Jacob Eason’s imminent decision is not entirely unprecedented.
Granted, only a select few individuals check all of the following boxes:
- Raised in the state of Washington
- Recruited heavily out of high school
- Settled with home-state Huskies
- Earned starting quarterback position
- Received opportunity to leave early to pursue NFL future
Those qualifications eliminate roughly 99.98% of all eligible adults.
But not Jake Locker. And not Brock Huard.
Maybe that’s why, in Eason, Huard sees a piece of his past.
“There’s huge expectations, and I think that’s what (is weighing on him) as much as anything,” said Huard, a Puyallup product and FOX analyst who served as UW’s starter from 1996 to 1998. “When I came back to school for my last year, there was enormous expectations. I didn’t go to the NFL, and I thought, ‘Man, I have a real chance to kind of elevate everybody,’ and there was a lot of anticipation for what we could accomplish. Then the team, kind of like their team this year, has fallen short.
“Not all of it is (Eason’s) doing. But expectations aren’t met, and then offensively it has not been explosive. It has not been easy. Everything has been difficult, it feels like. Just kind of throw all that in, and looking at some of the body language – not that he’s been negative by any stretch – but there’s just not a ton of joy when everything is work.”
While watching Washington’s 19-7 victory over Oregon State on Nov. 8, Huard tweeted that he saw “very little joy” in Eason, who completed 16 of 32 passes for 175 yards and two interceptions (including a pick-six). He added: “Weight of the world on his shoulders. No creativity and play-making outside of occasional rocket shots. Pressing.”
That, too, is nothing new.
“I remember talking to (former UW quarterback Jake Locker) on my podcast, and it was really, really difficult for him. It sucked a lot of the joy out of the game,” Huard said, of the pressure associated with being the star quarterback at your home-state school. “That’s the hardest part, is just finding joy. Jacob (Eason), and I think Locker to a degree, are wired in a similar way. They just want to have fun. Jacob Eason has said that a ton, right? Just keep it simple, have some joy to play.
“But I think Jake Locker walked through the exact same thing. Eason certainly has as well.”
Perhaps he has. Perhaps the fun in football has grown frustratingly fleeting. Perhaps a fresh start, in a new city, is what Eason thinks he needs.
But he said the exact opposite on the record this week.
“It’s been great,” Eason said, of his first season as UW’s starter. “Obviously the win-loss thing, you can’t focus on that. I’ve just been having a great time going out every day, enjoying practicing with the guys and the camaraderie in the locker room. There’s a lot of outside noise, but just being in there with the guys every day is the most fun part. Going out in a filled Husky Stadium on Saturday, there’s nothing like it.
“So I’m enjoying the hell out of it, and I’m super glad I’m here in this moment and I’m working hard and getting ready for Saturday.”
This isn’t all to say Eason has fantastically flopped. After transferring from Georgia and sitting out the 2018 season, the 6-foot-6, 227-pound former Lake Stevens standout has completed 63.7% of his passes, throwing for 2,472 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. At his best, Eason has demonstrated almost unparalleled physical gifts. He could realistically be a first-round draft pick in 2020, should he forego his final season of eligibility.
But would he be better served by coming back?
“He’s got the best arm of any quarterback in the country, as far as I’m concerned,” said Rob Rang, a talent evaluator for NFLDraftScout.com. “But at the same time, he’s one where I do feel like he is raw enough that he could make huge strides by coming back. I see a guy who has so much talent that some team would take a gamble on him in the first round. But then he’s going to go sit. He’s not going to play, or he’s going to get pushed onto an NFL field way too soon and it’s going to stunt his growth.
“So I would strongly suggest to him, just purely from a football standpoint, that he return. I think he could help himself, not necessarily just in terms of draft stock but in terms of being a more complete player, understanding the game that much more. Some of the mistakes that he’s made are mistakes that a player with more career starts won’t make.”
Justin Herbert is a prime example. The Oregon QB likely would have landed in the first round of last spring’s NFL draft. Instead, he returned, and the Ducks are currently 9-1 and sitting at No. 6 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings. Individually, Herbert has improved in just about every statistical area:
2018 (13 games): 59.4% completions, 3,151 passing yards, 29 TD, 8 INT, 144.66 pass efficiency rating, 7.8 yards per attempt
2019 (10 games): 69.6% completions, 2,662 passing yards, 28 TD, 3 INT, 167.72 pass efficiency rating, 8.4 Y/A
Of course, there are examples — success stories and cautionary tales — on both sides of the argument. Take the aforementioned Locker and Huard, both of whom opted to return for an extra season:
2009 (12 games): 58.4% completions, 2,800 passing yards, 7.1 Y/A, 21 pass TD, 11 INT, 388 rush yards, 7 TD
2010 (12 games): 55.4% completions, 2,265 passing yards, 6.8 Y/A, 17 pass TD, 9 INT, 385 rush yards, 6 TD
1997 (10 games): 59.8% completions, 2,140 passing yards, 8.8 Y/A, 23 TD, 10 INT
1998 (9 games): 53.3% completions, 1,924 passing yards, 6.1 Y/A, 15 TD, 12 INT
An added season, on its own, won’t guarantee individual growth or transcendent team success. And, in the wake of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s season-ending dislocated hip (and with the caveat that UW loses three offensive-line starters this offseason), Eason’s own injury history is undeniably an element in his decision.
Huard compared Eason’s dilemma to a tree, with all of the aforementioned elements being individual branches. At this point, they’re jutting in every imaginable direction.
But, when the time comes, what should Eason do?
“He should come back to school. That would be my opinion,” Huard said. “(He can improve with) handling pressure, and not just the pressure from the outside world. Handling the X’s and O’s pressure and just that movement in the pocket. And then just developing touch. Developing a real second pitch. The fastball’s amazing. But the secondary stuff, to me, still has some work to do.
“And if he feels like this staff and this support system can refine and grow those areas, then it would be a no-brainer for me.”
But that’s a big, important “if.” Does Eason feel like he can take a sizable step at Washington? And is it worth the risk to stick it out for his senior season?
Sure, Huard and Locker have been there — to a certain extent. But it’ll be up to Eason, eventually, to settle on his own decision.
“I just don’t want to respond to those questions (about my future), because there’s so many of them,” Eason said Wednesday. “I’m just really happy to be here with this team and happy to be healthy and playing with this great group of guys and great coaches. It’s awesome.”