INDIANAPOLIS — Entering this year's NFL Draft, many onlookers wondered if and when the Indianapolis Colts would address their future at the quarterback position.
At the time the team had three quarterbacks on its offseason roster — Jacoby Brissett, Chad Kelly and Philip Rivers — and all three of them were entering final year of their respective contracts.
Despite that fact, general manager Chris Ballard insisted repeatedly throughout the offseason that the team would not "force it" at the quarterback position in this year's draft. If a quarterback prospect was available the Colts liked and the timing was right, they'd take him; if not, they'd move on.
So when the team went on the clock in the fourth round with the 122nd-overall pick, the timing just happened to be right: Washington quarterback Jacob Eason was still available and was a top player on the Colts' board, so they jumped at the opportunity to get the big-armed youngster into their system and give him the time and resources needed to meet his potential.
For Eason, the selection was a sigh of relief in more ways than one.
"I was really just sitting there waiting on a phone call. I had several great conversations with a number of teams, and the Colts were a team that I had more than a few great conversations with. So I was hoping that I might get a call from them," Eason told reporters after being drafted. "I knew they had a couple picks in the second, I knew they had picks here and there and I was just being patient. When the opportunity came, they took the pick and I couldn't be more grateful for that."
But coming to this franchise — the Indianapolis Colts, which was Eason's childhood hero's team — makes it even sweeter.
"I haven't spent a ton of time there but it's cool because I actually grew up a huge Indianapolis fan. I was a tremendously big fan of Peyton Manning's," Eason said. "I think one year when I was six or seven, I got his jersey under the Christmas tree and had Colts hats, Colts shoes, you name it. So full circle, it's pretty spectacular that the Colts ended up selecting me in the fourth round. I'm super excited to get down there, figure out my new home and get in the locker room with those teammates and just dive in and learn and grow."
Like Manning, Eason was in the spotlight as a quarterback prospect long before he actually made it to the NFL.
Eason was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and was considered the top prep pro-style quarterback in the country after being named the 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year. Even before then, Rivals named him the Junior of the Year in 2014, so he'd been well known for a while.
The gunslinger was recruited by many of the classic blue-blood college football programs, eventually choosing the University of Georgia; he even enrolled early so he could really get to work. Although he was the Bulldogs' backup quarterback entering his true freshman season in 2016, he would already hit the field by the first game and wouldn't give the starting job back the rest of the year.
Eason showed a lot of moxie even as a true freshman, posting a 120.2 passer rating and leading two game-winning fourth-quarter drives on the road against SEC opponents.
Eason earned the starting opportunity going into the 2017 season, but a knee sprain suffered in the first game of the year knocked him out for a bit. Unfortunately for Eason, his replacement, Jake Fromm (picked in the fifth round this year, No. 167-overall), had the Bulldogs rolling all the way to the College Football Playoff National Championship game. Fromm earned a ton of buzz in that time and became a legitimate pro prospect, which put Eason on the back burner.
Looking for a chance to start again, Eason entered the transfer portal and chose to return to his home state and the University of Washington.
He had to sit out the 2018 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but he earned the Huskies' starting quarterback job in 2019, and from there, Eason's game would take off again.
In his lone season at Washington, Eason would complete 260-of-405 passes (64.2 percent) for 3,132 yards (7.7 avg.) with 23 touchdowns and just eight interceptions for a passer rating of 143.9.
Continuing the constant transition of his early career, Eason would then declare for the 2020 NFL Draft.
He has prototypical size for the quarterback position and looks the part at 6'5-7/8", 231 pounds, with 32-7/8" arms. But size aside, Eason has a rifle attached to his right shoulder. He has natural arm strength and it doesn't look like he's putting a ton of effort into it. The velocity he can put on the ball is very important because it puts defenders behind in the play, and the receiver can get a step on them.
He can also throw from different arm angles, and throws it well on the move, which goes back to his baseball background in high school. You see some NFL quarterbacks who are extra dangerous because of this same attribute, like Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford.
Eason constantly shows proof that he has a good base of mechanics, and you don't see him abandoning them often. When he stays calm and gives himself time to step into his throws, he can be very accurate to all zones of the field. He can throw with nice anticipation, and he is capable of making all of the big-time throws. A lot of former NFL quarterbacks say that they look for guys who can throw the deep out and the deep inside cross, and Eason can do both.
Aside from the arm strength, arguably Eason's biggest strength is throwing a pretty deep ball. While his accuracy has been inconsistent, he does put nice touch on passes downfield, allowing his receiver to run under it and hitting them in stride.
Like one would hope to see with big quarterbacks like Eason, he stands tall in the pocket and will deliver a strike with pressure bearing down on him. He doesn't always bail before he should and will stay looking downfield.
Although he can fall into the "gunslinger" category at times, Eason does do a decent job of taking care of the ball, as he never threw more than eight interceptions in the two seasons he started.
