Dougherty: How Packers' Jordan Love compares to 2021's top quarterback prospects
GREEN BAY - It’s a given the first three picks of this year’s draft will be quarterbacks. Probably even the first four.
Odds also are high at least five will go in the first round, with all possibly being taken ahead of the No. 26 spot that the Green Bay Packers used on Jordan Love last season.
So is this class that much stronger than last year's, when quarterbacks went Nos. 1 (Joe Burrow), 2 (Tua Tagovailoa) and 6 (Justin Herbert), then saw Love wait until 20 picks later to go? Or is this just a product of a league where about a third of the teams are looking for a keeper at the game’s most important position?
To find out I recently asked three NFL scouts where Love would rank had he been in this year’s class. This is hardly definitive of the league’s view as a whole, if there is such a thing, because rankings of players at all positions can vary plenty from scout to scout and team to team.
And that proved to be the case with the three scouts I contacted, all of whom I also consulted before last year’s draft. One ranked Love in the same spot of this year’s class as last year, another dropped him one spot, and the third had him outside this year’s top five altogether after ranking him fourth in 2020.
The scout who graded Love the highest had him again as a top-10 prospect at No. 3 in this year’s class. Last year, he had Love behind Burrow and Tagovailoa, and ahead of Herbert. This year the same scout ranked Love third behind Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence, and ahead of Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones.
A second scout, who saw Love as a later first-round prospect in 2020 and had him No. 4 overall among quarterbacks, ranked him sixth this year. Last year he had Love behind, in order, Burrow, Herbert and Tagovailoa. This year Love was behind behind Lawrence, Wilson, Jones, Fields and Lance.
And a third scout, who graded Love No. 3 overall among quarterbacks as a late first-round to early second-round prospect last year, ranked Love tied for the No. 4 spot this year. In 2020 the scout had Love behind Burrow and Tagovailoa, and ahead of Herbert. This year he had Love behind Lawrence, Wilson and Jones, about on par with Lance and clearly ahead of Fields.
Though Lawrence is generally considered the No.1 quarterback prospect, that sentiment isn’t universal in the league. And of the three scouts consulted, the one who liked Love best also gave Lawrence the lowest grade. He considers Lawrence only a little better prospect than Love coming out, and thinks Lawrence has been overrated because he was surrounded by exceptional talent at Clemson.
“The thing with Love that I liked is he had some of the free-flowing playmaking,” the scout said. “He raised the level of those guys at Utah State. He was playing with a bunch of guys who were nowhere close to being in the NFL, and he got banged around a lot last year because he wasn’t as good as the year before and the interceptions.
“Every play Jordan Love had to be a playmaker. He was under pressure, he had receivers who weren’t getting open. Ninety-five percent of what he did was, ‘I’ve got to create for this offense.’ Those are the things I loved about Jordan last year. If you put him on Clemson and Trevor Lawrence on Utah State, it’s a lot different story for them.”
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Said the scout who dropped Love from third last year to fourth this year: “Love is behind the top three guys. I’d take him right there with Trey Lance because he needed time to develop. He was not ready, not mature that way.”
The other scout considered Love too raw coming out of college to crack the top five of this year’s class.
“He was just more developmental,” the scout said.
Here’s a thumbnail of the scouts’ take on the top five quarterback prospects this year:
Jacksonville coach Urban Meyer all but confirmed to Peter King of NBC Sports on Monday that the Jaguars will draft Lawrence No. 1 overall. Two of the three scouts consulted here preferred Lawrence over Wilson.
“Lawrence is the cleanest,” one of them said. “It’s hard not to pick him, everything aligns right. There’s no bust in that guy, so consistent, no rough edges. You’re not getting a dominant personality, or a big-bodied tough guy, you’re not getting Brett Favre, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck body type. You’re getting a cleaner, meeker guy, but he’s a machine.”
The scout who ranked Lawrence second said Lawrence didn’t stand out in the rare games when Clemson didn’t badly outman its opponents.
