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The 2020 college season will be remembered for extraordinary circumstances the season took place under. The pandemic forced games to be canceled, take place with limited crowds, and some players didn’t even play.
This makes for the most interesting scouting season ever. It’s not uncommon for good NFL teams to have bad drafts, but this year NFL teams are working with a half-painted picture. NFL teams will draft players based off of a handful of games and hope they don’t blow it. My expectation is for 5 quarterbacks to go in the top 10 picks, which means this draft will re-shape the NFL.
NFL teams are looking for the quarterbacks that can make plays outside the pocket and when the pocket breaks down. The new generation of QB needs to be mobile and creative. The quarterbacks that have translated best are the ones that create out of structure. Quarterbacks are being asked to extend plays, which lessens the need for progressions. There are only a few true pocket quarterbacks and most of them are veterans. This is an important reminder as I rank the quarterbacks in this draft.
This draft contains three quarterbacks who have the talent to be the best quarterback in this class.
The fortunes of those who take a quarterback will change, for better or worse.
So with that, I give you my top 5 quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
NFL Draft QB Rankings
#1 JUSTIN FIELDS – OHIO STATE
This will be a controversial ranking as Trevor Lawrence is almost unanimously considered the top quarterback, in the 2021 draft. My reasoning for having Fields as my QB1 is simple, I believe Justin Fields is the most talented quarterback in this draft class.
Justin Fields has the statistics to warrant this ranking, as he threw for 41 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in 2019. Fields delivered for Ohio State as they trounced Clemson 49-28, in the Sugar Bowl. Justin Fields went toe to toe with Trevor Lawrence in 2020, coming up a drive short of having back to back wins over Clemson
The knock on Fields is that he doesn’t get through his progressions quick enough. I don’t believe this will be an issue in the NFL, mainly because of how much the game has changed. This was the same knock on what I consider the three best young quarterbacks in the NFL:
Patrick Mahomes (2017)
Deshaun Watson (2017)
Josh Allen (2018)
I might still be prisoner of the moment, but I believe the Sugar Bowl against Clemson was the moment Justin Fields surpassed Trevor Lawrence.
#2 Trevor Lawrence – CLEMSON
Trevor Lawrence has a chance to be a premium NFL quarterback. Lawrence has everything you want in modern day NFL QB. Lawrence has the size, arm, and athleticism that NFL teams look for. The biggest concern I have with Trevor Lawrence is that I didn’t feel he got any better, during his time at Clemson.
This concern is probably unwarranted, but it’s trying to split hairs between two top tier prospects.
I could be completely wrong about Lawrence and he could show that he was the diamond of this quarterback class, but if the NFL has taught us anything, we should expect the unexpected.
Lawrence, the presumed number one selection, could see immediate success, even on a team with a ton of question marks like the Jaguars.
#3 Trey Lance – North Dakota St.
Trey Lance is the most intriguing quarterback in the is draft class. Lance posses the same traits as Trevor Lawrence and is the better athlete. The team that takes Trey Lance is banking on his physical traits and will most likely use the same template used for Patrick Mahomes. I expect Trey Lance to sit his rookie year, behind a veteran quaterback.
The biggest knock on Trey Lance is his lack of experience and quality of opponents played at North Dakota State.
Lance only played one showcase game in 2020, due to the pandemic.
It doesn’t seem like it hurt his stock as his physical abilities are through the roof. Trey lance has the tools to be the best QB in this class, but it’s going to be an incredible gamble. I think Lance could’ve gone as high as number two, if North Dakota State had played in 2020.
The team to watch for is the Denver Broncos. The Broncos need a quarterback desperately, and would be willing to overlook some his inexperience and lack of competition. I think Denver could talk themselves into playing Lance immediately because they have invested into their skill positions on offense.
Trey Lance is the ultimate boom or bust type of draft pick. Lance has all the tools teams look for, but the situation he gets drafted into could be the difference between a grand-slam or a strikeout.
#4 Zach Wilson – BYU
Zach Wilson got a lot of the buzz that I thought Trey Lance would get, had Lance been able to play. Wilson had 33 touchdowns with only 3 interceptions, in 2020. He took a big step forward in his junior year, which has people believing he will be taken by the New York Jets with the second pick.
Zach Wilson showed the ability to make off platform throws and throws outside the pocket at BYU. Wilson has a good arm that captured the attention of NFL teams. You’ll hear a ton of comparisons to Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, and Patrick Mahomes. I think Russell Wilson would be the ceiling for Zach Wilson, but he reminded me a bit Baker Mayfield.
The biggest knock on Zach Wilson is one similar to Trey Lance, the competition his team faced. BYU’s schedule did include two teams that finished in the top 25. This includes a 51-17 win over Boise State and a 22-17 lost to Costal Carolina. Wilson played against lesser competition and his creativity might be not be as effective against better athletes.
Another knock against Wilson is that he played behind a good college offensive line, that overpowered many lesser teams. BYU has three offensive lineman that could be drafted.
Zach Wilson has the creativity that NFL teams are looking for, but I’d be worried about the competition he played. Wilson is the type of quarterback that can excite a fanbase, but I’m really thinking coaching will matter with him. His coach is going to have to let him experiment with what he will and won’t be able to get away with in the NFL. Zach Wilson will need a team willing to be patient with his development.
#5 Mac Jones – Alabama
Mac Jones is the quarterback teams looked for before Cam Newton. Jones is an efficient pocket passer that a coach could build a solid passing game around. I think at his best he’s somewhere around Kirk Cousins or Derek Carr.
Jones played with an unbelievable Alabama team that was stacked on offense. Mac Jones threw to Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, both likely to be second and third receivers taken in the draft.
I am weary of Mac Jones because he played with great players. I don’t think he has the touch of Joe Burrow and he definitely doesn’t move as well as him. I use Burrow as an example because he had the benefit of playing on a stacked team and was drafted number one overall. That’s not what I see from Mac Jones, but I think he can be an efficient QB with the right coach. Mac Jones could be taken as high as pick three by San Francisco, if rumors are correct.
I think Mac Jones could turn into a reliable QB, but I don’t see that being worth three first round picks (cost of trade for SF) and the number three overall pick.
Jones would have the coach that could make the situation work, but I believe that Justin Fields is just a better player than Mac Jones.
Mac Jones will be a first round QB because has the upside of a reliable starting quarterback, but situation will matter. Jones will need a coach who is willing to build his system around his strengths and hide his lack of mobility.