Miami, Fla. — Scouts have been called home. The pro side of the building is spent evaluating the upcoming free-agent class, while the college side is working on the beginning of the 2020 NFL draft class as they review practice and game tape from the NFLPA, Shrine and Senior Bowls. The offseason is six weeks away, and teams are preparing. Plans are being made.
When this happens, information starts to be shared.
"Hey, what do you have on this guy," is the most common text or phone call I receive this time of year as scouts, coaches and agents compete for intel on players. Especially for college scouting executives who aren't on the road every weekend in a set region and coaches who are just now digging into the 2020 class, there are questions they need answers to.
No position receives more attention and scrutiny or causes more stress than the quarterbacks. This year's class features six ranked inside the top 50 players on my Big Board, and here's what I'm hearing as conversations with scouts start.
Joe Burrow, LSU: The consensus around the league is that Burrow will go No. 1 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals. You might think it's too early to know that, but it was this time last year when I began reporting that Kyler Murray would be the pick for the Arizona Cardinals.
When teams love a player and own the top pick, there is often little smokescreening to be done—and why would they? If the Bengals are set on Burrow, there is no one to throw off their plans. Generally speaking, when intel comes in that a team loves a player at first overall, it's pretty good. Both Murray and Jared Goff were pegged as the selections this far out from the draft.
Jacob Eason, Washington: Eason left Washington as a junior and wasn't able to participate in the 2020 Senior Bowl, so the buzz on him is quiet now. There have been rumblings around the league throughout the last two weeks that he could be a high Round 1 target if there is a run on quarterbacks in the Top 10.
It's starting to look like that run will happen, with Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert seeming to be locks. Eason could be the fourth or fifth quarterback to come off the board, which could be anywhere from No. 7 overall (Carolina) to somewhere in Round 2.
Free agency will have a major impact on where Eason goes, so his camp will be watching closely when the new league year opens. Our next chance to see him throw will be at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February, which is a great platform for him to showcase his huge arm strength.
Jake Fromm, Georgia: Where does Fromm fit in this quarterback class? It's a question I've been asked a lot and in turn one I'm asking a lot.
He had three good years as a starter at Georgia but never seemed to really develop on the field. He's not overly big (6'2") or overly fast and doesn't have great arm strength. His calling card as a player has been his excellent accuracy and decision-making, but he struggled with a largely new cast of skill players in 2019 to make those connections.
The more reliable word on Fromm right now is "Top 50" from folks around the scouting community. I would keep an eye on the Minnesota Vikings in Round 2 for Fromm as a successor to Kirk Cousins, whose contract expires after the 2020 season.
Justin Herbert, Oregon: No player helped his stock more than Herbert at the Senior Bowl. He's big (6'6"), strong and athletic, and an obvious effort was made to fix the biggest question about his game: leadership.
Herbert could fly off the board at No. 3 overall. That's his ceiling. It's hard to imagine his floor lower than No. 7 overall. He checks too many boxes that teams want at the position, and everyone I spoke to at and following the Senior Bowl was raving about his performance.
One veteran scout said it was the best performance in Mobile, Alabama, since Carson Wentz. That's heavy praise considering the week Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen both had in 2018. But it goes to show there is a lot of love for Herbert from NFL scouts.
Jordan Love, Utah State: Lost in the excitement around Herbert's week was that Love looked very good in Mobile while on an inferior roster and on a team whose practices weren't set up to place players in favorable evaluation situations.
The word on Love is much like that on Herbert or Eason. The expectation is he'll be the fourth or fifth quarterback selected, and that could be anywhere from the Top 10 to the second round. If enough teams see their free-agent quarterbacks leave or retire, Love will easily be a first-rounder.
The landing spots I've heard the most in connection with Love are the Los Angeles Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama: Tua made some news at the Super Bowl when he said he wanted to "win my medical" at the combine, which some people took to mean he would be working out in Indy. I am told that's not the case...at least not yet. Tua will be at the combine for interviews and medicals, but I'm told by sources close to him that he has not been cleared to throw, so no decision has been made.
As for team fits, nothing has changed here. Tua's health will determine his draft stock. If he's healthy, it seems like a lock that he'll be drafted by the Dolphins at No. 5 overall or via a trade-up with a collection of the team's 13 picks.
The Scout's Report
—The Carolina Panthers have a new head coach in Matt Rhule and a finalized coaching staff. What they don't have is clarity at quarterback for 2020 and beyond. In talking to people around the league, the expectation is that Rhule and the Panthers will not draft a quarterback at No. 7 overall, barring a major change in strategy. But as of now, that's the vibe the new Panthers are sending out.
