LSU QB Joe Burrow
Joe Burrow, for my money, is the lone QB in this class who transcends scheme. That isn’t to say certain concepts, personnel packages, and philosophies won’t be more helpful to him than others, but Burrow has the tools to function properly in any system. Burrow’s accuracy, pocket management, and sharp processing skills can fit to the mold of any offensive scheme.
The chance of Burrow slipping anywhere past the Cincinnati Bengals feels slim, however. Burrow appears to be almost universally propped up as the top quarterback, and has the cleanest medical history between himself, Tua Tagovailoa, and Justin Herbert. The Bengals are also ripe for a rebuild and already proved to be done with Andy Dalton last year when they benched him for a month or so in favor of rookie Day 3 pick Ryan Finley, who struggled mightily.
In Cincinnati, Burrow would be playing under HC Zac Taylor. A rookie HC in 2019, Taylor comes from the Sean McVay coaching tree, serving under McVay as both a wide receivers coach (2017) and quarterbacks coach (2018). While no offense is ever a 1-for-1 copy of another, shades of the McVay offense showed up in Taylor’s offense with respect to play-action, tight splits, and emphasizing the need to manufacture space over the 11-20 yard area. Furthermore, the offense looked quietly put together whenever Dalton was in at quarterback, though their success waned as the year went on for a number of talent-related reasons.
Let’s start with the overarching passing philosophy. Like McVay, Taylor likes to attack the intermediate and deep areas of the field with crossers, posts of various depths, dig routes, and seam routes. When mixed with play-action, these passing concepts can be deadly for a QB willing to let it rip without being scared of the consequence. Burrow checks that box. Additionally, Burrow is exceptionally accurate, both in the traditional sense and in understanding how to throw around defenders to shield the ball away from them. While Burrow doesn’t have the biggest arm around, neither does Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, or Case Keenum, all of whom have shown success in this style of system.
In terms of cultural fit, Burrow should be perfect. Burrow is Ohio born and raised, and is entering a team that needs some degree of resilience from their QB as they trudge through their rebuild. Throwing a young QB into a struggling and/or rebuilding roster can be difficult. It’s much tougher than, say, Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson landing on already competitive teams, or even Aaron Rodgers doing so back in 2005 when the Packers were still competing with Brett Favre under center. Maybe Burrow isn’t going to light a fire under the Bengals and instantly drag them to the playoffs, but he does seem up to the task of withstanding the potential hardships of leading a team that probably won’t be competitive out of the gate.
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa
Unlike Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa’s skill set doesn’t quite suggest he is a transcendent talent, at least not to me. That being said, Tagovailoa does have clear strengths and many of those strengths can be accentuated in a modern offense.
Maybe the best example of Tagovailoa’s ideal scheme fit is the 2019 Carolina Panthers. With Norv and Scott Turner leading the offense, the Panthers leaned on RPOs (run-pass options), general play-action, screen passes, a quick-passing game that highlighted the running back, and a slew of creative shifts and motions to blend concepts together — all while operating primarily from 11 and 12 personnel. Now, most of this would make an offense easier for any QB, but Tagovailoa in particular has a quick mental trigger and an equally quick physical trigger, in addition to fantastic accuracy, all of which makes him a prime candidate for an offense that relies on getting the ball out on-time and, typically, early in the down.
Carolina’s coaching staff was overhauled, of course, so I’m not certain Carolina is actually Tagovailoa’s best fit anymore, though he’d surely impress under OC Joe Brady. Rather, their style of offense from last season fits Tagovailoa’s skill set, no matter which team that may be with.
A similar team and offensive style is the Indianapolis Colts. HC Frank Reich was the OC during Philadelphia’s Super Bowl run and his offense was instrumental in getting Andrew Luck back on his feet in 2018. Unfortunately, Luck retired and Reich’s reputation faded a bit because the team couldn’t overcome the sudden departure of a franchise QB, but his offensive genius was still very much present, even if the positive results weren’t as much. Reich is a bit more inclined to use heavier personnel packages and emphasize marrying pass concepts to his run concepts, which helps in selling play-action, but many of the same overarching approaches from Carolina’s 2019 offense can be found in Reich’s offense.
Best Fit: Indianapolis, Carolina
Oregon QB Justin Herbert
Justin Herbert doesn’t have the chops to thrive in any system. Between his functional accuracy and high-end physical tools, he may be able to get by in any system, but he’s not exactly a plug-and-play star. With Herbert, the offense should not ask him to go 1-2-3 through his reads very often, and should instead focus on packaged plays (basically an RPO read pre-snap instead of post-snap) and deep play-action passing.
In a lot of ways, Herbert is reminiscent of Ryan Tannehill: athletic, strong arm, excels on play-action, somewhat limits the offense’s ability to craft a true drop back passing scheme. Herbert, like Tannehill, can struggle the longer a play goes on unless it’s a play-action shot play. Herbert can get restless in the pocket, for one, but he also tends to lose his sense of where the ball needs to go if he isn’t getting it out immediately. That doesn’t necessarily mean Herbert will just fire a willy-nilly pass as result of his uncertainty, but rather, he will hold onto the ball longer than he should and end up taking a sack, just like Tannehill.
