BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 02/27/2020

Thiel: Much NFL intrigue around UW’s Eason

Some critiques of former Huskies QB Jacob Eason, including his own, have made his selection one of the more intriguing mysteries of the NFL draft.

QB Jacob Eason went helmetless to celebrate a three-yard keeper for a touchdown. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Given the resources and intensity the NFL brings to its annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, it is remarkable how many whiffs occur in the draft. But hey, that’s the beauty of we humans — much as we seek order, calm and predictability, sometimes the chosen people don’t do the voodoo like you want them to.

Which brings us to Jacob Eason.

The ex-Huskies rent-a-quarterback last season is among the more intriguing figures in the draft. His 6-foot-6 size, arm strength and smarts have had him pegged as a first-rounder since what seems like not long after he was a zygote. But in his only season at Washington, the junior from Lake Stevens was no better than seventh in the Pac-12’s QB pass-efficiency ratings.

Most draft pundits still have him as a first-rounder, mostly because Eason’s measurables are as irresistible to NFL teams as The Ring was to Tolkien’s Smeagol (“my precious!”).

Then came Monday a story on NFL.com by Mike Silver, who finally got the taciturn Eason to open up a little about his party-guy life at the University of Georgia. That story followed a sharply critical evaluation by Pro Football Focus of Eason’s performance under pass-rush pressure.

The heralded Eason’s college career began in the second game of his freshman season when he started for the SEC powerhouse — the last freshman QB to do so was Matthew Stafford — and led he Bulldogs to a 7-5 finish. A knee injury next season knocked him out of the job, and he was unable to get it back from Jake Fromm. That prompted Eason’s decision to transfer back home to Washington, despite being forced to sit out a season, per NCAA rules.

Here’s what Eason, training in Orange County, told Silver about his time in Athens:

“Obviously, looking back now, there are a lot of things that you realize were immature, as an 18-year-old. At the time, it was, ‘Oh yeah, I can handle this. I’m a big boy now. I’m a college kid.’ But yeah, looking back on it now, there were times I was definitely immature. Just getting down there and playing, especially in that conference and at that age, it was a lot.

“That’s where a lot of the questions get raised as to the party side and the fun side of college. I wasn’t fully aware of the cell phones and the Snapchats and the videos and the social media. Until I actually set foot on campus and went out with my guys and started enjoying my college life, I wasn’t aware of the repercussions. The amount of rumors that would fly around — girls saying things, guys saying things. I’m sitting in class and I get a message popping up on my phone, somebody popping off about something I did, and I look and I’ve never seen this person before.

“I was just hanging out with my guys, and people would get mad because I wouldn’t want to take a picture with them. But after awhile, I’m trying to play a game of pool and I got a line of people trying to get a picture. I just kinda wanted to fit in and be myself. I’m 6-6, my hair was down to my shoulders, so I kinda stuck out — and the guys I was out with were my teammates who were also tall. And the fan base is so into it: It was like an NBA team walking into a random bar.”

In a perfect world, no scout would hold against any 18-year-old a party-guy reputation, as Eason described himself. Nor is awkwardness in the SEC madhouse uncommon. As far as his two years at UW, nothing has emerged about problems with Eason’s conduct.

But he also heard the talk that his work ethic didn’t match that of his predecessor, Jake Browning, whose leadership as a four-year starter was much admired by coaches and teammates.

More from Eason in the NFL.com story:

“There’s people questioning the party-boy side of me and all those things (and there’s the questions that arose comparing my work ethic with Jake Browning’s. A lot of that stems from the way we approach things, and the comfort level we have with our strengths. I wouldn’t say I worked any less hard than Browning did in terms of film work and on the field. I think that we both knew our strengths and weaknesses, and Browning did what he needed to do to get ready for Saturday, and I did exactly what I needed to do to get ready. I got to the point where I was extremely comfortable with everything going on and what I could do. Everybody’s different. Some people question the work ethic, but I busted my ass and put everything into these programs.”

Had the Huskies finished better than 8-5, with four conference losses, the critique might have been seen as trifling. But there’s no getting around the more tangible football matters: Eason’s flighty judgments when the rush worked past an offensive line full of upperclassmen.

