All summer, we were promised a football messiah, like something out of the Old Testament. "He's coming" is the message scouts, coaches and NFL decision-makers spread. Even as stable and promising quarterback prospects were evaluated for the 2019 draft, even as scouts cued up the tape on a good 2020 class, everyone waited for football Jesus with his long, flowing hair and freshly earned national championship ring.
Even before he's old enough to buy a beer at one of the many pubs in Clemson, South Carolina, Trevor Lawrence had been hailed as the next great NFL quarterback prospect. Comparisons were made to Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. National radio, podcasts, articles and television were devoted to a player who, after making 11 starts, was supposedly hailed as the greatest quarterback prospect of the last decade—if not longer.
Then, something happened. The season started, and Lawrence struggled. And not against Alabama or Georgia, but against Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and Syracuse. Those aren't quite the directional schools many colleges schedule early in the season as warm-ups, but Lawrence's five touchdowns to five interceptions is scaring those who make a living predicting the success of quarterbacks.
"I tried to tell you guys ... Y'all got all over him way too fast and got caught up in the hype," said one longtime evaluator sitting out this season. "There were concerns last year, and his offense really just bailed his ass out—as did his defense."
Yeah, this scout might be a little bullish after seemingly hitting on this evaluation, but another active NFL director preaches caution instead.
"Remember when Goff was QB1 coming back into his final season but had that really bad game against Utah?" he asked. (He threw five interceptions.) "What happened? Yeah, he was still the first pick in the draft and took his team to a Super Bowl last year. I think 16 is gonna be fine."
The opinions vary, but it's interesting that so much time and effort is being spent on a player who isn't eligible for the 2020 NFL draft. Lawrence, a true sophomore, won't be able to enter the NFL until at least 2021, so maybe all this talk is just a little premature on both sides of the table?
"We get it, you guys need something to talk about," said the director, "but patience is the key when it comes to evaluating. Just like the league right now ... everyone wants Lamar [Jackson] and Kyler [Murray] praised, and everyone is ready to write off Cam Newton or Drew Brees. Come on now."
Lawrence could still turn out to be the first pick in 2021 and a player some team (cough, cough, Miami Dolphins) will mortgage its future for, but the moral of the story is to let the process play out. By April, we could also be talking about Ohio State's Justin Fields or whomever Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley has turned into a top-tier pro prospect. But for the time being, Lawrence is still viewed as a prized prospect, no matter what his touchdown-to-interception ratio says after three games.
The Scout's Report
—Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey has requested a trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars through his agent, David Mulugheta. As of Thursday morning, Ramsey hasn't been traded and is expected to play against the Tennessee Titans.
Where is he most likely to land? A handful of NFL sources questioned this week believe the Kansas City Chiefs are the most likely destination, but as was pointed out by one well-placed pro scouting source, the Jaguars might want Ramsey out of the AFC.
The scout mentioned teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions as potential surprise landing spots to watch.
—It was a quiet week on the college football injury front, but quarterback injuries in the NFL are prompting many teams to start thinking about the future. Drew Brees is out in New Orleans, Ben Roethlisberger is down in Pittsburgh, and Cam Newton is banged up in Carolina.
The three teams have prepared for the future to some degree, with the Saints re-signing Teddy Bridgewater during the offseason and the Steelers (Mason Rudolph) and Panthers (Will Grier) both drafting quarterbacks recently. But as one scout told me this week, don't be surprised if these three teams are in the quarterback market early in the 2020 draft if the backup plans fall through.
The Titans, Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the likely suspects to take a passer early, but we can't forget the teams mentioned above (as well as the Los Angeles Chargers) as candidates to get a quarterback of the future in this upcoming draft.
The Big Board
Breaking away from the top overall big board this week to take a deeper dive into the most important position in football: the quarterbacks. Through almost one month of evaluation, here are the top quarterbacks for the 2020 NFL draft.
