The Diamond in the Rough

By Frank Long

 The 2021 NFL Draft is only two and a half weeks away, making this the perfect time to take a look at the most exciting quarterback prospects of this year’s draft.

As the NFL is developing into a pass-first league with high powered passing offenses such as the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs taking charge, the demand for franchise quarterbacks has skyrocketed. Every NFL team has or is searching for the player they can call their franchise QB. With a little over a dozen teams having their QBs set, that leaves the rest on a hunt for quarterback talent. This leads to an exciting offseason and a draft process full of quarterback scouting. We have already seen four quarterbacks change destinations, Mathew Stafford, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Sam Dornald. For the teams who missed out on those moves, they must now have to go searching in the draft.

The main focal point of almost every draft in the past decade has been the quarterback position. In the last five years only one non-quarterback (Myles Garret defensive end for the Cleveland Browns) has been selected with the first overall pick. As a result, draft classes loaded with great QBs are very exciting and most will fly off the board on draft night. Many experts have projected this year’s draft to possibly see four quarterbacks taken within the first four picks and five taken in the first round, which has never happened before. This could very well happen as last year’s draft saw four quarterbacks taken in the first round, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagoviloa, Justin Herbert, and Jordan Love. Teams feel the need to draft quarterbacks very early in the draft because in the past when teams let great quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Deshuan Watson, and Dak Prescott fall to the 10th pick or lower. No team wants to miss the opportunity to get a generational talent like those players. However, I see this as a flawed mentality, as history shows that quarterbacks drafted very early tend not to work out more often than they do. Only one out of seven top five quarterbacks drafted from 2015-2018 is still on the team that drafted them. So I tend to question whether or not that is the best route for front offices to go.

Regardless of what I think, NFL general managers are going to focus on QBś early and often. This draft class is considered loaded on franchise QBs and players that could become superstars. There are also several teams in need for a QB which could result in a lot of them being taken off the board. There are five QBs considered first round talents and projected to go in the first round: Trevor Lawernce from Clemson, Mac Jones from Alabama, Justin Fields from Ohio State, Zach Wilson from BYU, and Trey Lance from North Dakota State. All five of these prospects are exciting in their own way, and with the draft approaching, there is no better time for me to give my insight as to who I think is the best.

  1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson University

Summary– From the time Trevor Lawrence came onto the football scene, he was a winner. After going 62-2 in high school, he was the number 1 ranked player in the nation and committed to play football at Clemson University. He was the highest ranked high school prospect Clemson has ever attracted and as a 19 year old freshman, he was named their starter, the youngest in school history to do so. In his first season, Lawernce led Clemson to an undefeated season and the number one ranked team in the nation. He was the youngest QB to ever start in a national championship game, and led them to a dominating win over Alabama. During his sophomore season, he elevated his game and was considered a top 3 quarterback in all of college football. At just 20 years old, Lawrence was 29-0 and led Clemson to the national championship game again, only to be defeated by LSU. His third year, he was considered the best player in the nation and the consensus first overall pick. He led Clemson to their third straight college football playoff appearance, only to lose in the Sugar Bowl to Ohio State. Trevor Lawernce left an incredible legacy at Clemson and was ready for the NFL. He is the projected and nearly guaranteed first overall pick in this year’s draft, and is widely considered the best player in the whole draft.

Age- 21 years old

Height and Weight- 6´7, 220 pounds

Statistics- 10,098 passing yards, 90 passing touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 66.6 completion percentage, 164.3 career passer rating, 943 rushing yards, 18 rushing touchdowns in 3 years as a starter at Clemson University.

Accolades- 2018 Cotton Bowl MVP, 2018 College Football National ACC Offensive Player of the Year, youngest starting quarterback to play and win a national championship ( 19 years old, 2018 national championship), National Championship Offensive MVP, ACC 2018 Rookie of the Year, three time ACC Champion, three time All ACC, 2020 ACC Player of the Year, 2020 Offensive Player of the Year, 3 College Football Playoff appearances, 2 National Championship appearances, 2020 Heisman Trophy runner-up.

