With LSU’s Joe Burrow denying his Senior Bowl invite and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa ineligible for the game, the 2020 Senior Bowl featured Utah State’s Jordan Love and Oregon’s Justin Herbert as the primary draws for quarterback-needy teams.
It was good to experience Herbert and Love in a practice setting, as it is for all signal-callers you are trying to evaluate, but critically it was helpful to juxtapose them because of where they currently fall in this class. Both are clearly a tier below the Burrows and Tagovailoa’s of the world, but indistinguishable from one another in terms of their NFL draft standing.
It was a question nagging at me all week, begging to be answered after every practice: Who was going to be QB3 off the board come April? I tried to lay out the case for each — and give my final verdict — in this week's Would You Rather.
The Case for Justin Herbert
If you polled NFL draft analysts, scouts, agents — anyone with a thumb on the pulse of the draft sphere — they would likely tell you Herbert is more likely to go off the board after Burrow and Tagovailoa than Love is. Herbert was in the battle for QB1 in 2019, and while the superlative play from Burrow has taken him out of that conversation in 2020, he is no worse than he was as a prospect last year. I would even argue he’s better. His processing speed has improved and gained consistency; his reaction to pressure is more measured.
Herbert has been better, for longer than Love.
And yet, Herbert takes the crown as the “tools” pick of this QB class. Both Burrow and Tagovailoa have tools as well, but Herbert has the best physical skillset of the three measured by the orthodox paradigm for NFL quarterbacks. Of course, Herbert’s also the “tools” QB of the class because, unlike Tua and Burrow, he never really produced at an elite level in college. His play quality never seemed to meet the potential of his tools.
Herbert leveraged an impressive sophomore campaign in 2017 into the hype of his 2018 season. Herbert accounted for nine total touchdowns against two interceptions in marquee games against Nebraska, Arizona State and Arizona. He averaged 10 yards per attempt across the entire 2017 season. It wasn’t difficult to identify the tools of a future NFL starter, and the league began buzzing.
Herbert’s buzz likely peaked in the early weeks of the 2018 season, however. His junior numbers were the worst of his career, his accuracy fell off and bad scrambling and panic became more prominent as increased expectations fell on his shoulders. The 2019 season was generally a reclamation of 2017’s magic, but there’s only so much you can do to erase the doubts that 2018 instilled in teams and analysts.
Herbert’s very worst was a solid college signal-caller with NFL-caliber tools. We’ve seen far shakier resumes go pretty early in the NFL draft. Critically, through the ebbs and flows of his tumultuous Oregon career, Herbert has never lost the one thing that matters the most: his arm.
While Love has undeniable arm talent, Herbert’s cannon is on a different level. Herbert is never wanting for velocity on intermediate throws and can drive deep balls on low trajectories to adjust for a late read or elongated delivery. Few quarterbacks hammer tight windows like Herbert can, and he doesn’t need a clean throwing platform or a long throwing process to do it.
Herbert’s arm is the best in the class, and the best arm in the class almost invariably goes in the first 16 picks. Love cannot measure to Herbert’s tools, and his career resume also doesn’t stack up. The NFL is more likely to prefer Herbert accordingly.
The Case For Jordan Love
Does Love have more potential than Herbert?
Potential is a difficult, if not impossible, thing to measure. It’s even more difficult to generate a relative measure between two potentialities. Without knowing the coaching staffs, time spent starting, regime changes in the front office and injuries, it’s impossible to tell you who’s going to end up a better passer: Herbert or Love.
But when you measure Herbert against Love, there’s more unknown about Love than there is about Herbert, and accordingly there’s a wider range of outcomes for Love than there is for Herbert. Love has started for two and a half seasons; Herbert has started for four. Love has played with, at best, two NFL caliber players on offense; Herbert played behind an offensive line that will likely get drafted across the board, multiple receivers who will end up in the league and multiple running backs who will end up in the league.
And on the topic of potential: Why hasn’t Herbert reached his yet? We’re talking about two players who will get drafted more so off their tools than on their resumes. But why doesn’t Herbert have a better resume? A four-year starter at a Power-5 program with the power of Oregon should not be staking his draft stock on what he could become, he should already be that player. Herbert has had the coaching stability and attention necessary to develop that Love, who had to fight to win a starting job and then lost the head coach he won it under, has lacked.
Love’s 2019 stats were absolutely nasty, but there’s little more he could have done to elevate the players around him. He made his fair share of mistakes — which get magnified during the draft process — but the regular failings of his supporting cast glare uglier than any other QB in this class, including Herbert. Teams are not drafting Love off of 2019, they are drafting him off of 2018; a season that highlighted how dynamic his unique toolset of mobility, snappy release and touch throws opened up Matt Wells’ offense.
Does this mean Love may be more scheme-specific than a player like Herbert? Sure, but when just one team is on the clock — say the Carolina Panthers, rocking the RPOs and Air Raid concepts of the Matt Rhule-Joe Brady marriage — they aren’t thinking about who’s best for any system. They’re thinking about who’s best for theirs. In that case, given the height of both college careers, Love is the logical pick.
I still expect Herbert to be QB3 off the board. He’s a better and more consistent prospect, and even if Love has a higher ceiling, a high ceiling is tough to define and rarely reached. Any team that can talk themselves into the tools of Love will have to subsequently talk themselves out of Herbert, because he has just as strong of a tool argument that Love does, if not better. Because of that Love as QB3 off the board would not surprise me, conditional on the team that ended up selecting him.