As part of my annual effort to create composite rankings for the league, I went back and forth so many times between Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon's Justin Herbert that I decided to conduct a final poll this week of general managers and other high-level executives with a dozen teams. Seven predicted the No. 2 QB will be Herbert. Five gave the nod to Tagovailoa, whose durability and long-term prognosis remain one of the great puzzle pieces in this draft, even as he makes what by all accounts is a strong recovery from a significant hip injury.
Here's the full breakdown of the 14 quarterbacks with the best chance to get drafted, based on conversations with NFL executives, scouts and coaches, all speaking on the condition of anonymity for competitive reasons and to provide a blunt assessment:
**Composite projection:** Round 1
After one of the most productive seasons in college football history, Burrow's interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine cemented the rare makeup that sets him apart. "Burrow's one of the best prospects that I've seen personally. Just his confidence, his knowledge, he's unbelievable," an NFC coordinator said. "[LSU] had a good system. They had dudes all over the field. It was a perfect storm. But so much of the game of the quarterback is played above the neck, and there's no doubt he has that. And he played his best at the biggest games." Burrow threw for 5,671 yards and an FBS-record 60 touchdowns with just six interceptions last season, completing 76.3 percent of his passes on the way to the Heisman Trophy and a national championship on a Tigers team loaded with playmakers. An AFC quarterbacks coach said Burrow's accuracy "jumps off the film. He can throw it into a tight window. He can offset throw versus tight coverage. He can throw the hole shot. He doesn't have a huge arm. He really kind of crow-hops into big balls."
Average arm strength and overall physical traits were part of why many NFL scouts say they had Burrow graded as a mid-round pick coming off an unremarkable 2018 season, his first with the Tigers after transferring from Ohio State, where he lost a battle for the starting job with future first-round pick Dwayne Haskins. "There's a lot of scouts out there lying their asses off about where they had him last year, because there's no f------ way you could've put that (2018) tape on and thought he was better than a late-round pick," an NFC scout said. "And good for Joe. He's got the right makeup. You saw his leadership. You saw his mental toughness."
Said an NFC coach: "He ends up with a pro coach (Joe Brady) in a really good system with the best players. He's a great processor and he is everything I'd want in a quarterback -- if I took him in the second or third round. He's not a natural thrower, can't really pump it down the field. Now, he can throw it back-shoulder and uncovered and he's got anticipation, but that ball's wobbling. Love him, but I think he's a high-risk guy at 1."
In some ways, Burrow profiles like former No. 1 pick Peyton Manning, whose brain was able to make up for whatever his arm lacked, especially at the end of his career in Denver. To no one's surprise, Burrow didn't throw at the NFL Scouting Combine, where his hands measured smaller than expected (9 inches) and he was up to 221 pounds on his 6-foot-3 1/2 frame. He has shown composure and a willingness to take hits and scored 12 rushing TDs over the past two years. Teammates, coaches and staff members at two schools rave about his intangibles. "He's got that elite leadership gene," an AFC executive said. "A kid from Athens, Ohio, who ended up going to Baton Rouge, Louisiana -- it's just a different culture, and those guys really loved him."
**Composite projection:** Round 1
The pre-draft process has been good to Herbert, who's a big guy (6-6 1/4, 236 pounds) with an arm to match. "I like Herbert's tape. But I do think the talent is ahead of the nuance and polish of playing the position," an AFC executive said. "He's really good at throwing on the move. He can really push the ball downfield. And in a clean pocket with guys open, the guy is accurate. It was not a very complex passing offense (at Oregon), but the kid is more than cerebral enough to pick that up, and he's got a big-time arm. The concern is, at the top of his drop, deciphering coverage -- he just doesn't have a lot of experience doing that, so he's going to take some time. I just think he's got a really high ceiling."
