NFL

Which Quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft Is Statistically Superior?

Tua Tagovailoa put up monster numbers during his time at Alabama. Should that put him above Joe Burrow when ranking the quarterbacks in the 2020 NFL Draft?

There doesn't always have to be a wrong answer.

Usually, there will be. If you're forced to pick between Rush Hour and The Lord of the Rings as a film franchise and choose The Lord of the Rings, you should be put on a government watch list. There is no factual argument that leads you to that conclusion, so in that instance, there is a right answer.

With Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, though, it's different. There, it's okay to just say both are good and move on with your day. Neither route is wrong.

That's probably a boring answer, and you didn't come here to read, "I like both! Thank you for listening to my TED talk." But once you break down the prospect resumes that Burrow and Tagovailoa bring to the table, it's pretty clear that both are top-notch options, assuming that Tagovailoa's hip checks out.

Unfortunately, NFL teams don't get to operate that way, and there aren't 32 of these guys in the pool to populate the whole league. The Cincinnati Bengals have to decide their preference (though it seems that is merely a formality), and the rest of the league has to figure out how to view this draft class once Burrow and Tagovailoa are off the board. That's where the tough decisions truly come into play.

So, if forced to choose, should we side with Burrow or Tagovailoa? And how should we view the rest of the quarterback prospects in this year's draft?

Thankfully, as we've seen in years past, we can get some help in answering this question via each player's collegiate resume. We can look at their efficiency marks, experience, and age to formulate opinions on these quarterbacks and figure out where they should sit on draft boards as April approaches.

In addition to Burrow and Tagovailoa, we'll look at the other four quarterbacks with a grade of 75 or higher at Scouts Inc., adding Justin Herbert, Jake Fromm, Jacob Eason, and Jordan Love into the fold. We'll rank those six players based on their collegiate resumes and outline the risks and rewards associated with each.

But before we do that, it's important to outline what, exactly, makes an ideal statistical profile. So let's look at that first by investigating past successful first-round quarterbacks and then get to today's main event.

What We're Looking For

In order to evaluate a quarterback through his statistics, you have to know what has mattered when evaluating past first-round successes. This requires us to determine what, exactly, a "success" is.

For this process, we'll be leaning on numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), the efficiency metric we use to track the expected points added or subtracted on each play throughout the year. For quarterbacks, we'll be looking at Total NEP, which includes both what they add as a passer (with deductions for expected points lost on sacks, interceptions, and incompletions) and as a rusher.

Because the NFL landscape looks wildly different now than it did in 2011 (much less 2000), we're going to ignore the actual numbers of each player's Total NEP and focus instead on where they ranked among quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs in a given season. Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, and Deshaun Watson were the top five guys in this department for 2019, so this helps encapsulate who truly stood out on a year-by-year basis.

Using Total NEP as a lens, it's pretty easy to spot who the first-round busts are. Among first-round picks since 2000 with at least three seasons since their draft year, 17 have never even had a single top-15 season in Total NEP. These are your Jamarcus Russell-, Mark Sanchez-type guys whom you'd like to avoid if at all possible.

There's a pretty clear gap in their efficiency stats and the quarterbacks who have been in the top 15 at least once. Here's that comparison. The "games" column refers to the number of collegiate games in which the player had at least 10 pass attempts. "Rating" is short for that player's final-year passing efficiency rating, and "AY/A" is adjusted yards per attempt, which bakes touchdowns and interceptions into a yards-per-attempt-analogous metric. "QBR" refers to ESPN's Total QBR, which is adjusted for schedule and accounts for the player's rushing output. The sample for those with at least one top-15 season is 32 quarterbacks who have logged a top-15 season, even if they're still within their first three years in the league.

Average Collegiate Resume Draft Pick Games Rating AY/A QBR
At Least One Top-15 7.0 33.6 157.5 9.1 80.1
No Top-15 Seasons 17.5 33.4 147.1 8.1 74.3


The split in AY/A there is pretty major, and that's why it's the metric we'll focus on most throughout the piece today. Before moving onto that, though, it's worth discussing the draft pick portion.

We like to skewer the NFL for whiffing on busts, but in general, front offices are really good at evaluating quarterbacks. Of the 17 complete flops, only five were top-10 picks, and only two (Russell and Joey Harrington) went first overall. This is why it's both noteworthy and concerning when someone slides in the draft: the NFL broadly knows what it's doing.

