Our positional breakdowns begin with the most important position in all of sport. It could also be the most important player on your fantasy team also (if you are in a superflex set-up). The names you will see below will be familiar to even the most casual of college football fans. Year after year, we see NFL franchises select talent at this position with draft picks more valuable than many have predicted. It will be the same in the 2021 NFL Draft. Such is the life of an NFL franchise: if you haven’t got a franchise QB, keep looking. If you have one, start planning the search for the next one.
It is likely that 4 players will be taken at the position in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, it is not out of the question to see 5 or 6 names enter the conversation for a Day One pick. Let’s have a look at those half a dozen college quarterbacks hoping to hear their name in April.
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Height: 6’ 6”
Weight: 220 lbs
Production: 2431 yards, 20 TDs, 3 INTs
What more is there to say about Trevor Lawrence? Some have anointed him as the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck. Others have gone back as far as John Elway. From the moment he led Clemson to a national championship in 2019, he has been destined to go #1 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.
In terms of measurables, he is the typical “traditional” build for a quarterback. At 6’ 6” and 220 lbs, you would expect Lawrence to be a pocket passer with a cannon for an arm. That isn’t untrue, but it also doesn’t tell us the whole story. For a bigger QB, Lawrence can move. He is comfortable rolling out of the pocket and making throws on the run. If there’s nobody open downfield, he’s happy to tuck the ball and run. Lawrence doesn’t do this enough to be labelled a “dual threat”, but like Joe Burrow, it is a secret weapon that he can rely on sparingly to keep defences guessing. He has 861 total rushing yards, and 16 rushing TDs, in his three years at Clemson. Impressive, but not a central theme of his game.
The best prospect in a generation
His greatest attribute is his vision. He is able to see situations before they develop, and deliver the ball into the tightest of windows. The ball zips out of his hands with impressive accuracy. He is an incisive passer – the ball doesn’t often spend too long in his hands after the snap. At times, he can lock onto his primary target, particularly on downfield throws. This means that the dump off pass to his slot receiver can be overlooked.
The postseason will be of paramount importance to Lawrence from an evaluation standpoint. He missed the most challenging of Clemson’s regular season games, a trip to Notre Dame, after testing positive for Covid-19. Facing them in the ACC championship game before the playoffs should prove the firmest test of the year. The Notre Dame defence managed to shut The Tigers down with backup DJ Uiagalelei under centre. Can Lawrence elevate the Clemson offence enough to secure a second national championship? It would be the perfect way to end his college career.
2021 NFL Draft Pick
A quick note on whether he will declare: I would be amazed if he returned to Death Valley for his Senior year. He has yet to formally declare for the 2021 NFL Draft, but may do so once Clemson’s season is concluded. He isn’t the type to take the attention away from the program’s goals for personal gain.
And the notion that he will “pull an Eli”? If you know anything about the characters of the two men, you’d know this isn’t going to happen. Manning, pushed by his father, was desperate to play in the “New York market”. The idea that a guy like Lawrence would avoid a tough landing spot in the NFL neglects his competitive nature. Deep down, he’ll be excited to become the name that turned a franchise’s fortunes around.
Justin Fields, Ohio State
Height: 6’ 3”
Weight: 223 lbs
Production: 1407 yards, 15 TDs, 3 INTs
If Trevor Lawrence chose not to enter the 2021 NFL Draft, Fields is quite clearly the best quarterback remaining on the board. He first rose to fame as a high school recruit in the Netflix series QB1, and has since risen to national prominence. A backup transfer from Georgia, Fields lit up the Ohio State offence upon his arrival in 2019. He had big shoes to fill in Dwayne Haskins, but Fields exceeded all expectations.
He has a powerful arm, and is accurate with it, too. The ball leaves his hands quickly and with power. Ryan Day’s pro-style offence will make his transition to NFL level notably easier. He has excelled on RPO play calls. Fields has good manoeuvrability in the pocket, with a clear “feel” for pass rushers while he keeps his eyes downfield. He has 239 yards on the ground in 2020, although nearly half of these (44%) came in the Week 14 win over Michigan State. With 19 career rushing touchdowns to date, NFL defences will have to spy the QB run in the red zone against Fields.
