How would Joe Burrow rank against Trevor Lawrence? How about we throw Lamar Jackson or Josh Allen into the mix? What about Kyler Murray, Drew Lock and Tua Tagovailoa?
Although these questions relate to the same position, this exercise can be compared to the comparison of apples to oranges and grapes. There is no perfect way to rank a collection of mixed players between the NFL and the college.
Based on what we know from the first two years in the NFL of the famous 2018 quarterback group, from the 2019 quarterback rookie seasons, from what we saw in college in 2020 class and from the projection of class 2021, this is how I would classify passersby from 2018 to 2021, if these quarters were all in draft at the moment.
I compare the levels based on everything we know about the talent of each quarterback today and what they have shown on the field to date. Of course, even an average NFL season is much more difficult than an incredible college campaign. But for the purposes of this article, the 2020 and 2021 quarters are classified mainly because of the individual success that I think they will have with the pros based on their talent and general skills.
1. Lamar Jackson, Ravens
The reigning NFL MVP was not the perfect prospect, but he entered the league with polish in key areas of position, such as stepping away from pressure in the pocket, sliding through his progressions – in Bobby Petrino’s classic NFL system in Louisville – – and he had historic levels of ability to play with his legs.
The last element of his game illustrates the new age style of succeeding in the quarterback among the pros. Jackson is a sporty rare cat. He ran effortlessly for 1,206 yards to 6.9 yards per attempt in 2019, and while he can still grow as a smuggler, he has made significant strides in this area from his rookie year to his second season in Baltimore. By PFF, Jackson had a 118.5 quarterback score in a clean pocket in 2019 and scored 97.7 under pressure.
He’s an elite, double-threat quarterback at the forefront of a new era of quarterbacks in the NFL.
2. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Lawrence had a poor start at best in 2019, but after mid-season he was off – until the loss of the national title. Side traits, Lawrence is Andrew Luck 2.0 in perspective. Huge arm, solid precision at all levels, rapid treatment of blankets, natural presence in pockets, tendency to keep your eyes in the face of the chaos around him and high level athletics to create with his legs.
He had a truly phenomenal and unprecedented freshman season in 2018, when all of these advanced skills were fully exposed each week en route to a championship. The talent that surrounds him at Clemson is certainly among the best in the country, but Lawrence is not just a product of his environment. He is the perfect quarterback for the modern NFL because of the luxury provided by his improvisational skills and his scrambling talent.
3. Joe Burrow, LSU
Burrow has emphatically checked all quarterback evaluation boxes in a legendary 2019 season at LSU, a campaign almost impossible to see coming. While the arrow seemed to point up for the Ohio State transfer in the final games of 2018, he did not look like someone ready to set fire to all the defenses he faced.
Burrow is incredibly precise at all levels of the field – particularly deep – does not take too long a reading, has an inherent mastery of pocket drift and is legitimately Patrick Mahomes-esque when he creates outside the structure of the game and finds targets on the ground. Burrow has cut the SEC’s best defenses all season, burned Clemson in the national title game and displayed a tenacity similar to that of a veteran along the way.
His arm is not gargantuan, but he is strong enough for the NFL level. Burrow is expected to transition quickly to the NFL game in Zac Taylor’s attack and instantly elevate the Bengals’ attack.
4. Justin Fields, Ohio State
Rookie # 2 in the 2018 class – behind Lawrence – Fields is an impeccable talent from high school, and after working part-time in Georgia, he broke out in 2019 after his transfer to Ohio State.
At 6-3 and 221 pounds, Fields has a full athletic frame and easily jostles when the receivers are not open. He has an enticing arm talent and fast, smooth delivery. Everything seems to come naturally to him. In the Buckeyes’ propagation offense, Fields made the right decision several times when he started football, and his assists came in well placed with zip at all levels. Even teasing him is difficult, as he only put a small collection of bad parts on film last season when he completed more than 67% of his passes with 41 touchdowns and only three interceptions at 9.2 yards per attempt.
Like Lawrence, he is ahead of most young quarters when it comes to winning in the pocket and can win with his legs. If he even takes a small step forward in his second full season at Ohio State, Fields will take first place in the overall standings.
5. Tua Tagovailoa, dolphins
Tagovailoa has been advanced as a prospect in two vital areas – precision and pocket management. From the moment he entered the field in Alabama, his ball placement was special. And he understands that he cannot drop his head away from the oncoming precipitants inside the pocket and drifts impressively.
