Quarterback hype is in full swing with the Philadelphia Eagles expected to trade Carson Wentz [UPDATE: The Eagles traded Wentz]. While Jalen Hurts is still here, shipping out the former franchise quarterback means the Eagles could at least beinterested in this year’s passing talent.
And they should be! The 2021 NFL Draft is loaded with talented signal callers and that’s even after acknowledging Trevor Lawrence is a lock to go to Jacksonville at No. 1 overall. Here is a quick look at the top non-Lawrence quarterbacks and what they can bring to an NFL team.
Justin Fields, Ohio State
What He Does Well: Justin Fields has been one of the most efficient, yet dynamic passers in college football since he started at Ohio State. Fields’ accuracy and anticipation allow him to hit every level of the field with ease while keeping the offense on schedule. Fields is brave in the pocket and his athleticism allows him to keep plays alive and make defenses pay for going into man coverage.
Where He Can Improve: Fields has a good arm, but it isn’t on the same level as other top passers in this class. Where his arm strength is fine, he is relying on elite ball placement and timing to make plays happen. This formula works often for Fields but sometimes fails. Fields’ success in the NFL will depend on him keeping his process as a passer as fast as possible. Fields can also get into some hero-ball conundrums. While that can deliver highlight plays, it can also lead to unnecessary sacks and errant throws. Once again, this is something Fields will need to keep measured in the NFL.
High-End NFL Comparison: Deshaun Watson makes the most sense for Fields’ NFL projection. Watson was a fantastic college quarterback whose intelligence, accuracy, toughness, and athleticism helped Clemson win a ton of games. Watson similarly didn’t have an otherworldly arm and has become an extremely efficient, accurate passer in the NFL to compensate. Fields’ path to success is similar and his upside is right there with Watson’s.
Trey Lance, North Dakota State
What He Does Well: Trey Lance’s projection is not about what he can or cannot do. It is going to be about multiplying his traits into being a consistent passer. Trey Lance has a tremendous arm that he showed off at NDSU regularly as an efficient deep passer. He also has great size and athleticism, making him very hard to bring down inside the pocket and as a runner. Lance is a young prospect with endless upside.
Where He Can Improve: Trey Lance will be 20 years old on draft day and has played one game in the last year. There are a lot of question marks about his transition to the NFL from the FCS, especially as a young passer with less experience than his peers. Lance’s potential is going to have a lot of teams interested, but he will need to improve on consistency basically everywhere in his game to be a successful quarterback.
High-End NFL Comparison: Jordan Love was a first-round pick last year because of his incredible upside as a passer and big-time play in the Mountain West Conference. Luckily, he came into a situation where he had the luxury to sit behind an elite quarterback for at least a season. Besides being almost the same size as Jordan Love, Lance’s pro-readiness is unclear and may best be suited to be drafted behind an established passer. This gives him time to develop his game and prevents early rocky play from stunting his growth.
Zach Wilson, BYU
What He Does Well: Zach Wilson does just about everything you want a quarterback prospect to do. Physically, Wilson has all the tools with a big arm, good athleticism, accuracy, and velocity to hit any window on the field. Wilson ran the BYU offense with increasing efficiency every season and put in a brilliant 2020 season despite not having great weapons around him. Wilson is tough as nails too; willing to hang in the pocket under pressure to deliver throws. There are already rumblings that the NFL loves him and it’s hard not to see why.
Where He Can Improve: Wilson will have curiously bad plays almost out of nowhere. His poise can sometimes turn into stubbornness: He’ll take head-scratching sacks where he could easily check the ball down or throw it away. Also, he can improve the change up on his passes. Having an arm as strong as Wilson’s means he wants to gun it on every attempt when sometimes the pass just needs a lot less juice. It is not uncommon to have physically gifted passers like Wilson who rely too much on their physical gifts and make mistakes. Wilson also has an injury history that needs to be looked at closely.
High-End NFL Comparison: Matt Stafford has gone his whole NFL career wowing with his strong arm and his ability to hang in the pocket to make big-time throws. Stafford has also been plagued by his own talents. In the same way, Zach Wilson occasionally hangs in the pocket for too long or trusts his arm strength too much. If he can reel those aspects of his game in, look out.
Mac Jones, Alabama
What He Does Well: Mac Jones was outstanding at Alabama this season. Despite losing two receivers to the first round last year, Mac Jones kept the Crimson Tide rolling. Obviously, the team was still talented with DeVonta Smith and Najee Harris making plays all season, but Mac Jones deserves credit for running the offense as efficiently as possible. Jones is clearly a smart passer with great accuracy. His pocket presence meant it was hard for defenses to ever move him off his spot. He spent the whole season facing down the best athletes in the SEC and the CFB playoffs and never looked off his game.
Where He Can Improve: Mac Jones isn’t a physically gifted passer like the other quarterbacks in this class. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, isn’t the biggest guy, and is not someone to beat a defense with his legs. He is a star “above the shoulders” and, while that shouldn’t be discounted, should be recognized that he has a lot of obstacles to being a top-level NFL passer.
High-End NFL Comparison: Even if you don’t have all the physical tools necessary, being a successful quarterback in the NFL is possible. Matt Ryan is a great example of a quarterback who has carved out a phenomenal career without having the best arm or being a mobile threat. Ryan is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league and has great ability to beat defenses from the pocket. If Jones is to be a franchise quarterback, Matt Ryan is the blueprint for him.