What History Tells Us: Complete QB Series

By Alex Kurpeski @3COAK

Over the past decade of professional sports, we have seen the quarterback position evolve in a variety of ways. A position that was once catered to a group of strictly pocket passers has now become so much more as we have entered an era of mobility that may forever change the way offensive football is played. While there have been some ‘generational’ players that have flopped hard in the NFL following incredible collegiate careers, there have also been some hidden gems that were able to bloom once they landed with a constructive coaching staff in the pros. Basing our analysis on the last decade of QBs drafted into the league (the ones who spent significant time as starters), we have come up with our outlooks for this year’s class of rookie passers based on what recent history has told us. 

We have not included the passers from this year’s class who we have deemed to be strictly roster depth picks (James Morgan, Jake Luton, Ben DiNucci, Tommy Stevens, and Nate Stanley) only because we cannot foresee them taking any meaningful snaps anytime soon as projected third-string (or lower) players. While these players are all very talented, their situations are a bit too uncertain for us to project them to produce in the near future. 

For context, here are some figures/explanations that we find relevant for this piece:

  • A ‘successful’ QB is one who has registered a fantasy-relevant campaign (200+ points) or a top-15 fantasy finish (players from 2018-19 draft classes) or has registered three or more top-20 finishes (Jameis Winston, Kirk Cousins, etc) and/or been a team’s starter for more than five seasons (Andy Dalton, Derek Carr, etc)
  • A ‘moderately successful’ QB is a more arbitrary measurement, as these are guys who have had success but have either been held back from consistent success (due to injuries typically) or have flamed out of the league following great starts to their careers (RG3, Mitch Trubisky, Blake Bortles, just to name a few)
  • A ‘bust’ is a QB with one of fewer Top-20 finishes, these guys are the easiest to spot (Johnny Manziel, Paxton Lynch, etc)
  • There are a few players who we have yet to judge. Drafted between 2016 and 2019, we have yet to pass judgement on them due to their limited experience starting. Jacoby Brissett, Sam Darnold, Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock, Jarrett Stidham all fall into this purgatorial category. 
  • QBs who have been traded in their first three seasons have an 87% bust rate, with the only outlier being Brissett.
  • 90% of QBs taken out of non-power conference programs since 2010 have been ‘successes’ or ‘moderately successful’, with the only exception being 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch.
  • Out of the rookies who have been ‘redshirted’ as rookies (groomed to start), only Patrick Mahomes has been a ‘success’, while 45% of these players have been outright busts.
  • 22% of passers who have had a former high-level starter as a mentor have been ‘successes’ (Prescott, Mahomes, Jackson, Daniel Jones) while 39% of these players have been busts.
  • No ‘busts’ have recorded fantasy-relevant campaigns in their first season
  • 45% of eligible players who have recorded below-average turnover rates in college have been busts, while only 31% of players who recorded above-average turnover rates have busted.

Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Burrow

The number one overall pick in this year’s draft, Burrow shattered numerous records in his final season at LSU, throwing for 5,671 yards (first in the NCAA), 60 touchdowns (an NCAA record), while completing 76.3% of his passes (first in the nation), and garnering a QB rating of 202.0 (the highest mark for any passer in NCAA history). Burrow’s unprecedented ascension from the game manager we saw in 2018 to the living ‘Road to Glory’ character he became in 2019 is best documented by these jumps in his stats:

2018 STATS:

  • 2,894 passing yards (222.6 yards per-game, 7.6 yards per-attempt)
  • 57.8% completion rate (QB rating of 133.2, below average by college football standards)
  • 379 passing attempts
  • 16:5 TD:INT ratio

2019 STATS

  • 5,671 passing yards (378 yards per-game (+155.4 from 2018), 10.8 yards per-attempt (+3.2 from 2018)
  • 76.3% completion rate (QB rating of 202.0 (+67.8 points from 2018)
  • 527 passing attempts (+148 from 2018)
  • 60:6 TD:INT ratio (more than triple his touchdown numbers from 2018, + only one extra interception in two more games played)

I’m convinced the Burrow sold his soul to the devil somewhere between January 2019 and August 2019, as the player we saw this past season looked far more poised and collected than the guy who wore #11 in 2018. Guided by the Air Raid-style offense installed by OC Joe Brady, Burrow looked extremely confident throwing the ball to all parts of the field, taking the team’s offense into his own hands after a rather passive introductory season with the Tigers. While the Tom Brady comparisons were a bit far fetched, Burrow truly embodied the future Hall of Famer in his final year with LSU, as it seemed like no matter what you threw at him on defense, Burrow would prevail. Unlike Brady, Burrow can be an extremely dangerous runner as well, an underrated element that elevated his passing performance by keeping coverage linebackers honest. 

Burrow should step in immediately as the starter for Cincinnati following the release of longtime starter Andy Dalton, giving him an immediate shot at fantasy relevance. Unless second-year passer Ryan Finley can somehow wrestle the starting spot away from Burrow (he won’t), we can expect him to slot in as the signal-caller for an offense littered with weapons in the passing game. In general, QBs who have won the starting role for their team out of training camp have fared extremely well this decade, with only 21% of the qualified passers in this category landing in the ‘bust’ category, while 47% of these players have had what we deemed ‘successful’ careers. 

We already talked about the outlook for the Bengals’ pass-catchers earlier in the month, so we won’t dive super deep into that aspect here. In short, the rookie passer will be surrounded by a pair of decent pass-catching backs (Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard) and a host of uber-talented wideouts (former Pro Bowler A.J Green, the team’s leading receiver from the last two seasons Tyler Boyd, former first-rounder John Ross, and 2020 second-round pick Tee Higgins) while also being coached by Zac Taylor, a product of the Sean McVay coaching tree. Burrow, who led the nation in big time throws (43), adjusted completion rate (81.9%), and deep passing yards (1711), should have an immediate path to Top-15 fantasy upside. 

From a statistical comparison, Burrow’s closest comp from this decade (according to Pro Football Focus) has been 2012’s first overall pick, Andrew Luck. In a figure borrowed from PFF’s rookie draft guide, here is a side by side comparison between the two players:

Joe Burrow:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 92.1
  • Average Depth of Target: 10.27
  • AIR%: 58.1%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 75.0%

Andrew Luck:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 92.3
  • Average Depth of Target: 9.57
  • AIR%: 54.7%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 76.3%

As you can see, Burrow’s numbers show that he tended to push the ball further downfield than Luck, although this can be partially attributed to the scheme differences between the two players, as Stanford ran a much more ground centric offense during Luck’s tenure. Regardless, the Luck comparison is quite the cosign for Burrow, as the former Colts QB registered a fantasy relevant campaign in his first season (200+ points in standard scoring), eventually tallying four top-five fantasy finishes (2013, 2014, 2016, and 2018) in his brief career. Like Burrow (who will be paired with Taylor, responsible for Jared Goff’s progression), Luck benefitted from being paired with a ‘QB Guru’ in the beginning of his career, working with OC Bruce Arians (who eventually became the team’s interim head coach). 

