Chris Pietsch/Associated Press
The panic is already setting in as the preseason draws to a close. A number of NFL teams are realizing as we sit two weeks away from the games actually counting that they’ve bet wrong at quarterback. There is no worse feeling for a head coach or general manager than to become fully aware that the plan that carried them through free agency and the draft was wrong.
As scouting for the 2020 draft begins in earnest this Saturday when the Miami Hurricanes face the Florida Gators, league scouting contacts are already raving about the potential at quarterback in this class and how the talent is coming at a much-needed time.
Three names dominate the landscape: Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. And of course there will be sleepers and surprises—players such as North Texas’ Mason Fine or Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts. This has evaluators giddy to get on the road to scout.
“I’m juiced for this [quarterback] class, man. Which, thank God, because we need one,” said one evaluator whose team bet wrong in the veteran quarterback market. His squad isn’t alone; the need for young quarterback talent will dominate the conversation in many front offices this season.
Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
A look at the quarterback need against the quarterback supply is once again uneven. The Tennessee Titans are realizing that neither Marcus Mariota nor Ryan Tannehill is a long-term option. The quarterback battle between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen in Miami could mean the Dolphins are in the running to start over at the position after this season.
The same goes for incumbents such as Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Andy Dalton (Cincinnati Bengals), and if we’re being honest with ourselves, Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco 49ers). Each quarterback has talent and has been prioritized by his ball club, but none have so far lived up to their contract or draft stock.
After the obviously bad and the disappointing, there are also teams that must be looking ahead to the future. Philip Rivers cannot play forever, nor can Drew Brees. That makes the Los Angeles Chargers and New Orleans Saints candidates to fall in love with a quarterback of the future. The New England Patriots seem set on Jarrett Stidham after selecting him in the fourth round in 2019, but that could also change if the opportunity for a blue-chip prospect presented itself.
“The fight to get a really good prospect is fascinating,” said one NFL general manager whose team seems set at QB after picking one in Round 1 in a recent year. “There is a finite supply of serviceable quarterbacks and more teams that need one. You almost have to lose in order to win in this league, because you’re not signing a high-level starter in free agency, and it’s so hard to find a top-tier quarterback outside of the first round.”
This is all true, of course. Add in the bust rate for the position, and you get anxiety about how hard it is to draft a winning quarterback. That’s why so many teams head into draft prep hoping that Herbert, Fromm or Tagovailoa live up to expectations and emerge after the season, looking like the blue-chip quarterback prospects we believe they can be.
—Draft fans rejoice: the Senior Bowl released a massive 2020 watchlist of the top seniors in the country. This thing is HUGE and is a must-have resource if you want to track and watch the best seniors throughout the 2019 season.
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
An early takeaway: this could be a very good quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back senior class. It’s a little light on edge-rushers and running backs, but those positions are usually filled out by underclassmen. Mobile, Alabama, should be a fun scouting trip next January.
—As scouts spent the summer making school visits to watch practices and get familiar with the upcoming class, many evaluators have been praising Oregon’s Justin Herbert for returning to school. One scout said: “He looks so good in practice. More confident. Maybe a little stronger. I think he’s the first [quarterback] off the board.”
Herbert likely would have been the second quarterback selected in 2019, so as long as he can stay healthy this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him come off the board first.
—Get ready for months of conversation about what position Clemson defender Isaiah Simmons will play in the pros. We can end the argument right now: He is a linebacker prospect ideally suited for today’s NFL. He’s 6’4″, 225 pounds and runs like a safety—which is fitting since the Tigers played him there often in 2018—but his downhill ability screams weak-side linebacker.
As I like to say, this isn’t Madden. Simmons can and will play multiple positions on defense as he’s tasked with spying quarterbacks, covering tight ends or taking away the middle of the field in coverage.
—There is a three-horse race at quarterback, as mentioned above, but there’s a similar race to be RB1 in the 2020 class. Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor are all closely grouped together in my rankings as we wait for one to break out. Each is different, with Swift being an Alvin Kamara-type do-it-all back, Etienne a smaller (5’10”, 200 lbs) burner and Taylor a workhorse with 4.4 speed.
