Before the 2019 college football season began, scouts and analysts were focused on three quarterbacks as potential first-rounders: Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Jake Fromm. But within weeks of the season's kickoff—and arguably as soon as he left the field in Austin, Texas, on September 7—LSU quarterback Joe Burrow had started to implant himself into the conversation.
Two months later, Burrow sits at No. 5 overall on my big board and is the No. 2 quarterback in the class with a chance to overtake Tua in their head-to-head matchup this weekend.
What would it take for Burrow to become QB1? "Tua's ankle might do it for him," said one area scout tasked with covering the SEC. And this is important because Tagovailoa is injured for a second straight season. Concerns like that could put enough of a dent in his draft stock to open a door for Burrow to storm through.
Other opinions are more analytical. "This game will be a good barometer of where he's at. Can he get to the third read against a legitimate secondary? How will he handle the Alabama pass rush? Those are the things we've been waiting to evaluate since last year," is how another area scout assessed the LSU senior quarterback.
Burrow's fans will point to his near-perfect pace since LSU lost to Alabama last season—a game in which he completed just 18 of 35 passes for 184 yards and an interception. But since that day, the 6'4", 216-pound Burrow has thrown just five interceptions in 12 games. He's also completing 78.8 percent of his passes in 2019 now that passing-game coordinator Joe Brady has opened up the Tigers' aerial attack.
Numbers can only tell so much of the story, though. Evaluating quarterbacks is equal parts science and instinct. Said one longtime quarterbacks coach: "Burrow just has it. You can't coach it; you can't develop it. Some guys just have it. Baker [Mayfield] has it. Gardner Minshew has it. The difference is that Burrow has better size than both and a much better arm than Minshew."
A current trend in quarterback evaluation is the thinking that NFL signal-callers are mostly who they were as college QBs. Players who throw a lot of interceptions in college throw a lot of interceptions in the NFL. Quarterbacks who fumble in college tend to fumble in the NFL. If this is true, Burrow's 48-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio and career 66.8 percent completion percentage should move the needle.
As NFL fans, you're probably wondering where Burrow slots into the 2020 draft class. The Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals are arm-wrestling for the chance to take the first quarterback in the 2020 draft. That is expected to be Tua, with the other team in line to grab Burrow. The Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans, should they lose enough games, would be ideal landing spots for Burrow as their quarterback of the future.
The fact that Burrow plays in the SEC offers NFL teams a chance to evaluate him against legitimate pro talent, but no game will be bigger than the matchup with Alabama. The Crimson Tide boast Trevon Diggs, Patrick Surtain II and Xavier McKinney—three players who project as first-rounders when their NFL time comes. If Burrow can continue his magical rise against Nick Saban's defense, the QB1 talk with not only get louder but also might become more solid.
The Scout's Report
—No game is bigger than LSU at Alabama. President Trump will be there. Kanye and Justin Timberlake are going. And of course, we'll be there. For all these reasons and more, it's great news that Tua Tagovailoa and Grant Delpit are both expected to play after suffering ankle injuries this season.
When two elite teams play, the hope is that the weather holds up and the best players are available. The forecast calls for sunny, 60-degree weather, and both teams are close to full strength.
—One player who won't be in attendance is LSU linebacker Michael Divinity Jr., who left the team because of personal reasons. Divinity, who tops the Tigers in sacks and has been a leading playmaker for them, said in an Instagram post that he hopes to return to LSU and graduate in December.
—Another top college defender is out for the season, but this one is because of injury. Florida State defensive tackle Marvin Wilson is expected to miss the remainder of the year after he underwent surgery on his hand. Wilson, a junior, has a first-round grade on my board should he decide to enter the 2020 draft.
—The hits keep coming: Utah State linebacker David Woodward is out for the season. The team stated it was for an "undisclosed reason," and it will be interesting to see what scouts uncover regarding his absence. A redshirt junior, Woodward has options after the season. He could declare for the NFL draft but could also investigate a graduate transfer.