Questions about Fields
It is early days, but questions have already been raised about Fields’ ability to handle pressure. In the Buckeyes’ defeat to Clemson in the 2020 college football playoff semi-final against Clemson, a game winning drive was cut short by a late interception. It was a miscommunication between Fields and his receiver Chris Olave, with many laying the blame with Olave. When Indiana came to Columbus this year, Fields was shocked by the blitz packages that The Hoosiers had put together. In this game, he threw all 3 of his interceptions for the year. Fields, like most rookies, would benefit for some time to learn under a seasoned veteran, but his ability may mean that he will not get that chance.
Any worries that Fields’ career will follow a similar trajectory to Dwayne Haskins should be calmed by the tape. It is clear that Fields elevates the talent around him, whereas under Haskins the opposite could be claimed. Like any rookie quarterback, landing spot is so important for Justin Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft. Unless a trade occurs, it is looking like New York or Jacksonville. Neither has a reputation for nurturing young QBs, so there’s some reason to worry about what the future holds. He has the talent to succeed, but there are so many other factors to bring into consideration.
Zach Wilson, BYU
Height: 6’ 3”
Weight: 210 lbs
Production: 3267 yards, 30 TDs, 3 INTs
This kid is fun to watch! He is lean for his height, and shows promising athleticism. Naturally, he is an adept runner. For his 13 rushing touchdowns in his time at BYU, he has averaged just 3 yards per carry. Like the two QBs above him in this list, he uses his feet as a last resort if his receivers fail to get open. This is something the BYU offence has rarely struggled with against their opponents.
In 2019, interceptions were a problem. He threw 9 of his 15 career INTs in his sophomore year. In 2020 however, he has been more secure when throwing the football. One worry is his shoulder, on which he has previously had surgery. Can it withstand the demands of the NFL? It may hurt Wilson’s current ability to adjust his throwing angle to maximise his accuracy.
At times, he can fixate on his target. This means that he forces the ball into poor situations, increasing the likelihood of being intercepted. At the college level, his impressive sense of timing mitigates these mistakes. The step up from BYU’s schedule to NFL defences will put a microscope on this weakness in his game.
A victim of scheduling
Of course, another criticism commonly thrown at all smaller school recruits is quality of opposition. The Cougars had just one loss in the regular season (to Coastal Carolina). This is an issue that will never be satisfied. It must be factored into the evaluation process, but not to the detriment of what we see from Wilson on tape. He has led a spread offence that frequently relies on RPO and play action reps. As the NFL moves towards this style of offence, the value of Wilson’s experiences in the college game increases.
Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Height: 6’ 3”
Weight: 224 lbs
Production (2019): 2786 yards, 28 TDs, 0 INTs
If anyone has listened to the 5 Yard College podcast since its inception in the summer, you will know that I love Trey Lance. Lance has redefined the “dual threat” quarterback – he doesn’t have the slippery running ability of a guy like Lamar Jackson. Instead, Lance powers through the tackles using his impressive size and power. He rarely stops at the first tackle, and fights for extra yards on the ground like a power back would. He had 1,100 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in his first (and only) season as a starter. The Bison offence was built around him, and FCS schools simply could not compete.
Here is one key issue that Lance will have after the 2021 NFL Draft. If a franchise has fallen in love with his talent, they will build a roster around him. We have seen how much this benefitted Lamar Jackson and The Ravens. If an NFL team wants to take him, they better make sure they love him. Otherwise, Lance will get labelled with the “gadget player” tag and struggle to establish himself in the pros.
Can’t be comp-ed
Let me get one thing straight – Jackson is not Lance’s player comparison. Player comps are usually oversimplified and misleading. Putting Lance up against him would be unfair and would teach us little. As a one year starter, there is still lots to learn about his attributes. As his sample size is so small, he may slide down the draft board in April.
One thing we don’t always expect from a dual threat QB is arm strength. Lance has the strongest arm of this class. He is able to make deep throws, and usually creates the space for these on play action reps. He had a limited play book at NDSU, with lots of 2 Tight End sets and play action calls. Wherever he lands, it will take time to adjust to an NFL style offence.
Lance has been neglected this year after deciding to opt-out of the 2020 season. Zach Wilson’s form at BYU seems to have relegated him to QB4. Again, question marks over the quality of FCS defences has affected his draft stock. What you cannot deny is that this guy can move the ball downfield with both his arm and his feet.
Trey Lance is a low floor-high ceiling guy. It’s going to be a sizable risk for an NFL franchise to consider him as their quarterback of the future. It will be an even bigger one to build a roster around him. For that reason, Lance has the lowest floor of the first round 2021 NFL Draft QB prospects. If the right franchise invests in his talent and style, he could take the league by storm.
Mac Jones, Alabama
Height: 6’ 2”
Weight: 205 lbs
Production: 3321 yards, 27 TDs, 3 INTs
You are forgiven for underestimating Mac Jones in 2020. He looked unspectacular replacing Tua Tagovailoa in 2019. This year, he has led the Crimson Tide offence with ease and confidence. Many believe this to be the most complete ‘Bama offence of the Saban era, and Jones is a key element of that. He has completed an impressive 76.4% of passes this year on an offence that has swept aside SEC opposition. However, the overall number masks a discrepancy between short and deep passes. When he looks downfield, his accuracy drops notably.
He has impressive accuracy on short and middle throws, at times fitting the ball in the tightest of windows. His receivers often take the attention away from his ball placement with their ability to maximise yardage once the catch has been completed. As an accurate pocket passer, he has led the college game. It is this ability that has made him one of the favourites for the 2020 Heisman Trophy.
Jones is a tidy passer that makes smart decisions. He is secure with the ball, and this is shown by his lack of interceptions in 2020 (just 3 in 10 games). Often, he can be overly cautious with dump off throws. These have been masked by the exceptional play of his receivers, who gain significant yards after the catch. If he lands on a strong offence after the 2021 NFL Draft, he could contribute right away. If he finds himself on a team with various offensive needs, expect him to struggle.
An NFL QB?
Another issue is mobility. In today’s NFL, most quarterbacks rely on their ability to extend the play with their feet, or keep defences guessing with the threat of a QB run. An NFL team isn’t going to get that from Jones. He has 27 total running yards in his entire college career.
Jones has had an incredible year with the Tide. But if an NFL franchise takes him with a 1st Round Pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, they’re overpaying.
Kyle Trask, Florida
Height: 6’ 5”
Weight: 239 lbs
Production: 3717 yards, 40 TDs, 5 INTs
There’s a good reason why Kyle Trask has been the Heisman Trophy favourite in 2020. A career backup turned starter in 2019, he has electrified the Florida offence. He broke a school record for total touchdowns (42), beating Danny Wuerffel’s record that had stood since 1996. This year, he has completed 70.2% of his passes, and is particularly accurate on shorter throws. One way in which he ensures this is how he uses his body to manipulate defensive backs. He often “sells” a play with his eyes, before completing a pass elsewhere. On deeper passes, concerns about his arm strength and mechanics arise.
Playing alongside Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney has masked concerns about his arm strength. The talent surrounding him has elevated his game. As a backup on a successful NFL team, we may see Trask’s strengths emerge. It is clear that a professional offence cannot rely on him to take their side to the next level.
He rarely uses his legs, and when he does, his lack of athleticism becomes apparent. His 50 yards rushing in 2020 is the most we have seen from him (with just 4 total rushing yards before this year). Like Mac Jones, Trask has been labelled a “college quarterback” that won’t make it at the next level. Considering the weaknesses that show on his tape, it is ebay to see why.
Other names to look out for:
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
Jamie Newman, Georgia
D’Eriq King, Miami
We all love a quarterback, both in the NFL Draft and in our fantasy leagues. Lawrence, Fields, Wilson and Lance are likely to go in the First Round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Of those, Lawrence is the only one without significant question marks over his NFL future. From a fantasy perspective, all four round one guys are worth consideration in your rookie draft, even if Lance and Wilson are destined for the taxi squad. Jones and Trask are most likely Day Two guys, and their style limits their fantasy value, Trask especially.
Head over for more positional overviews, as well as out Top 100 players for the 2021 NFL Draft, over on Twitter @5yardcollege.