John Amis/Associated Press
It’s a good year to need a featured back, with all three possessing first-round talent.
—The 2020 cornerback class could be special too. Underclassmen Jeffrey Okudah (Ohio State), CJ Henderson (Florida) and Paulson Adebo (Stanford) look like first-round talents. Add in seniors Kristian Fulton (LSU) and Trevon Diggs (Alabama), and this could be a five-man first-round class at cornerback.
Here’s a quick look at my top-32 players for the 2020 class before the season gets underway. From here on out, things can change quickly as expectations give way to reality.
1. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
2. Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
3. Grant Delpit, S, LSU
4. A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
5. Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
6. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
7. Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado
8. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
9. D’Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
10. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
11. CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
12. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
13. K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
14. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
15. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
16. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
17. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
18. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
19. Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
20. Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
21. Walker Little, OT, Stanford
22. Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
23. Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
24. Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
25. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
26. Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
27. Lucas Niang, OT, TCU
28. Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame
29. Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama
30. Terrell Lewis, EDGE, Alabama
31. Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
32. Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt
6. College football is back, with the Hurricanes taking on the Gators in Orlando, Florida, this Saturday. Here are the key draft prospects I’ll be watching for each team:
Miami: LB Shaquille Quarterman, LB Michael Pinckney, EDGE Jaelan Phillips, RB DeeJay Dallas
Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
Florida: CB CJ Henderson, QB Feleipe Franks, WR Van Jefferson, LB David Reese, EDGE Jabari Zuniga, WR Josh Hammond, RB Lamical Perine
5. Stock Up
Two players deserve mention this week after being awarded prestigious numbers at their respective universities: Florida’s CJ Henderson and LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson.
Henderson will wear the famed No. 1 jersey for the Gators this season. Rocking the No. 1 is an honor at Florida, which is why we haven’t seen many players wear it in the recent past, but head coach Dan Mullen is bestowing the privilege to Henderson.
Just like No. 1 is important at Florida, No. 18 is at LSU. The tradition started by quarterback Matt Mauck was passed down to Jacob Hester, Richard Dickson, Richard Murphy, Brandon Taylor, Bennie Logan, Lamin Barrow, Terrence Magee, Tre’Davious White, Christian LaCouture, John David Moore and Foster Moreau, and it is one of the biggest honors in college football. Now, Chaisson will wear the jersey, which speaks to his character and leadership.
4. Stock Down
Summer is a time of evaluation, and one player moving down the board after months of film study is Stanford offensive tackle Walker Little.
Little’s tape didn’t show the power or toughness needed to be a top-tier edge-blocker in the NFL, despite the praise he’s received from scouts all spring. That could change this season if he’s dedicated himself over the summer to adding lower body power and playing stronger, but as of now he looks more like an overhyped Stanford offensive lineman than a prototypical NFL tackle.
3. Sleeper of the Week
Andres Leighton/Associated Press
North Texas quarterback Mason Fine has a chance to be this year’s surprise passer to jump up draft boards. The 5’11” passer has clean mechanics, good enough mobility and has shown nice accuracy and timing from within the pocket. There will be questions about level of competition, but in a class that has become a three-quarterback race for QB1, Fine has to be remembered as one of the top senior throwers in the nation.
2. Tailgate Tour
Our Stick to Football tailgate tour was announced recently. If you get a chance to come out, these tailgates are free fan events with no ticket to the game required.
Sept. 7 — LSU @ Texas (Austin, TX)
Sept. 16 — Browns @ Jets (MetLife Stadium)
Sept. 21 — Michigan @ Wisconsin (Madison, WI)
Oct. 12 — Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas, TX)
Oct. 27 — Rams vs. Bengals (London)
Nov. 9 — LSU @ Alabama (Tuscaloosa, AL)
Nov. 23 — Cal @ Stanford (Palo Alto, CA)
1. Stick to Football was live all week from the Bleacher Report stage in Caesars Palace, talking to Clinton Portis and breaking down the NFL’s 100-year anniversary team. Check out the podcast and subscribe if you haven’t already. We will also post a ton of behind-the-scenes content on our Instagram page.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.