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2021 NFL Draft big board: Quarterbacks

1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

He’s been everyone’s chosen one for years, and it’s easy to see why. Lawrence is as high-end of a QB prospect as anyone could possibly want coming out of college. The arm strength, the accuracy, the touch, the feel for manipulating the defense, the athleticism to escape trouble and still make accurate throws outside the play structure, it’s all top-shelf. 

Lawrence elevated talent around him, maximizing the impressive supporting cast at Clemson. He handled the mantle of being praised and anointed so heavily with grace and no complacency. 

There are times where he locks onto his primary matchup too long, and his deep-ball accuracy is oddly wonky for someone with his arm talent. He’s as ready to be the face of a franchise and start from Day 1 as any prospect I can recall going back to when I first started NFL Draft evaluations in 2004. He’s not quite sure-fire for stardom but it’s an easy bet that Lawrence will at least come close to the considerable hype. No. 1 player regardless of position

2. Justin Fields, Ohio State

There is so much to like with Fields and his game. He’s the best downfield thrower in the class and it’s not close. The accuracy, arm strength, pinpoint ball placement and willingness to let it fly on throws beyond 15 yards is elite. Fields isn’t shy about flouting the arm strength or sticking with downfield routes. He’s smart making the correct decision and finding the best matchup, though he will at times be a count slower to get there. That’s a tradeoff for Fields almost never putting the ball at risk with a bad decision.

Oh yeah, he’s a superb athlete outside the pocket. He can quickly reset his feet and make balanced throws after avoiding pressure, though he’s not great at throwing on the move without resetting his balance. Fields is capable of outrunning any LB and he’s intelligently physical as a runner. He could be a bigger threat with his legs in the NFL than Ohio State asked him to be.  

His competitive nature and leadership were proven repeatedly. Fields is one of the top field generals and commanders of a huddle to come out in a long time. 

He can get better at anticipating pressure points and at handling up-the-gut pass rush. Fields compares as a more athletically gifted Matthew Stafford as a prospect. Eminently worthy of being a top-3 overall pick

3. Trey Lance, North Dakota State

So much promise, so little experience. Lance showed quite a few NFL traits in his time at North Dakota State. The arm strength, the patience to let plays develop, the size, the athletic ability as a runner, it’s all outstanding. But he did it for barely one full season at the FCS level in a run-heavy offense for a dominant team, and that is a scary level of unknown. 

Aside from the level of competition, there are some other parts of Lance’s game that need work. His accuracy is more general and less pinpoint, and the touch on throws over the middle needs help. He makes his receivers work more than they should on crossing routes. The patience he shows to let plays develop often leaves Lance indecisive, too. 

The NFL defenders who will be after him as a runner (and in the pocket) are a lot bigger and faster than he’s seen. Lance is bright and has obvious leadership charisma, which should help the transition, but it’s a big jump that shouldn’t be expected to happen quickly. He’s worthy of a top-10 overall pick for a team that has a QB who can start for all of 2021 and possibly longer, if necessary. Lance’s ceiling and potential are that high, but also that far away. 

4. Mac Jones, Alabama

Jones rocketed to prominence by guiding a loaded Alabama offense to fantastic heights. He has a nice, quick release and consistently strong throwing mechanics. Where Jones really thrived was getting the ball out quickly and in the rhythm of the offense. He almost never held the ball too long and his anticipatory throwing and pre-snap reads were almost flawless. Accuracy on throws out to about 15 yards is fantastic.  

Deeper than that, there are some limitations. Jones underthrew several wide-open receivers at Alabama and did it again during Senior Bowl practices and at his first pro day. The juice on the deep ball just isn’t there. 

He was rarely challenged by a pass rush and was blessed by throwing to future NFL starters and high draft picks on every rep. There’s definitely something to be said for how well Jones managed the considerable talent and exploited the correct matchup. He’s got some competitiveness and leadership that resonate well, too. But he’s got a frumpy, dad-bod build and didn’t show even average arm strength or any adaptability in college outside the structured offense.

The more I went back and watched Jones, the more I liked his overall game, but he’s the first QB on this list who will require a strong supporting cast to succeed instead of being a player who straps a team on his back and elevates the talent around him. 

Great fit for a Shanahan/Kubiak-tree offense, but he’s got to prove he can handle pressure and better coverages. Jones peaks out as a Kirk Cousins/Jared Goff/Derek Carr level, good QBs capable of a great year or two on a strong offense, with a Brian Hoyer-like floor. 2nd-3rd round.

5. Zach Wilson, BYU

Wilson is the most fun QB in this class to watch. He’s a thrill ride with his awesome (using that term literally) arm strength and effortless throwing motion and release. He can hit targets anywhere on the field with zip and can get it there from inside the pocket or on the move. 

Wilson is a nifty athlete with fast feet and has good vision against the rush. Playing with a vastly more talented team than the opposing defense could handle in 2020, Wilson’s productivity and swagger skyrocketed. 

With the excitement comes great risk, and that’s something I believe is too often overlooked with Wilson’s game. The incredible arm afforded him the ability to see options late and make it work at BYU. That’s not going to happen nearly as easily at the NFL level. Wilson has a “needs to see it” trigger and isn’t as sharp on anticipatory throws. Some of his outside-the-box throws are too cute, too flippantly disrespectful to the defense, and that absolutely will not fly in the NFL. 

