Scouting Combine Quarterbacks: Burrow’s Brilliance

Bill Huber

From first-round picks to developmental prospects, there will be 17 quarterbacks at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. Get to know them in this three-part feature.

Kelly Bryant, Missouri (6-4, 225): Bryant transferred to Missouri for his senior season and completed 62.0 percent of his passes for 2,215 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions in 10 games. He came to Mizzou as a graduate transfer from Clemson, where he led the Tigers to a 2017 College Football Playoffs. That season, he was one of 11 finalists for the Manning Award after completing 65.8 percent of his passes for 2,802 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions, plus another 665 yards and 11 scores on the ground. His six wins against top-25 teams set a school record.

However, with hot-shot Trevor Lawrence taking the starting job, Bryant left school during the 2018 season and eventually settled on Missouri. As a graduate, he didn’t have to sit out a season. “It feels good to have the people around you know you’re the guy,” Bryant told Sports Illustrated. “But at the same time, I’m not going to get too comfortable. I’m still going to have that mindset that I’m not the guy. I’m just staying humble. I’m not listening to all the hype. It’s good to hear, but I know in the back of my head what I’m here to do. I’m here to lead a team, to get better.” Bryant’s season wasn’t a success, though. First, after arriving at Missouri, the school was placed on probation and banned from a bowl. The team went 6-6 and coach Barry Odom was fired. He missed time with knee and hamstring injuries. “I want to be out there, just the love of the game and just me being a competitor,” Bryant said. “I want to do whatever it takes to win.” He loves shoes; he has six pairs of the highly coveted Jordan XIs. “The reason I have a lot of shoes is because that’s the first thing people see,” Bryant told the Missourian. “It says a lot about a person.” Bryant is fortunate to be alive. In high school, severe abdominal pain and the vomiting of blood sent him to the hospital. A large abscess was found and removed. “It would have cost him his life,” his high school coach said. “Had it burst, the effects would have gone throughout his body.” As his father put it, combining the health scare with his son’s transfer: “You can’t wait on tomorrow. He wanted to do something more than what he was doing. A man that faced death, he ain’t got time to wait around.”

Joe Burrow, LSU (6-4, 216): Burrow spent three years at Ohio State and attempted 39 passes. During a Heisman Trophy-winning season in which Burrow led LSU to a national championship, he threw 60 touchdown passes. In fact, the likely No. 1 overall pick is coming off perhaps the greatest season in college football history. Burrow completed 76.3 percent of his passes for 5,671 yards with 60 touchdowns and six interceptions. He led the nation in completion percentage, yards, passer rating (202.0), touchdown passes, total touchdowns (65) and yards per play (9.4). Burrow set national records for touchdown passes and passer rating.

Burrow spent three years at Ohio State but was stuck behind Dwayne Haskins on the depth chart, so he transferred. "I had my three years of being a college guy," Burrow said in an extensive feature on the school athletics site. "I graduated and moved down here, and I looked at it as my first job out of college. That means you have to be a pro. No nonsense. No parties. Nothing like a normal college guy. I looked at this like a regular job." Having earned a degree in consumer and family financial services, he was eligible to play immediately in 2018. He threw for 16 touchdowns with five interceptions to set the stage for 2019.

He is incredibly competitive. "The only trophy that he ever paid attention to was when he got second in a baseball tournament, and one of his best friends had thrown the second place trophy in the garbage can," his father told LSU’s athletics site. "So we're driving home and we're just horrified that that happened. Joe gets home, and we go up to his room and about an hour afterwards, and he had dismantled the second place trophy.” He is incredibly tough, too, as shown in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl and a practice-field fight. "When I was 8 years old, I didn't decide, 'Hey, I'm going to be a tough guy.' It doesn't work that way," Burrow told Bleacher Report. "My family was fine, but over half of our school was below poverty level. Growing up around people who don't have a lot, it kind of gives you perspective. It makes you want to go harder, be tougher.”

He won the Heisman by a record margin, then used his acceptable speech to bring attention to something other than football. "Coming from southeast Ohio, it’s a very impoverished area and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average. There’s so many people there that don't have a lot, and I'm up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here, too."

Burrow’s athletic genes go back almost a century. As Sports Illustrated noted, “Dot Ford, his grandmother, once scored a state-record 82 points in a Mississippi high school basketball game back in the 1940s, and grandfather James Burrow starred as a point guard at Mississippi State. His uncle, Johnny, played safety for Ole Miss in the 1980s, and his father, Jimmy, was a defensive back for Tom Osborne’s Nebraska Cornhuskers. His two older brothers, Jamie and Dan, played for Nebraska, too. If that’s not enough, dad Jimmy followed his playing career by coaching ball for nearly 40 years. This spring, he retired as the longtime defensive coordinator at Ohio University in order to catch every game of his son’s senior season.”

In December, Athens (Ohio) High School renamed the football stadium to R Basil Rutter Field at Joe Burrow Stadium. In January, a Baton Rouge, La., developer sought to have a road renamed in Burrow’s honor. At Athens High School, he threw for 11,416 yards and 157 touchdowns but also was a big hit at cornerback. “He was probably our best tackler and pretty much would have been the best player at the position, even on a team that played for the state championship,” his high school coach told the Advocate.

