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2020 NFL draft: Breaking down the class’ top quarterbacks

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The Bears will likely be in the market for a new backup quarterback this offseason, and this upcoming draft class has a few prospects who could fill that role.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Alabama
Tua Tagovailoa won’t be a Chicago Bear, but he leads a 2020 class that has a few players the team could pursue.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Mitchell Trubisky will be the starting quarterback of the Chicago Bears in 2020.

Regardless of his inability to show improvement so far this year, the Bears won’t dump a young quarterback on a rookie deal around whom they have built a foundation. They will also more than likely pick up Trubisky’s fifth-year option, ensuring he stay on the roster until at least 2021. With the likes of Blake Bortles, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota having had their options picked up, Trubisky likely will, too.

Plus, the Bears are currently slated to have just two draft picks in the first four rounds of the 2020 draft. Granted, said picks are second-round selections, but with offensive line, tight end, cornerback and linebacker standing out as immediate or future needs, it becomes even more unlikely that Chicago picks a quarterback early.

However, backup Chase Daniel is on track to hit free agency after the 2019 season. While the journeyman has given the Bears a somewhat serviceable option who has experience in coach Matt Nagy’s offense, he has made an average of $5 million over the past two years, and he will likely receive a similar price next offseason.

With the cap situation the Bears are currently in—and the hefty contracts they will soon have to pay to re-sign key players—it seems unreasonable to spend that much money again on a backup quarterback with a very limited ceiling.

Sure, a scenario could play out in which Daniel doesn’t garner that much money and he takes a pay cut to stay with the team, but taking a late-round flier on a quarterback—a move they’ve made once since 2012—could be a smart move from a financial standpoint.

Plus, there’s always the chance that said draft pick could end up being a solid player that the team could have under a cheap rookie deal for four years. Not every late-round quarterback is going to be Gardner Minshew, and certainly no late-round quarterback is going to be Tom Brady ever again. Still, the risk for such a move is low, and the upside is pretty adequate.

To give you all a taste of the incoming 2020 draft class, I will talk briefly about some of the top collegiate quarterbacks, but the late-round selections will be the players I’ll dig a little deeper into. This year’s quarterbacks can be placed into the following tiers:

Tier 1: Franchise-caliber prospects

Prospects: Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama; Justin Herbert, Oregon; Joe Burrow, LSU

In my first published big board, I had Justin Herbert ranked as my top quarterback prospect. However, now that I've had another month of game film to dig into, Tua Tagovailoa has risen up from my QB3 taken the top spot.

Tua is the near-consensus top quarterback in this year’s class, so my further evaluations now place me in the majority of draft analysts. His accuracy, arm talent, athletic ability and winning pedigree place him at the top of my list. Depending on which team gets the No. 1 overall pick, he is currently the favorite to be the first prospect to come off the board this year.

Herbert may have fallen a bit down my board since the start of the year, but he is still a starting-caliber quarterback with a high ceiling. He has a gun for an arm, a smooth delivery, plus athleticism for his size and flashes of elite ball placement that have scouts favoring him as a top-5 selection.

I placed Joe Burrow in the top-50 of my last board based heavily on his performance against Texas, but the rest of his season so far looks the part of a quarterback worthy of an early first-round pick. With good size, a strong arm, crazy good accuracy and impressive poise in the pocket—not to mention his ability to show up in big-game situations—and Burrow has burrowed his way into the QB1 conversation.

While these three prospects all project as future starters in the NFL, the Bears lack the first-round pick necessary to pick either of them.

Tier 2: Potential starters

Prospects: Jordan Love, Utah State; Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma; Jake Fromm, Georgia

This tier consists of players who aren't as good as the players in Tier 1, but could still potentially be selected in the first round due to the value of the quarterback position.

Jordan Love has dropped down my board since the start of the season, as his 2019 campaign is not quite as good as I was expecting it would be. The flashes of potential in him are still apparent, though. He has good size, a strong arm, good athleticism and can time his passes very well. If he can improve his decision-making a bit, he could develop into a long-term starter at the next level.

Yes, your eyes don’t deceive you. Jalen Hurts, the same quarterback who got benched at Alabama, is now an NFL prospect. Lincoln Riley is a miracle worker. Sure, while Hurts goes up against subpar Big-12 defenses, he has shown significant improvement as a passer. His ball placement and sense of anticipation has improved tremendously, he has flashed the ability to diagnose a defense, and his footwork looks better, too. He also showcases impressive athleticism and lateral agility in space. His upper-body mechanics still need work, and his arm strength is only decent. However, a quarterback-needy team could take a shot with him at some point in the first two rounds.

Jake Fromm is far from the most entertaining quarterback, but he does a lot of the little things well and is a generally safe prospect when compared to most of his peers. He is a technically-sound thrower who can break down a defense, time his passes very well and stay poised in the pocket. In terms of accuracy, Fromm is one of the best quarterbacks in this class. He doesn’t have the strongest arm in the world, and his athleticism is rather average. This limits his upside a bit, but his worst-case scenario figures to be a game manager who can play just well enough to not hinder his team’s progress.

