Why There’s Reason to Worry About Colts Quarterback Jacob Eason

The Indianapolis Colts' fourth-round selection on Saturday entered the NFL amid questions about character. He has to prove there's more there than just having a cannon for a right passing arm.

INDIANAPOLIS — If you clicked on the headline because it had “Jacob Eason” and expected to read nothing but positive perspectives on how the strong-armed quarterback is misunderstood, general manager Chris Ballard was beyond brilliant to select him in the fourth round of Saturday’s NFL draft and there’s no doubt Eason is going to be an Indianapolis Colts cornerstone in a bright, blue future, well …

Please click another headline.

Because Eason, if nothing else, is all about doubt. Some who are resourceful will Google and read up on why that doubt exists. Some just expect a journalist to spell it out on Twitter, and when that doesn’t happen, said scribe is a “coward.”

There’s something about being called a coward that inspires. The tweet tussle is in reference to my quickie opinion after the selection that there was a reason Eason dropped so far from a late first-round projection, and that people should draw their own conclusions.

Spelling it out, Eason plummeted because the quarterback’s character is in question. 

That’s not just some made-up opinion so people will watch ESPN. The “Worldwide Leader in Sports” doesn’t need to do that. This is coming from someone who told ESPN years ago to stop calling because I would no longer provide TV chats and Colts insight for free.

ESPN analysts Todd McShay, Chris Mortensen, and former pro scout and personnel director Louis Riddick had no reason to lie about what NFL teams were saying at February’s NFL Scouting Combine at Indianapolis, when referring to how Eason’s interviews “weren’t going well.”

“He was too comfortable,” McShay said of the Eason perception. “He thought that he owned the room. He doesn’t understand the magnitude of all this.”

I actually had a similar thought while sitting next to the podium and listening to Eason talk during his combine chat with reporters. I remember thinking, “He’s a bit too cocky for someone who really hasn’t done anything yet.” In less than 15 minutes, I arrived at what proved to be the hasty conclusion, “The Colts won’t draft this guy. He doesn’t fit their idea of a Horseshoe guy.”

Uh, yeah. That’s forgetting one of the many unwritten rules in professional sports: Teams fall in love with talent.

Keep searching the Internet, folks. There’s plenty more to consider, if you want to take the time to look.

An Eason story by The Seattle Times columnist Matt Calkins included this:

“The truth is, Eason had only one superhuman game in his lone year as a Husky. That came when he threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns on 24-of-28 passing in a win at BYU. Besides that, his time on Montlake was marked more by inconsistency than it was expertise.

“There was the game he went 18 for 30 for 162 yards and no TDs in a loss against Cal. There was the game he went 16 for 36 for 206 yards and an interception in a loss against Stanford. There was his disappearing act in the fourth quarter in a loss to Oregon, and there were the three turnovers he committed in a loss against Utah.”

Then Calkins added this:

“Jacob never seemed to express much joy while wearing a Huskies uniform. Smiles were sparse on the field, and though he was polite enough to the media, his energy was on par with a man filling out an expense report.

“This ostensibly indifferent attitude seemed to hurt his standing with pro coaches, too. Tweeted NFL reporter Jason Cole on Friday: ‘QB Jacob Eason interviewed very poorly with NFL teams. Opinion is that he doesn’t work that hard at his craft.’”

There’s that combine criticism again, and not from someone with ESPN. Out of respect for those “fake news” believers who are convinced journalists are dishonest and disreputable, there’s no need to keep posting opinions from media outside this market.

Let’s stick to a personal evaluation. Two quarterbacks quickly come to mind when I’m reminded of strong-armed passers who could fire a football but never achieved NFL greatness.

Jeff George and Ryan Leaf.

I’m not saying Eason will end up like either of them. That’s up to him.

But these are cautionary tales about two passers who lacked that certain something, the “it” factor many speak of which typically defines an NFL quarterback. Some quarterbacks have that character, that work ethic, that desire, that ability to adapt and overcome adversity and even criticism, that uncanny knack of processing what they see and making decisions in split seconds while guys are trying to rip that vitally important head off.

Whatever you want to call “it,” some have “it” and some don’t.

George and Leaf are particularly relevant because of a Colts connection. George was the Colts’ No. 1 overall pick and Sports Illustrated cover story in 1990. He lasted just four years in Indy before being traded from his hometown.

