As the Bucs consider whether to move on from quarterback Jameis Winston, one factor they’ll weigh is the potential replacements available through April’s NFL draft.
I’m not a scout, nor will I pretend to be one. But I’ve seen most of the top prospects in person and know the work of the others through my five full seasons as the Tampa Bay Times’ college football writer.
Here’s what Bucs fans should know about the draft’s top quarterback prospects:
Joe Burrow, LSU
The Heisman Trophy winner merely led the greatest offense in college football history and produced the best season by a college quarterback ever. His NCAA-record 60 touchdown passes overshadowed his elusiveness and effectiveness as a runner. The Bucs won’t have to weigh how much of his historic season was because of him and how much was because of passing game coordinator Joe Brady (now a Panthers assistant); Burrow will be long gone before Tampa Bay picks at No. 14.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
In his first major performance, Tagovailoa came off the bench in the national championship to throw the game-winning touchdown against Georgia in overtime. His career passing efficiency (199.4) is an absurd 18 points higher than anyone else in college football history. The obvious concern is his health; he had two ankle surgeries at Alabama and is still recovering from a severe hip injury that sidelined him for the Crimson Tide’s final three games. Tagovailoa’s upside is so massive that it’s hard to see him lasting until No. 14, either.
Jake Fromm, Georgia
It’s easy to dismiss Fromm as a game manager, but that’s not fair. He made some big, gutsy throws in his career, including against Alabama in the national title game as a true freshman. He posted the nation’s No. 5 passing efficiency (171.22) in 2018 before his numbers regressed when his talented receivers disappeared. Fromm doesn’t have ideal size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds), but he beat out two future NFL quarterbacks at Georgia: Jacob Eason (see below) and Justin Fields, a potential 2021 first-round pick who transferred to Ohio State. That should count for something.
Jacob Eason, Washington
The former five-star prospect and national player of the year committed to Georgia in 2014, so it feels as if he’s been around forever. He doesn’t have enough to show for it, especially considering his immense talent. Eason got Wally Pipped by Fromm at Georgia, then spent one year as the starter for one of the nation’s biggest underachievers, Washington. He never finished in the top 20 nationally in any major statistic in either of his two full seasons. That doesn’t mean he’ll be a bust, but it means the Bucs should be cautious.
Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma
The fact that Hurts is still beloved by his former school, Alabama, is a credit to the classy way he handled his demotion behind Tagovailoa and his off-the-chart intangibles. The Bucs would be fortunate to have him as the face of their franchise. On the field, Hurts is a great runner and fine passer who made the College Football Playoff in each of his four seasons. But he missed too many potential big plays and turned the ball over too often. Sound familiar, Bucs fans?
Jordan Love, Utah State
He’s more accomplished than the last big-armed NFL passer to come out of the Mountain West (the Bills’ Josh Allen). After a stellar 2018 (32 touchdowns, six interceptions), Utah State launched a preseason Heisman campaign for Love, complete with heart-shaped candies. Then he went out and led the nation with 17 interceptions. It’s hard to say how many of them happened because of a coaching change and a dip in talent around him, but LSU coach Ed Orgeron still raved about Love before their October matchup.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
Herbert helped Willie Taggart get the Florida State job and enters the NFL as the second most prolific passer in Ducks history behind Marcus Mariota, whom the Bucs passed on to take Winston. Herbert put up good numbers (95 touchdowns, 23 interceptions) and ran for three touchdowns to beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Career starts is a good predictor of NFL success, and he started 42 times … but was wildly inconsistent in those games.
He threw two interceptions in a loss to Arizona State that was the most inexplicable performance of any team all season. Regardless, his size (6-foot-6) and upside will make him a first-round pick — either by the Bucs or someone else.