PFF graded Eason’s game films, including the category of passing grade under pressure, and created a rate for expected points added per play. Eason’s grade was half of Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow and well behind Fromm and Oregon’s Justin Herbert.

PFF’s analysis:

While we’ve found performance from a clean pocket is more stable year on year, it’s still very concerning when a college prospect completely crumbles under pressure. That’s especially true for a prospect like Eason, who we have limited data on. You can see for yourself in the chart below depicting passing grade and EPA/play of our top-10 quarterback prospects when pressured.

QB Passing grade under pressure EPA/Play
Joe Burrow 80.5 0.137
Josh Love 68.6 -0.071
Jalen Hurts 68.5 0.012
Jake Fromm 63.6 -0.367
Justin Herbert 57.9 -0.371
Tua Tagovailoa 50.7 -0.284
Jordan Love 48.4 -0.49
Anthony Gordon 46.6 -0.419
Jacob Eason 37.6 -0.626
Cole McDonald 37.4 -0.450

Eason wasn’t just bad under pressure, he completely fell apart unlike any other top prospect in the class. That’s coming behind one of the best offensive lines in college football last year, as he’ll only be under more pressure in the NFL.

The overarching issue here is pocket presence. Navigating a pocket doesn’t come naturally to Eason, and it not only showed in his performance under pressure, but in the pressures we charged to him. Eight of his 22 sacks were deemed to be Eason’s fault this past season, a ridiculously high rate.

Eason’s under-productive UW season has some mitigating factors beyond his control.

Aside from TE Hunter Bryant, Washington had a weak group of receivers, as well as a shaky offensive coordinator, Bush Hamdan. Nearly the first public action by Jimmy Lake after succeeding Chris Petersen as UW coach was firing Hamdan.

Then there was Petersen himself. At his farewell press conference, Petersen admitted, as far back as UW’s appearance in the Rose Bowl, that he no longer had the desire to coach. How that realization impacted his judgments and actions over the 2019 season, and its puzzling outcomes, is hard to know. But anyone suggesting it was close to zero is either an FOC (Friend of Chris) or notably naive.

What to make of the critiques of Eason, by himself and others? Well, one is simple: No wonder he wanted out of college ball with a year of eligibility left. Apparently a number of his experiences at Georgia and Washington suggest it would be better to be paid to put up with football mayhem.

What is far less clear: Whether his perceived shortcomings will be fixed by maturity and pro coaching.

The NFL has not been kind to some recent Pac-12 first-round QB selections, notably Washington’s Jake Locker and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Bad injury luck did in Stanford’s Andrew Luck. USC’s Sam Darnold has had some good games, as did Washington State’s Gardner Minshew, a sixth-round pick. In the 2020 draft, Herbert and WSU’s Anthony Gordon, who had an outstanding Senior Bowl appearance, may be taken ahead of Eason.

As much as NFL scouts know, they never know.


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YourThoughts

  • coug73

    The Hawks should draft Eason. Coach PC likes reclamation projects. The Hawks need a back up QB and Eason could be the bargain draft choice PC likes to crow about each draft class. I wish Eason well with his NFL career.

    • art thiel

      Eason won’t last past the second round. The Seahawks aren’t going to squander a high draft choice on a guy who likely will play little or not at all. And Eason isn’t a reclamation project. He’s unproven.

      • eYeROQ

        It’s stunning to me that a QB with such a mediocre college career who folds under pressure can still be projected to last no later than the 2nd round just due to his measurables.

        Question, the answer which maybe subjective, but I’m curious to your honest opinion after reading a lot lately about the discrimination faced by black signal callers throughout the league’s history. With everything else being equal, if Eason were black do you think he’d still be projected as high?

        • art thiel

          Current events indicate the NFL’s sorry history with black QBs is fading. Not necessarily because teams are more woke, just that Lamar Jackson, Russell Wilson, etc., have proven they can make owners as much or more money.

  • jafabian

    It’s always been interesting to me that the Titans whiffed on both Locker and Matiota and both had solid college careers. Was it the players, coaches or the culture within the organization that was the issue?

    IMO if Jake Browning can’t get drafted I don’t see how Eason’s potential can make him a first round draft pick. The Huskies did not meet expectations and Eason’s play declined as the season went on. Sure there could be excuses given but they’re just that: excuses.

