When Jacob Eason announced his decision to declare for the NFL draft on Dec. 26, he wrote that “the opportunity to play quarterback in the NFL has been a lifelong dream, and my heart is set on the challenge ahead.”
Nearly four months later, that opportunity arrived.
Though, certainly later than expected.
Eason — Washington’s 6-foot-6, 231-pound redshirt junior quarterback — was selected on Saturday by the Indianapolis Colts with the 122nd overall pick in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
But why was Eason — who said Saturday he expected to go between the late first and early second rounds — still waiting in the fourth? ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that, “as teams peeled back the onion on Jacob Eason, they found evaluations and information that work ethic is an issue. Accountability is an issue. There’s a list of about four or five character flaws.”
Unsurprisingly, Eason was asked about this shortly after being selected on Saturday. And the former Husky signal caller had something to say.
“I think everyone is entitled to their own opinions,” Eason responded. “It’s football, and in today’s society there is a lot of media around it and hey, you know my job is to go in there, prove those stories are false and learn from a great coaching staff and get in there with an outstanding team. I’m going to go in there as soon as this virus is calmed down and compete my nuts off, go in there and prove myself as a workhorse and a leader and a good football player.
“They can say all they want, but the truth of the matter is I’m going to be a person to go in there and prove them wrong.”
In Indianapolis, Eason will have an opportunity to do that behind an aging veteran on a one-year deal, in 38-year-old future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers. The team’s backup, Jacoby Brissett, is also entering the final year of a two-year contract.
In other words, it could be a perfect situation both for Eason and the Colts organization.
“There’s certain situations that quarterbacks get drafted into where they should not only be cheering for the fact that they got drafted. They should be cheering for the fact that they got drafted to the team that they went to,” ESPN analyst Louis Riddick said after Eason was picked. “It’s the same situation Jalen Hurts is looking at going to Philadelphia. It’s the same thing when Patrick Mahomes was drafted by Andy Reid in Kansas City. It’s the same thing here with Jacob Eason going to play under coach Frank Reich. These are ideal situations — getting around the right culture, the right general manager who knows he has to do everything he can to provide a situation for you to thrive in. The Indianapolis Colts are doing that with the drafting of (USC wide receiver) Michael Pittman and (Wisconsin running back) Jonathan Taylor. That’s all designed to help quarterback play as well.
“This is a perfect situation for (Eason). It can be a patient situation. They can sit and wait for him to develop, see if Philip Rivers can have one of those great years once again in a new environment. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
As Eason predicted the day after Christmas, the pre-draft process was not without its challenges. The University of Georgia transfer received mixed reviews after participating in the NFL Combine in February, and UW’s pro day was canceled as a COVID-19 precaution. He was ultimately the sixth quarterback off the board — after LSU’s Joe Burrow, Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Utah State’s Jordan Love and Oklahoma’s Hurts. He was also one of just two Huskies to be selected; the Cleveland Browns added senior center Nick Harris in the fifth round.
Still, when it comes to adversity, Eason might have already dealt with worse. The former Lake Stevens High School standout was originally ranked as a five-star prospect and the No. 4 overall recruit in the 2016 class by 247Sports. He enrolled early at Georgia, where he started 12 games as a true freshman in 2016.
But Eason didn’t find instant success. In an 8-5 2016 season, he completed 55.1% of his passes, throwing for 2,430 yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions. After injuring his knee in the 2017 season opener, he was permanently replaced by true freshman Jake Fromm — prompting Eason’s transfer to Washington.
And even close to home, Eason’s results rarely matched the oversized expectations. After sitting out the 2018 season, Eason’s team again finished 8-5 last fall. In his only season as UW’s starter, he completed 64.2% of his passes and threw for 3,132 yards with 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
He displayed bouts of sustained brilliance. But he didn’t beat Oregon. He didn’t beat Utah. And he didn’t establish himself as a Husky icon along the way.
“It was a one-year hit. He played for one season, and the season didn’t live up to anyone’s expectations,” said former UW quarterback and current FOX college football analyst Brock Huard. “It was probably more defined by a head coach (Chris Petersen) stepping down than anything else.”
Even so, Eason remains an undeniably rare athletic specimen. He’s one of the finest pure passers the state of Washington has ever seen.
And he’s also a prototypical Indianapolis Colts draft pick.
“(The pick) makes sense, because when you look at Chris Ballard, the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, Chris loves traits. And when you talk at the traits and size and arm strength of Jacob Eason, those are at an elite level,” said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah. “You can put his top 15 throws from his college career and put them up against anybody, because he can reach any blade of grass on the field with his arm strength.
“The problem is he’s still learning the position. He needs some of that experience. He needs to get a little bit more comfortable moving around in the pocket. He has a bad habit of trying to spin out of pressure. Those are the things he’s going to get the chance to sit behind and learn from Philip Rivers. I don’t know if there’s a better person for Jacob Eason to study and to learn under than Philip Rivers here with the Indianapolis Colts.”
In Indianapolis, under Rivers’ established wing, Eason will have have another opportunity to convert his considerable talent into trophies. It’s been an unexpectedly bumpy — and prolonged — path to the NFL.
But he still reached the destination, and now — critics be damned — it’s time to live the dream.
“I know who I am deep down. I know what I can be and what I can do,” Eason said. “With my confidence level, I try to work my butt off to be the best I can be, and that is going to be the case heading forward.”