Stability at the coaching position will be a key factor in Burrow’s success, as only 22% of the passers from this decade who have seen a coaching change in their first three seasons have had fully successful careers while 55% of these passers have ‘busted’. It’s worth noting that the names included in that ‘success’ category are Daniel Jones, Baker Mayfield, Jared Goff, Jameis Winston, and Derek Carr who are all on the lower end of the ‘success’ spectrum. For their own sake, Burrow owners better pray that Taylor hangs onto the Bengals coaching gig for the next three years, as ⅔ of the passers who have played with the same coach for their first three seasons have had successful or at least moderately successful careers. 

Burrow, who transferred from Ohio State to LSU after losing the position battle for the starting gig to Dwayne Haskins, finds himself on the right side of history, as QBs who have changed programs have fared really well in the NFL this decade. There have been some major success stories (Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray), with only one glaring bust to speak of (Ryan Mallett). I attribute the success of these transfer QBs to their abilities to pick up and adapt to new systems quickly, a trait that has held many college stars back from reaching success at the professional level. 

Perhaps the biggest gauge for Burrow’s professional success will be the play of his offensive line in year one, as 45% of passers who had sack rates of 6.6 or higher in their rookie campaigns have been outright busts. The biggest exceptions to this have been Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and Kyler Murray, easily the five most mobile passers in the league today. While Burrow has sneaky athleticism and speed, he does not possess the same elusiveness that this group does; thus, it would be quite worrisome if he does take a large amount of sacks as a rookie. Considering the fact that the Bengals offensive line was ranked 30th in the league last season, while relying on the debut of 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams and the free agent signing of guard Xavier Su’a-Fi’lia to bolster the trenches, this is our biggest concern by far.  

Ultimately, the best measure for a QB’s fantasy success has been their impact upon their team’s success in year one, as passers who have added 4+ wins to their team’s record have a 0% bust rate and a 78% full success rate, with the only exceptions being Robert Griffin III (derailed by injuries, a topic that will be thoroughly discussed in the next section) and Sam Bradford (same case). Considering the Bengals won just two games in 2019, it’s quite possible that Burrow could lead them to a 6-10 or even 7-9 mark in his first season. 

Unless something goes terribly array for Burrow and the Bengals, it’s safe to project the No. 1 overall pick for a highly productive career in Cincinnati. 

Pro Comparison:

Ceiling: Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts 

Instant fantasy QB1 who remains one of the league’s elite passers for his entire career. An ideal QB to build around in dynasty leagues, keeping your team competitive on a week-to-week basis. Fantasy Hall of Fame-caliber talent who can only be sunk by the injury bug, brought on by subpar offensive line play. 

Floor: Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

An accurate passer who can win you some weeks but will take a backseat to the running game for others. Averages out as a high-end QB2. Not the ideal QB1 for a dynasty team but you could certainly do worse. 

Median: Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

Not quite an ‘elite’ real-life QB, but one you would love to have on your fantasy team. Airs the ball out when he has to and won’t turn the ball over too much. A QB1 in any format that you would be glad to have on your roster. 

 

Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Alabama
Sep 28, 2019; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) drops back to pass against during the first quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the most humble ‘rockstar’ quarterback we have ever seen, Tagovailoa has already taken the NFL by storm without even stepping on the field, as he currently boasts the two highest-selling jerseys in the league. Following a dominant run for the Crimson Tide, which saw him throw for 7,442 yards, 87 touchdowns, and just 11 interceptions in 32 games for Alabama, Tagovailoa was a close second on most positional rankings to Burrow, although there were some who were said to have preferred Justin Herbert over him. 

Tagovailoa was on pace to finish ahead of Burrow in passing efficiency this season, registering a 206.9 mark in 9 games before his season was ended by an injury. Averaging over 11 yards per attempt in his two seasons as the primary starter for the Crimson Tide, the 2018 SEC Offensive Player of the Year was never afraid to push the ball downfield, although he was certainly aided by the excellent cast of playmakers that surrounded him, with two of his receivers (Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy) having been first-round picks in this year’s draft. Yet the name of the game for Tagovailoa will ultimately be efficiency, as this was the trait that most appealed to scouts during the pre-draft process. Here are just a few stats that speak to that element of his game:

  • 69.3% completion rate from 2017-19
  • Touchdown pass thrown on 12.7% of his throws (roughly a touchdown pass on every 8-9 passes)
  • 65.7% of his throws were deemed ‘accurate’ by PFF, a top-five mark in the nation
  • 78.8% adjusted completion rate
  • Only 6 turnover worthy throws in 2019 (third least in the NCAA)
  • Only 10 sacks taken (least of any QB in college football)
  • 10.9 YPA, 64.9% completion rate when blitzed

At no point in his collegiate career did Tagovailoa look overwhelmed or fazed, an appealing element for dynasty league owners who would want to avoid using early draft capital on a ‘bust’ at the position. A spry athlete when forced out of the pocket, the added potential of some rushing numbers adds to Tagovailoa’s upside, although his recent brush with injury may have scared him away from doing much of that in the near future. 

Speaking of that injury, the dislocated hip suffered by the young signal-caller is something extremely disconcerting for anyone looking to build their dynasty team around him. While he is an unbelievable talent, we have seen injuries derail the careers of numerous promising QBs in recent years, and with something as serious as a hip injury, re-aggravation could occur at any time. In the last decade, there have been five first-round quarterbacks who have suffered serious injuries prior to entering the league (Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz, Robert Griffin III, Jake Locker, Sam Bradford). Each of these players have gone on to suffer at least one season-ending injury during their rookie contracts, an alarming red flag for anyone with stock in Tua Tagovailoa. Moreover, only 36% of passers who have suffered a severe injury in their first two seasons have gone on to have ‘successful’ careers, a worrisome figure especially when taking into consideration the fact that Tagovailoa is going to be playing behind an offensive line 32nd in the league last season.