However, everything the Tennessee Titans did last year with emphasizing the run game, abusing play-action, and limiting their true drop back passing put a spotlight on Tannehill’s strengths while negating many of his weaknesses. Of course, their offense was producing at an unsustainable clip that eventually caught up to them in the postseason, but it was clear that they had found a functional structure for Tannehill to work in. All of the same steps could be taken with Herbert, whether that is in Tennessee (who knows what they do with Tannehill) or elsewhere.
As far as “elsewhere” goes, a couple of teams come immediately to mind who both fit that offensive style and could use a quarterback early: the Cincinnati Bengals and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Bengals, however, are more than likely to target Burrow, so getting Herbert into Zac Taylor’s Sean McVay-esque system is a bit of a pipe dream. The emphasis on play-action and smattering of deep over, post, and seam routes would be a dream for Herbert. Alas, it’s more likely he finds that in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars may very well give Gardner Minshew the keys, or they may not want to draft a first-round quarterback considering the money they are still paying Nick Foles through at least 2020, but quality quarterback prospects should always be on the table. For all of the same reasons Herbert would fit in Tennessee or Cincinnati, Herbert would be a nice fit in Jay Gruden’s Jacksonville offense. Gruden, quietly, is as much of an influence on the league as anyone else, including him grooming McVay in an OC role before McVay branched off to form a coaching branch of his own. Gruden’s West Coast, play-action centric offense would benefit Herbert by giving him space to throw over the middle and by moving him out of the pocket consistently on boot-action rollouts.
Best Fit: Cincinnati, Tennessee, Jacksonville
Utah State QB Jordan Love
Of the seven quarterbacks featured in this piece, Jordan Love is the toughest to pin down stylistically. From a tool set standpoint, Love is like a 95% version of Herbert — tall, good athlete, strong arm. In terms of his comforts and play patterns, though, Love is all over the place.
When playing within structure, Love appears most comfortable in the 1-10 yard area, specifically on slants, shallows, “fin” routes, etc. Anything breaking under ten yards, especially if it’s toward the middle of the field, is a comfort zone for Love. Between his utmost confidence (for better or worse), quick release, and above average ball placement, Love can make a living in a quick-game environment that is designed well.
If Love’s affinity for the short area is the primary criteria for finding his fit, a couple of teams come to mind. The first is the Chicago Bears. Considering I’ve compared Love to “a version of Mitchell Trubisky without awful mechanics,” it’s only natural that I believe Love could play in the same system Trubisky currently does. HC Matt Nagy’s offense is a conservative, RPO-centric offshoot of Andy Reid’s offense. The abundance of screens, West Coast quick game concepts, and RPOs would put Love right in his comfort zone and get the most value out of his rapidfire release. Being that Love is a more accurate passer than Trubisky and shouldn’t be a downgrade from a processing standpoint (low bar, I know), it’s reasonable to suggest Love in Year 2 could be a cleaner, more reliable QB than Trubisky has been at any point.
The other team that comes to mind is Oakland. Jon Gruden also runs a West Coast offense with a particularly well-crafted quick game. Through the first half of 2019, in particular, Oakland’s passing game was humming because Gruden made things easy in the quick game and Derek Carr was executing at a career-best clip. That production slipped as the year went on for a variety of other reasons (OL started to struggle, Carr regressed individually, the lack of talent at WR caught up to them), but the evidence of an impressive passing scheme is there. Love could step in and provide the same quick-game savvy that Carr does while hopefully adding a dash of aggression that Gruden seems to desperately want.
“Just a dash” of aggression isn’t really the bargaining terms when drafting Love, though. He is reckless. Specifically, Love is reckless not for a disregard for potential consequences a la Ben Roethlisberger, but because he just doesn’t see the field consistently well. When having to execute longer-developing plays and get beyond his initial read, Love loses track of where moving coverage pieces are going to be and will throw directly at them. Linebackers are especially troublesome for Love, similar to the way they are troublesome for Jameis Winston and Jimmy Garoppolo, both of whom have a tendency to stick linebackers dead in the chest a bit too often.
Best Fit: Chicago, Oakland, Carolina
Washington QB Jacob Eason
Jacob Eason falls under two categories: aggressive downfield passer with a strong arm, and deep-drop play-action passer. Any offense crafted with at least one of those archetypes in mind will be a fit for Eason.
With that in mind, the two easy fits to suggest are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s start with the Bucs.
The Bucs employ HC Bruce Arians, a hyper aggressive pass-centric coach who has become popular for his saying, “No risk it, no biscuit.” Arians has never been shy about stressing his desire to throw down the field. Whether it’s his sentiments in press conferences or his play-calling tendencies on the field, there is never a doubt as to what Arians is all about. Arians was an OC in Pittsburgh for five years (2007-2011) during the prime Ben Roethlisberger years, an OC and interim HC with Indianapolis in 2012 during Andrew Luck’s rookie year, and the HC in Arizona wherein he revived the career of Carson Palmer. At each and every stop, pushing the ball down the field was paramount and all of those offenses were dang good at it.