Strengths- Trevor Lawerence has elite pocket passing qualities and his running ability gives him a dual threat capability that makes him a versatile and unpredictable playmaker. His elite pocket passing qualities consist of his fantastic arm strength and superb deep ball accuracy. Trevor Lawernce has high ball placement which often puts his receivers in a position to gain yards after the catch. Lawrence in 2019 completed 22 passes, 10 of them being touchdowns on throws over 20 yards in the air. His deep ball completion percentage is 69.6 percent, meaning at Clemson he completed more than 50 percent of his deep balls. Not only does he have elite deep ball accuracy, he has tremendous touch all over the field and through the middle three zones. Displaying amazing accuracy on short and intermediate routes, Lawrence was able to have a 70 percent completion rate on throws 11-19 yards, showcasing his ability to throw the ball behind the defenders back. When the field shrinks, nothing changes for Lawrence. His stats in the red zone were 34 passing touchdowns, only four picks and a 76 percent completion percentage. Those statistics add fuel to the fire that Lawrence is capable of fitting balls into tight windows and is constantly accurate no matter where he is on the field. Lawrence is very effective with his legs, possessing the awareness and arm strength to make explosive plays outside of the pocket. Lawrence had a passer grade of 90 percent while out of the pocket and on the run. Along with his physical talent and skill, Lawerence possesses an elite understanding of defenses. He makes great safety reads, and tends to see the whole field while in the pocket. Many NFL scouts believe Lawernce has the pre-snap reads of an NFL veteran. This facet of Trevor Lawernces game allows him to have a 94 percent passing grade while being blitzed.

Weaknesses- Trevor Lawrence has a long release on his throws outside of the pocket. That long release can take too long and the defender can catch up and have a chance to make a play on the ball. Trevor Lawrence can tend to be impatient on his reads and look for check downs before the routes have developed. He can also play ¨hero ball¨ which in the NFL can lead to turnovers and injuries.

NFL Player Comparison- 

Physical and athletically- Colin Kapernick

QB skill and Arm Talent- Justin Herbert, Andrew Luck

Overall Grade- 8.4

  1. Justin Fields, Ohio State University

Summary- Coincidentally, Justin Fields has been ranked behind Trevor Lawerence since high school. At Harrison High School in Georgia, Justin Fields was the number two ranked player in the nation, behind Lawrence. After decommitting from Penn State, Justin Fields attended Georgia. After being a backup his freshman year, he transferred to Ohio State, where he started right away. Fields would go on to have a great year, leading Ohio State to an undefeated regular season, a number two overall ranking, and demonstrating he was one of the best quarterbacks in college football. His junior year was originally put on hold due to COVID 19, but after the Big Ten announced they would play, Justin Fields was ready to go. He had yet another great season and was 7-0 and Ohio state was the number two ranked team in the nation. Justin was ready for revenge in this year’s Sugar Bowl. He matched up with Trevor Lawernce and Clemson for the second consecutive year. Justin Fields and Ohio state dominated Clemson as they won 49-28 and Justin Fields threw for 6 touchdowns. Justin was now considered a high draft pick and possibly had the potential to be a great NFL QB. He would play in the National Championship game, only to lose in a blowout to Alabama. Even though he lost, Fields was considered one of the best prospects in this year’s draft, with experts projecting him as the second or third best QB in this class. His draft projection is a coin flip, but no one predicts that he will fall out of the top ten first round selections.

Age- 22 years old

Height and Weight- 6´3, 227 pounds

Statistics- 5,243 passing yards, 63 touchdown passes, 9 interceptions, 68 percent completion percentage, 867 rushing yards, 15 rushing touchdowns, in two years as a starter at Ohio State.

Accolades- 2019 Heisman Trophy Finalist, 2x Graham George Offensive Player of the Year, 2x Griese Brees Quarterback of the Year, All American, 2x Big Ten Champion, 2019 Big Ten Championship MVP, 2020 Sugar Bowl MVP, 2x College Football Playoff appearances, one National Championship appearance

Strengths- Justin Fields is the definition of a dual threat quarterback. He has good pocket passing skills and is extremely dangerous on the ground. His athleticism is among the highest out of the QBs in this draft as he ran the fastest 40 yards dash out of all the QBs in this class at 4.44 seconds. He has a strong build at 227 pounds and is able to shed sacks and tackles. Accompanying his strong build is his very good improvisational skills. The 22 year old often has the ability to make the most out of broken plays with an adjusted completion percentage of 76.4, meaning when the pocket breaks down, he is still very accurate. His legs are a threat all over the field; he can navigate a run-pass option offense and scored 12 rushing touchdowns from 10 yards or closer. Even with his running ability, Fields is still a pass-first QB, showing polished foot work in the pocket that provides a good base when he throws. Fields can also fire the ball down the field as his arm strength is his strongest passing quality. He had multiple throws at Ohio State where the ball traveled 50,51,56, and 60 yards in the air. Justin Fields performs his best with athletic playmakers. At Ohio State, he had a lot of athletic receivers that allowed him to air the ball out. Fields had 38 plays of 20 plus yards with an 80 percent completion percentage at that distance. His stats show Fields is a diverse weapon for any offensive as he averaged the second most yards on play action passes at 1,396, and 11 yards per attempt.

