There are as many as six quarterbacks who will generate first-round buzz in the 2021 NFL Draft, and with no true NFL combine this year, teams are going to have to rely on guts and game tape before anything of the other wonky stuff, like interviews and weird drills.
It’s been decades since as many as six signal callers were taken in the first round, with the famed quarterback class of 1983 making history for the amount taken: John Elway, Todd Blackledge, Jim Kelly, Tony Eason, Dan Marino and Ken O’Brien all selected.
The 2021 NFL Draft could offer similar results as then, with Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Mac Jones and Kyle Trask all having varying degrees of first-round hype, from “generational” to fringe.
With no combine this year, franchises and GMs are going to be stuck in a tougher spot when it comes to measurables, interviews and the like when it comes to picking their guy. While Lawrence is the consensus No. 1 pick and is widely regarded as the best quarterback of the draft, where teams go after that is up in the air: Any one of Fields, Wilson or Lance could be up for the title of No. 2 QB taken in the draft, with guys like Jones and Trask making for intriguing prospects as well, despite having limited ceilings as next-gen quarterbacks.
Here’s what you need to know about the sensational six QBs waiting to hear their names called come April:
1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
2020 stats: 10 games, 3,153 yards, 24 touchdowns, five interceptions; 203 rushing yards, eight touchdowns.
The Clemson Tiger is this year’s white whale in the NFL Draft.
It’s pretty often that the term “generational” is thrown out there, but Lawrence probably lives up to that label, since he has everything a franchise would want in a quarterback: ideal size, plus mobility, great arm and all the football IQ to go with it. He’s also a proven winner, earning a national championship as a freshman, making it to the natty in 2020 and appearing in the College Football Playoff once again in 2021.
What sets apart Lawrence from the other QBs in this draft, though, is his ability to read and process defenses pre- and post-snap. That pro-ready mindset is what makes him such a projectable prospect, and why he’s labeled “generational” heading into the draft.
The Jaguars, who hold the No. 1 overall pick, outlasted the Jets in the Tank for Trevor sweepstakes this year, and first-time NFL head coach Urban Meyer is going to have quite the moldable prospect to play with come the 2021 season.
- Great size
- Strong arm
- Football IQ
- Over-reliance on arm
- Can miss open/obvious reads
2. Justin Fields, Ohio State
2020 stats: Eight games, 2,100 yards, 22 touchdowns, six interceptions; 383 rushing yards, five touchdowns.
Once considered a lock to be the second QB off the board after Lawrence, Justin Fields’ QB2 position in the draft has less to do with what he isn’t and more what Zach Wilson turned into in 2020.
A great game in the College Football Playoff semifinal vs. Clemson was followed by a pretty mediocre game in the national championship vs. Alabama, leaving some speculation as to just how high Fields’ ceiling is. That’s where Fields’ physical talents come in.
There’s no denying Fields has elite physical traits that scouts drool onto their pillows at night about — plus arm, plus mobility, plus a great frame — but questions surrounding his ability to process the field quickly and go through progressions efficiently has knocked him down just a bit. He also has a pretty lengthy release. While those issues are overstated and coachable, they’re still present. Fields can lean on his athleticism to make plays, but you’d still like to see him continue to progress as a passer at the next leve.
Fields is still a top-three talent in the 2021 draft, and it’d be a big surprise if he falls further than that.
- Big arm
- Great frame
- Plus mobility
- Lengthy release
- Needs to quicken reads
3. Zach Wilson, BYU
2020 stats: 12 games, 3,692 yards, 33 touchdowns, three interceptions, 73.5 completion percentage; 254 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns.
Before the 2020 college season, Justin Fields was the clear-cut No. 2 quarterback on the draft board. Zach Wilson’s fast rise up NFL draft boards is warranted and has landed him squarely in the QB2 discussion.
Wilson has a strong arm, a blazing release and generates effortless power on his throws. He also has good mobility and an innate ability to make off-schedule plays and off-platform throws. Really, watching any Wilson tape looks like a college football And1 mixtape.
