Predicting Where the NFL’s Next Wave of Star QBs Could Land
A familiar refrain echoes after every NFL draft class: Wait until next year's quarterback crop.
Every team wants a chance to draft its next great quarterback because the search for one never stops, especially for teams that lack a quality starter.
The following six future NFL prospects have already displayed franchise-caliber ability. Rebuilding teams and those with aging quarterbacks should be focused on these players as they look for their next superstar signal-callers.
Cincinnati Bengals: Justin Herbert, Oregon
Justin Herbert's 2018 stats: 59.4 competition percentage, 3,151 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 144.6 quarterback rating
Herbert fits the archetype of a franchise NFL quarterback. From a physical standpoint, he's everything the last two No. 1 overall picks—Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray—weren't.
The Oregon Ducks quarterback stands 6'6" and weighs 233 pounds. He stands tall in the pocket and has the ability to drive the ball down the field.
Herbert's combination of size, athleticism and explosive arm talent already have him on NFL radars. According to Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline, national scouts recently gave him the highest grade of any rising senior in the nation and one of the highest in the past decade.
Although Herbert is a gifted anticipatory thrower when he's comfortable in the pocket, his ball placement and timing can be erratic. His completion percentage dipped by 8.1 percentage points between his sophomore and junior campaigns (in part because of a scheme change).
Herbert has the ability to make every throw, but his inconsistency holds him back. If he improves in that area, he'll be viewed as a top-three prospect in April.
Why the Cincinnati Bengals?
The Bengals figure to look for a top quarterback prospect in 2020 for three reasons.
Second, new head coach Zac Taylor isn't tied to Dalton like Marvin Lewis was. If Dalton doesn't excel this season, the Bengals should do everything in their power to get Taylor his quarterback of choice.
Third, the Bengals are clearly the fourth-best team in the AFC North entering the 2019 season, which should put them in position to draft a quarterback of the future next year. Snagging a prospect like Herbert should be a priority, or they will continue to fall further behind the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens.
Los Angeles Chargers: D'Eriq King, Houston
D'Eriq King's 2018 stats: 63.5 completion percentage, 2,982 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, six interceptions, 167.0 quarterback rating, 674 rushing yards, 14 rushing touchdowns.
Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray broke the mold, and the Houston Cougars' D'Eriq King will rise from the shattered pieces.
Size still matters for quarterback prospects, but not nearly as much as it once did. Murray measured 5'10⅛" at this year's NFL Scouting Combine. King is listed at 5'11".
What really matters is a quarterback's ability to find passing lanes and deliver the football accurately and in rhythm.
King has a lightning-quick release, which could help offset some of the issues he might experience as a smaller quarterback. King and Mayfield posted 130-plus quarterback ratings while working from clean pockets prior to their final seasons on campus, according to Pro Football Focus, which is a primary predictor of passing success in the NFL.
Additionally, King is deadly in the red zone. He had 21 passing touchdowns last season compared to zero turnover-worthy plays, per PFF.
Murray won the Heisman Trophy last season with 54 total touchdowns. King had 50. As long as the Houston signal-caller is a legit 5'11" and weighs 200-plus pounds at the combine, his stock will skyrocket.
Why the Los Angeles Chargers?
King is the antithesis of Philip Rivers when it comes to the quarterback position. Yet the Chargers are the ideal landing spot for the dual-threat prospect because of head coach Anthony Lynn, who likes mobile quarterbacks.
The Chargers must eventually plan ahead for Rivers' replacement since he turns 38 in December and is set to become a free agent. Even if they re-sign Rivers, they'll need to come up with a succession plan.
While Rivers is the established starter, the Chargers signed Tyrod Taylor, whom Lynn previously coached in Buffalo, and drafted Easton Stick. Both can move and open up the offense because of their athleticism, although neither one projects to be a long-term starter.
King can be, and the Chargers might not need a top-10 pick to acquire him.
Oakland Raiders: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Trevor Lawrence's 2018 stats: 65.2 completion percentage, 3,280 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, four interceptions, 157.6 quarterback rating.
Lawrence is the crown jewel of the 2021 draft class. He started as a true freshman for the Clemson Tigers and helped to lead them to a national championship over the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Lawrence will be the most sought-after quarterback prospect for the next two years, even though he won't be draft-eligible this coming April. Front offices will consider how they should proceed in 2020 with an eye toward his availability the following year.
"Trevor Lawrence is the best true freshman QB I've ever seen," the soon-to-be Hall of Famer Gil Brandt said, per the New York Post's Mark W. Schwartz. "If I was running an NFL team, I'd be making trades for as many 2021 picks I could get my hands on."
The final two games of Clemson's 2018 campaign demonstrate why NFL scouts are excited about Lawrence's potential. During the College Football Playoff, the 19-year-old completed 66.2 percent of his passes for 674 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions against a pair of top-13 scoring defenses in Notre Dame and Alabama.
The 6'6", 215-pound Lawrence has a combination of maturity, decision-making, downfield passing prowess, pocket mobility and the ability to throw off-platform that's uncommon in a player his age.
Why the Oakland (Las Vegas) Raiders?
Go big or go home, especially when the team has a new home and must excite a fanbase.
By the time Lawrence is ready to enter the NFL ranks, the Raiders will be nestled into their Las Vegas confines, ready to make a big splash.
The Raiders aren't averse to making flashy moves. After all, they traded for Antonio Brown this offseason. Head coach Jon Gruden could reach a point where he no longer views Derek Carr as the team's franchise quarterback. Heck, he might have already reached that point, but the financial consequences will likely prevent him from making a move at this juncture.
