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Early NFL Draft QB Rankings (Analytics)

Joe Burrow

Joe Burrow

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

For modeling quarterback prospects, we can completely ignore every athletic test, including size, and just focus on what they did in college. Particularly, age-adjusted production, mobility, and strength of schedule are predictive to NFL success. In this column, I’ll share each NFL Combine invitee’s historical ranking in these metrics, write up what I see on film with some statistical evidence to back up my opinions, and run each prospect through my model.

2020 QB  Model

2020 QB Model

These are my model’s quarterback rankings for the 2020 NFL Draft class. If you’re curious, I listed the top-20 quarterback prospects of the last four classes here. This is really generalizing the draft class, but Joe Burrow is in the great prospect category with Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts, and Justin Herbert in the mix as potential franchise quarterbacks with different price tags. Meanwhile, Jordan Love, Jake Fromm, Jacob Eason, and Anthony Gordon all hover around the “Minimum Threshold” line as probable NFL backups with various levels of upside. The rest of the quarterback group is facing an uphill battle, so I’ll be locking in all of my focus on the top eight quarterbacks.

Of course, my model’s rankings and my personal rankings are going to be a little different as I think I can pick up on minor things that my model isn’t incorporating. For now, I have the 2020 quarterbacks ranked as:

1. Joe Burrow - Day 1 starter with Hall of Fame potential after an all-time Heisman campaign.

2. Tua Tagovailoa - Potential franchise QB if healthy after a rookie-year redshirt.

3. Justin Herbert - Boom-or-bust franchise QB with good and bad traits.

4. Jalen Hurts - Versatile, high-floor backup QB with starting potential as a stud college player.

5. Jake Fromm - Low-upside fringe starter as a pocket passer with average traits.

6. Jordan Love - A “toolsy” developmental project coming off an awful college season.

7. Anthony Gordon - An against all odds backup QB with high-end college production.

8. Jacob Eason - A big armed, backup QB with awareness and mobility issues.


2020 QB Profiles

Burrow Profile

Burrow Profile

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 1st

Joe Burrow (6’3/216) is the most valuable 2020 NFL prospect, even after factoring in some of his potential red flags -- age and one season of quality production. He has elite accuracy to all levels of the field because of smooth mechanics and delivery, which led to the second-best single-season FBS completion percentage (76.3%) since at least 1956. His ability to diagnose coverages, throw with anticipation, and bounce from first to second and third reads give him Hall of Fame upside as an NFL pocket passer. He also moves well enough to avoid blitzers and can pick up the occasional first down with his legs. Overall, Burrow profiles as a Day 1 starter who wins with accuracy, decision-making, and mental toughness. These three traits explain why he broke the single-season FBS record for passing touchdowns (60) last season. Of the 178 FBS quarterback prospects since 2005, Burrow ranks 5th overall in my model as a 98th percentile quarterback prospect.

Situational Stats:

Yards per attempt against FBS winning teams: 10.2 (2nd of 16 Combine invitees)

1st down rate on passes: 44% (1st)

Touchdown rate on red zone passes: 43% (2nd)

Tagovailoa Profile

Tagovailoa Profile

Note: This uses Tua’s 2018 stats because he didn’t play the entire season last year.

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 5th

Tua Tagovailoa (6’1/218) will need to be cleared by the medical staff (dislocated hip), but he has the arm talent, processing, and mobility to be a plus-level franchise quarterback if healthy. Before his injury, he was able pick up first downs as a scrambler and maneuvered inside the pocket at a high level while keeping his eyes downfield. His high-end accuracy and ability to read defenses in and out of the pocket make him a strong deep passer despite not possessing elite-level arm strength. He was also extremely productive on short-yardage passes because his accuracy and timing lead to yards after the catch. Having coach Saban and 4-6 NFL-caliber pass-catchers every season certainly did help in the YAC department, but it’s hard to average 10.8 YPA against FBS winning teams without being a stud. Overall, Tagovailoa can be an above-average NFL passer with scrambling ability if his body allows it. He finished 2nd in Total QBR out of all FBS quarterbacks in both 2018 and 2019 seasons and is a 93rd percentile quarterback prospect in my model. Hopefully his hip continues to improve.