As far as supporting casts go, Tagovailoa appears to have the worst of any player we will cover in this series, at least on paper. With a pair of replacement level running backs (Jordan Howard and Matt Breida), a questionable receiving core (Devante Parker (who looked decent in 2019), Preston Williams, Albert Wilson, Allen Hurns, Jakeem Grant, and rookie Malcolm Perry), and a middling tight end (Mike Gesicki), it’s hard to imagine the Dolphins offense putting up record-breaking numbers this season. While it should help to have a veteran like Ryan Fitzpatrick on the roster as a mentor, it will still be an uphill battle for the young gunslinger. 

As a left-handed QB who stands at just over six feet, Tagovailoa is far from conventional from a size/dexterity perspective. While this decade has seen a few ‘undersized’ passers excel at the NFL level (Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield), there have been just as many guys who floundered due to their size issues (Colt McCoy, Johnny Manziel). As far as lefties go, there hasn’t been a notable left-handed starting QB in the league since Tim Tebow (yikes). Blessed with above-average but not elite arm strength, Tagovailoa will have to rely heavily on his mechanics and technique to succeed in the pros, rather than his pure athleticism.Interestingly enough, Tagovailoa’s closest comparison statistically has been fellow Hawaiian born quarterback Marcus Mariota, who played at the same high school as the 2020 first-round pick. Here’s a side by side comparison of the two players:

Tua Tagovailoa:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 91.7
  • Average Depth of Target: 9.99
  • AIR%: 47.6%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 76.0%

Marcus Mariota:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 91.7
  • Average Depth of Target: 10.06
  • AIR%: 53.5%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 75.1%

While Tagovailoa will likely lack the rushing upside that a young Mariota once used to supplement his fantasy performances, his ability to sense open receivers appears to be a bit more advanced at this stage in his career. If we assume that these two players will have similar careers, then Tagovailoa may wind up being a bit of a disappointment, as Mariota has only registered three fantasy-relevant campaigns in his career, with no top-ten finishes. 

Pro Comparison: 

Ceiling: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

A consistent top-10 fantasy scorer who always provides a safe floor and a high ceiling on a weekly basis. A true QB1 to build around in a dynasty league.

Floor: Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina Panthers

A lower end QB for fantasy purposes. Tends to checkdown more often than you would like while generally playing very conservative. Might have the occasional explosion but will mostly disappoint you. Not an ideal guy to spend a premium pick on. 

Median: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Right smack in the middle of positional rankings for the QB position. Mixes stinkers with some nice low-end QB1 weeks. Will frustrate some owners with high expectations but will generally satisfy the needs of your dynasty team. 

 

Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers

herbert

The sixth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Herbert saw his stock jump up and down with each passing game in 2019, going from ‘future franchise QB’ one week to ‘future XFL bench warmer’ the next. At 6’6, 230 lbs, Herbert fits the mold of the ideal NFL quarterback that scouts have historically loved, while also possessing the athleticism that has become requisite of the position this decade. When it comes to Herbert, most either love him or hate him as a prospect, with both sides having valid reasoning to support their opinions. 

We’ve seen Herbert throw a ball 80 yards while wearing workout clothing. While this is an incredible feat of athleticism, we’ve seen similar exploits from others like JaMarcus Russell and Josh Allen, both of whom have struggled with many of the other aspects of playing the quarterback position in the pros. A quick look at Herbert’s stat sheet would lead you to believe that he, unlike many big-armed, big-bodied passers before him, is an extremely accurate passer. In four seasons as the starter for Oregon, Herbert completed 64% of his passes while throwing for 10,541 yards and 95 touchdowns, throwing just 23 interceptions on 1293 attempts (although he did fumble 26 times during his college career). With an adjusted completion rate of 75.4%, even some advanced metrics support this conjecture. 

The context of these yards, however, reveals something different. 728 of Herbert’s passing yards in 2019 came on screen passes, the second most of any passer in the nation. By comparison, Herbert’s deep passing yardage totals ranked 35th among qualified players, with only 874 (meanwhile Joe Burrow accounted for 1711 deep passing yards). For a player with such a big-time arm, Herbert plays it safe more often than not, a trait that does not bode well for his fantasy prospects.

In his final season with the Ducks, Herbert looked quite shaky, completing only 21 big-time throws (32nd most in the nation) while offering up 15 turnover worthy plays (55th in the nation). Herbert struggled immensely on intermediate throws as well, completing only 55% of his passes to this part of the field while throwing a pair of interceptions. Perhaps the most concerning metric from Herbert’s final season in Eugene; Herbert ranked 50th in the nation in accuracy percentage on short throws (1-9), a trait that could really hurt him if he needs to checkdown in the NFL. 

An added drawback to taking Herbert early in dynasty drafts is the fact that he is expected to sit for an extended period of time behind former Pro Bowler Tyrod Taylor. With the delays to training camps caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, it could take even longer to get Herbert caught up to speed with the Chargers offense, following four years of snaps taken almost exclusively out of shotgun formations. Statistically, PFF has compared Herbert to Ryan Tannehill, a similarly built passer who took a bit to become a truly effective starting quarterback after coming out of college as more of an athlete. Here’s a look at how they stack up with one another:

Justin Herbert:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 90.0
  • Average Depth of Target: 10.37
  • AIR%: 50.9%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 72.3%

Ryan Tannehill:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 90.1%
  • Average Depth of Target: 9.17%
  • AIR%: 56.6%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 73.6%

While Herbert tended to throw marginally deeper passes, Tannehill converted his throws at a higher rate, although Tannehill only spent about a year and a half as the starter at Texas A&M while Herbert was essentially a four-year starter for the Ducks. Herbert’s athletic profile is his ultimate strength for fantasy, as he has speed and athleticism similar to Daniel Jones and Josh Allen, who both have been very solid fantasy producers thanks to their legs. You wouldn’t call him a scrambler by any means, but Herbert did a lot of damage as a runner during his college career, racking up over 500 rushing yards while scoring 13 touchdowns on the ground. However, if we assume Herbert will be exactly like Tannehill, then the outcome would not be so bad, as the Titans starter has registered one top-ten fantasy finish (2014), and four fantasy-relevant campaigns (2013-2015, 2019) while missing large chunks of 2016-2018 with injuries. 

There are some serious concerns about Herbert’s ability to transition from Oregon’s Spread look to a more traditional NFL offense, especially after the issues experienced by guys like Marcus Mariota (a much better college player than Herbert), Darron Thomas, and Dennis Dixon. Unlike those three players, Herbert was not an ideal fit for the offense run by the Ducks, as his arm strength was wasted with very few vertical looks in the playbook and an overwhelming amount of horizontal routes run by his receivers, While he will be surrounded by several talented playmakers on the Chargers offense (Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler, and Hunter Henry all of whom are in the prime of their careers), it will ultimately be Herbert’s responsibility to learn the necessary adjustments. Given the struggles faced by his fellow Pac-12 draftees (only 30% of whom have been ‘successes’), it could get muddy for the former Oregon captain. 

