JACKSONVILLE – The draft starts with quarterback.
That's the case as often as not, and it's certainly how it is with the 2020 NFL Draft – which means the draft's early moments likely will be written with Louisiana State University's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Joe Burrow, as the main character.
"Things get interesting after that," CBSSports.com NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson told jaguars.com recently.
How interesting could this draft get for the Jaguars at quarterback? While Gardner Minshew II had strong moments as a rookie last season, the Jaguars hold the No. 9 and 20 selections overall and there likely will be quarterbacks available throughout Round 1. Little can be ruled out on that front.
When it comes to quarterbacks, most analysts see two prospects above the rest this year: One is Burrow, who most analysts project No. 1 overall to Cincinnati. The next is Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama.
"There are a couple of different tiers," NFL Media Draft analyst Bucky Brooks said. "Most people would lump Tua and Joe Burrow together, and they are the top of the food chain. They're the two guys people expect to have success early in their careers."
Complicating the story at the top of this year's draft is Tagovailoa's injury history. While many analysts projected him as the draft's top quarterback entering last season, a season-ending hip injury in November is a major factor in his draft status – as are two serious ankle injuries the past two seasons.
"That is the thing that's really preventing a real conversation about who's the first one to come off the board," Brooks said.
"Is Tua healthy?" Wilson said. "That is the biggest question."
Pre-draft conversation has focused on teams potentially trading up from various positions in Round 1 for Tagovailoa, and mock drafts generally project him being selected anywhere from No. 2 to the Washington Redskins to No. 5 – with various trade scenarios projected in that range.
Further complicating the issue is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With prospects not permitted under NFL rules to travel to team headquarters, teams interested in Tagovailoa and other injured players won't be able to conduct pre-draft physicals.
"NFL teams can't get their hands on him before the draft, it looks like," Wilson said. "Then, you're going to have to do some guessing. The Miami Dolphins make a ton of sense (for Tagovailoa) at No. 5. If he was 100 percent were healthy, they probably would have to trade up to No. 3 to get him. We'll see what happens when the draft rolls around in terms of moving up for Tua."
The next "tier" of quarterbacks, as Brooks and many other analysts see it: Justin Herbert of Oregon and Jordan Love of Utah State. Projections vary on the two, with both generally projected in Round 1.
"It could be Jordan Love or Justin Herbert – depending on what you like," Wilson said. "Is Love the No. 3 guy? Is it Justin Herbert? I think it depends on who the team is.
Herbert is a prototypical quarterback at 6-feet-6, 237 pounds and a player who Brooks said "checks off all the traditional boxes that we would say a quarterback has to have."
"He has tremendous size, terrific arm length, great athlete," Brooks said. "He can move and make plays. People question two areas: Personality, because he's a little introverted on the surface. Can he command the room? Can he be a leader?
"And everyone wants to know why didn't he have more production. Coaches at Oregon said they stayed real conservative with him because they didn't have a backup quarterback. They knew if those lost him, all of their chances went down the tubes."
Love, who has drawn comparisons to Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes because of his arm talent and playmaking ability, was inconsistent in college. He threw 32 touchdowns and six interceptions as a sophomore in 2018 before throwing 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2019. Utah State lost significant talent around Love entering his final season, which analysts say must be considered when evaluating him.
"It's a matter of trying to look at him and determining which guy is going to show up in the NFL," Brooks said. "Is it going to be the guy who really dominated two years ago, or the guy who kind of struggled at times last year?"
NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah on the quarterback class: "It's a fascinating group because you've got tons of ability with these guys, but there are some question marks."
PROJECTED FIRST-ROUND QUARTERBACKS
Joe Burrow, Louisiana State; Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama; Jordan Love, Utah State; Justin Herbert, Oregon; Jacob Eason, Washington.
Wilson: "It's going to be interesting, especially in those first eight or nine picks. People may have to decide if they want whatever quarterback is left standing – whether it's Love, Herbert or even Eason."
CHANCES JAGUARS TAKE A QUARTERBACK IN ROUND 1
OK, but not great.
JAGUARS AT QUARTERBACK
Gardner Minshew II (projected starter), Josh Dobbs.
It's probably not fair to say it's a coin flip whether the Jaguars will select a quarterback in Round 1, but there is plenty of reason they might. Minshew did enough as a rookie to give the team hope he could be a franchise guy, but not enough to prove it beyond doubt. The Jaguars must seriously consider selecting a quarterback at No. 9 – or possibly moving up – but the guess here is the price could be too high to get to No. 2 for a player such as Tagovailoa. Still, don't rule out the Jaguars paying that price. They have been too deficient too long at the sport's most important position.
This is the year the Jaguars should make their move for a quarterback for three reasons: One, there are franchise level quarterbacks near the top of the draft where the Jaguars reside; two, they possess an unusual – even rare – amount of draft capital, the kind required to go get the guy they have the most faith in; and three, they can't afford to pass on the next Deshaun Watson or Mahomes, the franchise quarterback they've been looking for since longtime quarterback Mark Brunell left for Washington in 2004. I can't tell you which one they should go get. My opinion on that doesn't matter. What matters is they identify their guy and go get him. No one I've talked to can tell me that Minshew is the real deal. While they can hope he is, hope isn't a winning strategy.