When Matthew Stafford sustained a back injury in 2018 and played through it, many spoke to his toughness despite a porous offensive line and struggling offense. When he bounced back in a big way, playing some of the best football of his career in 2019, fans were jubilant. But when he suffered another back injury in 2019 that would ultimately send him to IR, the Lions fans that have always called for him being traded or cut were joined by a national audience that saw benefit in the Lions eating a massive cap hit to move on from the greatest quarterback to ever wear Honolulu Blue.
The 2020 NFL Combine provides the team an opportunity to get a closer look at the quarterbacks that will either replace Matthew Stafford or, more likely, be used as trade bait to move down a number of picks and acquire additional draft resources.
Note: All RAS links will be updated during and after the Combine with official and tentative metrics. This will continue throughout the draft season.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
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Getting the obvious one out of the way early, Tagovailoa is a big reason many consider the draft to be starting with the third pick and the Detroit Lions. If Joe Burrow hadn’t put up the greatest season in the history of college quarterbacking, we’re probably talking about ways that the Cincinnati Bengals would take the risk of picking Tagovailoa with the first overall pick even despite his career-disrupting injury.
Even with the risk that he is never able to play football again, or is at a far greater risk of injury than the average prospect, Tagovailoa is considered by many to be a consensus No. 2 or 3 overall pick, with few finding him taken afterwards.
It’s rare that a player comes out hot as a freshman off the bench and doesn’t see that momentum slow, but that’s what happened with Tagovailoa at Alabama. His injury status and significant injury risk are the only reasons the calls for the Lions to draft him aren’t deafening. Despite his agent’s insistence he will test, which he himself echoes, the expectation is that Tagovailoa will not be able to measure at the Combine, and if he does, he will simply take it easy (similar to Dwayne Haskins in 2019), but it’s purely the medicals that people will be paying the most attention to.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
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In a way, how Herbert is currently viewed is similar to how Baker Mayfield was viewed prior to the 2018 draft. Not that Herbert will ultimately be taken first overall, but back then you rarely saw talk of Mayfield going as high as he eventually was. Instead, he was often talked of as the second or third best quarterback, and that’s the same with Herbert.
Talked of as a possible number one overall pick prior to this season and last, Herbert has some inconsistent tape to consider and plenty of questions to answer as a passer. He has that prototypical NFL size that some teams covet, however, and you’re going to see him tied to a half dozen teams that not only need a quarterback, but may very well be picking one in the first round.
Jake Fromm, Georgia
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Unlike Tagovailoa, Fromm was unable to maintain the hype he received when he came out as a freshman passer. His draft stock has been in fairly steady flux throughout the 2019 season with some holding on to the thought of Fromm as a first-round passer, others acknowledging his physical liabilities and how they hold him back as a quarterback, and some writing him off as a signal caller altogether.
Whether Fromm is considered a developmental passer or a career backup, he’s a player the Lions are likely to have their eyes on at the Combine. Despite the Bart Scott reports, and the others that quote back to him, Matthew Stafford is unlikely to be traded in 2020 and the Lions are likely looking for someone they can bring along quickly in their offense to at least back up in 2020. Why not go back to the well and bring in another Bulldog?
Jordan Love, Utah State
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If the Lions do decide to trade back into the first round, the scenario proposed by PFF isn’t really all that crazy. Once you get past the idea of the Lions taking a QB in the first round despite needing help at so, so many other positions, you have to consider taking a player that has the traits worth developing at the position. Love has a huge arm, displays positive athletic traits for the position on tape, and with how offenses appear to be developing in the NFL you can easily see how his positives can be turned into wins if you can shave off some of those negatives. It would be a hard sell for Lions fans, and he won’t help much in 2020, but even as big of a critic as I am of both the player and the pick if taken in the first round, you can’t write him off.
Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma/Alabama
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As the quarterback of the Sooners in 2019, Hurts followed the same kind of trajectory that Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield did before him, starting immediately and having an impact in a very quarterback-friendly offense. Prior to his play at Oklahoma, Hurts languished behind Tagovailoa after losing his starting position there, which eventually led to his transfer. For Alabama, Hurts looked pretty mediocre as a passer but showed promise rushing the football. It was then that talk of him converting to running back started, but I suspect we’ll hear more of that now that the Combine is in full swing. Had he never played for Oklahoma, I would totally be behind a switch, but he showed enough as a passer to gain some consideration as a developmental quarterback, though not one I’d be comfortable starting day one.
Jacob Eason, Washington
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When Eason transferred to Washington from Georgia, he was in a similar situation as Jalen Hurts in that he was moving on to get out from under the shadow of a developing passer. Eason also lost all of 2017 and 2018 due to injury and transfer, so evaluators had waited essentially since 2016 to see if Eason could build on the traits he had shown on the field. There was plenty to be excited with in 2019, though concerns weren’t irrelevant in his style of play and field vision. I wouldn’t jump for joy to see Eason on the field in 2020, but he has the size and enticing arm strength that makes him a promising developmental talent moving forward.
Anthony Gordon, Washington State | RAS
Gordon is an Air Raid quarterback with positive athletic traits known for getting the ball out lightning fast. His questionable arm strength and heavy scheme dependency make projection difficult.
Cole McDonald, Hawaii | RAS
He’s a strong system passer who relies on timing routes with an above average arm. McDonald tends to crumble under pressure or when coverage forces him out of his rhythm.
Brian Lewerke, Michigan State | RAS
Lewerke is one of the best touch passers in the class when he has no pressure. But he has limited mobility, limited arm strength, and woeful accuracy when under even a slight amount of pressure.
Jake Luton, Oregon State | RAS
Massive frame and high release on passes. Poor arm strength and exaggerated throwing motion, will require a great deal of development in even the most basic areas.
James Morgan, Florida International | RAS
Decent arm talent and better athletic ability than his style would suggest. Only developmental traits in every other area, likely requiring a great deal of coaching.
Joe Burrow, Louisiana State | RAS
The #1 overall pick. He could walk up to the Bengals staff and literally spit in their faces and it’s still hard to see him falling to pick No. 2.
Kelly Bryant, Missouri | RAS
Good size and athletic ability suggests more RPO than rhythm/system passing, but he’s better at the latter. Lack of arm strength a serious concern, may need to retool his whole motion.
Kevin Davidson, Princeton | RAS
Excellent size and poise. Game manager type you don’t expect to see out of the pocket. Level of competition at Ivy League and horrendous mobility do not project well.
Nate Stanley, Iowa | RAS
Very promising passer when everything is perfect. Just the worst when anything is out of order, be it pass protection or lack of rhythm due to defensive looks.
Shea Patterson, Michigan | RAS
From the waist down, has several promising quarterback traits in his mobility and elusiveness in the pocket. From the waist up, you’ve got a decidedly average QB with several developmental deficiencies.
Steven Montez, Colorado | RAS
Great size with a fantastic arm and good mobility, good developmental option with almost everything you want from the neck down despite mechanical issues. From the neck up, I’m not sure he’s a quarterback.