’m dropping him off. He has continued to play well outside of one really rough game against TCU, but I just don’t see him coming out in this year’s class. He seems poised to head back for his senior season and join the 2021 class with Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, and possibly a couple of the players listed above if they decide to return.

There are three quarterbacks above that we know will come out — Burrow, Hurts, and Herbert — and I would say that Tua is a virtual lock. He’s still widely viewed as the QB1 and risking that status to come back and compete with Lawrence and Fields for that honor in 2021 makes no sense. If even one or two of the other four underclassmen come out, it would make this the deepest class in recent memory. There are all different types of quarterbacks to choose from as well so figuring out which one fits what they want to do on offense will be critical for a team like the Titans, who may not be able to get their first choice on the board.

Projecting fit is impossible at this point because we have no idea who will be directing the Titans offense in 2020 or what system they will want to run. The ideal scenario would be to find an offensive coach who is flexible enough to adapt and build around various skill sets at the QB position, but even those coaches will have their own preferences when it comes to quarterback traits.

Which QB do you like best?