Quarterbacks hailing from powerhouse programs–such as Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, and Georgia’s Jake Fromm–may rule the 2020 NFL Draft, but there is room for a few smaller school standouts to rise and make a difference. In mine and others’ eyes, four prospects, in particular, can do just that.
D’Eriq King – Houston
From the get-go, it’s tough not to see some Kyler Murray in Houston’s D’Eriq King. Similar to this year’s No. 1 overall pick, King is undersized—measuring in at 5-foot-11 and 194-pounds—but possesses a game-breaking skillset. Both are pocket quarterbacks through-and-through, with the speed and joystick moves to be a menace on the ground.
Oh, y'all were trying to to tackle D'Eriq King? Adorable
— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) October 27, 2018
When watching the tape, the thing that stands out about King is his fluidity and comfort in the pocket, quick release, and arm that can either make pinpoint throws or launch it deep with good velocity. Many find it hard to believe he’s a former wide receiver, because he looks like a natural as a thrower, as he possesses pocket poise and active feet. Though his mechanics can get wonky at times—he often forgets to throw with his body, instead of pushing the ball with his arm—King’s arm is talented enough to make any throw in the book.
In his career at QB against team with a winning record, D’Eriq King averages 337.2 yards and 3.7 touchdowns.
Houston plays 7 teams in 2019 that had winning records last year. The Coogs will need (and get) throws like this again pic.twitter.com/43cHT9alCL
— Joe Broback (@joebroback) May 24, 2019
In 2018, his first year as the starting quarterback at Houston, he mercilessly shredded defenses with his arm and legs. In 11 games, he recorded 2,982 yards, 36 touchdowns, and six interceptions on a 63.5% clip; he also added 14 touchdowns and 674 yards on the ground. He doesn’t turn the ball over easily, as per Pro Football Focus, just 1.8% of his throws were turnover worthy. That arm that can make all the throws pairs nicely with his eyes—that are continually looking downfield—and his ability to process the field in a jiffy. His legs that can make defenses look silly is just a plus.
King, like Murray, and Baker Mayfield before him, is an undersized quarterback that’s benefited from playing in a spread-style offense. With QB-guru Dana Holgorson on-board as Houston’s head coach, the general consensus is that his mechanics will take the next step, while his numbers should sky-rocket further. If he picks up where he left off, and healthy—tore his meniscus towards the end of 2018—King could sneak into the first round, with teams viewing him as a similar prospect to Murray.
Jordan Love – Utah State
If there’s any quarterback on this list receiving constant first-round hype, it’s Utah State’s Jordan Love; and for a good reason. The passer compares similarly to Eagles’ Carson Wentz, in that he’s a big bodied–6-foot-4, 225-pounds–prototype with a talented arm and running presence to boot.
— USU Football (@USUFootball) October 27, 2018
In Love’s first full year starting, he tore Mountain West defenses up to the tune of 3,567 yards, 36 touchdowns, and six interceptions on a 64% completion rate–he also added six touchdowns on the ground. The Utah State product has a missile-launcher arm that benefits greatly from the play-action–however, once he’s found a rhythm, no matter the play or setup, he’s nearly undefendable.
— Mountain West (@MountainWest) October 27, 2018
An excellent deep ball thrower, Love has no issue pushing the ball down the field with confidence and zip. Maybe his best asset is throwing the ball with touch and renowned deep-ball placement. Too often, he made throws that most quarterbacks can’t; whether it was on the run, in the pocket, or dropping back. But he’s not Superman. In order to take the next step, Love will need to show improvement in accuracy, footwork in the pocket, facing pressure, and a release that hinges on a backfoot delivery.
Love is a polarizing prospect. On one hand, he has the build, arm talent, and mobility to thrive in the NFL. On the other, he benefited greatly from Utah State’s talented roster and coaching staff that made it simple for him. He’ll be coached by a new play caller next year and will face a tough schedule highlighted by an LSU bout.
Love isn’t a complete prospect, due in large part because of his accuracy concerns and not-so-clean mechanics, but if he produces like he did last year, in different circumstances, he may be a top-ten choice. NFL teams will have a hard time looking past his arm, athleticism, and size.
Mason Fine – North Texas
The phrase “Mason Fine with a dime” became commonplace from fans and announcers at North Texas. Playing under Seth Littrell’s and Graham Harrell’s (now at USC) offense in Denton, Fine scorched C-USA defenses in wake to their Offensive Player of the Year Award. Then in his second year starting, he cut down on his interceptions from the previous (from 15 to five) and threw for 3,793 yards and 27 touchdowns on a 64.6% completion rate.
— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) November 25, 2018
In the film room, Fine’s efficient 2018 season compares favorably to Alex Smith’s 2004 season in Utah, playing under Urban Meyer’s spread. Like the former No. 1 pick, he throws with touch, anticipation, faces pressure well, and is nimble enough to extend a play–albeit, not like D’Eriq King or Jordan Love.
Being compared to Alex Smith often correlates with game manager; with Fine, that holds, but he’s not limited to simply “not screwing the game up.” His gamer mentality has taken over fourth quarters, as he’s had many game-winning drives during his North Texas tenure, including against in-state rival UTSA in his first year as a full-time starter.
And our Number 1 play of the 2017 season is!!:
UNT's Mason Fine steps up in the face of a massive UTSA blitz and delivers a pass to Rico Bussey Jr. who takes it in for the game winning touchdown with 10 seconds left!
— C-USA Refs (@F5_CUSARefs) August 10, 2018
As an undersized–5-foot-11, 190-pounds–Oklahoma native wearing No. 6, Fine has earned Baker Mayfield comparisons. But those aren’t just, and frankly lazy. Though his strengths; efficiency, cerebralness, timing, and ball placement are similar to the Heisman winner, his weaknesses aren’t. Fine has a strong enough arm to get by, but his subpar deep-ball accuracy is a concern, while his footwork can be a bit sporadic. The first may be tough to coach out of him, the second, not so much. Nonetheless, if he continues to produce–and cleans up his game–he should get Day 2 looks in a deep class.
Cole McDonald – Hawaii
A lot of what makes Jordan Love good makes Hawaii’s Cole McDonald uber-intriguing. Like his Mountain West counterpart, McDonald is a big signal-caller standing in at 6-foot-4, 220-pounds with a just as big of an arm. Unlike Love, he has a delayed release, is skinnier, and has mechanics closer to raw than developing.
However, he’s an enticing prospect, in large part due to his size, and excellent first season as a starter. He tore up defenses to the tune of 3,875 yards and 36 touchdowns on a 58.9% completion rate against ten interceptions. He also ran for four scores. McDonald has a strong arm that can push the ball down the field like none-other with a baseball-esque throwing motion.
Cole McDonald ➡️ John Ursua
80 YARD BOMB
— Bleacher Report CFB (@BR_CFB) September 15, 2018
McDonald is a talented passer with a booming arm; that’s not an issue. Concerns about McDonald’s transition to the pros stems from his subpar accuracy, prolonged release, flawed mechanics, and scheme (the run ‘n’ shoot offense Hawaii runs is notoriously good at making it easy for QB’s). But, for all his weaknesses, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the Hawaii product.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 15, 2018
McDonald showed progression in all facets of his game throughout the 2018 season, which bodes well for his NFL Draft stock. His arm may be one of the most talented in the up-and-coming class, save for the big three (perhaps). His scheme and developmental status may hinder McDonald’s stock. But if he shows continuous improvement, quarterback-needy teams may see him as the penultimate draft-and-develop project. As it currently stands, he’s a day-three guy with the potential to go far earlier.