There is a chance that at least one of these players falls to the second round, where the Bears have two selections. It is highly unlikely they draft a quarterback that early, but Fromm could hypothetically be the best fit in their offense due to his intelligence, short-to-intermediate accuracy and mechanics.

Tier 3: Mid-round sleepers

Prospects: Jacob Eason, Washington; Kellen Mond, Texas A&M; Cole McDonald, Hawaii

This tier is a bit of a mixed bag. Not everyone in the group has starter-caliber upside, but all of them have talent and are worthy of being selected in the draft.

The top prospect in this tier is Jacob Eason, the Georgia transfer whose physical tools place his upside on par with the quarterbacks in Tier 2, but whose accuracy and decision-making drop him down to Tier 3. He has a cannon for an arm and can make any throw on the field, and he delivers his throws with impressive velocity. His 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame is basically the prototype for the quarterback position, and he has the athleticism to maneuver in and out of the pocket and throw on the run without his arm strength being affected. Eason’s footwork needs polishing, and that can negatively affect his accuracy from all ranges. He also has a tendency to force throws and trust his arm a bit too much, and his touch on the deep ball could be improved. Based off his upside alone, Eason could be selected as early as the back end of the first round, but whoever picks him should be prepared for some growing pains.

Kellen Mond has shown flashes of competency in recent years, and the peaks of his tape look like that a Day 2 quarterback. The biggest flaw holding up him back, though, is consistency. On some plays, he is a mobile quarterback with a strong arm, a great sense of timing and good overall touch. On others, he is a quarterback who struggles with his footwork, collapses under pressure and forces too many throws. Time will tell which side of Mond will show up more in the NFL, but for a Day 3 selection, he may be worth the gamble.

Cole McDonald doesn’t have a farm (E-I-E-I-O), but he does have the tools to be drafted next April. He can consistently hit his receivers in stride and throw with good timing and accuracy. His athleticism offers a dual-threat dynamic to his game, as he can break away in the open field or evade pass rushers in the pocket. He has also been very productive in his two years as Hawaii’s starter, tallying 5,755 passing yards and 55 touchdowns in 19 games as starter thus far. McDonald struggles with forcing throws and keeping calm feet under pressure, and he throws with an elongated throwing motion that will need to be fixed. He will also need to add mass to his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame. He would make sense as a Day 3 backup with serviceable potential for any team in need of depth at quarterback.

Eason will likely find himself out of Chicago’s range, but Mond and McDonald will likely be available in the fifth round or later, which is when the team currently would pick next after their second-round selection. Either one has potential to develop into a quality backup, if not more.

Tier 4: Late-round fliers

Prospects: Nathan Stanley, Iowa; K.J. Costello, Stanford; Anthony Gordon, Washington State

While there are numerous other quarterbacks who could potentially be selected in this year’s draft, this last tier consists of the last quarterbacks I have draftable grades on. These prospects probably won’t develop into more than backups, but they could end up being good in said role.

Nathan Stanley is a big-bodied quarterback who doesn’t have elite arm strength or athleticism, but he is more pro-ready than his peers in this tier. He has shown the capability of looking past his first read and has good overall field vision. He has flashed good timing on his intermediate throws, and he can place his passes very well in goal-line situations. The 6-foot-5, 243-pounder has a massive frame with great height and the bulk to take hits from defenders. A three-year starter and captain at Iowa, Stanley has the intangibles to be a draft pick, and he also has experience directly under center. His arm isn’t the strongest, he is far from the best athlete, and his footwork under pressure can use improvement. For a late-round backup, though, you probably can’t go wrong with Stanley.

K.J. Costello doesn’t have the polish that Stanley has, but he does have the upper hand in the physical tools compartment. He possesses a strong arm and can fit passes into tight windows with impressive velocity, as well as throw off-platform. Some of the plays he has made on the deep ball are intriguing, as his combination of arm strength and flashes of good anticipation can result in some truly great throws at times. He also has enough agility to maneuver in the pocket and evade defenders. Costello’s footwork is a bit jumpy, and he needs to be more patient in not taking off running with the ball in the presence of a collapsing pocket. He might need a bit more developing, but as a late-round gamble, he would be a solid addition.

Washington State has cranked out consecutive Day 3 draft picks at the quarterback position, and there’s a strong chance that Anthony Gordon continues that trend. He throws with consistent timing, places short and intermediate throws right on the money on a regular basis. His deep ball looks very good at times, and he has the athleticism to not only move around in the pocket, but make defenders miss in the open field, too. Gordon’s footwork isn’t terrible, as he can throw with set feet and a wide enough base. His arm is only okay at best, though, and his sidearm delivery will need to be fixed in the pros. At only 189 pounds, he will also have to pack on some muscle to warrant a higher draft pick. If he gains some weight between now and the draft, he could realistically be selected on Day 3.

Of the bunch, Gordon would likely be the best fit for the Bears’ scheme, but Stanley would be the best pick for them if they were looking for more polish at the backup quarterback spot. Regardless of what avenue the team were to go down, any of the three could be realistic targets for Chicago on the last day of the draft.