As far as we’re concerned, investing in Herbert is the ultimate high risk, high reward pick from this position group, as he has all the tools to become a truly dominant NFL player while also having an uncomfortable amount of red flags sticking out of his ass. 

Pro Comparison:

Ceiling: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills

A mid-tier QB1 in fantasy, this prospect would hinge on Herbert putting his 4.7 speed to work in the NFL as a runner. Consistency may meander, but the potential for a top-five finish week-to-week makes him an excellent QB1 for your dynasty team. A bit frustrating at times, but generally a reliable source of points, even on turnover heavy days. 

Floor: Jake Locker, N/A

A failure in the NFL due to accuracy issues. Becomes a cautionary tale for draftniks who fall in love with toolsy passers who peaked during their sophomore seasons. An utter disaster who sets back the Chargers organization even further.

Median: Blake Bortles, Los Angeles Rams

A couple of fantasy-relevant campaigns mask a player who is far too flawed to be a franchise quarterback. Might be a fine QB2 for your dynasty team, but will ultimately be seen as a disappointment in the NFL. 

 

Jordan Love, Green Bay Packers:

jordan love 2

While Justin Herbert would typically have been the designated ‘most polarizing QB prospect’ in any other draft class, former Utah State passer Jordan Love managed to overshadow the Oregon product in this year’s class following a Junior season that saw him throw almost as many interceptions (17) as touchdown passes (20). While Love is next in line for the throne in Green Bay, it may be a few years before he’s a fantasy-relevant player. 

Had Love been eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft, he may have very well been the first quarterback off the board, as his 2018 campaign was a dazzling display of competence at the position for a young gunslinger. Unfortunately for Love, he remained on the Aggies roster in 2019, while the program searched for a new identity in the wake of former coach Matt Wells’ departure. A quick glance at Love’s regression between his second and third season is all you need to see just why many experts disregarded him as a legitimate franchise QB ahead of this past spring’s draft. 

Love’s 2018 numbers (with Wells as his coach):

  • 3,567 passing yards 
  • 274.3 yards per game 
  • 8.6 yards per attempt 
  • 9.4 air yards per attempt
  • 64% completion rate
  • QB rating of 158.3 (well above average for college passers) 
  • 417 passing attempts
  • 39 TDs (32 passing, 7 rushing) w/ only 6 interceptions

Love’s 2019 numbers (without Wells): 

  • 3,402 passing yards (-165 yards) 
  • 261.7 yards per game (-12.6 yards per game)
  • 7.2 yards per attempt (-1.4 YPA) 
  • 6.4 air yards per attempt (-3.0 AYPA)
  • 61.9% completion rate (-2.1%) 
  • QB rating of 129.1 (below average, -29.2 points) 
  • 473 passing attempts (+56 attempts)
  • 20 passing touchdowns (-12), 0 rushing touchdowns (-7), 17 interceptions (+11)

As you can see, even with an increase in passing volume, Love’s numbers dropped across the board. While the spike in turnovers is the most concerning figure, the overall decrease in averages shows that Love was also throwing far shallower passes in the team’s newly installed offense. From the tape, it’s clear that Wells’ passer friendly system did wonders for Love, whose arm strength is on par with the Justin Herberts and Jacob Easons of the world. By opening up the field for vertical plays, Wells accentuated the strengths of Love’s game while also masking many of his deficiencies. 

One major concern about Love stems from the level of competition he faced, as Utah State rarely drew many tough defenses, looking overwhelmed when they did face Power-5 competition. At 6’4, 225 lbs, Love combines a powerful arm with smooth athleticism that allows him to glide in and around the pocket. Thankfully, non-power conference quarterbacks taken in round one have fared extremely well this decade, with only one outright bust (Paxton Lynch). His game tape shows us a tremendous athlete, who looks like a franchise quarterback when he’s in his element. 

Unfortunately, Love was completely out of his element for the entire 2019 season, as the Aggies struggled to replace many of the offensive standouts who departed following the program’s excellent 2018 campaign. Even as his offensive line crumbled in front of him for most of the season, Love excelled in the pocket, getting sacked on only 15.9% of plays where he faced pressure. While PFF graded Love out well below average on plays when he faced pressure (49.4), the fact that he avoided sacks is a nice silver lining, especially considering the circumstances that limited him. 

With a 70.6 adjusted completion percentage (67th among qualified college passers), 26 turnover-worthy plays (tied for 101st, in the bottom quartile of qualified passers), and a 56.6 passer grade on short throws, there were a lot of advanced metrics that condemned Love as an inaccurate interception machine. At the same time, he proved to be quite the improviser, with 31 big-time throws (7th best) and 992 deep passing yards (20th best), tossing all of his touchdowns on throws beyond 10 yards. Due to his high-risk, high-reward style of play, Love has become almost synonymous with Jameis Winston, a fellow gunslinger with a well-documented turnover issue. Here’s how the two stack up:

Jordan Love:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 79.8
  • Average Depth of Target: 10.09
  • AIR%: 51.7%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 69.1%

Jameis Winston:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 80.9
  • Average Depth of Target: 9.00
  • AIR%: 49.8%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 71.5%

While Love tended to air the ball out a bit more than Winston, he was also a bit less accurate. If we were to assume that these two would have similar careers, then Love would be quite the fantasy asset, as Winston has finished as the QB13, QB16, QB22, QB22, and QB3 all while playing on some deeply flawed Buccaneers squads that often accentuated his turnover issues by forcing him into some shootouts. 

While Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa come off the board in the first round of Superflex Rookie drafts, Love has been coming off the board in round two or three of most Superflex drafts, he could be an absolute steal for the right patient owners. Aaron Rodgers is expected to be the starter in Green Bay for the next three seasons, as his contract makes him virtually unmovable. Yet we saw what three years of development did for Rodgers himself, as he grew into the game’s best passer following an extended apprenticeship under Hall of Famer Brett Favre. Assuming offensive-minded head coach Matt LaFleur is still around once the team believes Love is ready to start, this could be an ideal fantasy situation for the young signal-caller. While the majority of the team’s playmakers are teetering on the edge of their primes as we speak, the organization has a reputation for developing talented passers into elite field generals. We saw what a healthy structure did for Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson in Kansas City and Baltimore respectively, so we can only imagine what it will do for Love in Green Bay. 

