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Vasha Hunt/Associated Press
A quarterback’s situation is more important to his success or failure than any other position.
Would Eli Manning have won two championships if the then-San Diego Chargers didn’t trade him? Former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi didn’t even think a deal would come together.
Would JaMarcus Russell have failed no matter where he landed? Probably, but no one can be certain.
This uncertainty is exactly why a prospect’s future is built on more than raw talent and skill. Each individual must be properly cultivated and nurtured. The ideal situation to succeed includes the right system fit, a good supporting cast and, most importantly, consistency within a coaching staff to develop and maximize the player’s potential.
At least seven different franchises—the Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars—should be actively looking at the top six quarterback prospects for the 2020 NFL draft.
The following situations are immediately identifiable as worse for an individual than others and can be avoided.
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David J. Phillip/Associated Press
LSU’s Joe Burrow wants to be the No. 1 overall pick and deserves to be. Anything less would be a disappointment. More importantly, a potential draft-day slide will likely hurt his long-term potential.
“Of course I want to be the first pick,” Burrow told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine. “That’s every kid’s dream. I’ve worked really, really hard for the opportunity and I’m blessed to be in this position. So I’m just really excited to be in this position.”
Burrow earned the right to be considered the presumptive first draft pick of the 2020 NFL draft after the greatest single season in college football history.
The 23-year-old signal-caller shattered the FBS record with 60 touchdown passes on his way to a national championship. He left LSU as the program’s all-time leader in career completion percentage (68.5), passing yards per game (305.9), touchdown passes (76), 300-yard passing games (15), 400-yard passing games (four), total yards (9,332), total yards per game (333.3), and touchdowns responsible for (88).
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner showed an unparalleled level of pocket awareness, anticipation and touch compared to recent collegiate quarterbacks. His feel for the game borders on preternatural.
But the Southern Ohio native needs help because those natural gifts can deteriorate in difficult situations and confidence wanes. The Bengals are ideal, because the learning curve won’t be steep.
“There’s quite a bit of similarities,” offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said of the Bengals scheme compared to the one at LSU, per Geoff Hobson of the team’s official site. “(LSU) ran an NFL scheme as far as drop-back passing. We have very many common concepts. … There are things they did well we’ll probably end up taking from them whether we take Joe or not.”
Zac Taylor is an offensive-minded head coach who once helped to develop Jared Goff. The Bengals made sure to improve the roster this offseason and uncharacteristically spent significant free-agent dollars. Left tackle Jonah Williams’ return from a season-ending labrum injury will provide a much-needed boost to the offensive line.
These reasons show why Cincinnati is the right landing spot for Burrow. Anywhere else simply isn’t as good of a fit.
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Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Washington Redskins remain open to the possibility of taking a quarterback with this year’s second overall draft pick.
As such, a Kyle Murray situation could develop, though the two situations don’t exactly parallel one another. If something similar does occur and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa is the selection, the quarterback’s career will likely suffer as a result.
A year ago, the Arizona Cardinals decided Kyler Murray was a superior prospect compared to Josh Rosen, whom the organization chose with the 10th overall pick in 2018 NFL draft. General manager Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury weren’t beholden to the sunk cost fallacy and made the right choice by drafting a better option. Murray rewarded the decision by becoming the 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
But a couple of significant differences exist that eased the transition for the Cardinals, whereas Washington doesn’t have the same luxuries.
First, Kingsbury is an offensive-minded head coach who calls plays and helps develop the quarterback position. Washington head coach Ron Rivera brings a defense-first mentality. Second, Murray is the ideal fit for Kingsbury’s system. The same can’t be said of Tagovailoa in Scott Turner’s scheme.
Furthermore, Washington won’t necessarily move on from Dwayne Haskins Jr. even if the front office does select another quarterback with this year’s second overall pick. Haskins is viewed as a favorite of owner Dan Snyder. Thus, a competition will ensue instead of concentrating on the development of a singular option. Or, worse, Tagovailoa replaces Haskins and draws disapproval from ownership if the new signal-caller falters.
On top of those issues, Washington still has concerns at left tackle and tight end with Trent Williams’ trade demands, Vernon Davis‘ retirement and Jordan Reed’s release.
Tagovailoa will want to be drafted as high as possible, of course, and potential interest from Washington hasn’t completely dissipated. But it’s in the best interest of both parties not to make this happen.
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Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Las Vegas Raiders head coach Jon Gruden is utterly and completely fascinated with the quarterback position. Despite a legitimate starting option already on the roster, the Raiders are always sniffing around potential draftees, even though the team hasn’t been in position to select a top prospect since Derek Carr took over the offense.
Yet, here the Raiders are still considering available options. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Oregon’s Justin Herbert had a predraft video conference call with the team on March 30.
Some might try to explain the situation as the organization doing its due diligence. However, the Raiders own this year’s 12th and 19th overall picks. Whereas, Herbert is generally viewed as a top-six prospect. Clearly, the Raiders have the firepower with a pair of first-round selections to trade up for a quarterback if they fall in love with him.