Getting back to our discussion of the picks that went right, the obvious shortcoming of just looking for players who log a top-15 finish is that some perceived "flops" will still squeak through. It's hard to call Mitchell Trubisky, Vince Young, and Matt Leinart success stories, and they technically fit that in this fashion.

So instead, let's look at players who are regularly pushing for top-10 finishes. In our previous sample of 49 quarterbacks, 12 have been in the top 10 in Total NEP in one-third of their qualified seasons. These are the guys like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, and Philip Rivers, whose careers you'd happily take in the first round if offered to you.

This is what the average resume of one of those 12 quarterbacks looks like compared to the 37 other quarterbacks who have fallen short of this benchmark.

Average College Resume Draft Pick Games Rating AY/A QBR
One-Third of Seasons in Top 10 9.9 36.4 162.2 9.4 81.1
Others 10.8 32.6 151.2 8.6 76.9


Once again, there's a pretty big split in the AY/A between the rousing successes and the others. That's not a huge surprise. Additionally, we start to see here some separation in the games played column. That, though, requires the caveat that the experience threshold is different depending on the player's age coming out.

Let's split players into four different buckets, based on their age and experience level. Bucket one is young and experienced, players with at least 30 games with at least 10 pass attempts who came out following their age-21 season or younger. Bucket two is players in that age range with less experience.

Bucket three is older players (coming out following their age-22 season or older) who have at least 35 games of experience coming out, indicating they were a starter for the equivalent of roughly three full seasons. Then the fourth bucket will be older players with less experience than that.

The old and experienced group includes 14 quarterbacks. There are 15 in the old and inexperienced bucket, 17 young and experienced, and 10 young and inexperienced. The table below shows how often quarterbacks in each bucket hit various thresholds in Total NEP ranking during their qualified seasons.

Age and Experience Top 5s Top 10s Top 15s Qualified Seasons
Older and Experienced 15.22% 35.87% 54.35% 92
Older and Less Experienced 1.54% 1.54% 18.46% 65
Younger and Experienced 22.97% 41.89% 59.46% 74
Younger and Less Experienced 4.88% 17.07% 41.46% 41


This shouldn't be all that surprising. In general, you would prefer a quarterback with lots of experience. But a lack of experience is a much bigger red flag if that player is older. This will be relevant later when discussing Burrow.

Combine all of this together, and it should be pretty clear what we're looking for. We want a quarterback with plus efficiency in college (specifically focusing on their AY/A) who has an appropriate experience level for his age. If we can check all of those boxes, we should feel pretty good about handing the keys of the franchise over to that player.

With that in mind, let's start to break down the 2020 class and how they stack up relative to previous first-round picks. For each quarterback, we'll list their collegiate resumes and a statistical comp who had a similar profile coming out. This will be based purely on their stats, and it will assume each quarterback winds up being a first-round pick because -- again -- NFL teams are pretty good at evaluating this position.

1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

Age: 21 | Games Played: 27 | AY/A: 13.4 | Passing Efficiency Rating: 206.9 | Total QBR: 94.7

Top Statistical Comp: Cam Newton

If not for the hip injury, Tagovailoa would have a legit claim to be the first overall pick in this year's draft. Once you account for that, it's logical to shove Burrow to the top. We just can't lose sight of how special Tagovailoa was in his time at Alabama.

In 2018 -- Tagovailoa's lone full season as starter -- he logged a 12.8 AY/A, the second-best mark in the nation that year, trailing only Kyler Murray. He followed that up by putting up a 13.4 AY/A in 2019, which would have been the best mark in NCAA history had he qualified.

If you combine every throw across Tagovailoa's career, his AY/A is 12.7. That is 1.6 adjusted yards higher than any other quarterback in NCAA history, making him a true outlier in the most positive sense. We can and should mention the superb talent around him, but this type of efficiency is unheard of.

What makes this all even more impressive is what Tagovailoa did in tougher situations. In 2019, 60.71% of Tagovailoa's pass attempts came against top-50 defenses in Bill Connelly's SP+, the second-highest mark out of our six quarterbacks studied (trailing only Fromm). Against those defenses, Tagovailoa's AY/A was still 12.1, which isn't all that different than his full-season mark.

