By: Jude Bazerman
CLEVELAND: Now that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been crowned Super Bowl champions, it is time to start diving into what college players could become the NFL’s next superstars. Though the NFL draft is just one big guessing game between all 32 squads, each team spends months analyzing each and every prospect to decipher which ones stand out from the rest. Unfortunately, many prospects do not pan out, which is why teams put so much effort into preparing for the draft. Owners, general managers, coaches, scouts, and sometimes star players meet countless times to discuss their opinions on which direction the franchise should head in the draft. Often, these conversations between parties lead to the conclusion of selecting a quarterback in the first round, in hopes of creating a winning culture from the ground up or as a replacement for an aging veteran. In the 2021 NFL draft, five quarterbacks look to be first round picks, however their end destinations are still unknown.
Trevor Lawrence: Every NFL team not named the Chiefs, Bills, or Ravens would love to get their hands on Trevor Lawrence. Frequently described as the best and most polished QB prospect since Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Lawrence has carved out a great career for himself at Clemson. In his three years playing at the college level, Lawrence put together three seasons of over 3,100 passing yards, a 65% completion percentage, 24 touchdown passes, and a 157 passer rating. Lawrence and the Tigers also appeared in the College Football Playoff (CFP) three times, making two National Championship games and winning one of them. Lawrence looks to be the clear #1 overall pick come April, which is currently held by the Jacksonville Jaguars and new head coach Urban Meyer.
Justin Fields: Interestingly enough, Fields and Lawrence have carried a rivalry with each other throughout their high school and college careers, with Lawrence usually being the victor. Their draft rankings prove to be no different, as Lawrence is consistently regarded as the best QB in the upcoming draft. However, that is no knock on Fields. After originally committing to the University of Georgia and serving as the backup to Jake Fromm for one season, Fields decided to transfer to BIG 10 powerhouse Ohio State. In his first season as the OSU quarterback, Fields was electric. He tossed 41 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions, along with having a 67% completion percentage. Though Fields and Ohio State’s great season would ultimately end in a heartbreaking loss to Trevor Lawrence’s Clemson Tigers in the CFP semifinals, Fields was more motivated than ever to build off of his great sophomore season. Unfortunately, not all went as planned for Fields in his last season as a Buckeye. On top of dealing with injuries throughout the season, OSU was only allowed to play in five regular season games due to the BIG 10’s COVID-19 rules. But, Fields still had a solid season, tossing 22 touchdowns and leading the Buckeyes to the National Championship game. Fields also runs an unofficial 4.5 second 40 yard dash, which could make him very enticing for teams in an increasingly mobile NFL. So far, Fields has been linked to the New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, and Carolina Panthers.
Zach Wilson: Zach Wilson is one of the most intriguing quarterback prospects in this year’s draft. After two unspectacular seasons at BYU, Wilson broke out in a big way as a junior in 2020. His 3,692 yards and 33 touchdowns both ranked third in the nation, while his 3 interceptions out of 336 attempts impressed many scouts to say the least. Many draft experts have compared the Utah native to current Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, as like Wilson, Allen has a naturally strong arm and typically played smaller schools during his time in college (Allen attended the University of Wyoming). Additionally, Allen was described as a “boom or bust” prospect with some character concerns, which is a label that has been attached to Wilson as well. Though much is still unknown about the BYU product, both on and off the field, a handful of NFL teams are reported to be in love with what he brings to the table. The main team tied to Wilson right now is the QB-needy New York Jets, while the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, and Denver Broncos have also had their hats thrown in the mix.
Trey Lance: If NFL teams drafted players based purely on intangibles and size, Trey Lance would be the clear #1 pick. Lance has only had one season as the starter at North Dakota State University, as he was the backup his freshman year and in his junior season the Missouri Valley Conference suspended all football games until the spring. But in 2019, his sophomore year, Lance was nothing short of dominant. His statsheet was headlined by the fact that he threw a total of ZERO interceptions while throwing for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns. But a prolific arm is not all that Lance has in his toolbelt. On the ground, Lance totaled exactly 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns, both of which rivaled the production of college running backs. As a team, the NDSU Bison went undefeated and won the FCS National Championship in 2019. To the dismay of Lance, his lack of experience and weak conference opponents have caused his draft stock to be lower than other quarterbacks with similar college productivity, though it seems to be on the rise in recent weeks. It is also worth mentioning that NDSU has produced successful NFL quarterbacks in recent years, such as former Philadelphia Eagles starter Carson Wentz. Because of these concerns, the teams linked to Lance remain mostly a mystery, though the Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers, and the New York Jets have all been tossed around as possibilities.
Mac Jones: One year after Tua Tagovailoa was taken fifth overall by the Miami Dolphins, Mac Jones looks to be the next Alabama National Championship winning QB taken in the first round. In his only year as the Crimson Tide’s starter, Jones lit up the stat sheet, throwing for 4,500 yards (first in the nation), 41 touchdowns (second in the nation), and just 4 interceptions. He also helped push Alabama to a National Championship win in 2020. But even with his great success at the college level, Jones still has many critics. Many point to his great passing stats being inflated because of Heisman Trophy winning receiver Devonta Smith and superstars Najee Harris and Jalen Waddle, while others simply believe that Jones is too slow and not naturally gifted enough to thrive as an NFL quarterback. At the same time, Jones has many fans who claim that the Jacksonville native is simply a “throwback” quarterback to when the league was home to more pocket passers. Some have even gone as far to compare Jones to Tom Brady, who was also slow and relatively unathletic when he was at the University of Michigan. With all of that being said, Jones looks to be a mid to late first round pick, with interest from teams such as the Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, and Washington Football Team.