The most experienced of the top three quarterbacks, Herbert completed 64 percent of his passes for 10,543 yards and 95 touchdowns with 23 interceptions in 44 games (42 starts), returning for his senior year and leading the Ducks to a Rose Bowl win. He impressed at the Senior Bowl, where he was named MVP and teams started getting more comfortable with his personality. "There's not a lot of dudes that look like him," an NFC coordinator said. "He can run (4.68-second 40-yard dash at the combine). He's got the huge arm. He's a great kid. But he's a great kid that's never been out of Eugene. You want to feel that more alpha presence from him. But everybody that I've talked to that's been with him is like, No, he's like every other quarterback: He wants to win at everything."
Nearly every scout and coach I spoke to expressed frustration with the way Oregon coach Mario Cristobal's offense operated, focused on establishing a downhill running game at the expense of utilizing Herbert's athletic ability. But some still wanted to see Herbert just cut it loose and make more plays on tape. "I think he's stiff, he's analytical, he doesn't post-snap process," another NFC coach said. "I don't think he anticipates and throws well in windows versus zone. Pac-12 defenses are a joke. Under duress, he's below the line, when the pocket's on top of him."
Several people I spoke to brought up Herbert's lackluster supporting cast, especially compared to those of Burrow and Tagovailoa. It's similar to the debate over Josh Allen a couple of years ago, though Herbert's accuracy isn't in much doubt. "He can run, he's got a huge arm, super smart," an NFC scout said. "He's got a ton of stuff you can't teach."
**Composite projection:** Round 1
If not for the medical and durability questions, many scouts and coaches would regard Tagovailoa as a safer pick than Justin Herbert. "I think [Tua]'s a really good prospect -- a prospect that you can win pretty quickly with," an NFC executive said. "He's really polished with his footwork and his fundamentals. I don't think you're going to see [Herbert's] ceiling for quite a bit. For Tua, the floor and the ceiling are pretty close."
Tagovailoa came off the bench to lead a comeback win over Georgia in the national championship game as a true freshman and finished his college career with remarkable numbers: 7,442 yards and 87 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions over three years while playing for three different offensive coordinators. "He's got the moxie," an NFC quarterbacks coach said. "He's got a short release for a left-hander. He's got quick hands. He's got great feet. He's athletic. He's just got something to him personality-wise, too." Compared to Joe Burrow, Tagovailoa is "a little more twitched-up," an AFC scout said. "He's got some traits about him that seem like they're high-level -- instincts, accuracy, quick release and even some of his mobility. Durability is just the question there. When he scrambles and gets out, whoever has him is probably going to be holding their breath."
Tagovailoa has shown toughness in recovering from so many injuries, but there's a lot of wear and tear on his 6-foot, 217-pound frame. In just the past two years, Tagovailoa broke a bone in his throwing hand in the spring of 2018, then broke it again and needed surgery; sprained a knee early in the 2018 season; suffered a left high-ankle sprain and had tightrope surgery in December 2018 (returning four weeks later to start the College Football Playoff semifinal); suffered a right high-ankle sprain and had another tightrope surgery last October; and suffered a right hip dislocation and posterior wall fracture on Nov. 18. Less than five months after Tagovailoa underwent season-ending surgery, coaches and scouts who reviewed Tagovailoa's "pro day" session on video last week felt he was moving around pretty well. All updates from Tagovailoa's doctors since the surgery have been positive; he underwent a physical at the combine (as well as a recent recheck with Titans team doctor Thomas Byrd, a renowned hip surgeon), and he's considered low-risk for recurrence or the type of blood-flow issue that ended Bo Jackson's career. But each team has its own medical staff and its own degree of risk tolerance, and most haven't had direct access to Tagovailoa since late February because of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, even if a team could examine him today, there's no way to be 100 percent positive about his long-term prognosis before draft day. As multiple people with knowledge of Tagovailoa's medical report explained, it's common for such injuries to lead to arthritis that can affect a player's mobility in the short term and require long-term management, but that usually takes at least a year to develop.
As one GM put it: "It is a little bit of a leap of faith."