    Though I understand why Eason left ( new head coach, new OC ) he really could use another year. As it stands I don’t see him going higher than the third round on the basis of the strength of his throwing arm. The NFL can’t resist gun slingers.

    • 1coolguy

      2 years under Hamdan was a waste of talent and CP is to blame for hiring the guy. Jumping into the draft is the best thing for Eason and let’s see what spot he’s drafted in and to what team. I know one thing, if I were a top QB getting drafted by a team with a losing record in rebuild mode would not be a fun prospect.

      • art thiel

        The worst QB job in the NFL is better than 99.99% of any other job. We just saw in the past year a 4-12 SF team make the Super Bowl in a single season. Fast turnarounds are a common sight in the NFL, although some spots (CLE, MIA, BUF) are more resistant to success than others.

        • 1coolguy

          I agree 100% with your 99.99% Art. But given a choice, being on a crumby team with most likely a poor OL and getting hammered is no fun. RW and the Hawks of course are the rare exception, lousy OL but a magic man QB who has so far been injury-free.
          I just hope Eason is drafted by a team say 20th-32nd with a good OL and a QB that has another 1-2 years so he can learn, a la Steve Young, Garropolo and Rogers.

          • art thiel

            It’s a plausible outcome. Or . . . he’ll go in the second round to the Bengals after they trade away the rights to Burrow.

    • art thiel

      Locker lost interest and Mariota was no longer effective. It’s coincidence they played for the same team.

      Browning lacked the physical skills to be an NFL QB, like Price before him. Eason has the physical skills, and it’s up to the drafting team to decide if it can coach him out of his shortcomings.

      • Husky73

        It was ironic that as the UW season wore on, the Husky boards started to turn and yearn for the days of Browning.

  • 1coolguy

    The best thing that could happen to Eason is being picked in the lower 1/3 of the 1st round, therefore a team with a winning record and a QB that is 1 or 2 years from retiring. Given 1-2 years as a backup (see Rogers) will serve him very well. I suggest that scenario is much more positive over the long run than being a top 10 pick, surely to a team with a losing record in a rebuilding phase.
    Brees, Brady, Rivers, etc all fall into that category, yet the 2 latter only if they sign with winning teams. NO under Payton and behind Brees would be a dream come true.

    • art thiel

      Agreed, a low first pick from a weak team would be ideal. But the pending free agency of Brady and Rivers complicates this year’s draft for teams who might see them as one-year bridge players.

      • 1coolguy

        Art – Did you mean “weak” or good?

        • art thiel

          Fixed. Thanks.

    • Archangelo Spumoni

      What you have described fits 100% of quarterback prospects. Virtually zero of them (Andrew Luck, et al, as exceptions) succeed right out of the gate.
      Seahawk fans (myself gratefully included) are exceedingly lucky to have Wilson here who developed quickly and worked his behind off at every turn.
      So Eason is no different than 99% of qb prospects in this matter.

  • Husky73

    He’ll get drafted….somewhere. He’ll get a shot. Players (QB’s especially) bounce around the draft projections like a ping pong ball until their name is called. He’ll be rich. He’ll be fine.

    • art thiel

      The questions aren’t whether he’ll be rich or fine. It’s whether he’ll be a good NFL QB.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art!
    Jacob Eason has gotten more press about what he hasn’t accomplished on the field than what he has. I just don’t get it. I’ve never been more frustrated with a Husky QB than with Eason. The previous was “Mr Untimely INT”, Damon Huard. For him to err so often, with a great QB oriented head coach, and stellar O-line is dumbfounding. You once said he could throw a baby through Snoqualmie falls without getting it wet. I say those falls get overthrown every time. His delivery to anyone, including “all world TE” Miles Bryant, was awkward, nearly every time. Eason is gonna need the full time attention of a proven QB guru to have a chance to succeed in the NFL. Draft hype being what it is, and his physical stats being what they are, he will be a first rounder but that may be his most noted accomplishment without a lot of help.

    • art thiel

      Not sure about every time, but his efficiency rating speaks for itself. He’s not ready for an NFL starting job right now. The year’s sit-out didn’t help his development, nor did OC Bush Hamdan.