Kevin Davidson, Princeton (6-4, 225): A first-time starter as a senior, Davidson completed 66.8 percent of his passes for 2,569 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions to be an honorable mention on the all-Ivy League team. He set a conference record with seven touchdown passes vs. Bucknell.

Davidson was selected for the East-West Shrine Bowl. While there, NFL.com told his unusual story. He transferred to a predominantly black high school in West Oakland – Davidson was one of only two white students – and was coached on the football team by the father of Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters. However, after winning his first four starts, he was ruled ineligible because the transfer allegedly was done for athletic purposes. Unable to play, Stanford backed off its pursuit. He sat at Princeton behind a string of quality quarterbacks, including John Lovett, who spent the year with the Chiefs. “It was a reality I had to learn,” said Davidson. “I thought I could play on the side of Lovett, using my skills, but obviously he was unbelievable so I realized it was going to be a long road until I play,” Davidson told the school athletics site. But I also believed I would have my chance at some point and had to prepare for maximizing it.” He likes Ben Roethlisberger’s game, as he explained in this Q&A. “I grew up watching Ben Roethlisberger. I thought that my game related to him. People were scared to tackle him in the pocket. He wasn’t the fastest guy but very slippery, decisive and powerful. Compared to someone who is playing now I would say I can be compared to Josh Allen because I can definitely use my legs and he has a cannon of an arm.”

Jacob Eason, Washington (6-6, 227)*: Eason went from starting as a true freshman at Georgia to suffering a knee injury to losing his starting job to Jake Fromm to transferring. After sitting out the 2018 season to comply with NCAA transfer rules, he completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 3,132 yards with 23 touchdowns vs. eight interceptions in 2019.

He spent his lone year at Washington being pestered about the NFL. “The Twitter, the Instagram, the radio, all that stuff,” he told The Associated Press. “I know it's out there. I don't pay attention to it,” Eason said. “I've got people asking me questions all the time. What do you think about this? I still don't want to respond to all those questions because there's so many of them.” At Lake Stevens (Wash.) High School, he was the Gatorade National Player of the Year in 2015. During his high school career, passed for 9,813 yards with 102 touchdowns and only 18 interceptions. His father is Tony Eason; not the NFL quarterback, though he did play receiver at Notre Dame. “He was a firefighter, so he was always able to take some time off on Fridays or Saturdays to take me to Little League,” Jacob told the school athletic site. "We used to throw the ball around before the bus and before school, and he'd always be critiquing my form and everything.” He was a legend at Lake Stevens, with ESPN televising one of his football games. In his final at-bat in baseball, he homered. “He was good at everything,” his high school quarterbacks coach told RedAndBlack.com and then corrected himself. “Good is probably not the word. He was excellent in everything — baseball, basketball, football. Then on top of it, when you sprinkle in the fact that he's just a really nice, respectful kid, it's impossible not to like the kid.” In high school, he drew comparisons to Matthew Stafford. "I try to take it all with a grain of salt, but that's one of the things I do strive to be—as good as him," Eason told Bleacher Report. "It's a goal, but I don't want to keep my head in all that stuff. I just keep working hard to try and get to that level, instead of thinking that I'm there already."

Jake Fromm, Georgia (6-2, 220)*: Fromm was a three-year starter who threw for 8,236 yards with 78 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in his career. During his final season, he completed a career-worst 60.8 percent of his passes but had career-best totals in passing yards (2,860) and interceptions (five).

The native of Warner Robins, Ga., took over the starting job as a true freshman and led the Bulldogs to the national championship game. “Jake is a gamer. He is a kid that grew up around the game,” coach Kirby Smart said as Fromm prepared for his first start. “I look at him and compare him to a coach’s son, a football junkie. He likes it. He loves being around it. He’s always cheering and fired up out there. Every time he makes a good throw or a good play in practice, he is jacked and he is as excited for the kid who made the play as he is for himself. As a defensive coach you may see him cheering and think that he’s rubbing it in, but that’s just who he is.”

In 2019, he was one of 20 semifinalists for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year, was named to the 2019 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team and was academic all-district. Before he was a football star, he was a Little League World Series star. In 2011 at age 12, he was a 5-foot-11, 163-pound pitcher for the Warner Robins team. At the World Series, he hit three home runs and struck out 11 of the 18 batters he faced. “I think it has definitely helped,” he told LittleLeague.org. “It puts you in those pressure situations and opens you up to playing on TV and in front of a big crowd. It has definitely helped me playing football on the big stage because you’ve already been there. You’ve been through it, you know what’s going on, you know what it’s about, and you just get to go out and play the game you love.” How big is Fromm in Warner Robins? There’s a taco named after him called the Fromm-inator. He’s rooted in his faith, studious and competitive. “We mess with each other all the time because I like to hunt and fish, too. I would bring him a picture of a deer and he would go, ‘I’ve got one bigger.” And I’d have to go kill me one bigger. And then I would have a fish and he would say, ‘That fish is smaller than the one I caught,’” his high school principal told Saturday Down South.

Introducing the 17 Quarterbacks

Part 1 includes Burrow, Eason, Fromm

Part 2 includes Gordon, Herbert, Hurts, Love

Part 3 includes Tagovailoa and two Wisconsin natives

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