Like Burrow, Tagovailoa played with an extremely talented supporting cast, including expected first-round picks Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III. "He does some stuff where he works through his reads," an AFC executive said. "But it's so much ride No. 22 (Najee Harris) into the line, pop it on the slant, pop it on the bubble. These cats are really good route-runners, and wide open." One coach with a strong background working with quarterbacks said the scheme fit will be critical, with Tagovailoa best-suited to a one-back, shotgun system -- think the Saints, or the Dolphins under new coordinator Chan Gailey. "I love him intangibly," another NFC coach said. "But the way he plays, the way he takes hits, the way he scrambles -- it would worry me. I don't know that he's built for it in the long haul, just his body type. And if I was investing a franchise-changing pick, I would have to factor that in."
**Composite projection:** Round 1-2
The most polarizing QB prospect in this class, Love could go top 15 or slide to Day 2. All it takes is one team to fall in love with the tools and look past Love's disappointing junior year, in which he threw an FBS-high 17 interceptions on an overmatched Aggies team. "If he sits for a year, he could be electric," an NFC coordinator said. "He's a pocket passer with movement ability. He throws that second-level ball as well as anybody. You've seen him throw a bunch of seams in college -- that's a very common NFL throw. He's got a great deep ball. He's really talented. He tried to do way too much this year, but he's at Utah State. If they put him at Alabama or LSU or Oregon, what does he look like?"
Love has good size at 6-3 3/4 and 224 pounds with huge, 10 1/2-inch hands. He took over the starting job midway through his redshirt freshman season and shattered school records as a sophomore in 2018, when Utah State went 11-2 and Love threw 32 TDs with just six INTs. Then came the departure of most of the Aggies' starting offense and a coaching change that led to tweaks to the Air Raid offense in which Love had thrived. "I love his arm talent," an AFC coach said. "He strikes me as a thrower, not a passer. Because he can throw it all different kind of ways, all different platforms, all different arm angles, but sometimes he doesn't make the pass the way it should be made. He's a little raw that way."
That's similar to the way some saw Patrick Mahomes coming out of a similar offense at Texas Tech, though scouts mostly scoff at that comparison. "They're not in the same stratosphere, talent-wise," an NFC scout said. "Mahomes -- better arm, had consistently produced in college. Everybody's making excuses for Love. At what point is it his fault?" One scout compared Love's junior year to the final college season of former No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston, whose spike in interceptions from 10 to 18 was a huge storyline leading up to the 2015 draft -- and set the stage for Winston throwing 88 more picks in his first five NFL seasons (including 30 last year) before the Buccaneers moved on to Tom Brady.
Teams also grilled Love on a citation, along with two teammates, for marijuana possession on Dec. 14 -- days after he'd declared for the NFL draft and days before Utah State's bowl game. (The charges were later dismissed.) "You do like some of the natural tools and ability he has, but the questions for him are going to be maturity and ball security," the scout said. "Both of those have affected Winston." Love helped himself with the way he picked things up and performed at the Senior Bowl. "He's a perfect guy to come in, you develop him, you like all his tools, he's got all the physical traits," an NFC quarterbacks coach said. "But coming from the system he's coming from, he'll be better off if he can sit for a year or two."
**Composite projection:** Round 2-3
There are flashes on tape of why Eason was once among the coveted college recruits in the country, starting with his arm. "Eason's might be the best I've ever seen. A f------ rocket," an AFC executive said. "But that's certainly just part of the equation." Eason can make throws to parts of the field that other QBs simply can't. His size (6-5 7/8, 231) is enticing, too. But in 32 games (26 starts) over three seasons at two schools, there simply wasn't enough consistency to talk about him in the same breath as this year's top prospects. "The more you watch, the more you see he's probably not a first-round pick," an NFC coach said. "Everything's a fastball. There's no touch on anything. I think he's a little sneakier athletic than people give him credit for. He's really good in the pocket. There's a play a game that just makes you scratch your head, and you're like, What the hell is that? But there's some tools there now."