The other tough situation for a quarterback to face is an obvious passing down, where the defense knows a drop back is coming and can devote all resources to stopping the pass. Tagovailoa faced a 3rd and 6 or longer less often than most of his peers, but when his back was against the wall, he put up jaw-dropping numbers.

Quarterback Percentage of Attempts AY/A on 3rd and 6+
Tua Tagovailoa 11.90% 17.8
Joe Burrow 9.49% 10.8
Justin Herbert 17.29% 8.1
Jake Fromm 19.22% 7.5
Jacob Eason 17.28% 6.7
Jordan Love 16.49% 5.2


Across 30 pass attempts on 3rd and 6 or longer, Tagovailoa had 23 completions for 438 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 1 interception. That shouldn't be possible.

If you would like a larger sample size (a fully fair request!), we can look at Tagovailoa's entire career, which includes 84 attempts in these situations. Expanding the sample does put a dent in Tagovailoa's AY/A... but it still sits up at 15.8. A top-notch supporting cast cannot fully explain such a gaudy mark.

If you're going to pick nits (outside of the hip injury), Tagovailoa does not meet our experience mark, which doesn't help. We know why he didn't get there -- having Jalen Hurts as a holdover combined with multiple injuries -- but his 27 games played is a slight red flag.

As you'll recall from the previous section, even younger quarterbacks who lacked experience were less likely to succeed than experienced counterparts, regardless of age. You could view this as a reason to knock Tagovailoa down.

The problem is that no other players in the younger, inexperienced bucket have a resume as good as Tagovailoa's. Again, this dude set records, so finding comparables is tough. If we lower the threshold a bit, only five players in this bucket had a final-year AY/A higher than 10.0, and two of them were in last year's draft class, giving us limited data to view.

Young, Inexperienced, and Efficient Top 5s Top 10s Top 15s Qualified Seasons
Alex Smith 1 1 3 11
Cam Newton 1 4 6 8
Kyler Murray 0 0 0 1
Dwayne Haskins 0 0 0 1
Johnny Manziel 0 0 0 1


The plus is that Cam Newton is an MVP winner and had age and experience levels almost identical to Tagovailoa's coming out. The negative is the shakiness in the rest of the group.

It's easy to gloss over that concern, though, when you consider the factors limiting Tagovailoa's experience levels and his palatable age. Toss in the deity-level efficiency, and that hurdle becomes even more of an afterthought. This is merely noteworthy and one downside in an otherwise sparkling profile.

Tagovailoa will have to answer questions around his hip, and all of his college stats get tossed out the window if he isn't the same player going forward. But if the hip checks out, Tagovailoa has a chance to be a truly special quarterback at the next level.

2. Joe Burrow, LSU

Age: 23 | Games Played: 28 | AY/A: 12.5 | Passing Efficiency Rating: 202.0 | Total QBR: 94.9

Top Statistical Comp: Sam Bradford

Burrow's lack of experience at his age is a bigger red flag than Tagovailoa's at his. That's something we'll have to address here. But like Tagovailoa, Burrow put up some sick numbers this year, and it allows him to be a special prospect despite his age and experience.

Because Tagovailoa didn't have enough pass attempts to qualify, Burrow led the nation in AY/A this past year at 12.5. It's the fourth-best mark in NCAA history, trailing only Tagovailoa's 2018 and the marks Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield put up in their Heisman seasons. Both those guys went first overall and have had flashes in the NFL, and we should expect success out of Burrow, as well.

That's Burrow's number in a vacuum. It doesn't account for the teams he faced. And if you watched the tail end of the season, you know that considering his opponents makes Burrow look even more like a cyborg.

Across the course of 15 games, Burrow went toe-to-toe with the defenses ranked first, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh in SP+. In those five games against top-seven defenses, Burrow had 16 touchdowns to 1 interception, good for a 10.9 AY/A. And he did it on the sport's biggest stage with one being in the national championship and another in the SEC championship.

Like Tagovailoa, Burrow was blessed with talent around him, and that helped him put up these numbers. But Burrow has some Russell Wilson in him where he was able to shine brightest when things broke down. This was true both as a passer...

... And a rusher.

Not many quarterbacks can excel with a poor environment around them, and it's hard to say that any prospect projects to be one of the exceptions. But with Burrow, we can at least say he has tools in the chest that will aid him if he winds up in a bad situation.

