NFL Draft, Oakland Raiders

The Raiders and Jordan Love are too perfect to not end up together

Jordan Love has the potential to be the best quarterback of the 2020 class. But he’s still a work-in-progress, one that Jon Gruden should get his hands on

Utah State quarterback Jordan Love was asked at the NFL Combine in February which quarterback he feels his game most resembles. He didn’t hesitate to name a certain Super Bowl MVP.

“I get asked that a lot. I say Patrick Mahomes just based on arm talent, what he can do,” Love said before realizing the headlines that quote would generate and backtracking just a little bit. “Not saying I’m Patrick Mahomes, so calm down.”

Love falls on either end of a spectrum for most analysts, leaving no room in the middle. Either he’s a generational talent with the ability to have the same type of impact as Mahomes, or he’s a small-school quarterback coming off a disappointing season whose play will never match the hype. The Las Vegas Raiders, with two picks in the first round of Thursday’s NFL Draft, have to figure out which one is right.

The Raiders already have two experienced quarterbacks on their roster in Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota. They even have Nathan Peterman and DeShone Kizer as potential backups. They’re also a team that, as good as Carr as been for them, have only made the playoffs once in his six seasons. That’s where Love becomes almost too enticing for General Manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden to pass up.

Love’s draft stock stems entirely from his 2018 sophomore season at Utah State. Running a high-tempo, no-huddle offense, he led the Aggies to an 11-2 record, finishing eighth in the nation with 32 touchdown passes.

Before the 2019 season, however, Utah State’s roster underwent a dramatic makeover. All five of Love’s leading receivers were no longer there. He also had to contend with a different coaching staff at the helm. The upheaval showed on the field: Love led all FBS quarterbacks with 17 interceptions. He threw multiple interceptions in five games. In his highest-profile matchup of the season, at LSU, he completed just 50 percent of his passes for 130 yards and three interceptions in a 42-6 loss.

Love still has the physical attributes to make teams overlook that season as just an aberration. At the combine, he measured 6’3 6/8 and had the largest hand size of the 2020 class. He has the arm strength and the smooth throwing motion that teams look for in a franchise quarterback. At the same time, there is also his questionable decision-making, throwing into tight windows instead of checking down, and concerns about his accuracy.

He’s just the type of quarterback project Gruden is suited for. In his first stint as head coach of the Raiders, Gruden turned journeyman Rich Gannon into a Pro Bowler and MVP. He’s never drafted a quarterback in the first round—although he has picked a kicker—but one with Love’s potential doesn’t come around too often. With Carr and Mariota still in Las Vegas, he can take the time to teach Love his system while grooming him to take over in the future.

Mayock explained at the combine the qualities he looks for in a franchise quarterback. “The traits are leadership, they are accuracy, there’s pocket awareness. There’s a hundred different traits I could roll down for you,” he said.

“I think you need to be a leader of men. I think you’ve got to have a mentality that when you get in the huddle there’s ten people expecting to follow you and you have to be that alpha male…you have to earn the respect of your teammates. After that what you’re talking about is a guy that can handle Jon Gruden’s offense, can spit it out, has the intellectual capacity, the gigawatts to handle all that and translate it on Sunday.”

That’s not Love, at least not yet. At Utah State, he never had to manage a huddle. His ability to call plays is an open question. But Gruden and the Raiders can afford to take time to make him into that quarterback they’re looking for. With the 12th and 19th picks, they can both address an urgent need and plan for the future by drafting Love.

It’s a gamble, but as the Raiders prepare to make the move to Las Vegas, it’s one worth taking.

Next: A complete guide to the 2020 NFL Draft

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