SEATTLE —When Jacob Eason announced his decision to declare for the 2020 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 has arrived.
Though, certainly later than expected.
Eason — a 6-foot-6, 231-pound quarterback from Lake Stevens High School — was selected on Saturday by the Indianapolis Colts with the 122nd overall pick in the fourth round of the draft.
In Indianapolis, Eason will have an opportunity to learn behind an aging veteran on a one-year deal, in 38-year-old future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers. The team’s back up, Jacoby Brissett, is also entering the final year of a two-year contract.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard thought Eason was worth a gamble — even as critics debated Eason’s work ethic and accountability.
“My job is to go in there, prove those stories are false and go in there and learn from a great coaching staff and get in there with an outstanding team,” Eason said. “I’m going to 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 go in there and prove them wrong.”
In other words, it could be a perfect situation both for Eason and the organization that he’s going to.
“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 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 Jalen Hurts. By the time the Colts took him, Eason held the dubious honor of being ranked as ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s best available player.
The Lake Stevens standout was originally ranked as a five-star prospect and the No. 4 overall recruit in the 2016 class by 247Sports. He was the 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year, the USA Today All-USA Offensive Player of the Year, the Maxwell Football Club National Quarterback of the Year and Bobby Dodd National Quarterback of the Year as a senior. 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,” former UW quarterback and current Fox college football analyst Brock Huard said. “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. In Indianapolis, he’ll have another opportunity to convert his considerable talent into trophies. It’s been an admittedly bumpy — and prolonged — path to the NFL.
But he still reached the destination, and now it’s time to live the dream.
“(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.”