Weaknesses- Justin Fields can have lackluster decision making in and out of the pocket. In games against Rutgers and Northwestern this year, he made poor reads inside and outside the pocket and forced the ball into coverage. In 2020, the Fields had a 2.8 turnover worthy play rate on all of his throws, and threw six interceptions in an 8 game span. In addition to his inconsistent pocket awareness, Fields has an elongated throwing motion on routes over the middle, resulting in late-arriving passes. He got away with it in college, but with the advanced NFL defensive backs, he may not get as lucky at the professional level. Fields´ biggest weakness is his reads and field vision. He had a tendency to lock eyes onto one receiver and force the ball into coverage. He would frequently miss wide open receivers. If Justin Fields does not clean up his field vision and decision-making, he could have the potential to be a turnover machine in the NFL.

NFL Player Comparison- 

Physically and athletically- Dak Prescott, Marcus Mariota

QB skill and Arm Talent- Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton

Overall Grade- 7

  1. Zach Wilson, Brigham Young University

Summary- Unlike the first two players I have analyzed, Zach Wilson was not a high school superstar or a heavy recruited out of high school. Zach Wilson attended high school in Utah where he did not make an impact on his football team until he had a breakout season as a junior. Improving even further during his senior year, Wilson made a name for himself, ranking within the top 100 high school players, and earning multiple Division 1 scholarships. Wilson initially committed to Boise State University, but soon changed course and chose Brigham Young University in Utah. During his freshman year, he started 7 games and was named the youngest starting quarterback in BYU history. Wilson capped off a solid first year with a dominant victory in a bowl game against Western Kentucky where threw for 300-plus yards, four touchdowns and a 100 percent completion percentage. Sophomore year proved to be a struggle as Wilson was often injured and saw his game regress significantly, but he rebounded the next season and had a breakout junior year. During that year, Wilson threw for over 3,000 yards, and 30 touchdowns, leading BYU to an 11-1 record and a bowl game victory over UCF. In addition, he finished as a Heisman Trophy candidate and propelled him to the top of quarterback prospects in this class. Wilson had a great pro day and scouts considered him one of the best players in this draft and a guaranteed second overall selection to the New York Jets in the 2021 draft.

Age-21 years old

Height and Weight- 6´3, 209 pounds

Statistics- 7,652 passing yards, 56 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions, 642 rushing yards, 15 rushing touchdowns, in three years with the BYU Cougars.

Accolades-  2020 Boca Raton Bowl MVP, 2020 Polynesian College Football Player of the Pear, 2019 Hawaii Bowl MVP, 2018 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, 2020 Heisman Trophy finalist, 2020 Manning QB of the Week, 2020 Manning QB of the Year finalist.

Strengths-Zach Wilson is a polished passer. He has good arm talent that shows up more than ever when Wilson is forced to make unbalanced throws. Wilson had the fourth best adjusted completion percentage in all of college football. On off-balance throws, Wilson’s release is very quick and seems effortless to the naked eye. With his Aaron Rodgers-like release, Wilson’s accurate ball placement is impressive. His ball placement tends to remain accurate even across his body which in my opinion is his best quality. Zach Wilson’s ball placement continues to remain accurate throughout the field. Wilson in 2020 had the second-highest accurate pass percentage of 59 percent on throws past the first down marker. Not only does it remain accurate anywhere on the field but against any defensive scheme. Wilson had the highest quarterback grade in college football against zone defenses. The BYU QB has a strong arm and that quick release gave him a gunslinger mentality in college. He was always looking to push the ball downfield. Even with that gunslinger mentality, he was able to play nearly turnover-free football. During the 2020 season, Wilson managed to have only a 1.2 turnover worthy play rate on all of his throws. In addition to his qualified passing credentials, he possesses underrated athleticism and can extend plays using his legs.

Weaknesses-Zach Wilson has a small sample size compared to the other quarterbacks in this draft. He was limited during the 2019 season with injuries and had his breakout year under unusual circumstances with better than average talent around him. Zach Wilson has played against subpar competition and weak competition compared to players like Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones. Against that poor competition, Wilson showed concerns under pressure. His quarterback grade dropped 26 percent from when he has a clean pocket to when he has a pressured pocket. During BYU’s game against Coastal Carolina–their highest ranked opponent–Zach Wilson struggled under pressure and was inaccurate. Wilson had a great offensive line at BYU which gave him the luxury of working within a pressure-free pocket. Wilson is nearly guaranteed to be drafted by the New York Jets, which had the 29th ranked offensive line in the NFL and allowed pressure within 2.5 seconds or less on 28 percent of the Quarterback drop backs. As a result, Wilson will be facing more pressure than he ever did in college, which could result in regression of his performance.

NFL Player Comparison-

Physically and Athletically- Baker Mayfield

QB Skill and Arm Talent- Baker Mayfield, Derek Carr

Overall Grade- 6.8

Honorable Mentions

  1. Trey Lance, North Dakota state- Overall ranking-6.7
  2. Mac Jones, Alabama University- Overall ranking-5.9

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: