The Allegedly Historic 2021 NFL Draft 1st-Round QB Class Is Looking ROUGH Right About Now
Remember how amped up many of us were about the quarterbacks who entered the 2021 NFL Draft? WHAT HAPPENED!?
Here they were in order of overall selection:
1. Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars)
2. Zach Wilson (Jets)
3. Trey Lance (49ers)
11. Justin Fields (Bears)
15. Mac Jones (Patriots)
All of them have given their teams reason to panic and wonder if this is really going to turn out the way they'd hoped.
Too soon? I think not.
It's always a bit of a fine line when you try to make sweeping statements about how a quarterback's career will ultimately play out this early on, as the 2021 class is in the middle of their respective sophomore NFL seasons. So much of their fate is up to where they land, and there can be a lot of muck and mire to navigate as they make the huge jump from college to the pros.
Even in accepting that, I mean…I really don't think it's too soon. Disregarding historic, recency bias-influenced outliers such as Josh Allen or Geno Smith, you can normally tell pretty early if a guy is a dude or not. Or should I say, whether or not a prospective franchise quarterback might, in fact, be that dude or might be just a dude.
Traditionally, yes, if you're a high draft pick, in all likelihood, you're going to a dysfunctional franchise. Even under those circumstances, though, it's common among those who have success that they show something that makes the front office and fan base say, "OK thank god, we didn't completely fuck up this pick."
Take the preceding 2020 class: Joe Burrow No. 1 overall to Cincinnati, Tua Tagovailoa fifth to Miami, and Justin Herbert sixth to the Chargers. Herbert set the freaking rookie record for completions and TD passes not starting the season opener. Joey B. was getting obliterated every single Sunday and never once threw his o-line under the bus even after getting his knee torn to shreds. He had a stretch of six starts where he threw for at least 300 yards five times. Sparked a Super Bowl run thereafter.
And for those who weren't proud TuAnon members before Mike McDaniel graced the Dolphins with his presence, do people kinda forget Tua did all this in his second NFL start, operating a Chan Gailey offense specifically tailored for Ryan Fitzpatrick, amid the weird-ass COVID season, coming off major hip surgery?
Yes, I went through the trouble of digging all those up. Take your Tua slander someplace else. Miami did that man no favors. You can talk about ongoing durability concerns, but when he's right, he can play quarterback at a very, very high level.
So ANYWAY. Point being, again, when a guy is a dude, you can see the signs.
And when it comes to the 2021 NFL Draft class, now that we're fresh off Mac Jones (15th overall pick) getting benched for fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe, it's time to talk about each prospect individually. Because it's pretty fucking hard to believe that none of them have shown more consistent signs of expected greatness.
Trevor Lawrence has been wildly inconsistent
No one is a better example of going to a toxic environment than Trevor Lawrence. The prince of Duval County endured Urban Meyer's bullshit for his entire rookie season. His development might've been better served if he'd simply stayed at Clemson another year. Honestly. That's how fucking stupid all that was.
Once Lawrence KO'd the division rival Colts from the playoff picture in 2021's regular-season finale and the Jags started this year 2-1 — with a Super Bowl-winning coach in Doug Pederson — it was like, "OK…now we're rolling!" Cue: "Jacksonville is the trendy pick to win the AFC South" narrative, and they've lost four in a row since. Lawrence has had inexplicable turnovers at times, numb-skulled decision-making and bouts of shocking inaccuracy.
Wanna know something crazy? On 15 deep pass attempts (20+ yards) to the right side of the field in 2022, Lawrence has completed zero of them. Zero. And I don't take Pro Football Focus as the end-all, be-all bible of advanced data, yet it is notable that Lawrence ranks 30th out of 36 qualifying QBs this season in passing grade. Check out the company he's keeping — not to mention some of the names ahead of him.
Lawrence has to be feeling some kind of shell shock from what he experienced under Meyer. I get that. But I don't think I was alone in thinking, as a prospect, he was the best thing since sliced bread. Or Andrew Luck. Or John Elway. Dare I say, Lawrence hasn't been anywhere close to those guys to date. Maybe Luck spoiled us by dragging the Colts' trash roster to the postseason right away. IDK.