Leaf was the other side of the equation in 1998 when the Colts wisely selected Peyton Manning with the No. 1 overall pick. The San Diego Chargers chose Leaf No. 2. Leaf blew off a pre-draft meeting with the Colts because he didn’t think they were going to choose him, so what was the point? That spoke volumes. Leaf lasted three years with the Chargers and his descent into much-publicized self-destruction eventually landed him in prison.

Putting those stories together, a respected colleague often said that if you could watch George and Manning throw a football on the same field, you’d swear that George was the better quarterback.

One of the morals of these stories is that a strong arm only takes a quarterback so far in the NFL. Another is to pay attention to red flags when they surface because if they aren’t addressed and the player doesn’t ever get “it,” he is doomed to fail.

I hope somebody gets this message through to Eason. What was that line from the 1993 Robert De Niro movie “A Bronx Tale?” — “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.”

As other NFL analysts were also quick to point out, Eason couldn’t have asked for a better situation. Colts head coach Frank Reich is a former NFL quarterback with an understated, reassuring demeanor, a man of devout faith who wants to see the good in all people.

Reich will do everything humanly possible to teach Eason how to be a pro and make the most of this opportunity. And don’t forget 38-year-old quarterback Philip Rivers. Everything I’ve been told about the 17th-year pro being the ultimate team guy suggests Eason couldn’t have a better role model. A respected colleague who knows Rivers well told me at the combine that the Chargers quarterback was among his “top-five, all-time” locker-room guys.

So in two or three years, if Eason eventually understands, works hard, learns and progresses, he could be the Colts franchise quarterback. If he doesn’t, make no mistake the Colts will cut their losses.

I couldn’t be more convinced of that after the media’s post-draft Zoom video teleconference with the Colts general manager and Reich. Please take a moment to consider these comments.

Ballard gushed about quarterback Jacoby Brissett, reiterating once again how much he likes his 2019 starter and believes the organization is lucky to still have him, even if it’s as a $21.4-million backup to Rivers in 2020.

Ballard also said he loved fifth-round pick Danny Pinter, a Ball State O-lineman that the GM was so high on, he tried to trade up about 30 spots to ensure he ended up with the Colts.

When Ballard was asked about Eason, he gave the expected answers about how he was the highest player still available on the Colts draft board, how he’s got that strong arm as well as all the necessary physical tools and traits to be an NFL quarterback.

I initially surmised that, when asked about the criticism of Eason, Ballard would staunchly defend the player he had just selected and suggest Eason has been wrongly misrepresented in these character questions.

Before my question was posed, Ballard seemed to tire of being asked so much about Eason in saying, “Let’s slow our roll a little bit in terms of tagging this guy as the next messiah walking into town. He was a fourth-round pick. We didn’t move up to the first pick of the draft. Jacob’s got talent. He’s got to work and he’s got to earn it.”

The Colts company line is that Eason has a chance to earn a roster spot as the third quarterback in a battle with Chad Kelly. Nothing more, nothing less.

No gushing. Nothing about love. Just the bottom line. See the distinct difference in what was said about three players? It’s clear that Eason has a lot to prove to the Colts, whereas guys like Brissett and even a rookie like Pinter have already received an effusive amount of praise. And Pinter was selected one round after Eason.

The Colts fully understand the knock on this 22-year-old prospect, but Eason’s talent was worth the risk. And that’s OK. Taking a fourth-round chance on football’s most important position makes sense, except for the part about how Eason isn’t exactly a blue-collar, character guy who personifies what the Horseshoe is all about, but I digress. Ballard, by all accounts, had an excellent NFL draft.

I asked Ballard if Eason has been unfairly criticized.

“Well, I mean I think it is a little unfair,” Ballard said. “There are leaks, sources – nobody wants to put their name on it. We did a lot of work on him. I promise you, Jacob understands – I had a visit with him today when I called him – the expectations that we have here. I think you all have seen, he’s got to make the team. (He’s) a fourth-round pick, he’s still got to make the team. So if he works and he hits his potential, he will be on the squad. I don’t think it has been any different than any year I’ve been here.”

A bit of journalism 101 for the “fake news” folks still reading: if anonymous sources are named, they cease to provide info as anonymous sources. And then we don’t know as much as we could, because we in the media didn’t play ball. Do you want to know or not? I’d rather know, even if it can’t be printed.

Eason is still going to make more money than most of us, so there isn’t any reason to feel too sorry for him, no matter how this turns out.

But hopefully Eason eventually gets “it,” and then runs with “it.” The Colts took a chance on him. They hope, as does a passionate fan base.

In embarking on this NFL journey of discovery, it would be wise for Eason to learn from the past. His own and countless others. Or he might become another cautionary tale about wasted talent.