Jonah Tuls released his first 2020 NFL Mock Draft on Wednesday: it had 6 QBs in the first round.
Suffice to say that the quarterback class is viewed as a strength of the 2020 NFL Draft. That doesn't mean it won't get nitpicked; that we couldn't get a surprise return to school from one of the exciting underclassmen. But as it stands now, it's deep, it's star-studded, and it's willing to test records.
6 QBs in the first round hasn't happened since 1983 (do the names John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino mean anything to anyone?), but it has never been so advantageous to draft rookie QBs. Since the Sam Bradford mega-deal vanished into nothingness with the onset of the rookie wage scale, and since then we've seen first rounds such as those in 2011 (4 QBs), 2012 (4 QBs), and of course, 2018 (5 QBs).
That 2018 class was the first time in 19 years that 5 QBs hit within the first 32 picks, and it's not presumptive to say that we'll hit five twice in three years with the 2020 group. The upperclassmen in 2018 alone present a strong face: Oregon QB Justin Herbert, LSU QB Joe Burrow and Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts are a better group of senior passers than the average class typically sees, in that most Draft-worthy QBs leave school before their senior season. Remember: the 2018 class only saw Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen as seniors.
Then the presumptive declarees: Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa would shock the world if he returned to school, as a presumptive top pick, and much the same could be said of Utah State QB Jordan Love, who has little to gain with a return to the Mountain West and a weapon-starved offense. Georgia QB Jake Fromm and Washington QB Jacob Eason present more uncertain options, as they play on teams with conference championship and playoff aspirations that may entice them to return to school.
So 5 was the number for the 2018 class, as underclassmen Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson all joined the class, with Jackson just sneaking in under the bar at pick 32. With clear franchise players in Mayfield, Jackson, and Darnold in place; some promise in the up-and-down Josh Allen rollercoaster in Buffalo; and the most confusing evaluation of all time in Arizona's, then Miami's Josh Rosen, it seems that the 2018 class was generally a hit. We've got at least three second-contract players, and the remaining two players are by no means decisively busted.
Now, we're only 20 games into their careers -- but the 2018 class looks stronger. Can the 2020 class truly be better?
I think so. We're unlikely to get 6 first-round QBs, and even 5 could be a stretch, but we're looking at two of the more compelling QB evaluations in recent memory in Tagovailoa and Herbert. Both come with their flaws and uncertainties -- as you'll remember Mayfield, Darnold, and Jackson did at their time (though, as we well know, many of those concerns were overblown). That said, with both players, you're finding reasons not to draft them in the Top-10, rather than looking for the justification to put your franchise in their hands.
In players like Love, Hurts, and Eason, we're looking at the physical tools that have historically been drafted in the first round. Each one has a cannon, and their arm talent manifests itself in different ways and fits well in different systems. Love can layer intermediate throws with natural feel; Eason can rocket tight-window throws from the pocket; Jalen Hurts can generate attack deep while running at full speed.
And with Fromm and Burrow, you're looking at passers who may not have the physical tools to inscribe such high ceilings -- though Burrow is a quietly good athlete, and people seem to ignore that. Neither threatens the deep outside area of the field with velocity or audacity, asking more out of their receivers than the other passers -- but again, we've seen this mold selected in the first round before.
For five or six or seven quarterbacks to be selected in the first round, it isn't enough to have a talented class -- you need teams to be hungry for QB talent to unique levels. That very well could be the case in this upcoming draft, as quarterback age increasingly becomes a focal point. The great generation of Brees, Roethlisberger, Rivers, Brady -- it's waning.
Accordingly, we see teams like Saints and Steelers considered as outside shots at early QB seekers, though Pittsburgh doesn't (currently) have a first-round pick. Teams like Minnesota, Tennessee, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis -- middling starters either in contract years or about to enter them -- are also in the fray. And of course, there's Miami.
I think the best bet is five quarterbacks go in the first round of 2020, knowing nothing about who has declared, what QB moves are made in the preceding offseason. That said, even if the numbers end up equal -- which will still be pretty historic -- I think we're looking at a better QB class in 2020 than we were in 2018 -- and, man that class was pretty good.
Gonna be quite a fun draft season, folks. Quarterbacks always make the ride interesting.