So…even though Lawrence has a 5-19 record as a starter, if I had to bet on any of these five first-rounders from 2021 to have the best career, he'd still be my guy. It's just that, given how universally acclaimed Lawrence was coming out of Clemson, I fully expected he'd be a top-10 QB by now no matter what the hell was going on around him in Jacksonville. He still might get there by the end of 2022, provided the Jags make a run and push for a playoff berth/the AFC South crown.
Further proof that wins ARE NOT a QB stat incoming…
Zach Wilson has straight-up sucked
I LOVED this guy coming out of BYU. Given how often he was launching the ball deep and making crazy off-platform downfield throws with stunning precision, I developed a man crush on him.
You could see at times in college that Wilson would miss some basic, so-called "layup" throws. That's something you'd expect anyone half-dedicated to the game to clean up in short order, especially with NFL coaching and working with an ex-pro QB and BYU alum John Beck as a personal coach.
Uhhhhhhhh…nope. I watched this past Sunday as the Jets improved to 4-0 in 2022 with Wilson under center in spite of him.
On one play, he had the most basic RPO read you could ever have. A crosser screaming right across his face. Literally right in front of him. SAILED it over his head.
Wilson also has poor pocket presence and bails at times even when he's got a clean setup. When the pressure does get home, he isn't quick enough with his hot answers, or straight-up doesn't know what they are. Often, he takes the most circuitous scramble routes around the field to extend the play in clumsy/occasionally spectacular fashion, only for nothing to happen.
I was stunned by how bad Wilson played during his rookie campaign. I legitimately can't believe how difficult he makes short-area throws become, or how often he just flat-out misses them. The Year 2 leap has yet to happen for him and I'm wondering if it ever will. That win over the Titans last season, in which Wilson had both feet off the ground and threw the ball 60 yards in the air to Corey Davis for a TD, remains the only standout highlight from his entire career to date. That's probably a bad fucking sign.
I'll say this about Zach Wilson: Take a listen to his cadence if you have the privilege. "WHITE EIGHTEEEEEEEEN!!!!!" It's borderline sexual. If only he was that good at actual quarterbacking. Then the Jets would really have something to cheer about.
In Week 1, 2023, Trey Lance will (?) make his 5th complete start since Jan. 11, 2020
How nuts is that? I know the plan was ideally to let Lance sit for a year behind Jimmy Garoppolo, and that worked out mostly well for the 49ers. However, now that Lance suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2, he’s sidelined for almost another entire football season. This section on Lance is purposely abbreviated, if only due to how little we've seen of him. There's nothing to really evaluate.
Just think about how few live reps Lance has gotten across this many years. It was audacious enough that the 49ers decided to invest so heavily in someone with how small his sample size was coming out of college! Now? Holy shit. Unless this is the next Aaron Rodgers-type situation of sitting multiple years and stepping in to be a superstar, San Francisco has its work cut out to make Lance work as its new face of the franchise.
The fact that Shanahan was reportedly talked out of drafting Mac Jones is…worth monitoring…
Justin Fields’ arrow is pointing up, however…
It’s an ass supporting cast in Chicago around Fields in terms of pass-catching talent. No wonder he has one of the NFL’s lowest passer ratings (74.6) and completion rates (55.9%). That said, there’s no question Fields’ elite rushing ability, raw physical tools as a thrower and a very apparent, strong work ethic give him a real chance to finally provide the Bears with a stable, franchise quarterback.
Fresh off a momentous Monday night win over the Patriots in Foxborough, Fields is the toast of the Windy City. Rightfully so. My personal take? I need to see more from him before declaring he's on a definitive, upward trajectory. More than anything, I hope Chicago stays competitive and gives Fields at least one more year with this new regime before looking elsewhere at the position for a hypothetical upgrade.
The Bears’ defense is fine and can add a piece or two going forward. What’s really intriguing is that major help should be on the way for Fields in 2023, as Chicago is projected to have — this is not a misprint — $115.9 MIIIIIIILLION DOLLARS (Dr. Evil voice) in salary cap space.