Eason is not an explosive athlete, but he's got enough speed to escape the pocket and buy time for the play to develop. As a big guy, he can push forward and pick up the first on a quarterback sneak.
All that being said, Eason is well aware of the opportunity he has in front of him to continue carving and developing those tools with the Colts.
"My drive to be the best at what I do kind of comes from within me. I really enjoy going out there and kind of doing the work on my own whether it's throwing one-on-one with my QB coach or throwing routes on air to my receivers. I think every step of the way, I think I can learn something new and pick something up there," Eason said. "So I'm just very excited to get in and learn and kind of see how Philip (Rivers) and Jacoby (Brissett) do it and get in there and challenge myself with this next opportunity. I'm just very thankful."
SMOOTHING OUT THE EDGES
While Eason has a high ceiling, there are some things in his game that need ironed out, which makes sense given his status as a fourth-round pick. The good news is that he's got self-awareness — and he has a coaching staff capable of getting him where he wants to go once he puts in the work.
"I think a lot of that is really me trying to working on my consistency – knowing the situation whether it's on a first or second-down shot versus you needing a shorter completion on third down. I think that's a big factor in it all," Eason said about what he's going to work on in his game. "A lot of the things I've been working on are lower half to make sure I hit those throws when I'm taking those shots more consistently. The accuracy involved, the footwork, the subtle moments in the pocket – there's a ton of things I've been working on these last couple months to get ready for the next level and I think it'll translate well. I'm looking forward to getting into this playbook, diving into Indy's offense and trying to get all the help I can to better my own career. I'm just super fortunate to be in this position and there's a lot of work to go. I'm super excited to get started."
Eason knows picking up the pace "in terms of consistency and football IQ" will be critical at the NFL level.
"Whether it's been accuracy, completion percentage – it takes consistency, week-in and week-out to win games," Eason said. "I've been working on my accuracy in my lower half to be able to keep that going. The other thing I've been working on is just a general football IQ, whether it's coverage, reads, concepts, protections or whatever it is football IQ-wise, I've been brushing up on those areas because I know at the next level it's another challenge to get in and learn. It's a faster game."
Because he knows he has such a strong arm, Eason has shown he will try and rocket passes into tight windows. When he forces those passes, his accuracy becomes sporadic, though he was mostly spared of any costly turnovers on those plays at the college level. In the NFL those overthrows can turn into interceptions.
Along the same lines, Eason tends to occasionally get tunnel vision when targeting his receiver and doesn't seem to spot oncoming defenders, leading to unnecessary contested balls or interceptions.
He also ran quite a bit of quick-read stuff at Washington, which didn't appear to involve a lot of surveying the defense before and during the snap or progressing through multiple reads.
Eason will also need to develop more poise when dealing with consistent pressure from defenses. Every quarterback has those games in which the defense just seems to be able to pressure them whenever it wants, and he'll need to learn how to better deal with that.
But overall, Colts head coach Frank Reich sees in Eason a player who has all the physical tools to play at the next level that can really ascend with hard work and patience.
"Yeah, I think his arm talent was probably the best in the draft as far as quarterbacks go. What I liked about his arm talent is he can throw it on a rope, he can throw it long, he can throw with touch, he can change the speed on the ball and he can deliver from different arm angles," Reich said of Eason. "The accuracy was fine, he needs to get better. His footwork needs to get better. Reading through his progressions needs to get better. There are a lot of things that need work, but physically he has a lot of the tools. But we all know that playing this position is a lot more than physical. So that is why we spent some time with him as far as the meetings and protections just trying to test the mental acumen of this position and try to get an idea of how they think as a quarterback. We would do that with anybody. I talked to multiple quarterbacks during this process and it was the same process with everyone of them. So Jacob did a nice job, but like Chris (Ballard) said, there is still a long way to go. There is a long way to go, but we are happy to have him."
FOLLOW THE LEADERS
Since declaring for the NFL Draft, Eason has certainly heard the outside noise about his leadership abilities at the quarterback position. But after being pushed into the spotlight, really, since high school, Eason has used each transition in recent years to grow and mature into the type of player and leader that teammates and coaches alike can respect.
When Eason transferred from Georgia to Washington, for example, he used the opportunity to turn over a new leaf and make good on his blank slate.
"When I transferred to Washington I had to sit out due to transfer rules and wasn't able to even suit up on Saturdays," Eason said. "So what I did was, I really – every area around playing on Saturdays, whether it was in the weight room, the film room, just being a locker-room guy, running the scout team at practice, everything I could do to kind of prove myself and develop myself outside of actually playing on Saturdays is what I tried to do. I think that paid off because this last season I was able to boost myself up as a leader and I think guys responded to that well."
Those around Eason that year took notice, as he was prized with the team's 2018 Bob Jarvis Offensive Scout Squad MVP.