The Big Board
1. EDGE Chase Young, Ohio State
2. WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
3. QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
4. CB Jeff Okudah, Ohio State
5. QB Joe Burrow, LSU
6. LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
7. DL Derrick Brown, Auburn
8. WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
9. WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
10. S Grant Delpit, LSU
11. CB CJ Henderson, Florida
12. EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
13. RB D'Andre Swift, Georgia
14. RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
15. EDGE K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU
16. OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
17. OT Tristan Wirfs, Iowa
18. LB Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
19. IDL Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
20. IDL Raekwon Davis, Alabama
21. QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
22. CB Paulson Adebo, Stanford
23. IDL Marvin Wilson, Florida State
24. WR Tee Higgins, Clemson
25. LB Dylan Moses, Alabama
26. CB Kristian Fulton, LSU
27. QB Jake Fromm, Georgia
28. IOL Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin
29. EDGE Terrell Lewis, Alabama
30. OT Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
31. WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
32. OT Austin Jackson, USC
8. Senior Bowl List
The 2020 Senior Bowl rosters are coming together nicely, as executive director Jim Nagy has hit home runs in terms of players who have accepted invitations. From Nagy, here's the running list:
Ashtyn Davis, Evan Weaver, Kalija Lipscomb, Robert Hunt, Alex Taylor, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Jared Pinkney, Jeremy Chinn, Davion Taylor, Harrison Bryant, Kyle Dugger, Brycen Hopkins, Antonio Gandy-Golden, K'Von Wallace, A.J. Green, Carter Coughlin, Kamal Martin, Larrell Murchison, Ben Bartch, Brandon Aiyuk, Terence Steele, Kindle Vildor, Adam Trautman, Javon Kinlaw, Brian Cole II, Michael Pittman Jr., Hakeem Adeniji, Colton McKivitz, Josh Jones and Jordyn Brooks.
7. The first run of the College Football Playoff rankings were announced this week, with Ohio State leading the pack, followed by LSU, Alabama and Penn State as undefeateds in the Top Four. But how do those teams stack up as NFL draft pipelines?
Looking only at the 2020 class, here are the number of prospects on my watch list from the Top Four and No. 5 Clemson.
Ohio State: 15 players
LSU: 12 players
Alabama: 16 players
Penn State: 7 players
Clemson: 10 players
6. Game of the Week
No. 2 LSU travels to Tuscaloosa to take on No. 3 Alabama in a game that feels bigger than any regular-season contest has in a long time. The matchup features not only two top-ranked teams with national championship hopes, but also a staggering 28 NFL draft prospects.
Think about that. There are 256 selections in a draft. This one game could feature more than 10 percent of the 2020 class. Scouts will watch this matchup numerous times over the next several months.
5. Stock Down
Recent Twitter conversations have led readers to ask why Minnesota wide receiver Tyler Johnson isn't higher on my list. The short answer: I haven't found anything the senior receiver does exceptionally well. Johnson is 6'2", 205 pounds, which means he's decent-sized, but his physique isn't a strength. He's not notably fast or strong on his routes or with the ball in his hands. The one thing he does well is catch in traffic, but it's a concern that he's so often in traffic and not separating from defenders.
Johnson has his fans, but he's a late-rounder on my board.
4. Stock Up
Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson continues to impress on big platforms. The 6'0", 195-pound press-man corner is putting out solid tape in his junior season—enough that he might consider a jump to the NFL after this season.
Johnson fits the profile that NFL teams want in man coverage and has enough speed and physicality to play on the outside of the formation. He's not Senior Bowl eligible, but a big NFL Scouting Combine could get him into the top-50-players discussion.
3. Sleeper of the Week
Two redshirt senior safeties have a chance to make huge strides over the next three months. Cal's Ashtyn Davis and Lenoir Rhyne's Kyle Dugger—both of whom have accepted Senior Bowl invites—have the athletic skills to shine in Mobile, Alabama.
Davis is a track guy and former walk-on who worked his way into a starting job for the Bears. Dugger, from a tiny college most have never heard of, is a 6'2", 220-pound force at safety who has the range and power to move downhill. Both are exciting playmakers with the goods to shoot up boards.
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:
Nov. 9: LSU at Alabama; The Quad (Tuscaloosa, Alabama)
Nov. 23: Cal at Stanford (Palo Alto, California)
Dec. 7: SEC Championship Game (Atlanta)
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.