After the 2020 campaign, the Raiders can release Carr and save $19.6 million in salary-cap space, which aligns perfectly with Lawrence potentially being available in the 2021 draft class.
Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Tua Tagovailoa's 2018 stats: 69.0 completion percentage, 3,966 passing yards, 43 touchdowns, six interceptions, 199.4 quarterback rating
Tagovailoa's 2018 campaign ended on a down note. He suffered an ankle injury that required surgery after the SEC Championship Game and was benched for ineffectiveness during the National Championship Game against the Clemson Tigers.
Injury concerns will linger for Tagovailoa, especially since he's listed at 6'1" and 218 pounds (and may be smaller), but evaluators shouldn't overlook his outstanding efficiency and pinpoint ball placement.
Two years ago, Baker Mayfield set an NCAA record with a 198.9 quarterback rating. Tagovailoa surpassed that mark with a 199.4 quarterback rating in his first season as a full-time starter. According to Pro Football Focus, he recorded the "highest percentage of passes in the country with perfect ball placement and the seventh-lowest percentage of passes among Power Five receivers deemed uncatchable."
From a clean pocket, Tagovailoa posted a 141.6 quarterback rating, a 77.9 adjusted completion percentage and a 32-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, per PFF.
The crafty lefty is mobile and can make off-platform throws, but he's at his best working in rhythm by consistently delivering the football with accuracy, touch and timing.
Why the Miami Dolphins?
What an NFL owner wants, he generally gets. According to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross "really, really likes" Tagovailoa.
Ross' infatuation with Tagovailoa doesn't mean the Dolphins have fully embraced "Tank for Tua" mode, but they're clearly rebuilding under general manager Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores.
Veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't Miami's quarterback of the future, and 2018 No. 10 overall pick Josh Rosen remains a question mark for now.
Rosen's potential emergence would change the franchise's long-term approach at quarterback. Until then, a top prospect remains a priority, whether it's the preferred Tagovailoa or another option like Oregon's Justin Herbert.
Anything less would be a "considered a disappointment," per Jackson.
New Orleans Saints: Jake Fromm, Georgia
Jake Fromm's 2018 stats: 67.4 completion percentage, 2,761 passing yards, 30 touchdowns, six interceptions, 171.3 quarterback rating.
Fromm will almost certainly be divisive as the 2020 draft nears. He's the least physically gifted among the top returning quarterbacks, but he plays the position as well as any from a mental standpoint.
At 6'2" and 220 pounds, Fromm isn't an imposing quarterback. He isn't all that nimble, and he lacks big-time arm talent. However, he's tough in the pocket and a leader on the field.
Fromm consistently makes tight-window throws and leads receivers into open spaces. According to Pro Football Focus, he posted a 134.1 quarterback rating last season from a clean pocket. He's also a successful deep passer because of his timing and ball placement.
The 2017 SEC Freshman of the Year comes out of a traditional offense, so he should have no trouble picking up an NFL scheme considering the amount of run-game concepts and play action Georgia employs. Georgia's coaching staff will also allow the third-year starter to have more say in the offense this fall, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Chip Towers.
Whether an NFL organization values these traits enough to warrant a first-round selection is based on what it asks of its quarterback.
Why the New Orleans Saints?
While the two possess some similar traits, the fit is more about opportunity than replicating the organization's current franchise quarterback. Brees turned 40 in January and is set to become a free agent after the season. Backup Teddy Bridgewater may be viewed internally as Brees' replacement, but he's only under contract for the upcoming season as well.
Fromm can thrive under the supervision of Saints head coach Sean Payton. Even if Brees returns for another year or two, investing in a highly regarded quarterback prospect would be ideal for the franchise's long-term health.
New England Patriots: K.J. Costello, Stanford
K.J. Costello's 2018 stats: 65.1 completion percentage, 3,540 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 155.0 quarterback rating
Costello's presence in the Stanford Cardinal lineup quietly created a shift in the program's identity. Stanford rose to prominence in the late 2000s thanks to Jim Harbaugh's old-school power running attack. David Shaw followed Harbaugh and brought his own twist to the team's approach of intellectual brutality.
Even with Andrew Luck behind center, the Cardinal leaned on heavy formations and a downhill running attack. However, that began to change with Costello under center.
"He showed last year he can play this game at a high level, and now it's that transition of going from being a good college quarterback ... to a true NFL-caliber starter," Shaw said, per The Athletic's Stewart Mandel.
Costello makes plenty of throws that should excite evaluators, even when those flashes are offset by forced decisions. The Cardinal receivers' inability to consistently create separation while Costello played behind an uncharacteristically poor offensive line last season played a factor, too.
Stanford asks its signal-callers to take full control of the offense and make NFL-caliber throws, which gives them minimal room for error. Not every quarterback can handle that amount of responsibility. When Costello brings his natural tools (6'5", 215 lbs) to the table along with what's asked of him in the scheme, he's a ready-made prospect for the professional ranks.
Why the New England Patriots?
The Patriots look for specific traits and attitudes to fit into their culture. Costello fits into multiple categories that could positively influence New England's view.
First, Costello is well on his way to fulfilling all seven of Bill Parcells' commandments for drafting a quarterback prospect. As long as the senior continues on his current trajectory and stays healthy, the second-team All-Pac 12 selection will be a three-year starter, start over 30 games, win 23 or more games, post a two-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio and complete over 60 percent of his passes.
Second, Costello is a team captain, and the Patriots love to draft collegiate leaders.
Tom Brady can't play forever. The Patriots need a legitimate alternative, and Costello meets all of the requirements for a potential successor.