It’s no secret the Miami Dolphins are scouting college quarterbacks this fall and will continue to do that through the bowl season and all the way through the national championship game on Jan. 13, 2020.
Dolphins general manager Chris Grier has been all over the map the last few weeks watching the top prospects in person. And while I cannot offer the specifics of what games he’s attended, it’s clear before the college season is over, Grier will have seen:
Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa*, Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Stanford’s K.J. Costello, Utah State’s Jordan Love*, Georgia’s Jake Fromm*, LSU’s Joe Burrow*, Washington’s Jacob Eason*, and possibly Colorado’s Steven Montez, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond*, Texas’s Sam Ehlinger* and Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke.
(The guys with the asterisks behind their names are underclassmen and would have to apply to enter the NFL draft early so there’s no guarantee they’re jumping).
Take a close look at that list above. Because out of it will likely come one of the Miami Dolphins’ first-round picks in the 2020 draft and the player the franchise hopes will be the quarterback to lead it to success over the next decade.
I suppose there could be surprises somewhere down the road that add names not listed above but those players don’t currently look like early-round prospects.
Also, unless the NCAA suddenly makes sophomores draft eligible -- which is not currently on the radar -- this list is not expanding to include Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence.
I know many people believe Miami’s 2020 first-round quarterback choice is already a fait accompli (it’s French, you animals) in that the Dolphins are drafting Tua. Because after all, the Dolphins are currently in #TankforTua mode.
But here’s the truth: #TankforTua might be fake news. It’s just a catch phrase. It’s something a smart-aleck sportswriter started throwing around in January when he began writing the Dolphins would be tanking in 2019.
Except now folks believe this is definitely happening if Tagovailoa leaves Alabama after this season -- something scouts I talk to believe is likely but not yet official.
So maybe the pick will be Herbert. who absolutely looks the part of a first-round and maybe even first overall pick quarterback. He’s 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds. He moves around well enough. He’s got zero character warts. He’s thrown 15 touchdowns and only one interception so far this season. And he’s already shown improvement in his accuracy, completing 71 percent of his passes this year.
Maybe it’s Eason if he foregoes his senior year at Washington. He’s 6-6 and 227 pounds and has a very, very, very strong arm. But he’s raw and he’s not exactly super mobile and he’s had some deep ball accuracy issues and inconsistency lately.
Honestly, Eason would probably benefit from staying in school but if he comes out the Dolphins will obviously do their homework on him.
Maybe it’s one of the other guys. The problem with the list above is nobody at this stage is a generational prospect. Not one.
There is no Andrew Luck or John Elway or Peyton Manning in this group. Those guys are rare and anyone can identify them.
The 2020 class of quarterbacks? It’s going to require some serious scouting and personnel department acumen to identify the guy or guys that will be NFL stars -- assuming there are any.
And I know what you’re thinking: That’s scary.
Well, it is.
Because maybe Tua is Russell Wilson or Drew Brees with his great accuracy and winner’s makeup. And maybe he’s Robert Griffin III in his durability.
Maybe Herbert is Carson Wentz. And maybe he’s Paxton Lynch.
And can someone please tell me who is the next Patrick Mahomes?
It’s going to be crazy.
One way I believe the Dolphins will try to refine their evaluation is by looking at these players against the toughest competition they face. Against the biggest rivals they face. On the biggest stage they may play.
Tua, for example, has thrown an amazing 23 touchdowns without an interception in five games. He’s completed 76.4 percent of his passes. But no one is watching his tape against Southern Mississippi or New Mexico State to decide whether he’s the first overall selection in the 2020 draft.
That would be shortsighted.
The way to gauge Tua and, indeed, all these quarterbacks, is to watch them playing teams with similar NFL caliber talent. Watch them in adverse situations. Watch to see if they lift their teams.
What does that mean? For Tua you can say Saturday’s game against 24th ranked Texas A&M will be interesting. But it will be significant only if Tagovailoa struggles because this opponent shouldn’t be a problem for him and the supremely talented Alabama offense.
More important will be the Nov. 9 game against LSU. And the Nov. 30 game against Auburn. There’s also the chance Alabama will be vying for the Southeastern Conference title so the SEC Championship game in Atlanta on Dec. 7 will be a must-see -- especially if Alabama is playing Georgia, which is also loaded with outstanding defensive talent.
Those games will define Tua. Just as the PAC 12 title game and the bowls will define Herbert. Just as Fromm will be judged if the Georgia Bulldogs play Alabama in Atlanta or during the national title chase.
It’s going to be interesting to see it play out.