Pro Comparison:

Ceiling: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

Assuming he learns everything he can from Aaron Rodgers (the original Mahomes), Love’s ceiling is truly limitless. Like Mahomes, he has arm strength for days and will take risks downfield. While he won’t have the supporting cast that Mahomes had, the Packers will have time to build up weapons for the Love era while keeping competitive with Rodgers. If he can harness his true potential, there’s no doubt that Love can become an unquestioned QB1 in fantasy, perhaps even a perennial top-five player at the position. We saw Matt LaFleur turn Jared Goff from Jeff Fisher’s ultimate mistake into the league’s highest-paid QB, now he will have a chance to work magic with his own prospect. 

Floor: Paxton Lynch, Pittsburgh Steelers

There’s a decent chance that the Love we saw in 2019 is simply the true version of the player in question. If that’s the case, then he should go down as one of the biggest first-round busts from this decade. Talent can only do so much for you if you cannot read defenses in the NFL. 

Median: Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints

A turnover-prone gunslinger with the potential to lead the league in passing yardage and interceptions simultaneously, Love could usurp Winston’s throne as the league’s most polarizing passer if he follows suit with the expert comparisons. While Winston is deeply flawed as a real-life passer, he was an extremely consistent fantasy QB, providing a safe QB2 floor week-to-week while also having top-ten upside. Not a bad fate by any means, and well worth a draft pick in any dynasty format.

 

Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles

AP All-Big 12 Football
FILE – In this Oct. 19, 2019, file photo, Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) runs against West Virginia during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Norman, Okla. Hurts was selected to The Associated Press All-Big 12 Conference team, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams, File)

For the third year in a row, Lincoln Riley and the Sooners sent a quarterback to New York for the Heisman Trophy Ceremony. While Hurts was unable to make it a three-peat for Oklahoma, his status as a runner-up was a notable accolade that represented the growth he took as a player in his lone season as the team’s starter, following an equally impressive career at Alabama. At his worst, Hurts was a game manager who could make plays with his legs when he couldn’t find the right read. On his best days, the former four-star recruit was an unbelievably efficient dime dropper, equally capable of killing a defense with his arm and his legs. 

In his first two seasons as a starter for the Crimson Tide, Hurts was much more raw as a passer, struggling with accuracy and downfield throws quite often, even in an offense that featured future first-round talents like Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs. However, once he stepped foot in Norman, we saw a completely different side of Hurts, as he, like Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray before him, was able to harness his true potential as the point guard on Lincoln Riley’s offense. A quick look at the jumps Hurts made between his final season as Alabama’s full-time starter and his 2019 season with the Sooners displays the developmental leaps he made as a passer:

2017 (Alabama): 

  • 2,080 passing yards
  • 256 passing attempts
  • 148.6 passing yards per game
  • 8.1 yards per attempt
  • 60.2% completion rate
  • 150.2 passer rating
  • 17 passing touchdowns, only 1 interception
  • 855 rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns

2019 (Oklahoma):

  • 3,849 passing yards (+1,769 yards)
  • 341 passing attempts (+85 ATT)
  • 274.9 passing yards per game (+126.3 YPG)
  • 11.3 yards per attempt (+3.2 YPA)
  • 69.5% completion rate (+9.3%)
  • 191.2 Passer Rating (+41 points)
  • 32 passing touchdowns (+15), 8 interceptions (+7)
  • 1,298 rushing yards (+443 yards), 20 rushing touchdowns (+12)

As you can see, Hurts was able to go from an underutilized option threat at Alabama, to a statistical giant with the Sooners, maximizing his potential as both a runner and a passer. It’s a little disconcerting that Tua Tagovailoa was able to put up huge numbers (compared to Hurts) for the Crimson Tide once he took over the starting role, however I am willing to chalk this one up to scheme fit, as Tagovailoa has always been a much better pocket passer than Hurts. 

Thankfully for Jalen Hurts, he was born in 1998 instead of 1968, allowing his limited skills as a ‘pocket passer’ to be overlooked at the NFL level. With the success of Lamar Jackson as a dual-threat at the position, there’s a lot to like about Hurts’ potential in the pros. His 2019 campaign was a prime display of competence as a dual-threat that we saw from Jackson during his MVP campaign, as Hurts graded out as the second-best passer in college football (behind Joe Burrow), while also producing the second-most carries of 10+ yards for a QB. At 6’2, 225 lbs, Hurts turns to a running back once he takes off with the ball, best evidenced by his 3,274 career rushing yards. 

Given the jumps he made as a passer once placed into a scheme that played to his strengths, it’s clear that Hurts — like Jackson — could be a dynamic player in the NFL if he is able to earn starting time. That second part is the biggest if that there is about Hurts, as he was drafted in the second round to act as the Eagles insurance policy for oft-injured Carson Wentz. As fragile as Wentz has been, he is an elite talent with a top-ten pay grade, essentially guaranteeing him the starting role for the next few years. It’s possible that Hurts may never play a down for the Eagles, a fact that seriously limits his floor as a dynasty league pick. 

Let’s assume for a minute that Hurts does take over as the team’s starter for Wentz. Maybe they’ve decided his hefty contract is limiting their financial flexibility. Or maybe his glass bones have poked through his paper-thin skin just one too many times and retirement has been sprung upon him. Whatever the case is in the completely hypothetical scenario, Hurts is now the Eagles starter, so what could we expect out of him as a fantasy asset?

Well, let’s start with what the advanced metrics tell us. If we’re assuming that the 2019 version of Hurts is the authentic representation of his quarterbacking skills, then he may be an ideal fit for the West Coast Spread offense run by Doug Pederson and the Eagles. Hurts graded out in the middle of the pack last season in the ‘big-time throw’ category, with only 18 in 14 games. Moreover, he played a little bit looser with the football than we saw during his Alabama days, topping his career-high for interceptions while ranking 41st in the nation with 14 turnover-worthy plays. Hurts did rank 7th in the nation with 1,234 deep passing yardage, a deceiving figure when looked at contextually, as he had the benefit of throwing to arguably the best receiver in college football (CeeDee Lamb), in conjunction playing against the construction paper-like defenses of the Big 12. 

While he won’t pull out a ton of 40+ yard bombs, Hurts might do a lot of damage on short and intermediate throws, judging from his 78.1% completion rate on passes between 0-19 yards. This proficiency on short throws will get him far, especially when paired with his dynamic abilities as a runner. On an Eagles offense that featured the first-ranked offensive line in the NFL, a pair of dynamic tight ends (Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert), a competent committee of running backs (Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Corey Clement), and some new blood at the receiver position (2020 draft picks Jalen Reagor, John Hightower, and Quez Watkins, who join holdovers Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Greg Ward), a player like Hurts could become a seriously terrifying fantasy QB to face on a week-to-week basis. 