With Jameis Winston behind center in Tampa Bay, the same has remained true for Arians. Per NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Winston ranked second only to Matthew Stafford in Intended Air Yards, coming in at 10.5 Intended Air Yards per attempt. Eason would fit right into Arians’ desired play style.
The other avenue a team could take when drafting Eason is to go all-in on play-action. While any quarterback can operate on play action, particularly strong-armed quarterbacks with no filter for fear over the middle of the field often make for effective play-action passers, even if the rest of their skill set is imperfect. Ryan Tannehill, Matthew Stafford, and Russell Wilson are a few good examples of strong-armed quarterbacks who are willing to rifle one into a tight window as soon as they hitch from the top of their drop back. Teams with a favoring toward under-center formations and play-action concepts — Tennessee, Green Bay, Jacksonville — should be ones to watch out for while Eason is on the board.
Best Fit: Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Detroit
Georgia QB Jake Fromm
Jake Fromm is the antithesis of Jordan Love and Justin Herbert. Rather than being an incomplete mental processor with immense physical tools and clear strengths over the intermediate section of the field, Fromm is a sharp, accurate field-general whose lackluster physical tools hold him back from reaching higher heights.
Above all else, the issue for Fromm is arm strength. At best, Fromm has an arm akin to Andy Dalton’s or late-career Drew Brees and he finds a way to be great enough elsewhere that his borderline functional arm strength can be overcome. At worst, Fromm is David Fales — a weak-armed backup who only bounces around the league attached to the hip of a particular coach who really likes him for whatever reason (for Fales, that coach is Adam Gase).
As such, Fromm needs an offense that caters to short passing and yards-after-catch. Fromm, if nothing else, is accurate and shows exceptional understanding in how to lead pass-catchers across the field to set up yards-after-catch. He is a point guard or distributor from the QB position more so than he is a playmaker.
Offenses such as the Saints (Sean Payton), Patriots (Josh McDaniels), and Raiders (Jon Gruden) can all cater to this particular strength of Fromm’s. Fromm has the sharp processing and decision making to find success in these offenses, particularly in their extensive quick-game schemes. What Fromm lacks in arm strength, he makes up for with smart pre-snap reads and a lightning-fast trigger, both mentally and physically. There is no certainty Fromm ever develops arm strength or proves that he can mask his arm strength down the field, but as far as operating the basic structure of the offense and thriving in quick game, Fromm can get it done.
The Saints and Patriots are particularly enticing situations, assuming their respective quarterbacks stick around for at least one more year. Giving Fromm a year to potentially build up some arm strength in an NFL conditioning program while getting a year of experience under his belt in the system could go a long way in getting him ready to start NFL games, whether that be as a spot starter or as a legitimate starter down the line.
Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts
Jalen Hurts is one of the easiest players to find fits for. It’s not that Hurts is so good that he can fit anywhere, it’s that his strengths are so clear that a handful of teams would quite obviously get value out of him as a backup.
The Buffalo Bills is the most obvious one. Hurts played under OC Brian Daboll at Alabama and Daboll’s offenses in Buffalo have looked similar to some of his Alabama offenses. Considering how hard of a worker Hurts appears to be by all accounts, it wouldn’t take long for Hurts to re-familiarize himself with Daboll’s offense and perhaps fast-track himself to functionality as a backup because of that. Additionally, Hurts’ ability as a runner makes sense as a contingency plan to Josh Allen. Hurts, like Allen, is primarily a downhill runner, at least as much as a QB can be, and it only makes sense to back up a mobile QB with another mobile QB.
Next on the list is the Baltimore Ravens. With the nature of Baltimore’s heavy-personnel, run-first option offense, Hurts would be a valuable backup and potential short-yardage weapon. Of course, Hurts is a completely different style of runner than Lamar Jackson, but being able to maintain the general structure of Baltimore’s option-centric offense would be of use to the Ravens. Furthermore, Jackson, for as talented as he is, has proven a little shaky in short-yardage situations. Jackson isn’t Cam Newton or Josh Allen — he can’t just plunge forward through a pile of defensive linemen. Hurts, however, is a much denser player and a lower runner, which would make him perfect as a fill-in or decoy in these situations, at least on occasion.
Now for a more pass-oriented option: the Philadelphia Eagles. Though Carson Wentz is a much more aggressive (and frankly reckless) passer, Hurts can mimic Wentz’s ability outside of the pocket and can execute a lot of Doug Pederson’s quick game concepts. Hurts is sharp pre-snap and won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on his first read to get the ball out on time. Eagles fans shouldn’t ever expect a Nick Foles-ian miracle run out of Hurts, but he has the skills to keep that offense afloat in the event (well, inevitability) that Wentz misses time.