Teams had a lot to dig into with Eason, dating back to his days at Georgia, where he started 12 games as a true freshman but ended up transferring after suffering a knee injury in the 2017 opener and losing his job to the less-talented, more dialed-in Jake Fromm. Eason's reputation for partying and punching the clock abated after his transfer to Washington, where he redshirted in 2018 and -- after a nearly two-year layoff -- threw for 3,132 yards and 23 touchdowns with eight interceptions last fall. "Most guys don't change all that much. But he's smart enough to figure out that, 'Oh my God, I won't be able to survive in this game if I don't hunker down and grind,' " an NFC executive said. "Arm talent's there. He's not a great processor of information, quickly."
Several coaches and scouts said Eason could've used another year in school. His opportunity to make up ground by showing off his arm at his pro day and private workouts was cut short because of COVID-19. "You'd like him to be more consistently accurate, because he flashes it," an NFC coordinator said. "He's the big, standard pocket passer, not a great mover, not elite accuracy. He's going to tease you a lot." Reviews on Eason's interviews with teams were mixed; some thought he came across as sharp and confident, others felt he seemed disinterested. Instincts, decision-making and leadership still come up as concerns for some teams. "I wouldn't disagree with that," a high-ranking AFC scout said. "But the fact remains that you've got a chance to hit an absolute home run with that guy."
**Composite projection:** Round 2-3
After an uneven Senior Bowl week, the Heisman Trophy runner-up threw the ball better than expected at the combine and his pro day, backing up Hurts' insistence that he'll play quarterback at the next level. "Some GMs and some offensive coordinators and head coaches will just hate the style and say this guy's not a quarterback, no different than what you saw with Lamar (Jackson)," an AFC executive said. "He's not as dynamic as Lamar was in college by any means. But if teams boil it down to 'what does this guy do well, this guy had one of the greatest college football seasons in history in a passing offense' -- and he's a super clean kid, highly professional, really competitive -- I think someone probably will take [Hurts] on Day 2." Said an AFC quarterbacks coach: "The dude went 38-4 as a starter and played in a lot of big games. The LSU game, they ran into a freight train, but it looked like he was pressing. He's best when he just goes out and plays ball. He needs some development, there's no question. He can really spin the football. Sometimes he gets uncoordinated with his lower half and his delivery, so it gets him a little awkward. He just needs to clean up some of that stuff and become more consistent with it."
Hurts was a part of three Alabama teams that reached the national championship game, then took Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff after his graduate transfer. His one season with offensive guru Lincoln Riley and the Sooners was by far his most productive: 69.7 percent passing for 3,851 yards and 32 touchdowns with just eight interceptions, plus another 1,298 yards and 20 TDs rushing. "The Oklahoma stuff is kind of skewed because it's a f------ high school 7-on-7 tournament every game they play," another AFC exec said. "He's a bright kid. He's cerebral. He doesn't process things and see things real quick and get rid of the ball. He kind of has to see it to believe it. And then his arm is good, it's not special. I don't think he's a super-instinctive player."
The play of fellow Riley proteges Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray as rookies probably helps Hurts' cause, though both were more polished passers coming out. No team formally asked Hurts to do combine drills at a different position. But given his build (6-1, 222), speed (4.59 40 at the combine) and concerns about accuracy, decision-making, anticipation, etc., some scouts wrote him as a running back while Hurts was at Alabama, where Tua Tagovailoa replaced him early in the comeback win over Georgia in the January 2018 national championship game and never gave back the starting job. (After Tagovailoa's ankle injury, Hurts came off the bench in the SEC title game the following season and led his own comeback win.)
Some envision Hurts in a package role while he develops as a QB, in the mold of Saints' Swiss Army Knife Taysom Hill. "Mike Gundy hit it right on the head: He is a wishbone quarterback, man," an NFC scout said. "First and second read, (then) take off and run." Hurts' quiet, no-nonsense personality gave some teams pause early in the process; the staff at Oklahoma assured them it comes across the right way in the locker room, and Hurts can let his guard down at times. "Everyone respects him at both schools, because he's the hardest worker, he's super serious, he's all about football, about winning," an NFC coordinator said. "If you have to play him early, you'd have to protect him with your run game, and know what you're getting early on and hope you develop him into a more complete player. Because the mindset is off the charts. I think the kid's special."
