To prepare for what is shaping up to be a historic Thursday night, here is a look at the Hub’s top six quarterback prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft – including the five expected to go in the first round – and an extra one who should.
QB1: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson (Top 5 pick)
Lawrence’s only weakness is something he has no control over – yet.
Expectations are historically high for the presumptive No. 1 overall pick. He has no way of proving he can hit them until September rolls along.
History is on his side. No quarterback with the generational label attached to his name has failed. The list is John Elway, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Lawrence. That’s it.
He hasn’t gotten here by accident. Pegged with the sacred term in high school, Lawrence only met expectations in college. With a cannon for an arm and accuracy that seems impossibly good, the Clemson junior consistently won with a good roster around him – but not one up to the par of other QBs in this draft (Most notably, Justin Fields and Mac Jones). His height and length gives him incredible advantages in ball placement and throwing on the run, while his slender frame may be slightly concerning.
That said, Lawrence did an okay job keeping himself healthy when escaping the pocket in college, and should be able to use his running ability to an extent at the next level.
The expectations are reachable for Lawrence. He met them in college with ease. While Jacksonville was the worst team in football last season, they’re in better shape than at least two other teams in the league. The Jaguars are functional, and whether Urban Meyer is the right man for Jacksonville’s head gig or not, he’s certainly a good enough coach.
QB2: Justin Fields, Ohio State (Top 5 pick)
This should not be up for debate.
The public torching of Fields the past couple of months has no basis. Sure, the former Ohio State star may not be as good as Lawrence, or may not have the ceiling that other quarterbacks in this class do, but in a draft that has a sure bet atop it, Fields isn’t much far behind.
Let’s start with the negatives, perceived and real. Much has been written about Fields’ ability to scan beyond his first read, rather than not advance past it. The whole idea was lunacy in the first place, but even if there was truth to it, the reason for it would be rooted in a positive attribute: Fields can make almost any throw, and his accuracy is perhaps his biggest strength.
Fields has tended to make poor decisions throwing the ball, which could be the origin of the first-read bias. He can get flustered in the pocket and sling it, ignoring his other options. But when his situation is clean, Fields takes his time to read the field.
That’s about it when it comes to Fields’ downsides. His size when running should keep him healthy, but there’s always concern about quarterbacks built like him breaking down (Similar to Cam Newton, who’s built very much like Fields).
His dual-threat ability is scary. Fields can’t sling it like others in this class, but his zip on short-to-intermediate throws makes up for it. A consistent downside of NFL quarterbacks is their inability to make tough throws across the middle of the field or in tight coverage. While he can’t get it deep downfield, Fields can make those tough passes, and if not, defenses then get to deal with a 6’3 tank barreling toward them.
If Fields fails, it’ll likely be due to an inability to reduce turnovers and/or because of poor offensive line play. But given his accuracy and big-game readiness, he should be the No. 2 overall pick on Thursday night, and if he’s not, whoever gets him will be getting a steal.
QB3: Trey Lance, North Dakota State (Early first-round pick)
Lance is the most complicated evaluation in this draft.
On one end, he’s a lights-out prospect who, despite a thin frame, throws the ball with strength and accuracy, doesn’t make mistakes and can make any throw on the run. He is lightning quick and brings a true dual-threat presence to the table, where a team can totally restructure their offense around him to incorporate college-like schemes and play designs Lamar Jackson-style.
On the other end, Lance is a varsity star playing against the sophomores. After the freak talent somehow only ended up at FCS school North Dakota State, he beat up on lesser talent and took advantage of a loaded roster and beautiful play-calling. He only had one full season of being a starting quarterback and has 17 career starts. In those starts, the most passes he ever threw was 31. The second-most was 30, and the third-most was 23.
In many ways negative and positive, it’s almost like Lance was playing a different game than football. His conquering of opponents was that dominant. But his numbers and team’s style of play makes him look like he was incredibly replaceable – almost like he wasn’t even serving the role of a QB.
Because of all this, Lance probably needs a year or two before starting. Typically, players that aren’t ready in their first year aren’t worthy of first-round selections. That still holds true for the most part, but Lance is an exception given his position and ceiling. It’s not his fault he had no season in 2020 to better himself and improve his stock. If Lance hits his ceiling, we might be looking at a type of quarterback the league has simply never seen before.
QB4: Zach Wilson, BYU (Early first-round pick)
The hype makes sense.
Wilson’s rise is reminiscent of Jordan Love last year. Teams are terrified of missing out on someone like Patrick Mahomes, who can make something out of nothing seemingly every play while maintaining their presence as a pocket passer.
Wilson fits that bill. He has a cannon for an arm, which can get the best of him at times. His accuracy tends to be better when he throws long, as that bazooka misaims more times than you’d like it to in the short and intermediate areas of the field. He’s not a runner but is mobile, and is perhaps at his best when he can keep the defense guessing with what he is going to do with the ball.
Like Lance, the biggest question mark with Wilson is his sample size and competition. Both are one-year wonders who flourished against lower-level teams. Wilson, gratefully, was at least tasked with more in his offense, and wasn’t being used in almost a complementary fashion at BYU. They let him sling it, and he did that pretty well.
The biggest question with Wilson is whether his theatrics are going to work or not. From a pure football standpoint, Wilson is almost flawless. His ability to throw the ball deep reliably should be coveted, as so many QBs in the league struggle with it. Aside from that arm occassionally getting the best of him, football ability isn’t what plagues Wilson. It’s things that are out of his control – the competiton he faced.
It’s a nervous-wracking bet for whoever takes Wilson. Weapons around him won’t appease. There’s not much a coaching staff is going to do help him. A team will know close to Day-1 whether he’s going to be it or not.
QB5: Kyle Trask, Florida (Late first-round pick)
This will likely be the biggest surprise on the board.
The evalution of Trask is perhaps colored by what Florida was before his intregration as a starter. The Gators’ struggles at quarterback over the years – most notably highlighed by the ineffectiveness of Feleipe Franks – led to offense that had incredible trouble moving the ball.
Trask came in and lit it up. Florida was a completely different team with him under center. The ball moved forward, and went deep downfield. Trask picked apart defenses left and right.
The ability to move the ball downfield is what seperates Trask from Mac Jones. Trask was never and isn’t afraid to make the tough throws. Jones let his surrouding cast do the work, and had infinite help. Trask had good weapons as well, and that will likely be a key to potential success in the NFL, but Jones’ projection as a game-manager sees him slide past Trask on this big board.
Trask may not be much more than that, but with him at the helm you can at least feel better about the ball moving downfield. Jones will need a perfect arsenal of weapons and then some.
QB6: Mac Jones, Alabama (2nd round pick)
You don’t draft players for their ability to reach average performance.
You draft players who you think could be great, or at least good, especially in the first round.
Jones doesn’t project as either. He has an average arm that is limited to shorter throws. He was in a perfect scheme with perfect weapons, which made the tough throws easy. Sure, his accuracy is great, but every QB’s should be when asked to make throws Jones did with play-makers like that on-hand.
The most common problem in the NFL is teams having quarterbacks who are good and not great – those who need perfect situations and scenarios to be successful. Jones is one of those players, and doesn’t have the upside to grow out of it either.
Additionally, like other QBs in this draft, his sample size is small, and was helped out significantly by a roster that will have at least three or four other players selected in the first round.
The talent around Jones was better than Jones himself. Somehow, that notion has been reversed lately. If a team is looking for competnecy, then Jones is their guy. But that team better know what it’s doing elsewhere on the field, and then will likely have to say some prayers.
Other ranked QBs in this class:
QB7: Davis Mills, Stanford
QB8: Ian Book, Notre Dame
QB9: Kellen Mond, Texas A&M