The ability to improvise combined with the elite stats against tough competition are enough to make Burrow a top-tier prospect coming out, and the Bengals are making the right move in taking him first overall. But as mentioned, the age and inexperience will be a lingering blemish on his resume.

With Tagovailoa, we had a couple of players who had excelled around his age despite a lack of experience. With Burrow coming off his age-23 season, though, those bright spots are harder to come by.

As you saw in the opening section, in 65 qualified seasons, older, inexperienced first-round picks have produced only one top-10 season. That season was Carson Wentz's near-MVP campaign in 2017. Outside of that one year, this group has come up short.

Similar to the Tua dilemma, it's hard to find guys in this bucket who had Burrow's absurd level of efficiency. If we got out on a limb and assume Burrow is a first-round pick, he'll be just the fifth quarterback in the older, inexperienced group who had an AY/A higher than 9.0.

Older, Inexperienced, and Efficient Draft Pick Games Rating AY/A QBR
Joe Burrow -- 28 202.0 12.5 94.9
Sam Bradford 1 29 180.8 11.1 92.4
David Carr 1 25 165.9 10.0 --
Vince Young 3 31 163.9 9.6 84.2
Mitchell Trubisky 2 18 157.9 9.1 83.3


These guys have all been high picks, and Burrow will be, too. But in 17 seasons with at least 200 drop backs, they've never had a top-10 finish in Total NEP, and none of them have multiple top-15 finishes. It's a grim outlook.

Burrow's lack of experience is also a bigger anecdotal red flag than Tagovailoa's. Tagovailoa (eventually) took over the reins during his true freshman season, and he unseated a national-championship quarterback to do so. Burrow didn't become the guy until he was a redshirt junior after sitting behind J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones, and Dwayne Haskins. There are reasons it took Burrow a while to break out, and when he broke out, he did so in a monster way. That's enough, though, to lock in Tagovailoa at the top of this list.

Again, there's a reason Burrow is still second on this list despite the lack of experience at his age. He was silly good last year, and he did it despite a brutal schedule. We should still be super excited about this guy transitioning to the next level. We just need to note that his resume isn't completely devoid of red flags, with the age and experience combo being the lone alarming aspect. Everywhere else, this guy looks like a stud in the making, and he and Tagovailoa are a full tier above the rest of the class.

3. Justin Herbert, Oregon

Age: 21 | Games Played: 41 | AY/A: 9.0 | Passing Efficiency Rating: 156.8 | Total QBR: 74.6

Top Statistical Comp: Paxton Lynch

It's after Tagovailoa and Burrow where things start to get interesting. The consensus seems to be that Herbert should be the third quarterback off the board, though with a gap between him and Tagovailoa. The numbers back up that sentiment.

Herbert's statistical profile is strong where Burrow's is weak. He started parts of four seasons in Oregon, and he doesn't turn 22 until March. He's actually eight days younger than Tagovailoa despite having started his college career a year earlier. That's in addition to 41 games with at least 10 pass attempts, which would be tied for second-most among younger first-round picks since 2000 if Herbert does, indeed, go in the first.

As you'll recall, the "young and experienced" bucket discussed earlier was easily the most successful one with players in that group logging 17 top-five seasons in Total NEP across 74 qualified seasons. Seven of those 17 came from Aaron Rodgers by himself, but getting 10 from others is still impressive.

With Herbert, you're not getting the massive efficiency levels of Tagovailoa and Burrow, which is why he's third on this list. The other successful quarterbacks in this age and experience bucket didn't necessarily light the world on fire there, either.

Of the 17 quarterbacks in Herbert's bucket, seven had a final-year AY/A between 8.5 and 9.5, a range in which Herbert falls right in the middle. Here's what those quarterbacks have done in the NFL.

Quarterback Top 5s Top 10s Top 15s Qualified Seasons
Aaron Rodgers 7 10 10 12
Matthew Stafford 1 2 8 10
Blake Bortles 0 0 1 5
Jared Goff 1 2 3 4
Patrick Mahomes 2 2 2 2
Lamar Jackson 1 1 1 1
Paxton Lynch 0 0 0 0


Three of those players have won MVP awards, and both Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff have one top-five and two top-10 seasons. Paxton Lynch was Herbert's top statistical comp because their stats aligned the best, but Herbert's still in really good company.