Situational Stats (these are his 2019 stats):

YPA against FBS winning teams: 10.8 (1st)

1st down rate on passes: 40% (3rd)

Touchdown rate on red zone passes: 29% (7th)

Hurts Profile

Hurts Profile

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 80th

Jalen Hurts (6’1/218) had a very successful college career as a powerful, dual-threat quarterback but some concerns with his short-area accuracy and ability to bounce from read to read limit his draft stock. He’s a great designed runner and averaged 8.5 rushing yards on scrambles, which helped him lead college football with 17 red zone rushing touchdowns. That includes running backs. His mobility does get him in trouble at times, however. Despite having the highest passer rating inside the pocket, he broke out of clean pockets way too often. That tendency to “panic scramble” stems from his iffy ability to get off first reads. That’s probably his worst trait. He also struggles with accuracy on short, timing routes because of his slow delivery. With that said, he was not a bad passer last year after taking major leaps under Lincoln Riley. He had the fourth-best overall PFF grade among 2019 FBS quarterbacks, led in YPA (11.5) on non-play action attempts, was second in adjusted completion percentage (73.5%) when under pressure, and was sixth in 20+ yard passing. Of course, those stats are buoyed since he’s an Oklahoma quarterback, but calling Hurts a bad passer after what he did last season is inaccurate in my opinion. Overall, Hurts’ production, athleticism, and leadership make him a worthwhile Day 2 selection as a short-yardage specialist, intriguing backup quarterback, and potential starter, especially considering he’s only 21 years old.

Situational Stats:

YPA against FBS winning teams: 9.7 (3rd)

1st down rate on passes: 43% (2nd)

Touchdown rate on red zone passes: 35% (3rd)

Herbert Profile

Herbert Profile

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 7th

Justin Herbert (6’6/227) has the size, arm strength, and athleticism to wow evaluators at times but his trouble with pressure makes him a boom-or-bust top-8 selection. With his above-average mobility, he can scramble for first downs and make throws on the run, especially since he has high-end arm strength to the sideline. These made him one of the better red zone passers in the class (19 TDs with 0 INTs) last season. His decision-making takes a nosedive whenever pressured because his anticipation is lacking, but he can make any throw in a clean pocket. I wish he was given more chances at taking intermediate shots at Oregon -- his big-play rate (6%) was tied for 10th out of 16 Combine invitees -- because he has the arm strength and touch to hit those throws. In terms of accuracy, he grades out well per Rotoworld’s Derrik Klassen, but when he misses, he misses badly. Our stupid human brains struggle to separate averages from outliers, so his “inconsistent accuracy” might be overblown. His above-average marks in age-adjusted production, passing touchdowns, first-down rate, and YPA against winning FBS teams are evidence against the notion that he’s an inaccurate passer. Overall, Herbert’s iffy awareness is a reason for early-career skepticism, but his tools make him a reasonable top-8 dart throw if you don’t have to trade up to draft him. He’s an 81st percentile quarterback prospect in my model.

Situational Stats:

YPA against FBS winning teams: 7.9 (5th)

1st down rate on passes: 34% (6th)

Touchdown rate on red zone passes: 31% (5th)

Love Profile

Love Profile

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 25th

Jordan Love (6’3/225) has the physical tools of an NFL quarterback and can pick up first downs as a scrambler, but he is not a polished product and had awful college production at Utah State. He moves around well out of the pocket and throws with zip from multiple arm angles and platforms, which allows him to create big plays. That’s not up for debate. However, his accuracy is inconsistent, particularly when he throws fadeaways off his back foot. He misses checkdowns and short crossers too often. These misses led to Love ranking 16th out of 16 Combine invitees in first down rate on first down passes despite facing the third-easiest strength of schedule. PFF also graded him as the 101st college quarterback in turnover-worthy play rate last year because he forced too many tight-window throws and went blind to zone defenders at times. Overall, Love has theoretical upside as a toolsy, developmental prospect, but he is a relative long shot to develop into a franchise quarterback after finishing 88th in Total QBR out of 122 college quarterback qualifiers last season. His closest comparables aren’t pretty.

