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.
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.
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|
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.