The Colts’ three-tiered QB plan
Indianapolis always seems to find the draft value it covets. Getting receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (101 catches, 1,275 yards at USC in 2019) and tailback Jonathan Taylor (back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons at Wisconsin) in the second round addresses the need for more offensive firepower, and third-round safety Julian Blackmon could eventually replace Malik Hooker, whose fifth-year option was not picked up two weeks ago.
But the Colts’ most intriguing pick came late in the fourth round, a flier on big-armed quarterback Jacob Eason out of Washington.
Many evaluators were torn on Eason, whose talent is undeniable but who has questions about his work ethic and preparation. As one NFC exec said, “He’s not a grinder.”
That’s why those same evaluators believe Eason landed with the ideal team.
“Great value and spot for him. Can grow with patience,” an AFC exec said. “Indy will allow for that to happen, and put him in a position to succeed.”
Starter Philip Rivers might play only one more season before he takes over as head football coach at St. Michael Catholic School in Fairhope, Alabama.
And the Colts like Jacoby Brissett so much that, at least for now, they are willing to keep his $21.4 million cap hit on the books. Eason can learn directly from Brissett for a year, see what it takes to be an NFL pro.
But what happens if Eason shows the qualities of a steady backup early on in training camp? Does that make Brissett expendable? Well, what I do know is that Indianapolis views Brissett as a “special guy,” the ideal Colt from a culture standpoint, and he can play. And the Colts already have locked into $7 million of guarantees, so releasing him, even if saving $7.875 million in cap space, would equate to empty calories.
“Not sure about his trade market after his struggles last season, but I believe there would be interest,” one AFC exec said.
Fowler mentions the Colts’ first three picks: USC wideout Michael Pittman Jr. (34th overall), Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (41st overall), and Utah safety Julian Blackmon (85th overall) as finding great value at those respective positions.
However, it’s their 4th round pick, Washington quarterback Jacob Eason, that seems to be the heart of Fowler’s overall intrigue.
The 6’6”, 231 pound redshirt junior quarterback completed 260 of 405 (64.2 %) passes for 3,132 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions during 13 starts for the Huskies this past season.
Following the big armed quarterback’s selection, Colts head coach (and a former NFL quarterback himself) Frank Reich helped explain their overall evaluation of Eason:
“I think (Eason’s) arm talent was probably the best in the draft,” Reich said. “What I liked about his arm talent is he can throw it on a rope, he can throw it long, he can throw with touch, he can change his speed on the ball, and he can deliver from different arm angles. The accuracy was fine. He needs to get better (there). His footwork needs to get better. Reading through his progressions needs to get better. There’s a lot of things that need work. But physically, he has a lot of the tools. But we know that playing this position is a lot more than the physical. So that’s why we spent some time with him as far as the meetings and protections. Just trying to test the mental acumen of this position and (to) try to get an idea of how they think as a quarterback.”
“All of the physical tools to play the position: size, strength, really good arm talent,” Reich added. “(He) can make all of the throws to all spots on the field. For a big man, I think he has some athleticism to him. Not that he’s a scrambler guy, I think he’s a pocket passer, but (he) has (the) athletic ability to move. I just think he’s still young and developing in the position. He doesn’t have a lot of miles logged. So (he) could have came back for another year, but he gets in a chance to compete with Chad (Kelly) and see if he can continue to develop. We certainly saw some tools there that we think he has some of the qualities to play at this level.”
However, general manager Chris Ballard was a little quicker to temper expectations for Eason—noting that the rookie will compete for the team’s third quarterback job, remains a work in progress, and shouldn’t be labeled the “Colts next great franchise quarterback”—by any means yet:
“He’s got work to do,” Ballard said on The Herd with host Colin Cowherd. “He’s really been a one year starter in college, and he’s got a lot of work to do. And Jacob knows that. But we feel good about the situation we’re putting him into. We feel good putting him behind Philip and Jacoby. Letting him compete, get better, and grow with Frank and his leadership, and his ability to coach quarterbacks.”
“So we think Jacob has a lot of talent, but he has a ways to go. He knows that. He knows he has a lot of work to put in.”
That being said, Ballard notes Eason did land into an intriguing—and even ideal situation with Indianapolis, where he can ‘redshirt’ at least a year behind veteran starter Philip Rivers—while being a part of a crowded Colts quarterback room that also includes Jacoby Brissett.
Eason can learn from the two veterans’ practice habits, film study, and what it means to be a quarterback at the next level regarding improving his work ethic, preparation, and overall leadership as an NFL quarterback.
He can take this next year to gain experience and develop as a young quarterback (while getting rid of any bad habits)—and at his own pace—without being thrown into the figurative fire too soon on the field.
Eason also has landed into an offensive system under Reich that is very quarterback friendly—and who will tailor his offense towards his starting quarterback’s strengths—featuring solid receiving options and an offensive line that remains one of the best units in football.
The young gunslinger—blessed with a laser rocket arm, but still a lot of needed fine tuning, really is the biggest wild card of the Colts 2020 NFL Draft Class. He has such a high ceiling at starting quarterback—if it all clicks together, but also a pretty low floor, if it doesn’t.
In the 4th Round, Eason’s big arm and natural talent were well worth the gamble for the Colts though regarding acquiring a desired developmental quarterback of the future.