Like all quarterbacks in the draft, though, there are some concerns with Wilson. Past injury history (labrum tear in his throwing shoulder) raises a red flag. He also dealt with a hand injury in 2020, but clearly it didn’t affect him much. Wilson also has a propensity to trust his arm a bit too much, though it hasn’t led to many turnovers in his college career.
Wilson has earned some nicknames — “Zach the Ripper,” “Mormon Manziel” and “Mormon Mahomes” — and all three of those hold very, very different connotations. But the BYU Cougar will be calling himself “first-round pick” come April. Just a matter of where to sort out.
- Strong arm
- Very quick and compact release
- Uncanny ability to make off-platform throws
- Smaller frame (listed at 6-3, 210)
- Injury concerns
- Not always mechanically sound on throws
4. Trey Lance, North Dakota State
2020 stats: One game, 149 yards, 15-of-30 passing, two touchdowns, one interception; 143 rushing yards, two touchdowns
The wild card in the 2021 NFL Draft process, Trey Lance played a single showcase game in 2020 but had a dazzling 2019 season, tossing 28 touchdowns and no interceptions for 2,786 yards. He also had 1,100 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns that same year, making for one of college’s best dual-threat QBs — which could translate at the next level.
Lance’s thick, 6-4 frame is an ideal size for a quarterback, and his physical traits are, debatably, second to only Trevor Lawrence in this class. Some think he might be the most athletic player in the class, and he has a good case.
As a passer, Lance has some refinement to work on in his game: He has a tendency of not leading receivers with throws and typically doesn’t challenge defenders and give his receivers opportunities in one-on-one opportunities. NFL draft expert Daniel Jeremiah has even likened him to Andrew Luck multiple times.
Teams and fans who are skeptical on drafting a kid out of North Dakota State have to look no further than Carson Wentz, who was selected out of NDSU in 2016. Take that for what you will. Lance will be a first-round QB in 2021, but there’s a good chance he might not see the field until the following year.
- Big arm
- Physical runner
- Large frame
- 18-game career (and one showcase game) is a bit short on quality tape
- Needs to lead receivers better
5. Mac Jones, Alabama
2020 stats: 13 games, 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, four interceptions, 77.4 completion percentage; 14 rush yards, one touchdown.
While Jones had a dramatically different look as a Bama QB than the team’s last two passers, the redshirt junior filled in admirably following the injury of Tua Tagovailoa in 2019 and blossomed as a passer in 2020.
While the NFL is moving further and further away from pure pocket passers, that’s the mold that Jones fits into: He won’t be a threat to gain yards with his legs, but he is a polished thrower who throws with great anticipation and accuracy, making it easy on his receivers.
Jones can also chuck it deep with good placement, though that might be tested at the next level without the skill position players he had surrounding him at Alabama. Jones projects as a solid starter at the NFL level, but can limit what an NFL offense can do with his lack of true athleticism.
- Polished pocket passer
- Can manipulate the pocket well
- Able to throw with great anticipation
- Mobility is lacking
- Average arm strength
6. Kyle Trask, Florida
2020 stats: 12 games, 4,283 yards, 43 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 68.9 completion percentage; 50 yards, three touchdowns.
Trask’s 2020 breakout was equal parts a product of solid offensive weaponry and legitimate talent, making him a very intriguing prospect. But there are a few red flags that knock him down anywhere from the late first round to the third round.
At 6-5, Trask has prototypical size for a passer, but his size doesn’t necessarily represent his arm strength. Trask demonstrates good ball placement and anticipation on throws, but his distanced throws are a bit weaker than other QBs listed here, dying out when arriving at the target.
Trask’s arm and mobility are a bit weaker than the other prospects. Like Jones, Trask’s lack of true mobility is going to limit what NFL offenses are and can be.
Still, it’s hard to deny Trask’s production this year, a year after not many expected much from him as a quarterback altogether. He’ll likely fall in the draft, though he could generate some first-round buzz with the way he balled out in 2020.
- Prototypical QB size
- Geat accuracy and ball placement
- Average arm
- Very limited mobility
- Long-ish release