During last Thursday's loss to Washington, Fields missed a wide-open crosser and took a predetermined deep shot to Darnell Mooney that fell incomplete. He'd already made his mind up before the snap. Last night, I saw Fields get to at least his third, potentially fourth read to find Equanimeous St. Brown for a key third-down conversion to keep the last touchdown drive alive.
Give Fields enough assistance with all this money to spend in the offseason, and he should be positioned to challenge Lawrence as QB1 of the 2021 class — even with a predominantly ugly beginning to his tenure in Chicago.
As mentioned before, Mac Jones got benched for a fourth-round rookie
Everyone had Mac labeled a "high floor, low ceiling" prospect coming out of Alabama. For good reason. Not the best athlete. Pretty good pocket movement. Marginal arm strength. Pinpoint accuracy. The classic game manager type the Patriots and Bill Belichick covet. Go figure, New England selects him 15th overall.
Then just for an insurance policy, Bailey Zappe gets picked out of Western Kentucky in the fourth round of the 2022 draft. Except Jones goes down with a high ankle sprain, Zappe makes Matt Patricia look like a Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay caliber of play-caller and we have ourselves the most unexpected quarterback controversy since, well, Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe, I suppose.
Jones seems like that annoying kid in class who just asks a bazillion questions merely to hear themselves talk. In his defense, I'd be questioning shit if I went from Josh McDaniels to Patricia as a play-caller. I would be miserable, too, because Matt Patricia seems like the most insufferable fucking prick ever.
But I digress. Zappe is a yes-man, Patriot Way Cult-following rookie who will say how high when New England's staff asks him to jump and do any little thing for NFL self-preservation. He's a Day 3 pick. Hardly a guarantee at a long, prosperous career. To Zappe's credit, that's worked wonders for him so far…save for the two-interception second half he had in Monday's embarrassing loss to the Bears.
I know better than to doubt the Patriots and Belichick by now. Decent chance that defeat to Chicago was an aberration and somehow Matt Patricia will be a proven offensive genius when all's said and done. Just so The Hoodie can rub it in all our faces. What is weird bout all this, is New England committed so hard by drafting Jones where they did, only to toy with the notion of bailing on him faster than anyone could've foreseen.
This is the type of impulsive, rash, shortsighted decision a young/inexperienced/incompetent coach would make. What has gotten into Bill Belichick? We won't know more until the Pats' QB strategy fully reveals itself, but in any event, it's a baaaaaad look for Mac Jones and his future as an NFL starter.
Reevaluating the 2021 NFL Draft QB class
This is what I had back then, with big board rankings in parentheses:
- Trevor Lawrence (1)
- Zach Wilson (4)
- Justin Fields (6)
- Trey Lance (11)
- Mac Jones (35)
Oh yeah. I was getting hammered on the hype about this group. Even knowing that I heavily weight/inflate the innate value of positions on big boards, and therefore vault up quality QBs higher than they might normally be, imagine slotting Zach Wilson one spot ahead of Ja'Marr Chase? Hahahahaha.
Now that I've seen what I've seen, taking into account the situations they're in as of today, I'd go Lawrence-Fields-Lance-Jones-Wilson. That's a sad state of affairs for the latter two. The only reason Lance is so high is because he's in easily the most favorable spot and there's a least some hypothetical, pie in the sky scenario that you can imagine where he manages the 49ers' loaded offense and slowly evolves into an above-average starter.
Jones is fourth, if only for the solid first season he put together for the Pats. The light could flick on for Wilson on any given day, similar to how it might have for Fields on Monday night. At this point, I will believe it when I see it with Wilson — and again, loved him as a prospect.
What do you think? Do you think I'm capitalizing on the topical nature of Mac riding the pine in primetime and making something out of nothing? Or is this crop of QBs not nearly as good as many of us expected them to be? I'm rooting for all of them to be exceptional, because as I'm sure you'd agree with, the more quality quarterback play there is across the league, the more fun the NFL is.