2021 NFL Draft: Breaking Down the Top Quarterback Prospects

SI Fantasy analyst Shawn Childs provides his read on this year's crop of NFL Draft talent at the quarterback position
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Top Prospects by Position
Quarterbacks
| Running Backs | Wide ReceiversTight Ends

1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

Trevor Lawrence Clemson football vs Ohio State

Lawrence had a sensational three-year career at Clemson. He went 34-2, with his two losses coming in the national championship playoffs. Lawrence won the MVP and national championship in his freshman season in 2018.

He finished his college career with 10,098 passing yards with 90 passing touchdowns and 17 interceptions. His completion rate came in at 66.6 percent while improving each year (69.2 in 2020). Over his last two seasons, Lawrence scored 17 rushing touchdowns while gaining 766 yards on 171 carries. His value as a runner peaked in 2019 (103/563/9 – 5.5 yards per rush).

READ MORE: The Unrivaled Arrival of Trevor Lawrence

At the next level, Lawrence will have smaller passing windows and a drop-down in receiving talent (at least early in his career) while seeing more pressure. He played almost exclusively out of the shotgun with an edge in size and speed at wide receiver. His ball fakes and rhythm on his release grade well. Lawrence offers the arm to drive the ball in tight areas, and he will let his receiver make plays on jump balls.

When given a chance to run, Lawrence will extend drives while being a dual-scoring threat at the goal line. His movements in the pocket will help his ability to find an open man downfield.

His challenge in the NFL will be moving the deep safety to create enough separation to make plays over the long field. Lawrence had success in college with pre-snap reads, but he’ll need to work through more progressions to succeed in the pros.

Lawrence is the clear-cut top quarterback in the draft with the size and speed to have a long career. The Jaguars have the number one pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and they desperately need an impact quarterback.

2. Trey Lance, North Dakota State

NDSU Trey Lance

Lance comes to the NFL with one starting season on his resume in college. In his sophomore year in 2019, he passed for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns while not throwing an interception. Lance was a beast on the ground (169/1,100/14), setting up an intriguing NFL career. North Dakota State canceled the football season last year, leading to his move to this year’s draft class.

His natural comparison would be Lamar Jackson by stats. Lance can’t match his top-end speed or arm strength. He plays with his eyes up when breaking the pocket while featuring an explosive gear when turning a run upfield. My comp is closer to Deshaun Watson in overall look.

Lance needs more experience reading defenses, and he will be tested as a passer at the next level. His challenge will come defeating coverage in the deep passing game as his reads will invite runs before a wide receiver breaks free over the long field.

His style of play would fit well in the 49ers’ offense. They want to control the line of scrimmage with a dominant run game while also offering an exciting combination of receivers at wide receiver and tight end.

3. Justin Fields, Ohio State

justin fields

Fields played for one of the best football programs in the NCAA in 2019 and 2020, and he did them proud by going 20-2 despite failing to win a national championship. Over the last two years, he passed for 5,373 yards with 63 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Fields finished his college career with 260 rushes for 1,133 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Despite some impressive stats, Fields does come with knocks from some NFL scouts. He needs to improve his pre-snap reads when facing the blitz plus show more quickness in his release under duress. His strengths come from his toughness and playmaking ability while having the base to break pocket after getting hit. Fields takes what the defense gives him as a runner, which gains value at the goal line.

His arm has the strength to make all the NFL throws. Fields plays well when asked to throw on the run. Reading defenses is the most significant area of growth needed.

Overall, Fields has been a great player in high school and college. Ohio State hasn’t produced a winning NFL starting quarterback in the Super Bowl era, which may be a strike against him on draft day.

4. Zach Wilson, BYU

BYU Zach Wilson

After two dull seasons at BYU (3,960 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions), Wilson burst onto the NFL map after an explosive junior year. He completed 73.5 percent of his passes for 3,692 yards while delivering 33 passing touchdowns and three interceptions. His most impressive stat may have been his 11.0 yards per pass attempt. Last year Wilson became more active at the goal line (10 TDs) in the run game.

His low output in 2019 was tied to his recovery from right shoulder surgery and a broken right thumb in the season that also required surgery.

Wilson's scouting report on NFL.com mentioned he had a look of Johnny Manziel with better movement in and out of the pocket. Just this comparison gave the feel of a potential underachiever when adding his short resume of success.

The bottom line with Wilson is that he played for a good team that won eight games by 25 points or more last season. He has some intangibles that should progress at the next level. At the same time, his overall play will need time to develop, and I question his ceiling. Turnover could be a problem earlier in his career until he fine-tunes his mechanics and improves his vision in play development.

The Jets have the second overall pick, which points to Wilson potentially landing in New York. I don’t believe his career path is any better than Sam Darnold, so I hope they go in a different direction at quarterback for their fans.

5. Mac Jones, Alabama

Mac Jones

Jones is another quarterback coming into the NFL in 2021 with a short resume of success. In a limited role in 2019, he passed for 1,503 yards with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. His star shined last year when Jones led Alabama to the national championship. He completed 77.4 percent of his passes for 4,500 yards with 41 touchdowns and four interceptions. His highlight game (464/5) came against Ohio State in the title game.

Jones is a pocket passer with no upside in the run game (54/42/2). Most of his college highlights are from long throws while sitting in an uncontested pocket. His ball placement was exceptional while also delivering a very catchable ball. Jones played with some pro-level wide receivers, which helped his explosiveness.

His challenge in the NFL will be his decision-making and success when given a smaller passing window. Jones needs to prove he can beat the blitz with a weaker core of receivers, never mind the expected downgrade on the offensive line.

There has been some Tom Brady comparison in his profile, but Jones needs to burn his own trail in the NFL.

He projects as a first-round draft pick in 2021. Jones must land on a team with the proper structure of offensive weapons and the coaching staff to develop a system to support his strength. The Falcons may view him in a similar light as Matt Ryan. 


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