When early high school graduate Jordan Love and his mother arrived at his Utah State dormitory for the first time in January 2016, football coach Matt Wells and his wife, Jen, were there to accept the handoff.
“When his mama dropped him off, she said, ‘Jen, take care of my baby. Matt, kick his butt,’ ” Wells told The Post. “That just shows tough love. She deserves so much credit for how she raised Jordan.”
Utah State was the only FBS scholarship offer for Tough Love.
Love is now the tough nut to crack for scouts and executives sizing up the top of the NFL draft: Will he leapfrog Oregon’s Justin Herbert as the third quarterback selected? Should the Los Angeles Chargers trust his talent and take him at No. 6? Will his flaws allow him to slip to the New England Patriots at No. 23?
“I think he has the highest ceiling of any quarterback in this draft,” Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy said. “I equate him to Patrick Mahomes in the sense that they both have playmaking ability and really natural arm talent.
“Three years removed, everyone is like, ‘How did Mahomes last to No. 12 [in 2017]?’ If this clicks for Jordan and he ends up in a good situation like Pat did in Kansas City, it could look crazy if he ends up outside the top 10.”
Love dazzled as a first-year, full-time starter in 2018, completing 64 percent of his passes with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Adversity struck when Utah State needed to replace Wells, who left to succeed Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech, and nine offensive starters. Injuries further decimated the offensive line and inexperienced wide receivers struggled to get open, as Love finished with 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 2019.
Red flags shot up. Love still declared for the draft and impressed at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine.
“He’s a tough player to evaluate because you have some of the best tape of anybody — it’s beautiful to watch him throw a football, just real loose and explosive,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “And you have the issue of the performance dropping off with all the reasons talked about. Decision-making is a key component of that position, and that’s where there is some concern.”
Like Mahomes, Love’s never-say-quit attitude leads crazy highlights. Love still mixes in too many head-scratching mistakes.
“Jordan throws the ball very well on the run and is accurate. He’s got courage, and enough arm strength to throw into tight windows,” said Wells, a former quarterback with 20 years of experience coaching the position. “All those things combined give him enough confidence to ad lib a little bit and to be able to stretch defenses and extend plays when he is on the run.”
The time the 6-foot-4, 224-pound Love spent during the 2018 offseason gathering teammates for late Friday night film sessions and adding to his skinny body set up his breakout year.
“He got through his reads and his progressions pretty quickly,” Wells said. “At the top of his drop, he could get all the way to No. 3, which is why he got to options No. 4 and No. 5 at times. It was knowledge of the system. He cares about learning. He is inspired by it. But he does it very nonchalantly and quietly.”
As is the case with all non-Power Five conference quarterbacks, Love is battling the “Who did he face?” stigma. Unlike Carson Wentz or Josh Allen, the coronavirus-shortened NFL pre-draft schedule has limited Love’s evaluations, only adding to the uncertainty.
“He’s truly the only quarterback I ever evaluated who is going to throw into bigger windows in the NFL than he did in college.” Nagy said. “He had to try to win games. Did he develop some bad habits? Absolutely. He has a little gunslinger to him. But you can always coach that out of a guy more than you can coach it into him.”
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