Big Tests Await 2 Top Quarterbacks This Weekend

Photo: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

I hate preview pieces. They have a short shelf life, there's a limited window to get them published in a timeframe where people will want to read them and they typically do little more than state the obvious. Take this headline for example.

It seems obvious that Drew Lock and Justin Herbert, two of the top prospects at the most important position in football, have a lot at stake this weekend. For Lock, the next three weeks could define his college career, as well as show NFL teams how capable he is of carrying his team to victory or at least competitiveness against a top-tier opponent. Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama sit on his plate, with the Bulldogs up first in a Saturday noon kickoff.

For Herbert, the low level of competition has kept the buzz about him at a dull roar at best. He's been mostly good, but whooping Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State isn't gonna get people out of their seats. But beating Stanford? That's another story.

One of just two currently ranked teams on Oregon's schedule, Herbert will have this matchup with the Cardinal and another against Washington in two weeks to prove his mettle against talented secondaries and advanced coverages. Arizona State could test him in the penultimate game of the regular season, but it's very likely that Herbert will face only two quality opponents during his junior year. If he's thinking about declaring for the draft, he's got to make the most of this opportunity.

The main thing I want to see from Herbert? Show the ability to move through progressions, manage the pocket with simple movements and take what the defense gives you. In his first three games of the season, Herbert could basically get what he wanted in the passing game, whether from his own arm talent or the lack of high-end skill on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

Against Stanford, he'll need to be efficient, not take negative plays and probably have to overcome a receiving group that has already dropped an insane amount of passes this season. It's a lot to ask of a quarterback, but that's the beauty of these matchups for Lock and Hebert: neither team likely has a chance to win unless their signal callers are great.

And make no mistake folks, winning this game matters to the NFL. Neither quarterback has won a game of any significance in their careers to this point, and we all know how significant "winners" at quarterback are to the NFL for Power 5 quarterbacks. We only it hear about it countless times every draft season from scouts and personnel people. At some point, Lock and Herbert need to show the ability to put the team on their back and get a signature win despite their underdog status.

Schematically, I like Lock to have a second straight strong game against Georgia. Even operating a pro-style offense, Missouri has still been ultra-aggressive down the field this season, piling up points and big plays almost at will. If there has been a weakness for Georgia, it is giving up chunk plays in the passing game, at times due to blown coverages. That's where Lock can shine, as he has the arm strength and home run mentality to hurt teams with deep balls.

Georgia runs a lot of single high looks, so I would expect Missouri to welcome the extra defender around the line of scrimmage and run some four verticals. The Bulldogs may counter with two high given the pass-heavy tendencies of their opponent, and if their corners can lock down Missouri's talented but raw group of receivers in man coverage, that's when it will be interesting to see how Lock and head coach Derek Dooley adjust.

For Herbert, he can expect to see a variety of coverages and schemes in the secondary, but I don't know that pressure will be a big issue. Stanford doesn't feature a particularly deep or talented pass rush, but Herbert's ability to recognize additional pressure pre-snap and identify what will surely be a combination of coverages from a complex defense will be essential to his success.

Previews suck, but this weekend's games should play a big role in shaping the narrative surrounding Herbert and Lock this draft season. Both have the physical ability and flashes of high end play to be studs at their position, but consistency and big performances against top competition are still lacking.

Both signal callers could be in competition to be the first quarterback off the board depending on who else declares, but how high they go and what the NFL's interest-level will be could ride heavily on what they do the next three weeks. The duo has a chance to put themselves and their team directly in the national conversation with a big win or elite performance over the next three weeks, and that opportunity begins on Saturday.

Buckle up, folks. The search for QB1 is about to get very, very real.