When you see Herbert in this group, it's pretty easy to pitch him as a worthwhile first-round pick. He also has some desirable traits for NFL talent evaluators, and that's valuable. But there are reasons we should view him as being a tier below the top two guys.

Herbert's 9.0 AY/A from this past year puts him right around the cutoff we established earlier for successful first-round picks. It's definitely on the bottom end of that cutoff, though, and it also might be a bit inflated.

A big factor in jacking up your AY/A is throwing touchdowns and avoiding interceptions. This is logical because -- brace yourselves -- touchdowns are good, and interceptions are bad. Glad we've established that.

In his final season, Herbert threw 32 touchdowns to 6 interceptions, which is a baller ratio. The problem is the way he got there, and the numbers look a bit tainted once you dig in deeper.

One of Herbert's best games from the year came against Washington. They finished the year ranked 24th in SP+, so it counted as a quality opponent, and Herbert threw four touchdowns to no picks in that game. His AY/A was 9.5 there, better than his full-season mark.

Only one of his touchdown passes in that game was thrown behind the line of scrimmage.

Here's the first touchdown in that game.

Here's the second.

And the third.

And, finally, the fourth.

The sum of the air yards on those throws was zero. This is not a shot at Herbert -- he's just running the team's offense -- but it does show that even his middling stats may be a bit inflated.

This makes it hard to bang the table for Herbert despite the track record of success for quarterbacks with similar profiles. It also locks him into a second tier beneath Tagovailoa and Burrow. It does not, however, mean he's unworthy of being a first-round pick.

Herbert had a 10.0 AY/A as a true sophomore across 206 attempts, posted an AY/A of 8.3 or higher in all four years as a starter, and has traits that can translate to success at the next level. It's within his range of outcomes for him to be a really good starter in the NFL, and it's hard to blame a team if they want to bank on that upside. We just have to proceed with some caution because the lower end of that range of outcomes can be pretty nasty.

4. Jake Fromm, Georgia

Age: 21 | Games Played: 41 | AY/A: 8.1 | Passing Efficiency Rating: 141.2 | Total QBR: 76.6

Top Statistical Comp: Brady Quinn

Fromm is basically a less efficient version of Herbert. He is four months younger and played the exact same number of games, though his came in just three seasons in college. We want guys in this mold who come out with lots of experience at a young age.

It's just the rest of Fromm's profile that gives us pause and may push him out of the first round.

Fromm's 8.1 AY/A is much lower than the average for a first-round pick. It would rank 44th out of 56 first-round picks since 2000 if we assume Fromm and the top three guys on this list all go in the first round. That's not great territory to be in.

If we ignore all other data and look at just AY/A, there's a clear split between first-round picks with an AY/A of 9.0 in their final year and a mark lower than that when they get into the NFL.

Collegiate Efficiency Top 5s Top 10s Top 15s
Final-Year AY/A of 9.0 or Higher 14.05% 32.23% 53.72%
Final-Year AY/A Below 9.0 11.26% 21.85% 38.41%


The group of players below 9.0 includes Rodgers and Matt Ryan, the two players with the first- and third-most top-five finishes in Total NEP among all first-round picks since 2000. That means there can be exceptions who shine, but it also shows that the the rest of this group was full of busts.

That's why any pessimism around Fromm is justified and correct. There are a couple of reasons he should still be on teams' lists, though.

One of the major criticisms around Fromm is his reliance on the short passing game. He averaged just 7.4 yards per attempt, trailing everybody in this group except for Love. The question around that is whether that was an edict from Fromm or if it was just the offense Georgia chose to run.

Fromm's numbers in previous years make that question more valid. As both a true freshman and true sophomore, Fromm's yards per attempt was 9.0, 1.6 yards higher than it was as a junior. His AY/A was also higher those two years, sitting at 9.6 as a freshman and 10.1 as a sophomore. If he had duplicated that 10.1 AY/A this past year, he'd easily slot in ahead of Herbert.

It's also hard to blame Fromm for not going deep all that often given the exodus of talent after his sophomore year. Georgia lost its five leading pass-catchers from the previous year, either to the NFL or dismissal from the team. When Fromm did go deep, he didn't always get a ton of help from the guys who took their places, even if he put the ball right in the perfect spot.

