"Tank for Tua."
"Suck for the Duck."
They are catchy sayings that happen to rhyme, but they are also the mindsets of many fanbases in the early part of the 2019 NFL season. Tanking—an effort to lose as many games as possible to secure a high draft choice with which to take a quarterback—is the word in places like Miami, Cincinnati and maybe even Tampa as fans and media personalities tire of poor play under center. But the thing about tanking is you still have to get the picks right. And that's where it gets difficult.
The Cleveland Browns tried tanking and won a single game in two seasons. That led to executive vice president Sashi Brown and head coach Hue Jackson being fired, largely because the two passed on chances to draft quarterbacks Carson Wentz, Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson while trading down to acquire more draft capital.
Tanking didn't save those jobs, but it did help general manager John Dorsey, who took over for Brown, build a Browns roster that looks competitive (if you ignore the Week 1 throttling at the hands of the Tennessee Titans).
Other teams have tried to lose, just maybe not so obviously. The 2017 New York Jets wanted to lose to secure a quarterback, but the front office also made trades to obtain enough draft picks to move up to select a passer if needed (they ended up trading up to the third pick before selecting Sam Darnold). The Philadelphia Eagles made similar moves to climb the board to draft Wentz in 2016.
Not only is it hard to lose enough to guarantee a top pick, but it's also hard to hit in the NFL draft. And that's where critics of tanking come into play. The Miami Dolphins might be trying to lose enough games to earn the top pick, and they've traded away assets in Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills to add more draft capital.
But is there anyone worth tanking for in 2020 draft class?
That's the question I posed this week to 10 NFL decision-makers and evaluators.
"Tank for Tua"
Alabama junior Tua Tagovailoa is the favorite quarterback prospect of the evaluators polled for this story. "He's going to be over-thought," one evaluator said, "but he's got that Drew Brees/Steve Young ability to just drop the ball into the right spot. And they love him down there [at Alabama]. He'll go first of the quarterbacks."
Tua's only knocks might be the nagging ankle injury suffered late last season that noticeably slowed him down against Clemson and the sheer amount of talent surrounding him at Bama. He's flanked by multiple Round 1 talents at wide receiver and has an all-world offensive line that at times masks his habit of holding on to the ball too long in the pocket.
"We've been watching him for almost two years now and I can tell you there's not much to dislike," an AFC executive said. "If we were tanking—and I hate that phrase—it would be for him."
"Suck for the Duck"
Justin Herbert was expected to be a top-10 selection in the 2019 NFL draft, but he opted to return to Eugene for his senior season. That move was seen both critically (some scouts felt he wasn't mentally strong enough to handle the NFL) and positively, as it allowed Herbert a chance to play with his brother, an incoming freshman tight end.
Scouts love what they see from Herbert, but more so in practice than in games. "I went through there over the summer and just watching him throw...you get really excited," one longtime evaluator said. "But his tape against good defenses is pretty bad. I'm sure he goes early first, but I'm not tanking for him."
It only takes one team to fall in love with a quarterback. Perhaps Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor will believe he's the next Jared Goff, but none of the 10 evaluators polled think Herbert is the top quarterback in this class or a player worth tanking for.
The Rest of the Best
"Let me tell you...Jordan Love is better than Herbert, and I'd take him over anyone but Tua," per an NFL scout.
Jordan who? Love, the Utah State senior, has some Daniel Jones traits (that's a good thing) but hasn't seen much competition from opposing defenses. Still, he's being viewed as a likely first-round pick, and teams are excited about the chance to see him in the predraft process at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine.
Georgia's Jake Fromm is worthy of mention, but none of the evaluators polled believe he would leave the Bulldogs after his junior season to test the NFL waters. Fromm, said one, is the kind of guy who stays in college all four years, slips to the second round and ends up being an NFL starter for 15 years but isn't the type of player you set out a plan to lose for.
As far as tanking goes, the opinion around the league is that this isn't the year for it. Tua is a very nice quarterback prospect and should end his college career with a higher scouting grade than any of the 2019 draft's quarterbacks, but he's not on the Andrew Luck level of prospect.
But as one general manager put it: "Next year, though? Oh, yeah. Let me get Justin Fields or Trevor Lawrence, and our fans won't care how many games we lose."
The Scout's Report
—Purdue linebacker Markus Bailey suffered a season-ending knee injury that will require surgery. The top senior linebacker in the draft crop, Bailey can apply for a sixth year of eligibility, but many believe he will instead enter the 2020 draft.