But it would be a mistake if they did. Whoever takes over will be constantly and unfairly compared to Carr. Any regression with the offense will fall directly on the rookie’s shoulders.
Herbert, in particular, struggles to consistently work off his initial read. He’s far more comfortable making simple quick throws. The reigning William V. Campbell Trophy winner can work through a full-field progression, but he’s not nearly as effective when asked to do so. Instead, he tends to lock onto his intended targets.
The problem here is twofold. First, a rookie coming in will struggle to initially replicate Carr’s production. Second, Herbert’s developmental curve may force Gruden to scale back and simplify the offense.
On top of those potential issues, the Raiders will likely have to pay a hefty price to trade up and land a prospect of Herbert’s caliber. He’s not the right option to displace Carr as Las Vegas’ starting quarterback.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
The Jacksonville Jaguars run the risk of making two mistakes if they decide to draft Utah State’s Jordan Love.
Value may be the biggest issue. Love’s predicted landing spot is all over the board with the draft two weeks away. He’s generally considered the fourth-best quarterback prospect but still a first-round talent.
The Jaguars own the ninth and 20th picks in this year’s draft. Where they potentially consider Love will have a drastic effect on how he’s viewed.
If Jacksonville wants to make sure it doesn’t miss on its guy, Love could be a top-10 selection. He has the physical tools to validate the possibility but lacks the caliber of play expected of an elite prospect. Thus, it would be considered a rather rich investment. The Jaguars making such a move would reek of Blake Bortles Part Deux.
A team should be aggressive in acquiring its preferred targets, but it can’t overvalue them to the point of placing the individual in a bad position.
In Love’s case, a top-10 selection would immediately signal a starting-caliber option, especially since the Jaguars are prepared to enter the 2020 campaign with a second-year, sixth-round quarterback. A significant investment automatically eschews Gardner Minshew II, even though Love is far from a polished prospect.
The incoming quarterback’s developmental curve creates a secondary problem. Love performed at a high level as a sophomore, but his play regressed last season when his interception total ballooned from six to 17. The 21-year-old signal-caller struggles with post-snap recognition, specifically dropping linebackers, while he forces too many throws into coverage.
Minshew may be physically limited, but he’s a precision passer, which makes him a much better option in Jay Gruden’s offense.
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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Once the first four quarterback prospects are off the board, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts heads up the next tier. But the 2019 Heisman Trophy runner-up needs a coach with a vision for his skill set. As good as Bruce Arians is, he isn’t that coach.
Hurts’ mobility must be factored into the scheme. Otherwise, a team will limit his overall effectiveness. The dual-threat quarterback is at his best when utilizing run-pass options. He’s not only skilled at making the correct read, but he’s also an effective runner when he pulls the ball. The Oklahoma quarterback managed 1,298 rushing yards last season and finished seventh overall with 20 rushing touchdowns.
The incoming prospect isn’t on Lamar Jackson’s or Kyle Murray’s level as an open-field runner, but an offense can still expect explosive plays from Hurts, who ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
If you haven’t heard, Tom Brady will be the starting quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season. The franchise should be excited about signing the highest-profile free agent in the game’s history. Even so, Brady turns 43 in August. A potential succession plan should be under consideration (and, no, Blaine Gabbert isn’t that guy).
Tampa Bay could be ready for the franchise’s next phase once Brady does retire with the right draftee.
But Arians isn’t going to change his approach. He prefers sturdy, drop-back pocket passers. He’s gone from Ben Roethlisberger to Andrew Luck to Carson Palmer to Jameis Winston to Brady. Hurts is the exact opposite of what the coach wants at the position.
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Stephen Brashear/Associated Press
The New Orleans Saints organization is inextricably linked to head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. How those two thrived alongside one another is astounding. Their collaboration also provides a template of what not to expect with the next quarterback once the 41-year-old Brees decides to retire.
Brees personifies a productive and precise passer with uncanny accuracy. His understanding and execution of the Saints offense isn’t comparable to any other quarterback, especially after Tom Brady’s decision to leave the New England Patriots.
Like the Patriots and now the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an eventual succession plan is necessary. The Saints already have Taysom Hill on the roster, and the front office did place a first-round restricted free-agent tender on the do-everything offensive weapon this offseason.
Hill is talented and played quarterback for the BYU Cougars, but he has 13 career pass attempts at the professional level. A second option to possibly replace Brees should be a necessity in this year’s draft.
Washington’s Jacob Easton can’t be that secondary possibility. The big-armed pocket passer isn’t the type of efficient passer needed to properly operate the Saints offensive scheme. Eason’s appeal is based on his natural arm talent, but it hasn’t been properly harnessed. He’s a vertical passer with a 59.8 career completion percentage.
Yes, the 6’6″, 231-pound signal-caller showed signs of improvement during his only season with the Huskies, but he still struggled with poor mechanics and eye discipline.
The Saints would be better served going with Georgia’s Jake Fromm or Washington State’s Anthony Gordon a little later in the process.
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