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The Pros And Cons Of Taking Each Of The Top 5 Quarterbacks In The 2021 NFL Draft

The 2021 NFL Draft has no shortage of dudes who have what it takes to become franchise quarterbacks over the course of their careers. Unlike past years, when teams find themselves desperate for anyone and overeager to trade up and get, like, Tim Tebow or something, there are legitimately five signal callers worthy of going sometime in the first round. Heck, it’s possible all of them are gone by the time we get out of the top-10.

As for what order they should go in, that’s an entirely different conversation. Trevor Lawrence is going No. 1, Zach Wilson is kiiiiiiiind of controversially penciled in at No. 2, and then, lord knows what will happen. Fortunately, we’re here to help out by breaking down why teams should and should not draft any of the guys available.

Trevor Lawrence

You should draft him because: You’re the Jacksonville Jaguars.

You should not draft him because: You’re not the Jacksonville Jaguars. They’re drafting him. OK! Let’s move on. I hope the rest are this easy.

Zach Wilson

You should draft him because: He is what NFL teams want in a quarterback in 2021. Look at the various traits the best signal callers tend to have (arm strength, accuracy, ability to improvise, ability to throw off-platform and with different release points with accuracy) and Wilson wraps up all of them. In terms of arm talent, the only person in this Draft on his level is Trey Lance, and Wilson does not need the amount of work that Lance probably will at the next level.

Going through Wilson’s game tape from his junior year at BYU is like watching someone play a video game. All the numbers are wild — 247-for-336 (73.5 percent), 3,692 yards, 33 touchdowns, three interceptions, 196.4 passer rating — but the film does not quite sum up just how crazy some of the throws Wilson made look easy actually were. An example, this rip against Texas State where he flicks his wrist and throws from one hash to the opposite pylon for a touchdown. It goes down as a 45-yard touchdown throw but it’s way, way longer than that.

Some of my favorite throws of his aren’t the crazy, on the run ones, but rather, I love watching Wilson do a normal drop from one hash and throw it perfectly on the numbers to the opposite sideline. He’s a really well-coached prospect, something that I think comes through in stuff like how well he can sell play fakes. Watch him here, he sells the play action, gets his feet set, and launches.

Wilson is coming into the league with a pretty good base, a testament to the work he put in at BYU and how his coaches in Provo prepared him. Mix that with the stuff he does that you cannot teach, whether it’s with his arm or with his legs (he’s a good runner, albeit not Lamar Jackson or anything), and it’s not hard to see why he’s going to generate excitement wherever he ends up.

You should not draft him because: I am interested in the Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers comparisons with him because both of them were given time to sit behind a veteran QB and get some stuff ironed out, namely getting a better understanding of when to be more cavalier and when to rein that in. Wilson, should he go to the Jets at No. 2 (which is probably happening), would not get such a luxury. Wilson has supreme faith in his arm, which is a wonderful trait but is also one that can get him into some trouble once he’s going up against NFL-caliber defenses. And then just as a general thing, this is getting you sent to the injury tent in the league, Zach. Don’t do it on a third-and-30.

On that last thing, it’s fair to ask some questions about how Wilson will do going from his situation last year to his situation next year. BYU had a Power 5-caliber offensive line and playmakers all over the place against a schedule that was 69th in the sport in strength of schedule. He was sacked 11 times in 12 games as a junior and did not exactly run for his life all that frequently, although he was able to do stuff like this on the move with a defender bearing down on him (even if this was by design).

How does he adjust to life behind a Jets offensive line that isn’t the best when he’s asked to be the franchise savior from day one and is going to get hell from the media if he’s not able to be that? How does he, at 209 pounds, respond to NFL defenses teeing off on him? Again, he has all the stuff you cannot teach, which helps him a ton as he tries to navigate this stuff, but it’s an interesting question that will be worth monitoring during his first season.

Justin Fields

You should draft him because: He’s extremely good. Like, incredibly good. It is wild how a narrative has popped up around Fields that makes it sound like he isn’t one of the best quarterback prospects in recent memory, because this dude has damn near everything you want in a signal caller.

Fields’ arm talent is special. It says more about Wilson and Lance that Fields is not quite on their level, but he can still make essentially every single throw and make them look easy. The one that sticks out for me will always be this one against Clemson in the national title game, when he was very clearly injured and completely took the top off of the Tigers’ defense.

Like Lawrence and Wilson, Fields is a very polished prospect, having played for an Ohio State team that surrounded him with talent and usually put him and that talent in positions to succeed. His footwork, his ability to make everything look easy, and his accuracy all stand out when you watch him, plus he’s someone who was in an offense that actively looked to attack defenses down the field — the Buckeyes let him rip it to great success and rarely asked him to throw screens. An NFL team would be wise to have similar faith in his ability to attack a secondary, although giving him an offensive line to let him do this is paramount.