Situational Stats:

YPA against FBS winning teams: 7.1 (9th)

1st down rate on passes: 27% (16th)

Touchdown rate on red zone passes: 21% (14th)

Fromm Profile

Fromm Profile

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 50th

Jake Fromm (6’2/220) has a vanilla playing style with an average arm, but his touch, timing, and mental processing are traits that should translate. He will never scramble, but he can maneuver in the pocket enough to avoid some sacks. He is at his best when he’s reading defenses in the pocket, using his plus-accuracy to hit his short and intermediate throws. He can generate power when he fully steps into passes, yet mostly floats his deep passes with mediocre success. For a cerebral passer, I thought he’d be better at keeping the chains moving last year, but he was 12th out of 16 Combine invitees in 1st down rate on first down passes. Of course, Georgia’s non creative offensive scheme didn’t put him into fantastic situations. Overall, Fromm’s upside is capped by his average arm and sub-par athleticism, but he slots in as a nice backup and potential bridge quarterback in a heavy play-action, dink-and-dunk offense. Few prospects have his blend of awareness and accuracy. Those traits just didn’t translate to a lot of college production.

Situational Stats:

YPA against FBS winning teams: 7.5 (8th)

1st down rate on passes: 29% (12th)

Touchdown rate on red zone passes: 29% (6th)

Eason Profile

Eason Profile

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 42nd

Jacob Eason (6’5/227) has the prototypical size and high-end arm strength to be an NFL pocket passer, but he has a couple of potential fatal flaws. He thinks he moves like a point guard even though he moves like a power forward, which causes him to take far too many sacks. He also invites pressure because he locks onto his first read for too long. That leads to turnover-worthy throws. His arm strength does get him out of trouble at times. He peppers deep crossers and can throw the ball down the seam, but he just didn’t do it enough last season after sitting out in 2018 due to transfer rules. He ranked 9th out of 16 Combine invitees in big-play passing, which is his calling card. Overall, Eason’s arm strength will be amongst the best in the entire NFL, but his lack of short-area touch and habit of creating pressure are problems that will only be magnified against NFL defenses.

Situational Stats:

YPA against FBS winning teams: 7.7 (7th)

1st down rate on passes: 34% (7th)

Touchdown rate on red zone passes: 21% (13th)

Gordon Profile

Gordon Profile

Projected Overall Draft Pick: 160th

Anthony Gordon’s (6’2/199) is a highly productive, accurate Air Raid pocket passer with below-average arm strength and athleticism. He’s about as athletic as me, so he offers just about nothing as a scrambler and gets in trouble whenever he breaks out of the pocket. He made a few horrible decisions on the run too, but otherwise was an efficient rhythm passer in the pocket who throws a very catchable ball, particularly underneath. He’s allergic to throwing the deep ball, however, partially because he has below-average arm strength. He ranked 152nd of 153 FBS quarterbacks in percentage of pass attempts that traveled at least 20 yards downfield (8%) per PFF because of it. His deep ball hangs in the air a bit more than you’d like, but he throws with a lot of touch if his receiver creates some separation and occasionally can zip the ball into tight windows near the sideline when he really steps into a pass. Overall, Gordon’s elite age-adjusted production and above-average accuracy make him an intriguing backup quarterback in a quick-hitting offense even if his athletic traits limit his overall potential. For the record, he tested slightly better in my model than Gardner Minshew and Luke Falk who both played in coach Mike Leach’s system at Washington State.

Situational Stats:

YPA against FBS winning teams: 6.7 (15th)

1st down rate on passes: 28% (14th)

Touchdown rate on red zone passes: 26% (9th)

Page 2 has the rest of the quarterback prospects and a few other graphs.