Can Jacob Eason Emerge as Next Out-of-Nowhere No. 1 Pick in 2020 NFL Draft?

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystMay 2, 2019

Washington quarterback Jacob Eason (10) drops to pass during the first day of spring NCAA college football practice, Wednesday, April 3, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Associated Press

If the last two years are any indication, expect the unexpected when it comes to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. 

Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon's Justin Herbert and Georgia's Jake Fromm are currently at the forefront of that conversation. But Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, the last two No. 1 overall picks, were relative afterthoughts at this point in the draft process of their respective years. 

Washington's Jacob Eason may follow in Mayfield and Murray's footsteps next season. 

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 14:  Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners and Kyler Murray #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners warm up before the game against the Texas Longhorns at Cotton Bowl on October 14, 2017 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Ima
Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Eason has a drastically different skill set than Mayfield and Murray. He's a big-armed pocket passer with mobility concerns. However, his natural throwing ability, stature and effectiveness with timing and short routes make him a strong possibility to go No. 1 overall in 2020 regardless. 

Like Murray, Eason originally committed to another program before he landed at his final collegiate destination. The former 5-star prospect chose Georgia over his home-state Huskies.

Eason played relatively well as a true freshman for the 8-5 Bulldogs, finishing with 2,430 passing yards and a 16-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury in the first game of the 2017 season. Fromm entered Georgia's lineup and never looked back.

Following the 2017 season, Eason entered the transfer portal and returned home to Washington. He redshirted last season and learned from the Huskies' all-time leader in career yardage, Jake Browning. 

Eason has yet to be named Washington's official starter for the 2019 season, but he's the favorite to do so after spring practice. 

"The biggest thing is the live thing," Eason said about shaking off rust, per the Tacoma News Tribune's Lauren Kirschman. "However many reps I've gotten this spring and even on the scout team last year, I've kind of tried to stay competitive, have that competitive edge to me."

Once scouts see Eason during live action, they'll remember why he was once so highly regarded. 

The 6'6", 228-pound junior has prototypical stature for an NFL quarterback. As much as the game is changing, teams still prefer big, sturdy signal-callers who can play from the pocket. Mayfield and Murray may have changed some minds as sub-6'2" quarterbacks, but they should be considered outliers. Uncanny accuracy, pocket movement and, in Murray's case, amazing athleticism allowed each to overcome their shortcomings. Eason, meanwhile, is a throwback. 

Size means little if a quarterback can't deliver the ball, though. 

Eason's whip-like release, raw arm strength and velocity allow him to make exceptional throws even when he's working off-platform. The best throw of his collegiate career so far came against Tennessee, when he hurled what should have been the game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds to play (before the unthinkable happened).

Pro Football Focus' Gordon McGuinness provided video of the 47-yard heave: 

Eason's awareness to avoid outside pressure and step into the pocket before delivering a downfield hole shot between a corner and safety is every bit as important as the ball placement. 

Quarterbacks must deliver their passes accurately and in rhythm, whether they're trying to stretch a defense or hit underneath routes. Most big-armed collegiate quarterbacks don't throw with anticipation because they've gotten away with late reads thanks to the cannons strapped to their shoulders.

Eason is different. He flourished in the quick-passing game as a freshman, per PFF: 

He proved better at that time than Herbert and Jalen Hurts, who is taking over for Murray with the Oklahoma Sooners. 

Much like baseball, touch can escape power throwers. A flamethrower from the pocket isn't worth much if he can't torch a defense by throwing into tight windows. This becomes especially problematic in the red zone, as the field is constricted and quick, decisive reads must accompany well-placed passes.

Georgia's coaching staff often asked Eason to complete easier attempts from the pocket to his first read. He showed the capability of making perfectly placed touch passes as well, courtesy of McGuinness: 

Eason made the throw while fading to his right and off his back foot. The pocket is often muddied in the NFL, and passes like the one above portend a top-notch prospect despite the incompletion. 

Plenty of previous prospects had great size and big arms coming into the league only to falter. Eason can avoid that fate by doing the following. 

The 21-year-old needs to have an outstanding season in the Pac-12 and help maintain the standard set by head coach Chris Petersen as the league's reigning champion. A productive campaign only goes so far, though. 

"I just focus on my own game," Eason said, per the Seattle TimesMike Vorel. "You've got to block out the outside noise. That's what Coach Petersen says, and just focus on what you can do to get better each and every day."

The fourth-year junior must address two significant weaknesses.

His overall pocket mobility is subpar. Eason isn't a statue, as earlier examples showed, but he also isn't a threat to break the pocket and gain yards. He's a true pocket passer.

The NFL is starting to move away from such quarterbacks, but ta few organizationslike the Cincinnati Bengals or Miami Dolphins, for examplemay not see that as a major fault. Continued improvement in his footwork will help. 

Eason also must improve upon his ability to handle pre- and post-snap reads against pressure packages. His accuracy dramatically dropped when he was pressured during his freshman campaign.

More reps will help. Natural maturation should occur. But Eason's ability to stand tall in the pocket and deliver even while staring down oncoming pass-rushers will be scrutinized throughout the fall. Improvement in these areas will only increase his value, even though it's difficult to project how a quarterback will develop over time.

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Mayfield forced his way onto the NFL radar as the most gifted marksman in recent memory. Before that, he was just an undersized quarterback playing in another spread offense.

The diminutive Murray transferred to Oklahoma with little experience and planned to play professional baseball. But in 2018, he took college football by storm as perhaps the best dual-threat quarterback ever.

NFL evaluators didn't expect either to become future faces of a franchise, but their play demanded professional attention. 

Eason has the same type of potential.

Like Mayfield and Murray, the Washington quarterback must earn his place. If he does, a third straight No. 1 pick could come out of nowhere. 


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @brentsobleski.


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