**Composite projection:** Round 3-4
Four scouts and coaches from different teams brought up the same comparison: journeyman backup Chase Daniel. "I'm not sold on the arm strength, size, athleticism. I liked his decision-making, and I really like the kid," an NFC quarterbacks coach said of Fromm, who was 35-7 over three seasons as the Bulldogs' starter. "He's a football junkie. He's got the right makeup for sure. Now, the physical stuff is concerning. If he goes anywhere before the third round, that's reaching." Fromm (6-1 7/8, 219 pounds with 8 7/8-inch hands) is taller than Daniel, a one-time Heisman Trophy finalist who went undrafted in 2009 but is now entering his 12th NFL season. And Fromm earned his way at Georgia -- never giving back the job after Jacob Eason's injury as a true freshman in 2017, when he helped the Bulldogs reach the national championship game, and then holding off Justin Fields, who transferred to Ohio State and became a star, in 2018.
"Jake probably has the best makeup and character of anybody literally in the entire draft," a high-ranking AFC scout said. "He's an awesome dude. His teammates love him. He works his balls off. He's as self-made as they come. He's just not very talented." In all, Fromm threw for 8,224 yards and 78 touchdowns with just 18 interceptions, though his numbers dipped as a junior in 2019 (60.8% completion rate, 24 TDs). "He's smart and he's an operator and he has a lot of experience. And that counts," another NFC coach said. "But that guy can't throw it. His throwing mechanics are awful. And he would take a lot of work to fix." Said an AFC scout: "He's amazingly brilliant in terms of picking up the offense and everything. The upside's Kirk Cousins, if you want to say glass half-full. He's fought off two five-stars. All he does is play in big games and win games. He just doesn't have the arm talent or the physical athletic ability of these other cats."
**Composite projection:** Round 4-5
Strong interviews, a good performance at the East-West Shrine Bowl and experience in a pro-style offense have helped Morgan build buzz in the pre-draft process, despite a drop in production last fall as he battled injuries -- an ankle that kept him out of one game and an MCL sprain that forced him to wear a brace. "He showed some toughness this year on that knee," an NFC quarterbacks coach said. "Played well as a junior. He's got an absolute cannon. And he's smart as s---. He might be that guy in this year's draft that people overly (draft). But I think he'll be on somebody's roster for sure."
A transfer from Bowling Green State, where he lost the job in 2017 before getting back into the lineup because of his injury, Morgan immediately took over as FIU's starter in 2018, completing 65.3 percent of his passes with 26 touchdowns and seven interceptions as the Panthers went 8-4. Last season: 58 percent completion rate, 14 TDs and five INTs. One coach who studied Morgan (6-4, 229) estimated he saw 30 drops on tape by receivers. "Not a lot around him, talent-wise, but he was pretty beat-up this last year, too," an NFC scout said. "Sharp kid, comes across the right way, mature. His tape wasn't great. But he's got tools and he's got plenty of arm."
Morgan's reputation as a grinder helps his cause, too, especially this year, with COVID-19 restrictions cutting into teams' spring work. "He's got good mechanics. He throws a good ball. He's not a great athlete," an NFC coordinator said. "Wearing a knee brace, kind of dragging his leg around when he got hurt, but I like that kid. Got the right makeup. He'll still be OK with a shortened offseason."
**Composite projection:** Round 5-6
A big pocket passer (6-6 1/8, 224 with 10 3/8-inch hands), Luton wasn't a full-time starter until his senior year, when he threw 28 touchdown passes with just three interceptions in the Beavers' pro-style offense, despite playing most of the season with a meniscus injury. "I thought he was solid all-around," an NFC coordinator said. "He's not super fast, he doesn't have a huge arm -- he's just a good player. And I think he got better every year, which is good to see. You feel like there's still more in there that you can get out."
Luton played in eight games as a backup at Idaho as a redshirt freshman in 2015, then transferred to junior college before ending up at Oregon State, where the coaching staff speaks highly of him. His medical report is long, but not particularly concerning to clubs: a thoracic spine injury in 2017, a concussion in 2018, and a forearm injury that cost him the final game last fall. He had the knee scoped in early December, sources say, and recovered quickly enough to practice at the NFL Players Association Collegiate Bowl in January. "I like him," another NFC coordinator said. "I think he's got a chance."
