NFL draft: Will Jacob Eason's rocket arm outweigh his 'laid-back' personality?

INDIANAPOLIS — Thursday marks the first day of on-field activity at the 2020 NFL scouting combine, and that means the arrival of the eagerly awaited quarterback throwing session.

If Washington’s Jacob Eason doesn’t have the best arm in the 2020 draft class, he’s no lower than top-three in an interesting QB group.

NFL scouts have raved all season long about Eason, who is 6-foot-6 and 231pounds, namely his ability to spin the ball with the best of them, displaying some first-round traits even as they admit he’s far from a fully realized prospect without flaws that must be addressed. One of those potential worries in the scouting community is a thing that can’t be measured with distance or miles per hour.

It’s the question of whether Eason is the type of natural-born leader NFL teams seek at quarterback.

Eason lacks the natural “leave it to me” swagger of LSU’s Joe Burrow and might not have that cutthroat quality that some of the greats possess.

The two words most often used to describe Eason’s personality? “Laid” followed by “back.”

As in ...

“Off the field, I’d say he is very laid back,” Washington running back Salvon Ahmed told Yahoo Sports.

Ahmed is quick to add that it’s not a bad thing.

“On the field, he’s a leader,” Ahmed added. “If things need to be corrected, he’s going to tell us what we need to do.

“He’s a great dude. I’ve known him a long time. We played 7-on-7 ball together in high school. He’s probably one of the more laid-back guys you’ll ever come across.”

That’s where NFL people aren’t as sure about Eason. They have some of the same questions about Oregon’s Justin Herbert, but he has 43 college starts’ worth of quality to fall back on. Can the combine throwing session on Thursday — an event where Eason’s golden arm should shine — counteract some of the lingering questions?

Washington quarterback Jacob Eason is trying to convince NFL evaluators that he has the demeanor to be an alpha leader. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Jacob Eason’s delayed path

Eason started 12 of 13 games as a freshman at Georgia in 2016 but was hurt on the third series of the 2017 season opener with a knee injury. Although the injury wasn’t serious, Eason lost his starting job to freshman Jake Fromm, who guided the Bulldogs to the national title game. Eason was a good teammate while he watched Fromm take his spot before announcing his decision to transfer to Washington the next year.

“From a competitive side, it was really tough,” Eason said. “I had to adapt to that, but as a team player and as a person, it felt like the right thing to do was support Jake and support that team. It was a tremendous team, tremendously talented, and we went on a run that year. I didn’t want to make the narrative anything about me, I wanted to make sure the focus was on the team wherever we were going, then after that we were going to make my decision.”

Last season was Eason’s first starting for the Huskies, and he fared well, throwing for 3,132 yards, 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions on 64.2 percent completions. Washington struggled in a 7-5 season, and Eason had a less impressive 12-7 TD-INT ratio in Pac-12 games, where the Huskies went 4-5.

In each of those games, Eason showed the ability to drill passes to every level of the field. The NFL wants strong-armed QBs who can attack the field vertically, and he fits the bill there. But Eason also showed unrefined footwork, timing and anticipation, perhaps the byproduct of having his growth stunted at Georgia and only a handful of game reps over a two-year span.

The team that drafts Eason must have a plan for him, and thrusting him into a starting role too early could hurt his development in the long run. Teams also know that he possesses arm talent that most quarterbacks dream of.

We’ll see that on display Thursday. Eason said he relished the chance to throw but wasn’t about to boast about that right arm.

“I’m not into comparisons and the showing off part of it,” he said Tuesday. “I’m just looking forward to going out and competing. Obviously it’s a big opportunity and the combine is a huge deal and to go out there and do what I love in front of all you guys and a bunch of NFL coaches will be a great opportunity.”

Making the most of it could help land Eason in the first round in April.

Is Eason too laid back?

Washington tight end Hunter Bryant was asked about Eason and that supposedly laid-back attitude. Bryant told a story that might paint a different picture.

“There was a time in spring ball going into this past season where we were competing with the defense doing red-zone lockout, and we needed a touchdown to win,” Bryant explained. “And if we didn't get a touchdown, we would've lost and had to run gassers. And [Eason] kind of went in the huddle and told us we needed to execute and we need to play a very high level to get this touchdown.

“And then he continued to lead us for the next four plays — and very precise passes — and we scored. And that's when I knew.”

Bryant also said that Eason took out whatever frustrations he might have had during that 2018 redshirt season, when he was restricted to scout-team duty, on the Huskies’ defense.

“During the redshirt year, he was competitive,” Bryant said. “I remember talking to some of the corners back then and they were like, ‘Yeah, he would just slice us up every practice.’

“And [then defensive coordinator Jimmy] Lake would be getting pissed because he was just doing so well on the scout team just looking at cards. Just competitive.”

Eason also received an endorsement from Bryant on his work ethic.

“I think he's a great playmaker,” Bryant said. “I think he has a lot of big-play ability. And I think he’s a very hard worker. A very hard worker. So I think he’s going to be a great quarterback for a long time.”

Eason will be asked by every team he meets with before the draft about his demeanor and whether it’s NFL-caliber — in other words, can he get in the face of a teammate and command better from him when needed? He says it’s a non-issue.

“I think growing up [watching] a guy like Brett Favre, a guy like Peyton Manning, teams I watched play on Sundays were big inspirations in the way they play the game — their toughness, their competitiveness,” he said. “Those are guys I model my game after.”

“Our job is to go out there and compete and show what we can do, so I’m just looking forward to going out there and competing on Thursday and having fun with this process.”

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