Breaking down the top college football quarterbacks, including Ohio State’s Justin Fields who looks like the next Russell Wilson and future first-rounder.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is enjoying a breakout season and looking like he could be the next Russell Wilson in the process.
We’re almost done with the 2019 college football regular season as Week 13 wrapped up with some thrilling finishes. Ohio State, Georgia and Oklahoma avoided comeback attempts from their foes, while Oregon fell as a pretender. The fallout from next week’s rivalry games will be massive.
As usual, we focused on the nation’s best quarterbacks and their individual performance. Two of the aforementioned victors did so in spite of their quarterback play, and Oregon faltered due to theirs. With Tua Tagovailoa out for this season and Trevor Lawrence on a bye week, we’ll be diving deep into the struggles across the nation.
Other quarterbacks around the nation, including Utah’s Tyler Huntley and Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan, impressed despite limited stats. They weren’t included this week due to limited film availability but should be noted as some of the better passers in the nation.
Justin Fields, Ohio State
Although Ohio State didn’t end up having the dominant performance they appeared destined to have in an impressive first quarter, it is notable how well Justin Fields has played this season. He was a force against Penn State despite being limited in the second half with a left wrist injury, leading the Buckeyes to several first downs with his legs. His ability to throw from a variety of platforms to all levels has been consistent throughout the year as well.
Fields’ dual-threat ability cannot be understated. He’s the best true dual-threat in the country right now if we’re weighing the volume of carries he can tote. As great as Trevor Lawrence is, he doesn’t take run quite nearly as well as Fields can.
A whopping five of six passes beyond 10 yards were catchable for Fields, and he lost one touchdown on one of his drops. He’s been supremely efficient on the season in Ryan Day’s friendly system thanks to tightened mechanics and impressive understanding of defensive leverage. He’s only behind Joe Burrow on the year in terms of his production in my numbers.
He has a special connection to star receiver Chris Olave in particular. The two continue to connect on vertical routes and make each other shine. It’s easy to see two future first-round talents carrying the passing attack of this offense.
Fields’ ability to move the chains on short throws is especially impressive though. Most dynamic quarterbacks with these physical gifts will struggle on shorter throws due to an over-reliance on talent and underdeveloped mechanics. That’s not Fields.
He’s the closest player I’ve seen to Russell Wilson. He benefits from his situation more than Wilson could’ve dreamt in college, but the natural feel for the game, ability to play within the pocket or escape it and instill fear into defenses, and accuracy to all levels is rare. Teams missing out on either Burrow or Tua this year should opt for Chase Young and try for Lawrence or Fields next year.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
It’s not always fair to completely attribute wins or losses to any quarterback. Most of that analysis is often noise and not worthy of your time. I won’t say that Justin Herbert is completely to blame for Oregon losing against a mediocre Arizona State team, but he continually gave the Sun Devils opportunities to take control and they eventually did.
The frustrating part of Herbert is there’s a lack of ownership of his game. He made such little imprint on this game outside of the first drive and late fourth quarter when Oregon was down multiple scores, that you’d forget he was an NFL prospect if we only considered the quality of play.
He had four interceptable passes, raising his total to 10 on the year despite only five being caught. His decision-making has broken down when Oregon has asked more of him, which is why I’ve pushed back on the notion that he’s a bad fit in this conservative offense. Oregon is protecting him for a reason despite having a strong offensive line, defense and enough playmakers to be the head of a quality passing game.
Herbert doesn’t appear to be a franchise quarterback despite his size and arm talent. His occasional display of perfect accuracy on rollouts or ability to split zone defenders on intermediate routes is promising enough for a desperate team in the top-10 to consider him, but he’s a better option for a team that can groom him behind a veteran for some time and then surround him with a great system and talent base.
Hitching your franchise to him is far too optimistic for me, though. His demeanor and inconsistency after getting so much experience at Oregon are too similar to other past busts.