**Composite projection:** Round 6-7
Stanley finished second in school in history with 68 touchdown passes over 46 games (39 starts), but never completed at least 60 percent of his passes in a single season. "He's your typical Iowa kid," an NFC coach said. "He's going to do exactly what you want him to do. He's not overly talented." Size (6-3 3/4, 235) is a plus. Mobility isn't. Stanley's arm is good, not great. He has operated from under center. "People are going to like it because he played for (Kirk) Ferentz, he's in a pro-style system," an NFC quarterbacks coach said. "There's some evidence of him being able to throw it well enough."
**Composite projection:** Round 7/Priority free agent
The physical tools are intriguing with Montez (6-4, 231), who threw for a school-record 63 touchdowns and 9,710 passing yards. "He's got some arm talent," an NFC quarterbacks coach said, "but he needs a ton of work." There about questions about how much Montez really understands concepts, coverages, etc., despite appearing in 47 college games (39 starts). Failing the conditioning test before his senior year is a red flag. "The word on him is he was kind of lazy, he didn't really work at it," an NFC coach said. "But he's got a s---load of talent now. He wouldn't be a bad back-end guy. He can throw it."
**Composite projection:** Round 7/Priority free agent
Gordon struggled to function during Senior Bowl practices. Then came game day, and Gordon came alive, completing eight of 12 passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns. "He almost could've got the MVP," an AFC scout said. "He at least helped his cause." There's nothing really physically impressive about Gordon, who measured in at the combine at 6-2 3/8 and 205 pounds. "He's not Gardner Minshew, and Gardner went in the sixth," an NFC scout said. "His body looks like he's never touched a weight. He's a first-year starter. Not a good athlete."
But Gordon is a gamer who put up ridiculous numbers in his lone season at the helm of Mike Leach's wide-open Air Raid offense: 71.6 percent passing for 5,579 yards and 48 touchdowns with 17 interceptions. His interviews have impressed teams, too. "He's just a baller," an NFC executive said. "He can go out and win games, because he's proved he can do it. He's fun to watch. Nothing special about his athleticism. He wasn't s--- going into the year, and he completely outperformed everything that everybody expected of him."
**Composite projection:** Round 7/Priority free agent
Lewerke's best season was his first as a starter in 2017, when he threw for 20 touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore on a Spartans team that went 10-3. Since then: 25 TDs, 24 interceptions. His completion percentage was below 60 every season. "He is gonna do everything right in terms of coaching," an NFC personnel director said. "But in terms of going out there and operating -- arm strength? No. Decision-making? No. Athleticism? Hell no."
Lewerke (6-2 1/2, 213) did set the career school record for total offense, becoming the first Michigan State quarterback to surpass 8,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards, and he was a two-time team captain with a ton of experience (41 games, 38 starts). Some bad-weather games affected the numbers last season. "He got crushed because he played with a bad shoulder two years ago," an NFC coach said. "I thought he played really good his freshman year. And last year they had a terrible scheme and no talent. He had moments of greatness and moments of bad play, but there was nothing that helped him."
**Composite projection:** Round 7/Priority free agent
Expect Perkins (6-3, 215) to get a long look in the NFL -- just maybe not as a full-time quarterback. "I think he's something else," an NFC executive said, "but I don't know what he is yet." After stops at Arizona State -- where Perkins suffered two broken vertebrae in practice that could've ended his career -- and a junior college, he was 17-10 in two seasons as the Cavaliers' starter. He threw for 47 touchdowns (with 21 INTs), ran for 20 more and completed 64.5 percent of his college passes. Perkins wasn't invited to the combine, so there are no verified measurables. But he's a big athlete who someone will try to develop. "He'd be a little bit like (Jalen) Hurts, but Hurts is a better passer," an AFC scout said. "He might be more of a package guy. He's fast."