Is Jake Browning the next Kirk Cousins?
When it comes to the top quarterbacks in the 2019 NFL Draft, the names Ryan Finley (North Carolina State), Will Grier (West Virginia), Justin Herbert (Oregon), Drew Lock (Missouri) and Jarrett Stidham (Auburn) are often mentioned as potential first-round picks.
In addition to those five, the 2019 draft could feature the strong, but inaccurate arms of Tyree Jackson (Buffalo) and Clayton Thorson (Northwestern), a “Baker Mayfield clone” in Trace McSorley (Penn State), Carson Wentz’s successor at North Dakota State (Easton Stick) and wildcards Jake Bentley (South Carolina) and Shea Patterson (Michigan).
One name not generating the buzz he deserves is Washington’s Jake Browning; the most underrated quarterback prospect eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Unlike the top-heavy 2018 draft which saw four signal callers selected in the top 10, besides Herbert, there isn’t even a first-round lock, let alone surefire top-10 pick this season. At this point last year, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen were all consensus top-10 picks with the potential to be the first player off the board.
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Since that isn’t the case this year, it leaves room for numerous quarterbacks to rise throughout the season and into next April’s draft. As NFL scouting departments continue their work on upperclassmen, Jake Browning is one of those players who will see his stock rise.
The senior, about to enter his fourth year as the starting quarterback at Washington, certainly has his flaws, however, his overall skill set is vastly underrated as a result of him not having the strongest arm.
Over the past few years, the strong-armed QB has gained favor in scouting circles, while accuracy and decision-making have taken a back seat. This certainly isn’t true for all 32 franchises, but it has affected enough to have a major impact on the draft.
In 2016, the Denver Broncos selected Paxton Lynch with the 26th overall pick. The following year, Patrick Mahomes II was chosen 10th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs. Most recently, the Buffalo Bills used the seventh overall selection on Josh Allen. All three were known for their arm strength coming out of college, while accuracy was a big question mark.
Of the 21 quarterbacks drafted in the first round since 2012, in terms of completion percentage in college, Mahomes ranks 15th, Lynch 16th and Allen is dead last. That’s not to say any or all of these passers are busts (although Paxton Lynch was recently demoted to third on the Denver depth chart) it’s simply pointing out a change in philosophy that has contributed to quarterbacks such as Browning falling down draft boards.
Browning’s deep ball is being criticized, and rightfully so, because he puts too much air under the ball rather than driving it downfield. He’s been able to get away with that over his career because of receivers such as John Ross III, a speedy wideout who created huge windows in which to place the ball, and Dante Pettis, who hauled in a very high percentage of jump balls.
Without either of those players in 2018, Browning’s deep ball could be an even bigger downfall.
However, arm strength isn’t all about the deep ball and Browning proves that on this pass against Utah from his junior season. Under pressure, he steps up in the pocket and delivers a strong, accurate pass to his receiver outside the numbers from the opposite hash before getting sandwiched by two defenders on fourth-and-10 with the game on the line.
The type of arm strength shown in those two plays is needed more often at the next level than the throw 40-plus yards downfield. Now that Browning is more than a year removed from shoulder surgery, his arm strength should improve to a more acceptable level.
While arm strength is still considered a weakness for Browning, competitive toughness and mental processing certainly aren’t. Those are two of his biggest strengths and two critical factors when evaluating his future potential. In terms of competitive toughness, there aren’t many prospects even in the same league as Browning.
He’s able to put mistakes behind him rather than compound them. When he did turn the ball over last season, which wasn’t often (five interceptions and zero lost fumbles), he bounced back immediately.
On drives following those five turnovers, he led Washington to an average of 4.8 points. That’s miles ahead of any other quarterback mentioned in the opening, with Will Grier being the next closest at 2.57 points on the drive following a turnover.
Another area in which his mental processing comes into play is when Browning is able to go through his progressions. According to Pro Football Focus, Browning had a quarterback rating of 131.4 in 2016 and 117.5 in 2017 when throwing from a clean pocket. That didn’t happen as often as Washington would have liked last season, especially after star left tackle Trey Adams went down with an injury midway through the season.
With the 6-foot-8 Adams back for his senior season, Browning won’t have to worry about being blindsided as often.
With a clean pocket, Browning’s situational awareness is on full display. An underrated part of his game, especially in today’s era of college football, is that he’ll take what the defense gives him.
On this play, he immediately recognizes the coverage. Utah drops seven defenders against (initially) three receivers. He works through his progressions from left to right before hitting his running back in the flat. Understanding the situation, Browning takes the easy five-yard gain to avoid second and long.
The play doesn’t look like much, but there are many college quarterbacks who would have made an ill-advised throw trying to take more than the defense was willing to give. In fact, here’s Drew Lock doing that very thing.
In a similar situation, the defense drops seven on first-and-10. With help deep, the corners can be aggressive. Rather than hit his running back on a screen with a blocker in front, the Missouri quarterback is over aggressive and attempts to throw an out route across to the opposite side of the field. The pass is easily intercepted and results in a short field that South Carolina would take advantage of to take the lead.
It’s not always check-downs that the defense will give either. In the third quarter of the Fiesta Bowl against Penn State, Washington was facing a third-and-seven from the Nittany Lions 28. At the snap, the safety to Browning’s left makes a move toward the sideline to prevent a potential deep pass to Pettis. Seeing this, as well as recognizing Penn State has a linebacker trying to cover the speedy Aaron Fuller, Browning understands the middle of the field is going to be open deep.
He gathers himself and lays a perfectly thrown pass into Fuller’s chest for the touchdown.
Injuries kept the Huskies from returning to the playoffs last season, however, Washington is once again the favorites to win the Pac-12. With a healthy receiving corps and Adams back at left tackle, Browning has a great opportunity to lead his team back to the College Football Playoffs.
The toughest test of the season will come in the season opener against Auburn in Atlanta on September 1. If Browning is on his game against an SEC defense, look for him to immediately climb draft boards and continue to do so through the Senior Bowl.
Browning is not a first-round talent at this time, however, he’s someone who should be receiving much more attention as a legitimate NFL prospect. He won’t be starting right away at the next level, but take a look at this Kirk Cousins scouting report from NFL.com and compare it to Browning.
The report gives an accurate depiction of both quarterbacks. Cousins was drafted to be the backup to Robert Griffin III in Washington, but took advantage when given the opportunity to play. Watching the type of competitor Browning is on the field and evaluating his decision-making, his career in the pros could follow a similar trajectory.