That doesn't erase the concerns about his propensity for checking down, and arm strength won't be a box that he checks. But it does help explain part of the lack of efficiency.

The issues with surrounding talent were likely made even worse by the schedule Georgia faced. It wasn't as brutal as Burrow's, but Fromm didn't get many cupcakes.

Here's a look at the schedule each of our six quarterbacks faced, based on their opponents' rank in defensive SP+. FCS teams don't have SP+ rankings, and everyone on the list except for Tagovailoa had one of those mixed in. Fromm couldn't catch a break.

Quarterback Games vs. Top 50 Percentage of Attempts vs. Top 50 Average Rank
Jake Fromm 10 77.92% 35.92
Tua Tagovailoa 5 60.71% 48.63
Joe Burrow 8 57.87% 43.07
Justin Herbert 6 44.39% 60.38
Jacob Eason 4 35.56% 70.25
Jordan Love 4 30.02% 67.00


Fromm's first three games were all against soft defenses. After that, he faced only one defense ranked lower than 34th. Whew, buddy.

We've included schedule analysis in this quarterback piece each of the past three years, giving us a sample of 19 quarterback prospects we've checked out. Of those 19, Fromm's average opposing defense ranking was easily the toughest, coming in 9.37 spots lower than Sam Darnold's in the 2018 class. Fromm is the only quarterback who had more than 70% of his pass attempts come against top-50 pass defenses, and he cleared that by almost eight percentage points.

The ills of a tough schedule are only compounded when you're forced to face it with a whole new crop of pass-catchers. Whereas we bumped Herbert's stats down to account for some flukiness, we should probably bump Fromm's up due to the schedule.

Once you make those adjustments, the two players wind up looking pretty similar from a statistical perspective. They're very different on the field with Herbert sporting a strong arm while Fromm feasts on accuracy and decisiveness, but there are similarities.

Both have risks due to their imperfect profiles. Because Herbert's arm likely gives him a higher ceiling, he deserves to go higher in the draft. But to say that Fromm should be an afterthought seems misguided. He had efficient seasons early in his career and has some components in what you look for in a first-round success. Although Fromm's below Herbert, the two seem to be in a similar tier, meaning it's not a terrible idea for a team to give Fromm a look later in the first round.

5. Jordan Love, Utah State

Age: 21 | Games Played: 35 | AY/A: 6.4 | Passing Efficiency Rating: 129.1 | Total QBR: 51.7

Top Statistical Comp: Daniel Jones

If Love winds up going in the first round, he'll be one of the least efficient first-round picks since the 2000 draft. That's why he plummets near the bottom of this list. The experience he carries with him to the NFL at least allows him to check one of the boxes.

Love is similar to Fromm and Herbert in that he's not entering the draft coming off of his best season. In 2018, Love threw 32 touchdowns to 6 picks with a 9.4 AY/A, all of which are impressive numbers. This year, he clearly took a step back thanks to major turnover both to the coaching staff and the players around him (like Fromm, Love also lost his top five receivers).

It's hard to tell whether those outside factors are completely to blame, though. Love made some brutal decisions, forcing balls into unnecessarily tight windows, leading to 17 interceptions.

If Love winds up being a first-round pick, his 6.4 AY/A would be the third-lowest for a first-round quarterback since 2000. Only Patrick Ramsey and Rex Grossman have been lower, and you're not going to call either of those picks a success. It's hard to find many in this efficiency range who have panned out in the NFL.

In total, 11 quarterbacks have been first-round picks the year after posting an AY/A below 7.0. They have combined for 49 qualified seasons in the NFL, and only 15 of those (30.61%) have resulted in top-15 seasons in Total NEP. That's compared to a 48.43% rate for players at 7.0 or higher. Only 3 of the 11 first-round picks in this range even had a single season in the top 15 in Total NEP, and only two were ever in the top 10.

Basically, if a team takes the plunge on Love in the first round, they're hoping he becomes an outlier. Matt Ryan is the only slam-dunk success story who had efficiency numbers this bad in his final year. He -- like Love -- entered with 35 games under his belt, and Ryan was a year older than Love, as well. This is not saying that there's zero chance Love pans out. You just need him to be an outlier.

It's at least worth investigating whether Love's spike year as a sophomore should alter the way we view him. He does have at least one plus season under his belt, meaning he can be efficient over a semi-large sample. If other quarterbacks have outperformed expectations after undergoing similar steps back, it could make Love's odds of hitting higher.