“It’s almost seven-on-seven for Lawrence,” the scout said. “He doesn’t really get pressure, he’s got huge wide-open receivers all the time. If you freeze the frame when he’s about to throw the ball he has a huge pocket, and you freeze the frame on the receivers he’s throwing to, there’s no one within five yards of receivers. So he’s at his own pace all the time.
“But then when they played the games where he got sped up, you have to make quick decisions, you have to make plays, that’s LSU last year in the national championship game, Ohio State this year and they played Virginia Tech this year, he couldn’t do that, he looked very average in those games.”
His ability to throw darts from a variety of arm angles and while on the move draws comparisons with Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. Size (6-2, 214) and durability (had surgery on the labrum of his throwing shoulder in 2019) are the main concerns.
“Love him,” said one of the scouts who rated Wilson second. “Those creative intangibles to him, he’ll play right away. The only thing that could derail him, he’s 6-2, he’s 214, which is a couple gallons of water he drank. So he’s really going to be 210, which is lean, and the body is not a durable body so we’ll see what the decision-making is, if he can stay out of harm’s way enough. But his passing skills are really good and he can run, so he’s dangerous.”
Said the scout who ranked Wilson first: “Zach Wilson is just a natural, from the first few plays you watch him you’re like, wow, his awareness, his moxie, his command, just his ability to freely flow in the pocket and make throws and make plays. Not many quarterbacks have that.”
A polarizing prospect because some scouts see him as too limited physically and the product of an Alabama program where he was surrounded by superior talent across the board. Last week he ran the 40 in a reported 4.72 seconds, which isn’t bad for his position.
One of the scouts said he liked Jones over Love because the former is far more polished and a more accurate passer. He predicted the 49ers will take Jones at No. 3 overall.
“I didn’t want to see him as a top guy but just watching him it was, ‘Oh my gosh,’” the scout said. “I was just really impressed with his efficiency and his accuracy. Granted it’s easy to say he’s throwing to wide-open guys, yes that’s true, absolutely true. But he’s hitting them right on the money. And the subtle slides and movements in the pocket are legit, that’s what he’s going to be doing at the next level.”
Another of the scouts, though, didn’t have a first-round grade on Jones.
“I know Mac Jones is getting a whole lot of push here, Senior Bowl and the Alabama bump and all that,” the scout said. “But I don’t see that in him.”
A strong and accurate thrower who’s expected to test great athletically when he works out for scouts this week. Displayed leadership and toughness but his play often dropped off when he couldn’t throw to his first read. Only one of three scouts ranked him ahead of Love.
“If you just put that one game in a vacuum against Clemson with Justin Fields, you’d say this guy should be the first pick in the draft,” one scout said. "But his whole body of work is kind of concerning, his accuracy has been a little off. The Indiana game this year he looked very average, a lot of reads were bad, a lot of forced throws. … Jordan Love is more of a natural passer. He has a little bit more free flowing mind and throwing ability than Justin fields does.”
Said the scout who ranked Fields last of the group: “Not my cup of tea. I like guys who can process very, very fast, those are the guys that have a chance to react and make plays against whatever happens. He’s not a quick reactor. He can be athletic and run 4.41 and whatever else but if you don’t react properly to the defense, none of those things matter, might as well be 4.8. I think he’ll eventually make it because he’s tough and has perseverance, so I’m not totally betting against him, I just don’t like that style of skill.”
The rawest of the group after starting only 17 games for North Dakota State at the FCS level. The school played only one game last season, so all evaluations are based off the 2019 season (28 touchdown passes, zero interceptions). Has great size (6-4, 224) and was recruited by Big Ten Conference schools as a receiver or safety.
“I like him a lot, there’s so much room to growth” said the scout who ranked him on par with Love. “But the tape is two years old. Watching him on the Pro Day looked like a man, size, strength, going to be a dominant body type for the position. Big power passer, can still throw with touch and anticipation. Still not nearly there yet, hasn’t played very many games, but he’s certainly a guy you think, gosh there’s a lot more to develop here.”