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2020 NFL Draft: WSU's Anthony Gordon is a quality option at QB

For quarterback-needy teams, there are basically two options available in the 2020 NFL Draft who can help turn around a fledgling or failing franchise. Those two options are Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa

My colleague, Timo Riske, recently wrote about how Washington should use (or not use) their second overall pick in light of Tagovailoa’s presence as the draft’s second-best quarterback, and George Chahrouri and I mused about what the Detroit Lions should do should they get an opportunity to draft the signal-caller out of Alabama on the PFF Forecast just last week.

There are certainly more than two teams that need a young quarterback, though, and, whether because of lack of assets or lack of will, are not going to acquire Burrow or Tagovailoa come April. Among most draft experts, the two next best options for teams — options that may both very well go in the top half of Round 1 — are Justin Herbert of Oregon and Jordan Love of Utah State. 

While both players have their positive traits, neither player played as well as Washington State’s Anthony Gordon did in 2019. After sitting behind PFF All-Rookie Team quarterback Gardner Minshew in 2018, Gordon emerged in 2019, earning an 81.1 overall grade and leading the country in completions (493) while throwing for the second-most yards (5,563) and touchdowns (48). He also averaged 8.0 yards per pass attempt — over a half of a yard more than any other Washington State quarterback during the PFF College era.

Gordon was fourth in the country in completion percentage while being tied for third in throwaways. Only one FBS quarterback received an “accurate” throw designation on a higher percentage of his pass attempts using our advanced quarterback charting than Joe Burrow did a season ago, and that quarterback was Gordon.

Accurate throw rates among notable draft-eligible quarterbacks (2019, min. 200 attempts)
Rank  Name ACC%
1 Joe Burrow 71.5%
2 Anthony Gordon 69.4%
3 Jalen Hurts 65.3%
8 Tua Tagovailoa 63.0%
10 Jacob Eason 62.1%
12 Justin Herbert 59.7%
16 Josh Love 58.3%
17 Jordan Love 57.6%
19 Jake Fromm 57.0%
29 Cole McDonald 54.6%

Gordon’s 0.76 wins above average in 2019 were higher than any individual season by Herbert or Love, and it was actually a higher mark than the two of them combined last season. In our college quarterback clustering model, Gordon was a second-cluster quarterback, versus third-cluster and fifth-cluster designations for Herbert and Love, respectively. Gordon was charged with a negatively graded play on just over 12% of his dropbacks versus roughly 19% for both Herbert and Love. And while Gordon had a lower positively graded dropback percentage than both players, he still averaged more yards per attempt, showing the noisiness of positively graded plays for quarterbacks as they pertain to results.

[Editor's Note: PFF's Wins Above Average (WAA) is powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.]

All of these backward-looking statistics should give teams pause with respect to considering Herbert or Love to Gordon, especially considering the draft capital necessary to secure the former two players in relation to the latter.

However, there remains a question in regard to the projection of the aforementioned information to the NFL. As we talked about earlier this week, we’ve created a projection system at PFF that incorporates both a player’s collegiate context (opponent strength, down and distance, air yards, etc.) and estimates a distribution for a player’s first five NFL seasons. When applying this method to Gordon, his projections are a mixed bag context-free, with comps like Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, Jacoby Brissett, Case Keenum and Christian Ponder.

Anthony Gordon’s projected yards per attempt during the first five seasons of his NFL career, context-free (left) and context-positive (right). NFL average from 2015-present is the dotted green line.

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