But he is an average athlete for the job by NFL standards. The same goes for his arm. While he has flashed the ability to move in his progressions, a strange trend appears on the film when Tagovailoa locks onto # 1 play far too long, giving the defenders enough time to play football.
Make no mistake however – Tagovailoa enters the NFL without a lot of clear faults when it comes to the fine details of playing the quarterback position.
6. Josh Allen, Bills
A surprise so high on the list after being an ultra-talented but equally raw prospect and a shaky rookie season in the NFL, Allen took a big step forward in Buffalo in 2019.
Despite his monstrous arm, Allen was awful on long balls in his second NFL season, but was fantastic at short to intermediate levels of the field, combined areas that made up almost 85% of his shots. Sure, there were a few off-target swing passes but many more lasers through small windows. Behind a more solid offensive line than what had been provided to him in 2018, Allen was more patient and lifted, but had not become a statue, as this would not enhance his skill set.
As a runner, he has accumulated 510 yards in 109 races and scored nine touchdowns. The arrow is tilted upward for Allen.
7. Kyler Murray, cardinals
Murray has done more than admirable work behind Arizona’s dreaded blocking unit as a rookie in the Kliff Kingsbury system. His 64.4% completion percentage was supported by a regular screen regime, and he had a pair of ugly two-game stretches early and late in the season.
Other than that, Murray took what the defenses gave him and ripped up some breathtaking shots in each game, passes that hinted at future brilliance. His race was not as much of a weapon as in the Big 12, but it was part of his game almost guaranteed to be used by Kingsbury in the second year and beyond.
8. Baker Mayfield, Browns
Mayfield has had a solid rookie season, but the right context has been largely overlooked. His six games with a passer over 100 clashed against defenses that had the following finishes in the defensive DVOA of Football Outsiders: 21st, 22nd, 28th, 31st (2x), 32nd.
But despite the relatively easy defense he has exceptionally played against, a quarterback performance of more than 100 in the NFL is not easy, and Mayfield demonstrated a fun mix of sniper mentality and stellar accuracy during the first year. It was especially comfortable in the pocket too.
Even with Odell Beckham added to the list in 2019, Mayfield has taken a big step backwards. His offensive line rarely served him well, but he urged and encountered pressure much more frequently than he did as a rookie. And as a lower level athlete, he doesn’t have much impact as a runner. Additionally, Mayfield pitched with less determination and worse overall ball placement. But his numbers – 59.4% completion, 78.8 rating – weren’t entirely representative of his game. Most games had a handful of pretty throws, it’s just not that they all been captured and some ended up as unlucky interceptions. Still, Mayfield has to play with a lot more balance in 2020 if he wants to return to the type of player he was as a rookie.
9. Drew Lock, Broncos
Lock was difficult to secure in this ranking as he only appeared in five games in 2019. But he was my No. 1 hope in his category – slightly ahead of Murray – but would have been behind most of the passers-by in the 2018 Class.
In essence, I place him cautiously in these rankings, mainly due to the small size of the NFL sample from him at the time.
Lock started with a blow – he looked more than comfortable in his first two starts before calming down in his last three contests – but he never had a real stink. Even his 18 of 40, 208 yards, an interception showing a 23-3 loss to the Chiefs occurred during a 24-degree snowstorm and involved a handful of impressive throws.
True to his collegial form, the second round 2019 was ultra aggressive when he saw fit and placed a few dimes on the field during his audition at the end of the season. He needs to improve his readings better and remove certain ill-advised and unbalanced throws from his game. But the strength of Lock’s arms stood out on the film, as did his athleticism as a jammer.
10. Justin Herbert, Chargers
Herbert has been on the temporary radar for two years and, strangely, the hype has subsided for him in a largely successful senior season that ended in a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
With a cannon arm and a refined athletic talent, Herbert checks the two easiest boxes to discover on film. And, on several occasions during his illustrious career in Oregon, he had field trips that included a variety of breathtaking pitches at the intermediate level and on the field. As an elder, he went off the limelight offensively, as the Ducks fueled up with one of the best and most experienced offensive lines in the country.
Herbert is generally ready and precise from the pocket, and he has shown phenomenal throwing skills on the go. There were glimpses of the confusion of the cover-reading and the finicky placement of the balls. Most of these events have taken place in Oregon’s most renowned contests. These blips are worrisome, but having evaluated it for two full seasons, I like what Herbert brings to the field athletically, with his arm strength, and in most cases, from a mental / treatment perspective.