We talked about the success of transfer QBs in the NFL earlier when discussing Joe Burrow, and the same lesson applies to Hurts. An adaptable mind that can pick up and master multiple different systems with completely different teammates and coaches is one that will often succeed when transitioning to the NFL. Given the success of former Oklahoma passers like Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, it’s clear that the technical aspects of the position were ingrained in them during their time under Riley, another cosign in favor of Hurts. Interestingly enough, one of the closest comparisons that has arisen for Hurts is none other than Deshaun Watson, a similar-sized player who became a fantasy superstar in his first season as a starter. Here’s a look at how these two passers stack up to each other:

Jalen Hurts:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 88.7
  • Average Depth of Target: 10.04
  • AIR%: 46.9%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 74.9%

Deshaun Watson:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 90.5
  • Average Depth of Target: 9.78
  • AIR%: 49.0%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 73.8%

While it would be unfair to directly assume that Hurts would become the next Watson, he would be in for a stellar fantasy career should he to follow suit with this comparison, as Watson has been a top-five fantasy finisher these past couple of years (and he was on pace for an overall QB1 finish in 2017 before tearing his ACL midseason). As for Hurts himself, his dynasty league destiny will be determined by the fate of Wentz, who may keep the former SEC Offensive Player of the Year riding the pine for the entirety of his rookie deal. 

Player Comparison:

Ceiling: Marcus Mariota, Las Vegas Raiders

A dynamic runner who does most of his damage as a passer on short and intermediate throws. Will hold onto the ball for a bit longer than he should and allow himself to take some unnecessary sacks. A high end QB2 on aggressive days, but more of middle of the pack starter otherwise. 

Floor: E.J Manuel, N/A

A nice college player who just can’t make the transition to the NFL. Dual-threat abilities mask severe limitations as a passer that simply hold him back from ever becoming a relevant fantasy asset.

Median: Colin Kaepernick, N/A

A dynamic ball carrier who can look great when his team is playing well around him. Will fall apart and crater otherwise. A boom or bust candidate from a week-to-week basis, but one worth investing in if you own the guy they are backing up. 

 

Jacob Eason, Indianapolis Colts

Jacob Eason 1

Bear with me here, as a lot of this section may sound like a rerun to you if you’ve read the piece we published on Eason a few weeks ago. Former Washington (and Georgia) passer is one of the most intriguing players from this year’s draft, as his pure arm strength is on par with both Jordan Love and Justin Herbert, and he has also displayed keen leadership abilities as a starter for both of the programs he played for during his collegiate career. 

As a true freshman for the Bulldogs in 2016, Eason looked like an emerging star, throwing for 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns. While he struggled mightily with his accuracy at times (55.1% completion rate), the young gunslinger displayed all the tools you look for in a potential franchise quarterback, leaving many draftniks to gush about his growth potential as the 2017 season kicked off. 

Unfortunately for Eason, fate had other ideas, as he suffered a serious knee injury in the team’s season-opener against Appalachian State. In his absence, the program turned to Jake Fromm as the starter, and the rest was history. Eason went from a highly regarded former super prospect to ‘the other Jake’, prompting a transfer to the University of Washington, located just a few hours from Eason’s childhood home. 

While he was two years removed from significant playing time, Eason was firmly on the draft radar heading into the 2019 season as the Huskies starter. The results were mixed, as Eason finished with 3,132 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions while completing 64.2% of his passes. It was clear that the former Gatorade Player of the Year had grown as a passer between his time with Georgia and his lone season with the Huskies, as his numbers improved significantly across the board. Yet even with the improvements he made, Eason failed to dominate the Pac-12 as many hoped he would. 

The advanced metrics depicted Eason as a very middle of the road passer, as he finished 22nd in the nation with a 74.9% adjusted completion rate, 54th in ADOT (9.3 YPT), and most importantly 2nd to last among qualified passers in passer rating when pressured. Considering the impressive arm strength he has displayed on occasion, Eason did not tap into his biggest strength with just 23 big-time throws compared to 12 turnover worthy plays. While Eason was never a perfect fit for Washington’s offense, his skill level should have transcended the limitations of the scheme a bit more, if in fact he was the first-round talent that many had talked him up to be. The NFL experts tended to agree with this assessment, as Eason found himself waiting til day three of the draft to hear his name called.

Many would give up on a passer who saw his stock take such a drastic hit, yet in this case we believe Eason to be most fortunate, as he could not have landed in a more perfect situation, based on his needs. Drafted by Indianapolis to backup veteran Philip Rivers, there may not be a better mentor for Eason to shadow. At 6’6, 235 lbs, Eason is built in the mold of the prototypical pocket passer that became the standard of excellence in draft prospects during the mid-’90s. A statue in the pocket, Eason is a player who was truly born in the wrong decade, as even 10 years ago he would have been taken first overall based purely on measurements. Yet as the Colts build an offense tailored to Rivers (perhaps the least-mobile passer of all time), Eason may very well have found the ideal situation. While he certainly did a lot of sitting during his collegiate career, it’s clear that he will need a significant amount of time on the sidelines before he’s ready to lead an NFL offense. With Rivers expected to lead the charge for the next season or two, Eason will be provided with the necessary learning time while also being taught the tricks of the trade by a guy who knows what it takes to succeed in the pros. 

Should anything happen to Rivers, Eason would not necessarily be thrown into the fire, as the team still has reliable spot starter Jacoby Brissett under contract. However, if called upon, the run-heavy Colts offense would certainly maximize Eason’s upside, as he would be protected by one of the league’s elite offensive line units while being able to checkdown to a variety of reliable options. Like Dak Prescott before him, Eason is an understudy who is in a prime position to succeed should he be forced into action. 

Even on a team that checks all the boxes, there are some huge concerns about Eason as a player. His lack of mobility is quite alarming, as we have seen similarly limited athletes get eaten alive in recent years (Josh Rosen, Mason Rudolph). Moreover, passers who have garnered cumulative college passer ratings below 140 from this last decade have been very underwhelming NFL players, with a 61% bust rating. The only notable success stories from this group have been Josh Allen (an elite rushing QB) and Daniel Jones (not far behind Allen as an athlete), two players who have still struggled with accuracy as professionals. When he’s in rhythm, Eason will look as good as any passer from this class. But when the chips are down, he will often disappear and occasionally self-destruct, as we saw in Washington’s game against the Utes. 