He struggled more than advertised against better teams on the schedule. Much of what holds me back from liking Wilson a lot more is fixable–better pre-snap reads, anticipation and more consistently smart choices. He could wind up being a great one, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that happens quickly–he’s that talented. But Wilson also carries far and away the highest bust risk of any of the top five QBs in this class–and that’s saying something with the greenhorn Lance and the limited Jones in there too. But boy the payoff could be thrilling! 2nd-3rd round with the hopeful understanding he could make that look foolishly low.

6. Shane Buechele, SMU 

Smart, nifty, plucky and capable of hitting moving targets at just the right time, Buechele isn’t afraid of making tough throws. The Texas transfer is very good at taking care of the ball while still being aggressive, and he has a keen understanding of the skills of his different receivers in an instant view. Buechele has some ability to avoid the sack and can throw from a barrage of arm and leg platforms. There’s an energy to his process that adds an air of excitement to Buechele. No QB in this class is better at making the last-second throw in the face of a pending sack. 

Alas, the arm strength just isn’t there. Deeper throws are too lofty and hang up. While he can escape pressure, he also takes a lot of big shots and leaves himself vulnerable by making his read a count too late. After leaving Texas in part because of injuries, that’s a concern. 

Buechele misses some throws he shouldn’t, leaving them low or too far out in front on outside throws. He can also get streaky, picking apart good defenses for several drives but then missing throws he regularly nails. His chutzpah and leadership could create a capable long-time backup who could start here and there and catch fire. But he’s older (23) and carries some injury risk (though healthy at SMU) and shouldn’t be drafted before the fourth round. 

7. Jamie Newman, Georgia

Newman is a big wild card. He opted out of playing in 2020 after an up-and-down career at Wake Forest and transferring to Georgia, where he never played. An impressively built athlete with a powerful lower body and throwing base, Newman generates easy velocity on his throws and can really spin it on the move. He proved at Wake Forest he can make small-window throws at both the short and deep levels of the field, and he’s not afraid to take those chances. Mobility is good but not elite but Newman is smart about knowing when to tuck and run and is difficult to bring down.

Consistency has been a major issue, and it goes beyond accuracy. He’ll make some truly ponderous decisions, vacillating from poised to panicky. At 23 he’s older but still a relative greenhorn in an NFL-style offense. Much of what Wake Forest did had him making simple reads or exploitative RPOs, which don’t prepare him well for the NFL. 

He shook off some of those worries with a decent Senior Bowl week, though the inaccurate throws and late decisions were also visible in Mobile. If a team is looking for a developmental QB in the middle rounds with a lot of physical potential, Newman is the easy and obvious choice. But he’s got a very low floor that could get him cut after a year too. I wouldn’t fault anyone who ranks Newman much lower than this, but I saw enough in 2019 to see how it can work for him too. 4th-5th round.

8. Kyle Trask, Florida

Trask took a big step up in 2020 as the Florida offensive weaponry also took off. The line between those is a chicken vs. egg debate that probably doesn’t hatch well for Trask. His ball placement and anticipatory accuracy are very good (especially on deeper throws) and he stepped up in processing the defense quicker after the snap. The release and the arm strength are good enough but not great. 

Trask’s biggest issue is handling pressure. He is less mobile than late-era Philip Rivers, heavy-legged and slow-footed with almost no lateral agility. Because of that, he will rush his process when the defense starts getting close and it goes terribly awry. He doesn’t have the arm or the off-platform ability to adapt. Has some Mason Rudolph to his game. Capable of being a suitable backup on a team with a good OL and a spot starter, but asking more than that of Trask is probably asking too much. 5th-6th round.

9. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M

After watching Mond light up a Senior Bowl practice, I tweeted out that I love Mond’s game for approximately seven out of every 16 quarters he plays. His “good” is very good, even better than the next 5-6 names above him here. The problem for Mond is that there is no rhyme or reason to his good vs. bad, and his “bad” isn’t worthy of anything but two seasons on a bad team’s practice squad. His accuracy on intermediate throws and quick-hit passes outside the numbers is wildly erratic and never got better in his years of starting. 

Mond is at his best at getting to his second read and flowing outside the pocket. He throws on the move well and seems to process the defense better when he’s moving, concepts that seemed lost upon his Aggies coaching staff. He’s certainly tough and he can maneuver around a rush if he sees it in time, but that’s also been inconsistent. 

It’s hard to bank on much more upside than what Mond has already shown he is, but he could conceivably uptick if he clicks with his QB coach and fits into an offense that fosters more consistent performance. 5th-6th round

10. Davis Mills, Stanford

Mills has a limited resume for being a four-year collegian, throwing under 500 career passes in a conservative offense that rarely asked him to attack down the field. 

He’s big (though his pro day measurements lopped off 1.5 inches and 10 pounds) and commands himself impressively in the pocket. When given time and throwing lanes, Mills can rifle the ball into targets and is especially good on routes designed to break back to him. He can thread the needle and will advance through his progressions well, often taking the best option the defense gives him. 

He’s not exactly a statue, but Mills is a below-average athlete for the position. Exacerbating that is a tendency to stare down his primary pre-snap option, which keys the defense and can steer the rush into trouble for Mills. He makes too many panicked throws where he loses mastery over the defense when he comes off that primary read. Mills has some guile at avoiding pressure but isn’t athletic enough to exploit it and his throwing mechanics get wonky under duress more than most QBs. There is developmental upside but it’s hard to envision an NFL team using those resources on such a limited athlete. 7th round.

11. Sam Ehlinger, Texas

12. K.J. Costello, Mississippi State

13. Zach Smith, Tulsa

14. Peyton Ramsey, Northwestern

15. Ian Book, Notre Dame




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