Jake Fromm, Georgia
While I feel comfortable downgrading my projection of Herbert, I’ve seen enough of Jake Fromm to do the same. I thought he was a very good collegiate quarterback entering the year, and good enough prospect to go as high as Round 2 in the 2020 NFL Draft if he could prove to be an upper-tier game-manager that could be a solid value.
But after yet enough outing with troublesome decisions and inexcusable misses, Fromm should be viewed as a limited-upside project. His mechanics are all over the place and he has no way to compensate for them with a middling arm. He connected on only four-of-11 passes beyond 10 yards, stringing together another poor performance on throws that matter the most.
He needs much tighter footwork, which is certainly achievable. But his play under pressure remains loose and his situational play on conversion downs is below-average. Those are two areas he has to be money in to prove valuable on a team that can justify spending a pick on him.
The comparison I’d have for Fromm is Mason Rudolph even though the latter had impressive deep ball numbers. Much of that was a fraud due to his cast, system and competition. Fromm is similar in that his traits are below-average and don’t have the acuity on the field to transcend those issues.
Taking Fromm as anything but a potential backup seems too optimistic for me now. That pegs him near the fourth-round, and I’d opt for someone with more physical traits even if they have a lower floor as a spot starter.
Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
How Jalen Hurts responded to back-to-back games with varying levels of struggles was critical to see this week. While his second half against Baylor was an improvement, his decision-making has been exposed by tighter coverage and struggles passing deep have become apparent. Gone are some of the warm and fuzzies we felt early in the year.
Lincoln Riley called a conservative game as Hurts missed open receivers on short and deep routes. One costly miss allowed TCU right back into this game despite the early lead, as it was a pick-six while Oklahoma was on third down in the red zone. His ball placement was suboptimal and repeatedly hurt his receiver’s chances to finish the play.
NFL teams should still be interested in him as a developing talent. His arm is gifted despite the drop in effectiveness in recent weeks. He’s a great runner who can improvise as well. I do think that his limitations mentally in the quick passing game is what could limit how long of a leash he gets to develop as a potential mid-round draft pick.
I’d rather roll the dice on Hurts in the third-round than Fromm, for example. Even with Hurts’ up-and-down play, his best plays show NFL starter talent and we know his work ethic will bring some improvement. What harms him with the Dak Prescott comparison is now we’re seeing how experience helped Dak against post-snap changes in coverage, where Hurts is learning this on the fly.
That doesn’t mean he’ll never get to where he needs to with his mechanics, decision-making or aptitude, because we’ve already seen major growth since his freshman season. It’s just more likely a team will never give him full faith and multiple years to hone those skills before investing in another option.
Jordan Love, Utah State
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder with Jordan Love, much like it was with Josh Allen in the 2018 NFL Draft cycle and arguably Daniel Jones last year. There are clear positives with Love, as he nailed four deep passes and five intermediate attempts despite being under duress from a great Boise State defense. But the difficulty in predicting whether he’ll throw an accurate pass or not remains high.
His motion from when he plants to throw and including his arm angle is inconsistent and filled with potential areas for error. He needs to keep the ball tighter to his body and become quicker to cut down on so much noise with his upper half, and his legs should plant more than jump as he throws.
That’s why he was only two of eight on short throws outside of the hash mark and missed an additional seven attempts beyond the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t need to be perfect to be valuable, but rather cut out the astoundingly bad interceptions and find a little consistency in moving the chains and in the red zone. His struggles in situational play remains a large question mark in his projection.
My grade on him would be similar to Allen’s as a prospect, which was a third-rounder with the potential to develop into an NFL starter. As with Allen, chances are low he’ll hit and become more than below-average to average, but at the right price, he’s certainly a better flier than those without that arm and playmaking. I realize he may not go that low but taking him higher will tie him more to a front office than they should be comfortable with.
I wouldn’t want my future job to be tied to his development unless I had the absolute perfect situation and he is perfect in interviews. And in fairness to him, that may happen.