11. Sam Darnold, Jets
Darnold was a #DraftTwitter darling during the 2018 draft design process. I was not as impressed with him. He finished my QB4 in this class with a late mark in the first round. The adoration for Darnold stems from a fantastic first-year red shirt season out of nowhere during which Darnold took over from USC in late September. He completed more than 67.2% of his passes with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions at 8.4 yards per attempt at the age of 19. His film was littered with high-level projections that fit into tiny windows on the ground.
He took a step back in his hyper-excited 2017 campaign – he took turns leading Division I – but big shots always appeared on the film throughout the season. With the Jets as a rookie, Darnold took a long time to acclimatize to the NFL as a young debutant – fighting mostly powerfully under pressure – but ended in a three-game tear with five touchdowns, none choice at 7.5 meters per attempt and 63.1% completion.
His second season was marred by a mono case that kept him away from three competitions, Adam Gase’s ultra-conservative offensive and the porous New York offensive line that did him no favor. Elite level flashes were there, but they were rare. His pocket presence was average, and some of the aggressive nature he displayed at USC and as a recruit has subsided.
12. Daniel Jones, Giants
Jones has shown that he has the ability to throw exceptional shots at the intermediate level and on the field, and he especially worked well below in Pat Shurmur’s Pat West Coast Offense as a freshman. These positives were thwarted by a propensity to be reckless with football, both in the pocket and throwing passes in precarious situations.
Like many young quarterbacks, he was mostly frantic against the pressure, and although some impressive throws were made under duress, Jones released many more unbalanced passes from a muddy pocket that were (or should have been) ) intercepted. He threw 12 choices, but that number could very easily have been much higher if some defensive backs had more reliable hands.
As someone who thought Jones had been drawn far too high, I was impressed with his placement in the field ball – not a strength at Duke’s. His quick release and precision on short shots were elements of his game that he regularly displayed in college and appeared instantly during his rookie season.
13. Dwayne Haskins, Redskins
At Ohio State, Haskins had a historic season – 70.8% complete and 50 touchdowns with just eight interceptions – to become one of the top 15 picks.
But as gaudy as his stats were in his only year as starter Buckeyes, Haskins lacked speed to avoid the pressure in his pocket and was not visibly precise on the pitch. In addition, the Ohio State offensive line was solid and the collection of Haskins players in a skill position was ridiculous. It was more of a project than its numbers indicated.
However, when he saw the field in the NFL from week 10 to the rest of the season, Haskins made a few accurate shots and showed slightly improved pocket mobility, although none are now considered strength. He quickly checked and had severe pressure problems in most cases. However, Washington’s offensive line was brutal, and apart from Terry McLaurin, the Redskins were mostly lacking in skill skills.
14. Jordan Love, Packers
Love is the quarter’s ultimate long-term project. But he has talent in the first round. In 2018, with a small collection of NFL talent around him, Love threw 32 touchdowns for just six choices at 64.0% and 8.6 yards per attempt. His senior season didn’t go so well. His stats took a noticeable drop, and he frequently put the ball in danger, often without noticing under the defenders or jumping late to the touchline.
Despite all of this, Love has an odd arm talent and natural athletic gifts, a combo that allows him to make Mahomesian throws at all levels of the field, from any platform, in any situation. he can win the pocket too but must sharpen its rough edges in this aspect of his game in order to succeed in the NFL.
15. Josh Rosen, dolphins
Everyone missed Rosen in the 2018 draft. And it’s the eye-opening tale of how incredibly deceptive a quarterback’s aesthetic can be.
A rookie of choice at the UCLA, Rosen looked like an NFL quarterback from his first year with the Bruins. His footwork was incredibly clean, his release was perfect and he launched a magnificent tight spiral on all levels. He also demonstrated good pocket management skills.
He watched the game and was universally appreciated. He finished my QB3 in the 2018 class.
But in the NFL, his uncertain accuracy on the pitch, mostly rushed against the pressure, and a tendency to stand up and take huge shots in the pocket rather than avoid them have catalyzed a terrible rookie campaign. His situation in Arizona was excruciating, but Rosen has rarely, if ever, shown his ability to overcome, and he is not the type of athlete to play off-script games regularly.
During his short audition with the Dolphins in 2019, the same problems happened for Rosen behind, yes, another abyssal blocking unit. To his credit, incredible throws occurred at the start of the season. History says Rosen won’t be a quarterback in the NFL, and he probably never had that type of full skill. But he received a bad hand twice in two seasons on different teams.