And of course, the numbers back all of this up: In three years, which includes his season at Georgia when Kirby Smart was hell-bent on making everyone mad at how he was used, Fields went 423-for-618 (68.4 percent) with 5,701 yards, 67 touchdowns, and nine picks. He’s also really good with his legs, going for 1,133 yards and 19 scores on 260 career carries, although he’s very much a passer who can run instead of a runner who can throw.

The Buckeyes had him do plenty of stuff pre-snap (ex: here, please laugh at the sarcasm in the tweet), which coaching staffs don’t do unless a dude has an inherent football know-how between the ears. The nonsense out there about his inability to go through progressions or whatever is, as Benjamin Solak of The Draft Network so perfectly put it, codswallop.

One more Fields throw for ya, one that I think shows off his touch quite well. You know a throw is good when it happens against your team and you aren’t even mad. That’s what happened here against Penn State: Joey Porter Jr. (yup, there’s a junior and he’s pretty good!) is in coverage against Chris Olave, and Fields busts out his wedge and drops this bad boy in perfectly.

He’s a dude. Take him.

You should not draft him because: While I’m a huge fan of his game, Fields did struggle a bit against Indiana and Northwestern — combined across the two games, Fields went 30-for-57 (52.6 percent) for 414 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. He did well with his feet against the Hoosiers (15-78-1), while the Wildcats bottled him up admirably (12-35-0). Now, the pick number is a touch misleading — one was an insane one-handed INT on a pass that was a bit underthrown, one was this (which, to be clear, should have been taking a sack and living to fight another day) — but these games were a bit instructive.

Both Indiana and Northwestern were elite on defense last year, with FPI having them as a pair of top-6 units. They flew around, did a ton of stuff pre-snap, and understood that the best defenses approach things like an illusion: you see what they want you to. Fields is very much someone who has no interest in ever giving up on plays, and his third pick against the Hoosiers is a sensational example of this.

Yes, he has one of his receivers (Julian Fleming, No. 4) wide open. No, that does not mean it is a good idea to throw that ball in that moment — the one thing I think he can stand to improve on is having a better sense of when to stay patient in the pocket, when to speed things up a bit, and when to tuck it and use his 4.5 speed. He can do all of these things really well, but I think this play against Alabama is a decent idea of what I’m talking about. His processing speed, as a general thing, is not slow by any stretch of the imagination, I think he just had so much faith in his tight end (Jeremy Ruckert, No. 88) getting open that he made himself a sitting duck against a delayed blitz and missed a chance to dump it off to his running back (Master Teague, No. 33), who probably wouldn’t have gotten a first but might have picked up enough yardage to justify going for it on fourth down.

In my opinion, being this year’s Justin Herbert — sit for a few weeks behind a veteran, get used to life in the NFL, then make his debut once he’s starting to really get a grasp on things — would not be the worst thing in the world for Fields. If he’s lucky, it’d serve as a springboard to being this year’s Justin Herbert in that he’d win Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Mac Jones

You should draft him because: You think you’re a quarterback away from making some noise. McCorkle does not have the upside of any other quarterback we’re gonna talk about here — he’s the oldest QB of this group and by far the worst athlete, but the stuff Jones is good at is all stuff that should translate to the league right away.

Jones is really, really good at throwing accurately and in a rhythm. Watch him play in Alabama’s offense, where he was excellent at seeing windows — even as they were still developing — and throwing the ball into them. Jones is a guy who is going to put his playmakers in positions to make plays with how accurate he is, particularly on intermediate routes, something the fine folks from Columbus, Ohio learned the hard way in the national title game. Yes, DeVonta Smith demolished them, and a major reason why was Jones consistently putting the ball in places where the Heisman Trophy winner could get to it with a head of steam.

One I enjoyed against Georgia: Jones throws this ball when his receiver, John Metchie, is about half a step behind Georgia’s safety. Alabama was totally ready for the corner blitz to come by way of the defensive back lined up at the line of scrimmage against Metchie, and Jones did a terrific job waiting until he was 100 percent certain no one was there to help the safety out to look back over to Metchie and drop it in a bucket for six. Ball and man get to the spot at the same time, exactly what you want.

Jones doesn’t have a cannon like the other four dudes in this post, but his arm is strong enough to make sure he’s taking advantage of dudes getting open down the field. He’s also really comfortable navigating the pocket — you do not ever want to be in a situation where his running the football will win or lose you a game, but he’s comfortable moving to give himself an extra half second to let a window to throw into open up.

My favorite thing about Jones is the amount of trust he has in his playmakers and his knowledge of his limitations. An example came in the title game against Ohio State, when he probably could have picked up a third-and-four with his legs (or at least gotten in a fourth-and-super short situation), but he knew it would be much smarter to let Jaylen Waddle cook. Jones knew where the line of scrimmage was, so he ran just before then to freeze the linebackers, then dumped the ball off to Waddle and let arguably the best wide receiver in the Draft take off.

