Build: Joe Burrow
Yes, of course building the perfect 2020 quarterback starts with Burrow.
At roughly 6-foot-4, Burrow has plenty of height to work over the line of scrimmage without being uncomfortably tall like Brock Osweiler or Paxton Lynch. Similarly, Burrow does not have an outrageous wingspan, and his modest/average arm length allows him to maintain a quick throwing motion. With about 220 pounds on that 6-foot-4 frame, Burrow is stout enough to handle hits in the pocket without being weighed down at all.
Though Burrow is a much better athlete, Tom Brady measures in at about 6-foot-4 and 225-pounds, which is probably where we can expect Burrow to get to after a year or so in an NFL weight room.
Athleticism: Jalen Hurts / Joe Burrow
Joe Burrow at least deserves a mention for this category. Though not much of a designed runner, Burrow is an explosive and flexible short-area athlete with just enough speed to capitalize on the space he creates for himself. Burrow’s athletic ability feels like a 95% version of Andrew Luck coming out of college — and if you’ve forgotten, Luck tested like a ridiculous athlete for the position.
However, the nod has to go to Jalen Hurts. While Burrow may be a slightly more fluid and flexible player, especially moving within the pocket, Hurts beats him out with raw speed and years of experience as a designed runner on zone read, Q-counter, Q-power, etc. As far as mobile QB archetypes go, Hurts falls somewhere comfortably around the Dak Prescott range as someone who has all the necessary tools to win in space as well as the demeanor and size to play between the tackles, if needed.
Additionally, Hurts is a stud operating outside the pocket. He separates very quickly from the pocket and can climb back to the line of scrimmage in a hurry. If Hurts ends up needing to make another move or two outside the pocket, he has plenty of juice and creativity for that, too.
Mechanics: Joe Burrow / Jake Fromm
Mechanics may be the toughest category to choose a definitive winner, so we will roll with both Burrow and Fromm here for different reasons.
Burrow’s feet and lower body are impeccable. When playing within the structure of a play, Burrow matches his feet with his eyes and almost always keeps his base perfectly under him. Instances in which Burrow does not have a stable, well-spaced throwing base are near nonexistent. Likewise, when Burrow is forced off his spot, he has a rare ability to “find” his throwing base at any time and contort his body to do so. Burrow’s base and core are so flexible that there is almost no way to get him “off” his platform.
Fromm, on the other hand, has one of the prettiest and quickest throwing motions I have ever seen. There is virtually zero dip in Fromm’s motion and the ball always comes out from a stable, consistent release point that allows him to follow through with ease. Fromm’s throwing motion is sort of by necessity because he needs to shave off time to make up for his middling arm strength, but it is fairly amazing that he could find such a workaround for his lack of arm strength. Fromm’s instant release makes it just a touch easier for him to get the ball out in quick game or when suddenly pressured.
In fairness, Burrow has a swift and sound release, too, but there isn’t anyone in this class who can match Fromm’s release.
Arm Talent: Jordan Love
Arm talent is about more than just strength. If strength and velocity were the only measures, either Justin Herbert or Jacob Eason would get the title here. Instead, arm talent is about arm strength in tandem with a quarterback’s ability to control the arc and pace of the ball. For example, Herbert and Eason have absolute howitzers, but their ability to layer the ball over the defenders or throw with different speeds is not all that impressive.
Love, however, has more than one speed and flashes moments of incredible pace and control. At his peak, Love has the best blend between high-end arm strength and fine-tuned control. He can drop in tear drops from odd angles from 40 yards out, if need be, and do so without giving defensive back’s a chance to close in at the last second.
Short Accuracy (1-15 yards): Joe Burrow
Burrow is plenty accurate on deep passes, so this is no indictment of his ability beyond 15 yards. Rather, within 15 yards, Burrow is such an absurd degree of precise that it’s kind of jarring when Burrow simply does not complete a pass. In going through his entire 2019 film catalog to chart him, I can only remember being exasperated by a small handful of clear, inexcusable misses, whereas even many of the best quarterback prospects have their fair share of those. Burrow just doesn’t.