It’s tough to find a good comp for Eason, as he is so clearly gifted, yet exposes many flaws that could seriously sidetrack him from finding success in the NFL. PFF has compared him to Davis Webb, a passer who you might remember as the guy who stole Baker Mayfield’s starting role at Texas Tech, only to lose the role to Patrick Mahomes. Take a look at these eerily similar numbers from the two passers:

Jacob Eason:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 73.2
  • Average Depth of Target: 9.98
  • AIR%: 49.6%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 69.5%

Davis Webb:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 74.0
  • Average Depth of Target: 9.26
  • AIR%: 48.2%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 68.4%

I don’t love this comparison, as Webb played in two offenses that employed Air Raid schemes, while Eason was left at the mercy of the Pro style scheme run by Georgia and the West Coast-inspired Washington offense. Had Eason been placed in a scheme that asked him to be more than a game manager, I believe we would have seen some really incredible numbers. 

While he may never start a game for the Colts, I still believe that Eason is a worthwhile flyer in any Superflex league, as he could defy expectations if inserted into the lineup. We saw Frank Reich bring out the best in Nick Foles, Carson Wentz, and Andrew Luck. Eason may very well be next. 

Pro Comparison:

Ceiling: Nick Foles, Chicago Bears

A traditional pocket passer who maximizes his strengths as a downfield passer when paired with play callers who understand how to use him. A QB2 at best for fantasy, but a guy who can get you points if you need a bye week starter. 

Floor: Christian Hackenburg, N/A

A big name in college with almost no ability to play the position as a professional. Flames out in 1-2 seasons, bouncing around practice squads until every GM realizes what a flop he is. 

Median: Mike Glennon, Jacksonville Jaguars

A big body with a big arm and not much else. Physical gifts will get him more opportunities than he deserves, but the occasional 50-yard bomb will make you remember why he was once so highly regarded. 

 

Jake Fromm, Buffalo Bills

Jake Fromm

You might be saying to yourself: “How does Jake Fromm, a fifth-round pick drafted to be a backup, make this list?”. I asked myself the same thing, as he was nearly skipped over entirely for this list, due to the fact that he is set to backup a third-year QB who led the Bills to a playoff berth just last season (Josh Allen, who looks great in shorts). Yet Fromm’s college pedigree and makeup as a passer make him an intriguing player to follow at the NFL level, especially as the backup to Allen, who has been a bit fragile and turnover-prone as an NFL QB. 

Heading into the 2019 season, Fromm was thought of as a potential day one draft pick, following two seasons of competent quarterback play for one of the best teams in college football. In three years as the starter for the Bulldogs, Fromm was as consistent as they came, throwing for 8,236 yards, 78 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions while completing just over 63% of his passes. Across the board, Fromm was a very solid college passer, although his production dips from 2018 to 2019 were quite concerning. Between his sophomore and junior season, Fromm saw his completion percentage drop (from 67.4% to 60.%), as well as his YPA (9.0 to 7.4), Air Yards per attempt (10.1 to 8.1), and his QB rating (from 171.3 to 141.2). 

Due to the inconsistent cast of receivers that he had to work with in 2019, Fromm’s hype was debunked slowly over the course of his final season with the team, as the narrative around him went from ‘future franchise savior’ to ‘Derek Carr Jr.’. In the blink of an eye, those who once saw Fromm as a young Tom Brady soon came to the conclusion that he was just another ‘Checkdown Charlie’ from a loaded SEC team. The young signal-caller did little to quell this chatter, looking extremely average during his workouts at both the NFL Combine and UGA’s Pro Day. While many expected his slide on draft day, few could have imagined that it would have been so drastic, with Fromm waiting until day three to hear his name called. 

While it’s clear that Fromm is not expected to become the franchise QB for the Bills anytime soon, we have seen time and time again that smart, game manager types like himself can become valuable commodities, often tricking disorganized front offices into signing them as ‘bridge quarterbacks’ (see McCarron, A.J). As a functional passer on a run-heavy Pro-style offense, Fromm has the pedigree to succeed in a similar position if called upon in the NFL. He’s comfortable under center, a rarity for most college passers, while also showing proficiency throwing into tight windows. In 2019, Fromm was tied for fifth in the nation with only 7 turnover worthy plays, while also accounting for 24 big-time throws, a better mark than guys like Jalen Hurts and Jacob Eason. 

Fromm is not gonna beat you with his legs, as he is exclusively a pocket passer. Without the threat of running and the ability to stretch the field with deep throws, his fantasy upside will always be capped. However, were he to take over as the starter for Buffalo (whether due to an injury to Allen or simply poor play from the former top-10 draft pick) Fromm would be an ideal fit for the team’s offense. With a pair of competent running backs (Devin Singletary and Zack Moss), a trio of reliable receivers (Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and John Brown), and an offensive scheme that wouldn’t ask him to throw the ball 30+ times per game, Fromm could be a perfect fit for the Bills offense if Allen were to be displaced. While he lacks the size, speed, and arm strength of Allen, he is far more disciplined and accurate with the ball, traits that a winning team loves to have in their starter. On his best day, Fromm may resemble Andy Dalton from the prime days of the ‘Red Rifle’ hype train. On his worst, he may be Chase Daniel, a smart passer who plays extremely conservatively. 

The good folks over at PFF have compared Fromm to Mitchell Trubisky, a connection that I personally do not see, but one worth exploring:

Jake Fromm:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 90.3
  • Average Depth of Target: 10.34
  • AIR%: 55.0
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 69.7%

Mitch Trubisky:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 85.0
  • Average Depth of Target: 10.26
  • AIR%: 56%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 72.3%

While the averages for both players were quite close, Trubisky has displayed some elite rushing abilities in the NFL, while Fromm does not even come close in this regard. Both players are rhythm passers who can look great in pre-scripted sequences while falling apart late in games when asked to improvise. While Trubisky does have one top-15 fantasy finish in his career, I simply cannot see these players finding themselves on the same trajectories (but we do appreciate the analysts who provided these figures for us). 

As far as ‘game manager’ types go, passers that have fit this archetype have been hit or miss in this past decade, with guys like Derek Carr and Andy Dalton finding a ton of success while others (Ryan Finley, Trevor Siemian, Colt McCoy) have simply flamed out of starting roles due to their inability to generate offensive production. It’s tough to say which player Fromm will become, especially with the scrutiny he has already come under due to the revelation that he may have some rather racist point of views. Given the current social climate, it’s possible that Fromm may have already botched his chance to become a leader in Buffalo, something that he would need to do in order to succeed as the team’s starter. While you can say that he made a mistake, the fact that he did not apologize until it was public knowledge makes you question his character a bit. There’s a lot more that could be said about this, but unfortunately, this piece is about fantasy football, so I’m going to leave it at that. 

