Is the 2021 quarterback class being over-hyped?
The 2021 NFL Draft is in less than two days! It is very possible that at least five quarterbacks could be selected in the first round, which has only happened three times in NFL history! Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones could all be amongst the first 32 players taken.
While there are reasons to be excited about each of these quarterbacks, we can’t just assume they will be successful NFL single callers because of all the excitement they are currently generating. Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen were both very hyped up before the 2018 NFL Draft. Despite that, neither of them has been successful in the NFL. In 2019, many thought that the New York Giants should have used their 6th overall pick on Dwayne Haskins. Haskins ended up in Washington but was cut by the team less than two years after being a first-round pick. The former Ohio State Buckeye is now sitting behind Ben Roethlisberger on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Will the big-name quarterbacks in this upcoming draft live up to their hype?
Trevor Lawrence was viewed as the best incoming freshman in the entire country entering the 2018 college football season. With the true freshman Lawrence as the team’s starting quarterback, Clemson was undefeated heading into the national championship game. On the biggest stage, Clemson dominated Alabama by a final score of 44-16 and the 19-year-old Lawrence excelled against a defense with several eventual NFL players. After that, many assumed that Lawrence was going to be a superstar.
While he was very good, Lawrence regressed in his final two seasons at Clemson. He did not play up to his standard initially as a sophomore and was not even a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2019. Lawrence was a Heisman Trophy finalist this past season. However, his numbers were very underwhelming compared to Mac Jones and Kyle Trask, the other two quarterbacks that were Heisman trophy finalists. We also can’t ignore the fact that Lawrence got outplayed by Joe Burrow and Justin Fields in the 2020 national title game and the 2021 College Football Playoff Semifinal respectively. Should Lawrence be selected first overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars?
Zach Wilson is an athletic quarterback that has the ability to make impressive throws on the run. Because of that, the former BYU Cougar has been compared to Patrick Mahomes, who might be the most talented quarterback the NFL has ever seen. Those comparisons might be a bit premature given that Mahomes first three seasons as a starting quarterback have arguably been more impressive than any other quarterback’s first three seasons in NFL history. It’s also worth noting that Zach Wilson and BYU mostly competed against subpar competition which certainly made life easier. Will the talented Wilson be an NFL franchise quarterback?
Trey Lance might be selected in the top ten on Thursday night in large part because of his excellent decision-making and tremendous deep passing ability. Lance set the NCAA record for most passes thrown in a season without being intercepted. However, we can’t ignore the fact that NDSU heavily outmatched their opponents on a consistent basis. The gap in talent between Lance's teammates and opposing players in the NFL will be much smaller. Will the former NDSU Bison be able to adjust and become a successful NFL single caller?
Fields showed he was a very good collegiate quarterback but benefited from playing in a great system with lots of talent around him in 2019, his first season at Ohio State. However, this past season, Fields showed improvements on his deep ball and ability to go through progressions. Those improvements make it more likely that he will succeed in the NFL.
Despite those improvements, the former Georgia Bulldog was inconsistent this past season. Against Clemson in the College Football Playoff, Fields completed 22 of 28 passes for 385 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception. Fields had as many touchdowns as incompletions in that game and played like the number one overall pick. However, he struggled in the very next game against Alabama. In the national title game against the Crimson Tide, Fields completed 17 of 33 passes for just 194 yards and one touchdown. Fields was also underwhelming in the Big Ten Title Game against Northwestern as he completed 12 of 27 passes for just 114 yards while throwing zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Troy Smith, JT Barrett, and Dwayne Haskins were all very productive quarterbacks at Ohio State but haven’t done much in the NFL. Will Fields join that list?
Mac Jones was a third-string quarterback sitting behind Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts less than three years ago. Now it turns out that Jones could be a top-three pick in the NFL Draft. In 13 games this past season, Jones threw for 4,500 yards, 41 interceptions, and just five interceptions as Alabama went undefeated and won the national championship.
While those numbers are extremely impressive, we can’t ignore the fact that Mac Jones had the luxury of being surrounded by a great team. Jones played with the Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith, arguably the nation’s best running back in Najee Harris, while also being protected by the best offensive line in the country. Many quarterbacks would put up great numbers playing in that offense. Additionally, Mac Jones lacks the ideal athleticism for an NFL quarterback. The majority of the current starting quarterbacks in the NFL can make plays with their legs. It is unclear if Jones can be productive outside of the pocket. Did Mac Jones put up great numbers this season only because of the players around him?
It is unclear how much success all of these players will have in the NFL. We can analyze these players as individuals, but where they will end up playing will impact their amount of success. The San Francisco 49ers hold the 3rd overall pick in the draft and will almost certainly select a quarterback. The 49ers have a great offensive coach in Kyle Shanahan, an excellent running game, George Kittle, the best tight end in football, along with two talented young receivers in Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. All of those things make them an excellent destination for any young quarterback.
The 49ers appeared in the 2020 Super Bowl and could contend this upcoming season with a rookie quarterback. Or, the team could start Jimmy Garoppolo, who is still on the teams’ roster. That would allow a rookie quarterback to sit behind the teams’ starter while learning about and getting accumulated to the NFL for a year. The latter has been an effective strategy for developing a young quarterback in the past. As a rookie, Patrick Mahomes sat behind Alex Smith and the former Texas Tech Red Raider won MVP the following season. Should the 49ers start a rookie quarterback next season? Will the most successful quarterback in this draft be a 49er?