It’s really not hard to see how a team like the Niners — which boasts a ton of speed and will give him window after window to throw into — would be interested in him. He’s a sure thing insofar as he should be a solid, safe quarterback at the next level. This is appealing to some teams, and if an NFL team wants this, Jones is a nice option.

You should not draft him because: How much trust do you want to put in an athletically limited, slightly older dude with one year of college experience under his belt in an environment where he was rarely pressured and he had more skill position talent than any other quarterback in the country? It’s the tough thing with him specifically — Jones is the kind of guy who needs the things around him to be great in order for him to be great, which is totally fine. It is not a knock against a guy to say he needs a specific situation to succeed, it’s more on teams to determine whether or not they could provide him with said situation.

Can he work elsewhere? Sure, the accuracy is real, and that’s something that should translate pretty smoothly. But of all these dudes, Jones is going to be most dependent on the 10 players around him. On top of that, he has the opposite issue of Fields, where he is sometimes too safe with the football. He will look off an open receiver for a wide open checkdown and in the NFL, where windows are even smaller, there is a concern he might get a bit gun shy putting the ball where it needs to go down the field. It can be lazy to compare QBs solely because they went to the same school, but we saw this with Tua Tagovailoa during his first year in the NFL, and it’ll be interesting to see if Jones can get the default Alabama setting of “rule number one: don’t mess up” out of his brain during his rookie campaign.

Trey Lance

You should draft him because: Lance is the wild card in this Draft. His college experience is so hard to suss out — on one hand, he had exactly one full season and it was against FCS competition. On the other, he was absolutely incredible that one year, going 192-for-287 (66.9 percent) for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns with z e r o interceptions.

And some of his tape is just flat-out awesome. Lance lined up under center, in pistol, and in shotgun and looked comfortable in all of them. He mixes the physical profile of a high-major quarterback with someone who has the skills of a QB at that level, both in terms of what he can do with his arm (it’s ridiculous) and his legs (hold this thought). Even some of the subtleties of playing quarterback, like being able to use as little movement as possible when in the pocket to free up space to make a throw, Lance has in his bag. Check this out from the FCS title game against James Madison.

It’s subtle, but I love this. Instead of tucking and running, or trying to play the hero, Lance just does something quick and easy before resetting his base and firing a strike. You can see the arm strength in that throw, and his tape is just littered with him doing stuff. He can load up and fire a bomb with anyone in this class, or he can throw one on a rope that gets to his receiver in the blink of an eye.

Further, it just looks easy when Lance does this stuff. Watch this, when he flicks his wrist while on the run and throws it nearly 40 yards like it’s nothing.

When it’s time to run, dude brings the lumber. Lance is the best runner in this group, and I don’t think it’s particularly close. He didn’t run at his Pro Day, but he’s apparently in the 4.5s and has reached a top speed that would have made him the fastest QB in the NFL last year, and measures at 6’4 and 224. He uses all that speed and all that size to his advantage when he runs, not letting himself be afraid of contact and sometimes fighting through it.

The comparison for him has seemingly been Josh Allen, which I don’t quite agree with because I don’t think his arm is quite that otherworldly. But Lance is a special prospect who can just make stuff happen, and someone is going to end up being really happy about this if it all works out.

You should not draft him because: The question with Lance is how big of a project he will be. The body of work is really, really small — those 287 passing attempts in his one year as a starter came in 16 games, and the only time he appeared on the football field in 2020 was in an exhibition game where he did not look great (15-f0r-30, 149 yards, two touchdowns, one pick) against Central Arkansas (who, it must be said, he obliterated with his legs to the tune of 15-143-2). Everything looks great with Lance when it works, but how consistent can he be with this stuff?

A throw like these two against South Dakota State and good examples of Lance having touchdowns and just missing throws an NFL starter has to make. The first, his tight end has his man beat, and a little more touch lets him either stroll into the end zone or get very close. The second, the entire defense is fooled by the play fake, and instead of taking that extra breath to compose himself and throw this accurately, Lance floats it and throws a ball that risks getting picked against pros.

Another example: Lance has all the time in the world to throw here and his receiver throws his hand up (the universal sign for “throw me the ball I’m going to score”) at the 31-yard line. Lance should get set and convert the layup. Instead…

It’s probably not being mega worried about any of this, because Lance is a competitive guy who wants to be great and I venture will work hard to iron this stuff out. I’m not particularly worried about the one game he played last year — North Dakota State’s offense is based on being balanced and it seemed like they decided to sacrifice that to showcase him — but not playing a competitive game in this amount of time is concerning, especially when the competition is not exactly the SEC.

Teams that want a guy who will step in and play right away should consider steering clear of Lance, unless he’s going to a situation that is so good that he won’t have to do gobs of heavy lifting. But if he has the chance to sit, learn, and iron out wrinkles don’t be stunned if we look back in a few years and wonder how a guy as good as him fell a little.

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