Before injury, Bailey had a Round 2-3 grade.
—One of the nation's top offensive tackle prospects, Stanford's Walker Little, is out for the year after undergoing knee surgery. Little, who was widely seen as a first-rounder at left tackle, has a decision to make on if he'll rehab and prepare for the NFL draft or sit out the season and return to Palo Alto.
—Quarterback Jake Bentley never developed into the star prospect some saw him as early in his career for the South Carolina Gamecocks, and now his season is over after he had foot surgery. Bentley, a senior, can return to school next season with a medical redshirt if he chooses.
—Florida star cornerback CJ Henderson is listed as doubtful for this weekend's game after suffering an ankle injury. While we likely won't see Henderson against Kentucky's dynamic offensive weapon Lynn Bowden Jr. this Saturday, at least he's trending toward seeing the field again sooner than later.
—There has been a flurry of injury activity and news early in both the NFL and CFB seasons, which prompted one scout to send over a text reminder to always be diligent in tracking prospect injuries. "Hurt guys in college usually end up hurt guys in the NFL," he said.
That's notable as we see injuries to promising players like Derrius Guice, Mike Williams and Derwin James, who were all banged up in college.
The Big Board
Here's a quick look at my top 32 players with a minor update after I spent the week reviewing film and scouting notes.
1. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
2. Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
3. A.J. Epenesa, EDGE, Iowa
4. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
5. Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State
6. Grant Delpit, S, LSU
7. D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
8. Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
9. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
10. CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
11. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
12. K'Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
13. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
14. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
15. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
16. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Colorado
17. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
18. Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
19. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
20. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
21. Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
22. Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame
23. Yetur Gross-Matos, EDGE, Penn State
24. Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
25. Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama
26. Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
27. Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama
28. Terrell Lewis, EDGE, Alabama
29. Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
30. Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt
31. Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia
32. Collin Johnson, WR, Texas
5. Stock Down
It's never fun to move a player down after two weeks of college football play, and there is plenty of time for a bounce back, but it's been worrisome watching Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. struggle with injuries and production (eight catches, 79 yards and one touchdown in two games).
Shenault, who had two surgeries before the 2019 season to repair a torn labrum and a toe injury, hasn't looked like his normally dominant self as a route-runner or yards-after-catch performer. Again, there is time for him to recover his stock, but Shenault is starting to fall behind in a loaded wide receiver class.
4. Stock Up
Joe Burrow made Texas look foolish for trotting out those "DBU" T-shirts last week by having a career day, going for 471 passing yards on almost an 80 percent completion percentage and four touchdowns. Burrow, who ended the 2018 season with a brilliant bowl game against UCF, looks red-hot and has the LSU offense rolling.
At 6'4" and 215 pounds, the former Ohio State recruit has the size and arm that teams look for. He also has the swagger and confidence as a leader and a thrower that you want to see. If Burrow keeps this up against SEC opponents, he'll be a first-rounder in April.
3. Sleeper of the Week
One standout in the Texas loss was senior wide receiver Devin Duvernay. A legit speed demon who ran the 100-meter in 10.27 seconds (i.e. very fast) was bouncing off tackles and making big plays while the LSU defense keyed so hard on Collin Johnson.
Duvernay is a player the staff in Austin raves about thanks to his work ethic and how he's handled four years at Texas without being the star or focal point of the offense. With Lil'Jordan Humphrey leaving early for the NFL draft last season, the No. 2 role is now Duvernay's, and he's making the most of it.
2. Tailgate Tour
Our Stick to Football tailgate tour was recently announced. If you get a chance to come out, these tailgates are free fan events with no ticket to the game required.
Sept. 16 — Browns at Jets (MetLife Stadium), Lot E11, 6 p.m.
Sept. 21 — Michigan at Wisconsin (Madison)
Oct. 6 — Colts at Chiefs (Kansas City, Missouri), Lot J
Oct. 12 — Oklahoma vs. Texas (Dallas)
Oct. 27 — Rams vs. Bengals (London)
Nov. 9 — LSU at Alabama (Tuscaloosa)
Nov. 23 — Cal at Stanford (Palo Alto, California)
1. Stick to Football is back in-house this week with our podcast episodes now also available on YouTube as a video series. Check out the podcast, and subscribe if you haven't already. We will also post a ton of behind-the-scenes content on our Instagram page.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.