Pro Comparison:

Ceiling: Andy Dalton, Dallas Cowboys

Should he earn a starting role for a team, Fromm could easily parlay reliable decision-making and competent clock management into an extended stay as a long term, pseudo franchise quarterback. Like Dalton, he might have some really sharp weeks mixed in with his dull ones, averaging out as a low-end QB2 or high-end QB3.

Floor: Ryan Finley, Cincinnati Bengals

A college game manager who becomes a less than stellar NFL passer. Extremely limited by weak arm strength and conservative style of play. A career backup. 

Median: A.J McCarron, Houston Texans

A great collegiate career parlayed into an extended NFL career as a reliable backup. May start a handful of games but won’t do much of note. Still will be picked up on the waiver wire when scheduled for a spot start and may actually be signed as a bridge QB at some point in his career. 

 

Cole McDonald, Tennesee Titans

cole mcdonald 1
2019 November 23 SPT – Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo by Jamm Aquino/jaquino@staradvertiser.com Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald (13) throws the football against the San Diego State Aztecs during the second half of an NCAA football game on Saturday, November 23, 2019 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii. Hawaii won 14-11.

A true wild card, McDonald was one of the biggest risers from the NFL Combine, running a surprisingly swift 4.5 forty yard dash while looking competent when put through passing drills. Rarely would we think twice about such a late round pick, as most passers taken in the fifth round and beyond are drafted without the intention to one day be started by the team that took them. While it’s possible that McDonald is not the exception to this rule, his athletic upside combined with the gaudy passing numbers he put up at Hawaii makes him an intriguing understudy to Ryan Tannehill down in Tennessee. 

Hawaii’s offense was catered specifically to many of McDonald’s strengths as a passer. He was the starter for the program in both 2018 and 2019, putting up some pretty impressive digits:

2018:

  • 3,875 passing yards
  • 298.07 YPG
  • 58.9% completion rate
  • 484 passing attempts
  • 146.5 QB rating
  • 8.0 YPA, 8.6 AYPA
  • 36 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions

2019:

  • 4,135 passing yards (+260 yards)
  • 295.35 YPG (-2.28 YPG)
  • 63.8% completion rate (+4.9%)
  • 511 passing attempts (+27 attempts)
  • 147.6 QB rating (+1.1 points)
  • 8.1 YPA, 8.2 AYPA (+0.1 YPA, -0.5 AYPA)
  • 33 passing touchdowns, 14 interceptions (-3 TDs, +4 INTs)

In some ways, McDonald was a better passer during his first season as the starter, as his air yards per attempt, passing yards per game, and touchdown to interception ratio all regressed. But what stood out to me was the fact that McDonald improved his completion rate by almost 5%, showing increased poise in the pocket while also throwing fewer 50/50 balls. 

At 6’4, 220 lbs, McDonald has the ideal size teams look for in a franchise QB, while also possessing the elite arm strength that many scouts will lose their minds over. McDonald completed 9 passes of 40+ yards in 2019, the best mark in the NCAA, never being afraid to show off his cannon. McDonald has moments that make you question his decision making, but when he’s in rhythm he can really zip throws into tight windows with high-level accuracy. Say what you will about Air Raid offenses, but they definitely give their QBs a chance to show off their goods. 

While there’s a lot to work with when it comes to McDonald’s physical skills, the mental side of playing the QB position is often questioned when watching his game tape. Many times during his junior year, McDonald was benched due to some abominably bad throws into heavy coverage, most of which came on plays that forced him to improvise. Moreover, his experience playing in an offense that deployed 4+ receivers on every passing down did not prepare him to play in a more traditionally structured NFL offense (especially one as old school as the Titans’ scheme). 

With McDonald, the highs are quite enjoyable. The young gunslinger finished 14th in the nation with 1,103 deep passing yards, 7th in big-time throws (31), and third in ADOT (12.4), metrics that speak to his willingness to chuck the ball. Thanks to Hawaii’s vertical passing offense, McDonald threw for only 226 screen passing yards, as he was never the type to pick up cheap yardage through the air. The lows for MacDonald are quite worrisome however, as evidenced by his 29 turnover worthy plays in 2019. Should his troubles with reading defenses persist in the NFL, McDonald’s time in the league will be very brief. 

It would be unfair to compare McDonald to a guy like Gardner Minshew, a late round pick who showed out in the NFL following a breakout season as the starter on an Air Raid offense. Unlike Minshew, McDonald’s decision-making is leagues away from where it needs to be in order for him to find success as a starter in the NFL. Pro Football Focus has compared him to another Air Raid descendant, former Baylor standout Bryce Petty. Here’s how the two players stack up:

Cole McDonald:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 79.1
  • Average Depth of Target: 12.15
  • AIR%: 68.3%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 68.2%

Bryce Petty:

  • Overall Passing Grade: 83.5
  • Average Depth of Target: 12.15
  • AIR%: 61.7%
  • Adjusted Completion Rate: 71.1%

I don’t love this comparison, as I feel like these two players have very different styles as passers, with McDonald offering much more as a rusher as well. I think there’s a vast swath of possibilities for McDonald as a fantasy asset, should he ever be called into action by the Titans. While their current offense is structured very differently from the one that made McDonald a known commodity, it is catered to a similarly athletic passer (Tannehill) while featuring an elite offensive line and a running game to take the edge off of the passer. 

While the Air Raid/Run and Shoot style of offense has elevated many collegiate passers to become NFL ready passers (Minshew, Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield, Patrick Mahomes) it has also masked many a passer’s deficiencies, which have been exposed once they reach the pros (Will Grier, Luke Falk, Petty, Geno Smith, Johnny Manziel). 

Pro Comparison:

Ceiling: Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears

The best-case scenario for a guy like McDonald would be for him to renounce the instincts that he has learned from the high volume passing offense that made him a star in college and instead focus on becoming a better short and intermediate passer who can hurt a defense with his legs on option plays and scrambles. Like Trubisky, McDonald is a special athlete at the QB position, one who could definitely be a franchise passer if developed properly. 

Floor: Will Grier, Carolina Panthers

An Air Raid product who does not look nearly as good without 2-3 extra receivers on the field. Weaknesses are exposed almost immediately, leaving McDonald on the roster bubble. 

Median: Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks

A tremendously gifted athlete who simply lacks the focus and mental rigor to become a startable NFL passer. Upside keeps him employed for a while but ultimately proves to be little more than a third-stringer. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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