—The hype on Andrew Thomas, left tackle from Georgia, seems to be fading. Once thought to be the potential top tackle in the class, Thomas is now ranked third or fourth, depending on the scout you talk to. The rise of Mekhi Becton once he declared, the super-strong play of Jedrick Wills Jr. and the consistency of Tristan Wirfs could push Thomas to the back half of Round 1.
—You can talk to five teams right now and get five different rankings for the cornerback class. The only constant is Jeff Okudah (Ohio State) at No. 1 overall. From there, you get a mix of CJ Henderson, Kristian Fulton, Jeff Gladney, Trevon Diggs, Cameron Dantzler and Jaylon Johnson. It's a deep class, and the lack of consensus rankings is a good thing with eight players (or more) being considered in the top five of the group.
—The love for K'Lavon Chaisson in the league is real. LSU coaches have been telling me for two years that he was a future Top 15 pick, and that seems to be legit. Scouts rave about his ability to bend, his quickness and the reports on his character. His range is No. 11 to No. 15 overall.
—Repeat readers will know I'm a big fan of Iowa edge-rusher A.J. Epenesa, but scouts aren't sure where he plays in the NFL. At 6'6" and 280 pounds, he fits the bill of a power end or 5-technique, but there are concerns about his ability to line up inside. One scout compared him to Solomon Thomas to me—not a compliment.
The Big Board
1. Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
2. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
3. Jeff Okudah, CB, Ohio State
4. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
5. Isaiah Simmons, LB/S, Clemson
6. Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
7. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
8. Jedrick Wills Jr., OT, Alabama
9. CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma
10. Javon Kinlaw, DL, South Carolina
11. A.J. Epenesa, DL, Iowa
12. Henry Ruggs III, WR, Alabama
13. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson
14. Tristan Wirfs, OT, Iowa
15. Patrick Queen, LB, LSU
16. Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
17. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
18. Mekhi Becton, OT, Louisville
19. K'Lavon Chaisson, EDGE, LSU
20. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State
21. D'Andre Swift, RB, Georgia
22. CJ Henderson, CB, Florida
23. Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
24. Xavier McKinney, S, Alabama
25. Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
26. Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
27. Marlon Davidson, DL, Auburn
28. Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
29. Grant Delpit, S, LSU
30. Ross Blacklock, DL, TCU
31. Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
32. Josh Jones, OT, Houston
5. Stock Down
One of my favorite questions to ask scouts and coaches this time of year is, "Who is the player I'm too high on?" This helps me not only check my rankings and reports but also gives me insight into their draft board. The one player I consistently hear in reply: LSU safety Grant Delpit.
Delpit won the Thorpe Award this season—given annually to the best defensive back in college football—but his on-field product wasn't the same as it was during his standout 2018 season. There could be an injury the team didn't disclose which led to less burst and pursuit success, but if not, there's reason for concern. Delpit didn't look as fast or active in the open field this season.
My mock draft that drops Monday has Delpit outside the first round.
4. Stock Up
Houston offensive tackle Josh Jones continues to impress with each repeat viewing.
As a 6'7", 310-pounder with light feet and easy moving skills, Jones reminds me so much of Andre Dillard from last year's draft class. In a group of offensive tackles who mostly look like guards in terms of body type, it's refreshing to see the lean, long athleticism in Jones' game.
A Top 15 pick would be a minor surprise, but it seems like a lock that Jones goes Round 1 after a great Senior Bowl week.
3. Sleeper of the Week
Deep sleeper this week: Boise State wide receiver John Hightower is one of my favorite Day 3 prospects in the class. He has legit speed and would be a great fit as a WR3 or WR4 with some return skills.
Picturing him in the Kansas City offense, where he could stretch the field with one-on-one looks, is a lot of fun. Same for Philadelphia or Buffalo, where he'd be allowed to streak downfield. Keep an eye on him throughout the process. As a non-Senior Bowl player, I think he has a chance to be very good.
2. Tailgate Tour
Come hang out with Mello, Connor and me on Tailgate Tour throughout the 2020 draft process. Here are the details:
B/R Gridiron House in Miami on Feb. 1 at 1 p.m.
HoneyFire BBQ in Nashville on March 13 at 12 p.m.
1. Stick to Football is on the road this week talking to Bills GM Brandon Beane, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. Check out all our podcast episodes, also available on YouTube as a video series, 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.