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (junior)
2. Justin Herbert, Oregon (senior)
3. Jordan Love, Utah State (junior)
4. Jake Fromm, Georgia (junior)
5. Joe Burrow, LSU (senior)
6. Nate Stanley, Iowa (senior)
7. Jacob Eason, Washington (junior)
8. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (senior)
9. Steven Montez, Colorado (senior)
10. K.J. Costello, Stanford (senior)
7. On Hits and Misses
The Dallas Cowboys announced the release of first-round defensive end Taco Charlton this week, signaling an end at The Star for the 2017 28th overall pick. This brought up an interesting look at the Cowboys' string of first-rounders this decade and just how well the team has drafted.
2010: Dez Bryant - hit
2011: Tyron Smith - hit
2012: Morris Claiborne - miss
2013: Travis Frederick - hit
2014: Zack Martin - hit
2015: Byron Jones - hit
2016: Ezekiel Elliott - hit
2017: Taco Charlton - miss
2018: Leighton Vander Esch - hit
2019: Traded for Amari Cooper
Two misses in Round 1 from the past 10 draft classes?! That's unreal production and success for a front office, especially considering many of these choices weren't the slam dunk top-five picks other clubs have racked up in this time span.
As the Cowboys juggle which young players to keep and which to let go, it's remarkable they've drafted so well—and let's not forget Dak Prescott in Round 4 or Jaylon Smith in Round 2—that there are tough choices to make in-house about where the money will go.
Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and Will McClay deserve a lot of credit for how well this team is built.
6. Game of the Week
The Stick to Football crew will be in Madison, Wisconsin, this weekend for Michigan vs. the Badgers, and while that game has some intriguing scouting matchups, there is no bigger trip this Saturday for evaluators than the battle between Georgia left tackle Andrew Thomas and Notre Dame defensive end Julian Okwara.
We might not see them going head-to-head every snap because Notre Dame will likely move Okwara around to find the best matchups, but Thomas is the top-ranked offensive lineman on my big board and a special talent. His 6'5", 320-pound frame needs to show the agility and balance to handle the speed of Okwara's 248 pounds. It'll be a fantastic speed versus power game all day that could drastically affect the draft stock of each player.
5. Stock Down
Touted by many—myself included—as the best senior running back in the nation only a month ago, Vanderbilt's Ke'Shawn Vaughn has struggled to impress through the early portion of the season. Granted, the entire Vandy offense has struggled, but Vaughn has looked timid on tape and not quite as dynamic when making decisions on the go. That's resulted in only 130 yards on 32 carries in the team's two games.
Vaughn's life won't get any easier as the Commodores enter conference play, but to regain his status as the top senior back, he has to get back on track with more of the three-down playmaking seen in 2018.
4. Stock Up
Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs is fast. Like...John Ross fast. Good friend Jim Nagy, who runs the Senior Bowl after spending two decades in the NFL, had a great tweet on just how much speed we're talking about.
Jim Nagy @JimNagy_SB
Scouts timed him in low/mid-4.2’s at Bama pro-day in March. We timed his 10-yard split that day. It was fast but it didn’t correlate with a 4.2, which tells us he could be sub-4.20 in the spring after he works on his start. In 20 years in scouting we’ve never seen a 4.1_ time. https://t.co/1eaWmEwBt3
Nagy isn't a media instigator looking for clicks or follows. This is hardcore scouting data his team accumulates each spring. Ruggs could shoot very high into the first round if he runs this well in his predraft workouts.
3. Sleeper of the Week
Oklahoma State used to be a running back destination, with Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders leading the way, but under head coach Mike Gundy, this has been a pass-first offense without a ton of great running back talent. That may have changed with redshirt sophomore Chuba Hubbard taking over as the focal point of the offense.
Hubbard, a 6'1", 207-pounder with excellent vision and toughness, already has seven touchdowns and over 500 yards rushing on the season. He'll face a Texas defense this weekend that can't stop anyone—which could be good for his stats and his NFL draft hype.
It's a loaded running back class, but Hubbard's skill set requires attention from evaluators.
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. 21 — Michigan at Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin), Jordan's Big 10 Pub, 8 a.m.
Oct. 6 — Colts at Chiefs (Kansas City, Missouri), Lot J
Oct. 12 — Oklahoma at Texas (Dallas)
Oct. 27 — Rams vs. Bengals (London)
Nov. 9 — LSU at Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Alabama)
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.