A class looked upon by many as the deepest in decades, it’s time we reflect on the handful of signal-callers taken on night one of the 2021 NFL Draft back in April. While controversy and smoke screens clouded final mock drafts, as we approach the homestretch of the 2021 campaign, we’ve been offered plenty of substance to grade each talent’s initial professional season.
For Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Mac Jones, and Justin Fields, as we near Thanksgiving, we can begin to project both short-term and potential long-term success. While each gun-slinger’s situation is uniquely different due to a variety of impactful outliers, through 10 weeks, a re-draft of this year’s quarterback class presents us with a decisive QB2, and it’s not who you think.
1. Trevor Lawrence
While immediate success can darken your overall window into the talent that is Lawrence, no one in the class remains on par with the potential he possesses as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ face of the franchise. With just two wins in 10 weeks, the fact remains that if you're in a position to draft the top prospect in an individual year, there are more holes in your roster that need to be filled than just the quarterback spot.
For Jacksonville, not only has Lawrence had to remain level-headed with the dumpster fire around him that has been the current ongoing circus under Urban Meyer, but he’s received little help from the talent around him. While many attempted to make you believe that Lawrence was the second coming, where Jacksonville’s ongoing laundry list of issues would be immediately fixed due to Lawrence’s arrival, his first campaign has left much to be desired from a team standpoint. As a rookie quarterback, it’s not a one size fits all approach. And while Meyer attempted to surround Lawrence with impact additions in Marvin Jones, and the drafting of former Clemson teammate Travis Etienne to pair alongside James Robinson in the backfield, Etienne’s rookie season ended before it ever got started and Jones has been an average wideout. A wideout’s success usually is a direct result of a quarterback, but when you microscope Jones, he’s not creating space out wide, he’s getting stuck at the LOS against physical corners, and flat out has not lived up to par outside of a 100-yard performance against the Miami Dolphins.
For Lawrence, he still remains the belle of the ball. While his three-touchdown performance against the lowly Houston Texans was a bit of an anomaly to kick off the season, he has all the tools to get Jacksonville back to relevancy in due time.
2. Mac Jones
From a pure production standpoint, Jones has been BY FAR the best rookie quarterback this fall. Leading the New England Patriots to a 6-4 record, it’s about time we stop attempting to come up with reasons for Jones’ success other than the fact that the Alabama product is a damn good signal-caller who’s shown the ability to lead a group of grown men as a 23-year-old. While his numbers won’t jump off the page, they don’t need to.
We knew Jones would be inserted into the optimal situation under Bill Belichick’s tutelage, but the amount of early success he’s enjoyed has him looking like the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He doesn’t do anything flashy and won’t find himself headlining any highlight reels, but Jones has quarterbacked the Patriots offense to an exquisite level of execution, the only way Belichick deems acceptable.
On the heels of a 45-7 drubbing of the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, the Patriots have won four straight, five of their last six, and look primed to earn a playoff bid on the broad shoulders of Jones.
3. Justin Fields
Leading up to the draft, the slide of Fields on league-wide draft boards did not make sense. A dual-threat talent who displayed the ability to dissect defenses both inside and outside of structure during his time at Ohio State, Fields has taken Chicago’s QB1 role by the hindquarters and run with it. While it should have been that way from the get-go, Matt Nagy is Matt Nagy, and it took three weeks for the oft-criticized head coach to take the reins off of his high-octane talent.
Week 9 was Fields’ breakthrough moment. A performance under a national spotlight against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Fields single-handedly willed the Bears to victory. A game five years down the road that we may look back on as the ‘arrival of Justin Fields’, he will continue to improve with the correct allotment of snaps and scheme to back his skill set. While he has a ways to go in many facets, it’s all in the rookie manual, and Fields is as exciting a QB talent as there is in football.
4. Trey Lance
Despite owning the smallest workload of any of his classmates (111 snaps), Lance has shown his ability, and more, to masthead the San Francisco offense. Initially used as a wildcat threat early in the year, when Lance has been presented an opportunity to thrive, he’s shown flashes of why John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan traded up to select the former FCS standout. Although he’s failed to appear in a game since Week 5—a loss to the Arizona Cardinal in his first professional start—Lance remains just one play away as Jimmy Garoppolo’s reinforcement.
5. Zach Wilson
The Mike White experiment has been fun the last few weeks, but it’s time for Wilson to return to the confines of the New York Jets backfield, where the rest of his season will continue to serve as a trial by error approach from head coach Robert Saleh. Wilson has been unimpressive thus far, to say the least. 1-5 in six starts is ugly enough, but wins and losses shouldn’t be placed solely on a first-year quarterback. However, his inability to take care of the football with minimal pocket awareness has been a definitive knock on Wilson this fall, leading to his dreadful 57.5% completion percentage and nine interceptions, tied for third-worst in all of football. He’s also been sacked 19 times, where it’s been less of the fortitude of the offensive line but Wilson’s inability to get rid of the football and escape under pressure.
His transition from the unoccupied BYU backfield to the crowded quarters of an NFL pocket was a major question heading into the fall, and to this point, he’s got a long, long way to go to satisfy Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas. In a “what have you done for me lately” league, as the No. 2 overall selection, expectations arrive in abundance, especially in a market like the Big Apple. His big arm and video game-like ability to throw 50 yards off-platform are surely traits to highlight, but Wilson’s ability to rapidly progress through his reads, take what’s given, and exploit the underneath areas while taking care of the rock will remain paramount to his immediate success as an NFL starter.