The National Gatorade Player of the Year is awarded to up and coming high school athletes every year for individual sports. Jacob Eason, from the state of Washington, won the award in 2015, joining the likes of Kyler Murray, Peyton Manning, and Emmitt Smith. While guys like Manning and Smith are clear Hall of Famers, there are several other winners who never made an NFL roster. Eason certainly seems destined to earn a roster spot on an NFL team, but the real question is, will he succeed at the next level?
High School Breakdown
Eason played for Lake Stevens High School where his stature was the first thing people noticed, as a 6’5” 205lb teenager tends to garner attention. Eason became the starting quarterback his sophomore year, producing a stat line of 209/350, 2,941 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. In his senior year, Eason turned into a sure-fire 5-star recruit, completing 235/338 for 3,585 passing yards, 43 touchdowns, and six interceptions. These numbers led to Rivals ranking him as the best pro-style quarterback, as well as the best overall player in the 2016 recruiting class.
The decision on what college to attend came down to Georgia and Florida. While Eason held a commitment to Georgia since 2014, the year he was scheduled to attend was preempted by Georgia firing head coach Mark Richt, replacing him with current head coach Kirby Smart. This created an atmosphere where Eason to Florida seemed to make the most sense. The only hold up for this was top 5 quarterback Feleipe Franks de-committing from LSU to join the Florida Gators. Before deciding, Eason visited the Georgia campus one last time to meet with Smart.
During this tumultuous time, Eason was awarded the aforementioned Gatorade Player of the Year. During the ceremony he reaffirmed his commitment to Georgia, meaning the Bulldogs had locked down the top recruit in the nation.
College: Freshman Year
Georgia had returning senior quarterback Greyson Lambert who Eason would have to dethrone to earn the starting position. From the public opinion, this happened before the season even started. During the spring game, known in Georgia as the G-Game, Eason lived up to the hype surrounding his top-recruit reputation. Coach Smart did his best to douse the quarterback controversy flames with some well-timed coach talk, making it clear that Eason was far from perfect and still had a lot of work to do, but the fire had already started.
Georgia began the 2016 season against North Carolina with Lambert as their starter. By the fourth quarter, with Georgia trailing 24-23, the decision was made to bring Eason in to replace Lambert. Georgia ended up winning the game 33-24, cementing Eason as the starter for the rest of the season. Eason had several high peaks and low valleys during his freshman campaign, which could be explained by his youth, as well as the time it takes to understand and evolve with an unfamiliar offensive system.
Even with the struggles, it was clear that Eason was a budding star, completing 204/370 for 2430 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. The struggles of a young true freshman, combined with Georgia’s plethora of running backs including Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, led to an offensive scheme that could simply be defined as “feed the running backs.” Michel and Chubb combined for an average of 29 carries per game. Clearly the running backs deserved the touches, considering their current NFL standing, but the offensive scheme produced an 8-5 season, ending with a win over a 6-6 TCU in the Liberty Bowl.
College: Sophomore Year
Eason’s sophomore year is a life lesson in itself - this too shall pass. His success, his stardom, his highly-touted reputation, they all became irrelevant in terms of Georgia football. True freshman Jake Fromm was recruited by several top schools and chose Georgia as his destination. While Fromm wasn’t a number one ranked recruit like Eason, he still brought considerable size and ability that would make Eason work hard to keep his job.
The first game of the 2017 season was against Appalachian State, an easy win to start the year. Eason was the incumbent starter and went into the first quarter with all the confidence in the world. Unfortunately, fate decided to rear its ugly head in the form of an injury to Eason’s knee which sidelined him for almost a month, giving Fromm a chance to prove his worth as a starter. Fromm did this and more, leading Georgia to the SEC Championship, as well as finishing second in the College Football Playoff.
Fromm’s success meant that Eason’s starting job was lost, barring any unforeseen injury to Fromm. The reality clearly set in, Eason watched his sophomore year pass him by, leading to the decision to transfer out of Georgia in favor of his hometown college, the University of Washington.
College: Upcoming Junior Year
Eason had to sit out the 2018 season due to the NCAA transfer rules, so he goes into the 2019 season as a junior. He will be competing against sophomore Jake Haener for the starting role on a Washington team that is searching for a replacement of now Minnesota Viking Jake Browning. For the sake of argument, and this article, I am going to move forward with the presumption that Eason wins the starting job. Washington now has their replacement for Browning in place, but what will they surround him with?
The 2018 Washington Huskies struggled mightily to produce offensive weapons a quarterback could succeed with. The number one receiver was Aaron Fuller, who reeled in 58 catches for 875 yards and four touchdowns. While these numbers are admirable, in big games, Fuller was able to be contained, forcing the team to rely on less talented receivers Andre Baccellia and Ty Jones, who could not handle the burden. These receiving struggles weren’t an individual issue, but a systemic issue which strangled their offense entirely. Washington struggled in red zone opportunities, converting only 56% of them into touchdowns, which ranked 105th nationally. To make the situation even bleaker, the Huskies could not muster many explosive plays, totaling two plays over 50 yards, which was also ranked 105th nationally.
This does not bode well for Eason, but I have hope. This hope is dependant on the fact the receivers have had another year to learn the offensive system, added to the excitement of a former number one recruit transferring into their program. My opinion seems to line up with popular opinion, as preseason rankings have Washington as the 14th ranked team in the nation.
Uncertainty with a quarterback coming off a year of not playing is clearly palpable when trying to predict the future. The 2020 draft is going to be flooded with talented quarterbacks with first-round talent, so Eason needs to prove himself worthy of being in the same conversation as fellow quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, and Jake Fromm.
While I do not see Eason being drafted before the aforementioned quarterbacks, I do believe he could be drafted in the middle rounds as a quarterback in waiting. Teams with aging quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford or teams with middling quarterbacks, like Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, or Derek Carr will show interest.
I project Eason to outperform his last full season, being his freshman year, and throw for 2,800 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. The new scenery, being familiar scenery as it is his home state, will be a breath of fresh, nostalgic air. Following a successful junior season, I believe Eason will enter the draft, where he will be selected in the early to mid-second round by a team such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay has spent many years waiting for Winston to mature and turn into the quarterback they dreamed of when selecting him with the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. 2019 seems to be Winston’s last gasp at proving himself tenable, something I believe he will fail to do.
Eason would step into the starting quarterback position with Bruce Arians giddy to be out from under the Winston era. The Arians air raid, paired with Eason’s talent, Mike Evans’ ability, Chris Godwin’s rising star, O.J. Howard’s potential and the possible resurrection of Ronald Jones sounds like a recipe Eason could use to succeed.