Of the 56 first-round quarterbacks since 2000, 19 posted their best AY/A in a year that wasn't their final one in college (with a minimum of 200 pass attempts). Of those 19, six had an AY/A that was at least 1.0 adjusted yards better in the earlier season (Love's gap was 3.0 yards). Here's what those quarterbacks have done in the NFL.

Quarterback Top 5s Top 10s Top 15s Qualified Seasons
Jameis Winston 0 0 4 5
Rex Grossman 0 0 0 3
Blaine Gabbert 0 0 0 3
Christian Ponder 0 0 0 3
Brady Quinn 0 0 0 2
Josh Allen 0 0 0 2


Across 18 qualified seasons, they have a combined zero top-10 finishes, and Jameis Winston was the only one to notch a top-15 campaign.

This is not to say it's bad that Love (or Fromm or Herbert, for that matter) had better seasons earlier in their careers. It's good to see they were efficient in stretches. It just means we shouldn't completely toss out their final years as doing so with the above list would have led to some big misses.

Speaking of Fromm and Herbert, their career-best AY/A seasons were better than Love's, as well. If we look at just that, here's where the quarterbacks in the class stack up for their best seasons with at least 200 pass attempts.

Quarterback Career-Best AY/A
Tua Tagovailoa 13.4
Joe Burrow 12.5
Jake Fromm 10.1
Justin Herbert 10.0
Jordan Love 9.4
Jacob Eason 8.0


The best argument in favor of Love is still one that pushes him down to fifth on this list.

With Love, it's not all negative. As mentioned, he's coming off his age-21 season with 35 games played, which is fewer games than Herbert and Fromm but still above our 30-game cutoff. That certainly boosts him, and it helps lift him above Eason on our list. He can also make some really impressive throws that should grab our attention.

Love brings tools to the table, something NFL teams value, and they're good at this evaluation stuff. There's a reason Love is getting talked up as a prospect. But if a team takes him in the first round, they're banking on him becoming an outlier at the position, which is generally a tough gamble to take.

6. Jacob Eason, Washington

Age: 22 | Games Played: 26 | AY/A: 8.0 | Passing Efficiency Rating: 143.9 | Total QBR: 65.9

Top Statistical Comp: Joe Flacco

Love checked the age and experience box. That was a major plus for him.

Eason doesn't really check any boxes outside of having a strong arm, pushing him down to the bottom of this list.

We know why Eason falls into this inexperienced bucket. He transferred out of Georgia in 2017 because Fromm had beaten him out for the job, sat out all of 2018, and played one year in Washington before departing for the NFL. We can see why his game log is a bit more barren. That doesn't make it any less concerning, especially when the guy who necessitated the transfer is also in this draft class.

The same line of thinking would -- in theory -- also apply to Justin Fields, who could be in next year's class. He lost out to Fromm and decided to transfer, meaning we could view that as a negative for him.

The difference is that Fields lit the world on fire in his first year at Ohio State whereas Eason was just all right in Washington.

Eason finished this past year with an 8.0 AY/A, ranking him fifth in this class, ahead of only Love. If Eason winds up being a first-round pick, he'd be only the seventh first-rounder with a final-year AY/A of 8.5 or lower and fewer than 30 games played. He would join Ryan Tannehill as the only player in that group who had such a resume while falling into the older bucket.

Collegiate Resumes Age Draft Pick Games AY/A
Sam Darnold 20 3 24 8.5
Jameis Winston 20 1 27 7.7
Michael Vick 20 1 22 7.0
Ryan Tannehill 23 8 20 6.9
Josh Allen 21 7 25 6.9
Blaine Gabbert 21 10 26 6.5


Both Winston and Michael Vick have four top-15 seasons, and Vick was in the top 10 twice. Success stories can come from this group. But those guys were also two years younger than Eason, and both went first overall.

Eason has a strong arm and can fit a ball into tight windows, which will absolutely help him at the next level.

But he also made some questionable throws that help illustrate why Fromm won the starting job in Georgia.

Similar to Love, there are some traits to like in Eason, meaning teams can justifiably roll the dice on them after the first round. Their resumes, though, don't line up well with past successful first-rounders, so taking the plunge on them any earlier comes with high odds of the pick not working out.