Likewise, Burrow does well to set up yards after the catch with his ball placement. Burrow isn’t just getting the ball to an area and asking the WR to figure it out, he is leading them right to where they need to be in order to continue their strides and fly into open grass. As far as leading receivers for YAC goes, only Fromm and maybe Tagovailoa are in the same universe among quarterbacks in this class.
Deep Accuracy (16+ yards): Justin Herbert
Deep accuracy has a bit more to do with having the arm to fit tighter windows. While Herbert may not always have the prettiest arc on the ball, he does a fantastic job of rifling in throws to tight windows.
Additionally, Herbert has a quietly advanced understanding of how to throw receivers open by leading the ball away from defenders, even if that goes against the grain of the route. Deshaun Watson, for example, was also fantastic at this. Herbert can make this happen 15, 20, and even 30 yards down the field, though, which requires intense surgical precision to pull off.
Field Vision and Decision Making: Joe Burrow
The honorable mention for this category is Fromm. A three-year starter, Fromm proved himself sharper and sharper with each passing season at Georgia, commanding both pre- and post-snap play. Fromm has a great understanding of box numbers, safety rotations, nickel leverages, etc., and understands how to take advantage of all of those things. Furthermore, Fromm’s post-snap vision is fantastic and he does well to cycle through his progressions in a timely manner. The reason Fromm does not get the nod here, however, is that he shies toward being conservative too often to be considered the “ideal” candidate for this part of quarterbacking.
That necessary aggression is where Burrow comes in. By most measures, I would hold Fromm and Burrow about equal in terms of how they see the field and cycle through their reads, but Burrow’s trigger is far more aggression. Burrow isn’t a gunslinger, per se, but he does a considerably better job of walking the line between calculated aggression and recklessness. He is more than willing to fire in darts over the middle into contested windows, yet it’s quite rare for Burrow to put the ball directly in harm’s way. This ability to toe the line is what separates Burrow from Fromm and the rest of the class.
Pocket Management: Joe Burrow
It has been years since a quarterback prospect has come out of college with Burrow’s pocket awareness and management. The closest player over the past few seasons, at least for me, is Lamar Jackson, but even the 2016 Heisman winner and 2019 NFL MVP doesn’t quite stack up to Burrow in this department.
Pocket presence starts with being aware of one’s surroundings. Knowing when and where threats are coming makes it considerably easier for a quarterback to decide how to handle the situation. Burrow seems to have a gauge for where every threat can be as soon as the ball is snapped, which streamlines his process of identifying close pass-rushers and where to move to in order to get away from them.
And so, Burrow almost always slides to the correct spot. Whether that is directly sliding up, moving laterally, or bailing the pocket altogether, Burrow so clearly and consistently understands where his outlets are in an ever-changing pocket. It is incredibly rare for Burrow to look panicked or unsure of where to move. Of course, that is not to say he never gets sacked, but Burrow avoids far more sacks than he unnecessarily runs into.
Lastly, Burrow does an excellent job of immediately resetting his throwing platform once he moves to a new spot. Some quarterbacks need a moment to gather themselves, but Burrow is somehow always moving with his base already under him, so he is never moving without still being ready to throw. Not many quarterbacks have that kind of coordination and flexibility.
Playmaking: Joe Burrow
Being a playmaker requires three pillars: creativity, fearlessness, and adequate (or better) physical tools on the move. Burrow has all three pillars.
Playmaking isn’t always doing the Patrick Mahomes or Russell Wilson stuff where a quarterback runs around for 20 seconds before hitting a miracle throw. Burrow can do that on occasion, whereas nobody else in the class really can except for maybe Love, but playmaking is more than that. Playmaking is almost analogous to problem-solving: the play breaks down and it’s on the quarterback to “solve” it by making a play. Burrow has that intuitive understanding of how to make that play happen and is not at all scared of being clobbered by a pass-rusher or throwing a risky ball. Burrow trusts himself and trusts his teammates, and he’s got the mobility and accuracy to pull it off far more often than not.