RSP contributor Mark Schofield shows us why Utah State quarterback Jordan Love is worth your attention for the 2020 NFL Draft.
As the work begins on yet another class of draft prospects, many in the football evaluation world are truly excited about what could be a strong quarterback class. Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm, Nate Stanley, Jake Bentley, and Joe Burrow are all players with promising game tape that scouts will be pouring over.
Evaluators would be wise to have plenty of caffeine on hand once the season begins because there are a host of passers playing out west that will be worth watching. From Justin Herbert at Oregon to Jacob Eason at Washington, to K.J. Costello at Stanford and Cole McDonald at Hawaii, late nights on the east coast will be filled with plenty of passing to watch out west.
You would also be wise to have Utah State’s Jordan Love on that list.
The rising redshirt junior put up very efficient numbers last season but studying his traits point to his potential at the next level. A place to start is with processing speed. Playing in a very up-tempo offense, Love makes a number of NFL reads and decisions at a blistering pace. Even when playing off-structure, his ability in this area shines through.
Let’s start small and work our way to the good stuff. This play against the University of Hawaii finds Love (No.10) in the shotgun and the Aggies have 11 offensive personnel on the field, using a nub tight end look to the right and three receivers to the left.
Utah State faces a 2nd and 8 on the Rainbow Warriors’ 16 yard-line. The Aggies run a Peel concept to the three-receiver side, with the outside receiver running a post pattern while the No.2 receiver runs a wheel route towards the boundary. The No.3 receiver runs a simple curl route, which is mirrored by the nub tight end:
Love’s read on this play is two-fold, in a sense. First, he will work the Peel concept, to see if the post route from No.1 creates enough traffic to open the wheel route from the No.2 receiver. If the defense handles that combination, he will work the mirrored curl routes from the No.3 receiver and the tight end.
Hawaii runs a combination coverage on this play, which puts them in man coverage over the trips side of the field and a zone coverage scheme backside. So if Love comes off the post/wheel combination, he’ll need to react to the linebacker between the curl routes.
Here’s what that progression looks like for the quarterback:
As this play unfolds, Love first peeks that Peel concept to the left, but the cornerback over the No.2 receiver does a very good job at working over the top of the post receiver, preventing any rub effect and keeping him in position to cover the wheel route. Love then brings his eyes to the middle of the field, and the linebacker between the mirrored curl routes. Given the passing strength of the formation, the linebacker opens to his right and in the direction of the trips part of the formation.
Once Love confirms this, he gets to the final read on the play, the backside tight end:
Love’s reads come in the blink of the eye, and he works through three options on the play, coming ultimately to that third read. This is a full-field read concept, and Love makes the decisions quickly and delivers an accurate throw, that is dropped by the tight end.
Utah State’s offense is an extreme up-tempo, spread system. They play at a near-frenetic pace, and just charting their offense can leave one winded as they work. While that might leave some to believe that the offense lacks true NFL concepts, if you look hard enough you’ll see Love running designs right out of pro playbooks.
On this play against UNLV, Love runs a dual passing concept that you saw Tom Brady run during Super Bowl 53: Tosser/Hoss:
Love is in the shotgun and the Utah State offense aligns with dual slot formations. To the right side is where they run the Hoss concept or Hitch/Seam. If you think back to Super Bowl 53, on the lone touchdown drive of the game the New England Patriots ran a mirrored Hoss concept three straight times. The inside receiver runs the seam route, while the boundary receiver runs the hitch. On the other side of the formation, the Aggies run Tosser or double slant. Both Hoss and Tosser are play calls in every New England playbook dating back to the Drew Bledsoe era.
Here, Love sees pre-snap that the receiver over the hitch route is playing with off coverage. So he knows right where he is going with the all once the play begins:
Thanks to the pre-snap alignment, Love comes right to the hitch route and makes this throw with anticipation, getting the ball out before the receiver makes his break. Granted, it is a relatively easy read and throw, but it demonstrates a clear understanding of the coverage and route concept, and Love finishes it off with an anticipation throw.
Now we can get to the good stuff.
At the most recent Senior Bowl, I had a chance to chat with Gardner Minshew, and it was rather enlightening. Coming from Mike Leach’s Air Raid, Minshew put up impressive numbers but faced some questions about how his experience would translate to the NFL. But as Minshew put it, Leach’s Air Raid was perhaps the best training for the professional game, because on every play they were running “four or five receivers, full-field progression reads. Not like those ‘pro-style college offenses’ that you hear about.”
When asked which of Leach’s designs was his favorite to run, Minshew pointed out that he loved how the Cougars ran Y-Cross.
Y-Cross is a staple of Air Raid offenses. The core components tend to be the same: A backside go route, then a crossing route working over the middle towards the backside go, then a frontside curl route. Teams can dress that up, for example on this play Washington State pairs the go with a bubble screen look:
Minshew (No.16) sells the bubble with a pump fake in an attempt to free up the go route. With that covered he works the rest of the Y-Cross design, working through the crossing route, to the curl route, and finally to the check-down.
On this play against UNLV, the Aggies run a Y-Cross design out of a three-receiver set, with dual running backs flanking Love in the backfield:
When the ball is snapped, Love peeks backside to the go route. However, the defensive back is giving a lot of cushion to the receiver, and throwing the vertical route is not an option. Love comes off it, quickly, to the crossing route working left to right. Here he finds that one of the safeties has dropped down to rob this route, so the crosser is not an option. Love gets immediately to his third read, the backside curl route, and pulls the trigger:
Not only is the processing speed from the quarterback impressive here, but also impressive is Love’s understanding of leverage and placement. We will dive into how he handles and exploits leverage in a later piece, but Love puts this throw back toward the boundary. If he leaves it inside in any way, both the safety and the cornerback will be in a position to make a play on the football. Instead, Love leads his target to the outside and to safety, putting him in position for yardage after the catch. Here is another look at this:
Processing speed shows up not just in how fast a quarterback makes his decisions, but also how he handles placing the football in relation to the coverage. That kind of snap thinking and quick decision making demonstrates just how in tune a QB is with both the game plan and the execution of it against a variety of defenses. Here, Love sees the coverage look on the fly – as he is pulling the trigger – and places the football in the ideal spot for his receiver.
Finally, there might be a few things I love more than breaking down a brilliant no-throw decision. On this play against Hawaii, the Aggies run a mirrored curl/wheel design:
Love takes the shotgun snap and looks to throw the curl route to his right. But at the last moment…he does not:
Love has the vision to spot a defender breaking under the route, and the decisiveness to pull the football down and avoid what could have been a costly throw. Instead, he wheels to the outside and throws the simple wheel route to his running back, and it nearly goes the distance.
Here is the end zone angle, and you get a decent view of what Love sees as he starts to throw, pulls it down, and hits his outlet:
A rising junior, Love may have a lot of college football ahead of him. But he already has a strong foundation of work to his resume, and his processing speed has been a joy to study so far this summer. Again, while some of the east coast quarterbacks are garnering attention this summer scouting season, come the fall many evaluators will be up into the wee hours watching players like Love showcase their talent out on the west coast.
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