"During the redshirt year, he was competitive. He was on the scout team a lot because he was ineligible and couldn't play," former Washington tight end and fellow 2020 NFL Draft pick Hunter Bryant said at the Scouting Combine in February. "And I remember talking to some of the corners back then and they were like, 'Yeah, he would just slice us up every practice.' And coach Lake (Washington head coach and then-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake) would be getting pissed because he (Eason) was just doing so well on the scout team just looking at cards. Just competitive."
Just like he did when he came to Washington, Eason plans to use that same drive to become a leader for the Colts, even if he isn't immediately utilized on the field.
"(This is a) similar situation coming to Indianapolis. We have established veterans with Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett, who I'm excited to learn from, grow from and bounce ideas off of," Eason said. "It's going to be the same thing. I'm going to bust my butt in any way I can whether it's practice, weight room or film room. I'm going to be a guy who's going to work my butt off and put my best foot forward, and become the best football player and person I can be."
Both Rivers and Brissett are considered rare leaders — lauded for their day-to-day approach and their toughness.
"Yeah, I mean I think Philip does an outstanding job of making plays. He's a pocket-passer type guy and he's a very smart football player. That's why I'm very excited to go in and learn from a guy with what he's done," Eason said about Rivers. "He did some great things with the Chargers and now he's about to do some awesome things with the Colts. It's just crazy to think that I'm going to go in there and learn from a guy like that. That opportunity doesn't happen with everyone. So I'm very fortunate for that. Like I said, just very excited being there – meeting my teammates, start developing myself in that locker room and learning from a great organization they have.
"I think this situation gives me a great opportunity to learn from one of the greats in the National Football League in Philip Rivers and under a tremendous quarterback in Jacoby Brissett," Eason continued. "I think it's an outstanding opportunity for me to go in and learn. I'm going to take that and do the best I can to study Philip and study Jacoby and also improve my own game. So I'm very fortunate to have been put in this situation and I'm very excited to get started."
FIT WITH THE COLTS
Eason is landing in an ideal situation for both himself and the Colts. The team always has its eye on the quarterback position and now gets a talented prospect at that spot that it can mold over time.
Those seeds were already planted during the pre-draft process.
"I had great communication with the Colts. I think I talked to them more than any other team, whether it was Coach Reich or QB coaches. I talked to everyone in the organization," Eason said of the relationship he built with the Colts before the draft. "It was pretty cool because it wasn't all about football all the time. A lot of it was personal information about my family and my college experience. Coach (Reich) would ask me some off the wall questions then we'd get into the film room and he'd kind of teach me some of the offense and then I kind of go and connect to my offense. It was really cool.
"I got to get a building of the start of our foundation, of our relationship and I'm looking forward to getting down to Indianapolis, meeting in person and really getting to work and learning," Eason continued. "There's a great situation to learn from Philip (Rivers) and Jacoby (Brissett) in that QB room. I'm very excited to get in there and learn from those guys and help out in any way I can. I'm very fortunate to be in the position that I am and it's a great fit for me."
Ballard and Reich have alluded to the fact that Eason first and foremost will be expected to compete with Chad Kelly for the team's third quarterback spot behind Rivers, a future Hall of Famer, and Brissett, who has two full seasons of starting experience under his belt.
But the Colts' quarterback room goes even deeper than that. Reich played quarterback for 13 years in the NFL, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni has been coaching in the NFL for 11 years, quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady played quarterback and coached in the CFL for 16 years and offensive quality controls coach Jerrod Johnson played quarterback in the NFL, AFL and UFL for eight years before entering the coaching ranks.
Reich and that coaching staff see tools to work with in Eason, who they hope to one day develop into a starting NFL quarterback.
"I saw a guy who has all the physical tools to play the position – size, strength, really good arm talent, can make all the throws to all spots on the field," Reich said. "For a big man, I think he has some athleticism to him – not that he is a scrambler guy. I think he is a pocket passer but has the athletic ability to move and just think he is still young and developing in the position. He doesn't have a lot of miles logged in in one respect. He could've came back another year, but really he gets a chance to compete with Chad and see if he can continue to develop. But we certainly saw some tools there that we think he has some of the qualities to play at this level."
Between the other quarterbacks on the roster and the men who coach them, Eason is fully embracing the opportunity that he's walking into.
"It is a tricky situation – the draft is – because you could have a great feeling going in, but you don't know exactly where you are going to end up. I am very fortunate that I ended up in this organization with an outstanding group of guys in that locker room," Eason said. "I think Coach Reich is going to be awesome for me in terms of my learning and my development. I don't think I could've gone to a better organization. So I am very fortunate to be in this position. I would've been happy if it was first round, second round, third round, fourth round, you know? I would've been happy if I was a sixth-round pick. I am just very fortunate to have been picked by the Colts. They believe in me which means a lot to me and I am going to do my best to prove them right."
Get your first look at quarterback Jacob Eason after being selected 122nd overall by the Indianapolis Colts.