Dynasty players can rejoice as we again find ourselves blessed with an exciting and talented rookie quarterback class. The depth of the 2020 rookie class enabled players to find tremendous values at the quarterback position in the later stages of drafts. Incredibly, a similar situation presents itself this year, only with a more decorated, highly anticipated crop of prospects. In this piece we examine the first four rookie quarterbacks projected to be taken in the 2021 NFL draft.
#1 – Trevor Lawrence, Clemson, Junior (6’6, 220 lbs)
A man who needs no introduction, the NFL (and fantasy players) has patiently waited for Lawrence to join the pros. Prior to uniting with Clemson, Lawrence played his high school ball at Cartersville, Georgia. It would be a horrific understatement to say he had a good career there.
From sophomore to senior, Lawrence led Cartersville to 41 consecutive wins and multiple state championships while setting new state records for passing yards and scores. He wound up the #1 overall recruit by Rivals and 247Sports (#2 by ESPN) and was widely considered one of the best quarterback prospects of all time.
Since joining Clemson, Lawrence has lived up to the hype as evidenced by his passing totals below.
Impressive is probably the best word to describe those. As a runner, he’s also been very impactful as evidenced by his rushing totals at Clemson.
Everything. Lawrence combines the requisite size, athleticism and arm strength to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. There’s not a single throw he can’t make. Throwing mechanics and footwork are immaculate. Sadly for defenses, he’s also a legitimate threat as a runner with the ability to make defenders miss and rip off chunk gains.
On the other end of the spectrum, Lawrence ticks off all the boxes mentally. He consistently displays great awareness, poise and control on or off-script. Recognizes and dissects coverages with relative ease. Furthermore, his decision making and pocket presence are exactly what teams covet. Does a fantastic job of keeping his eyes downfield and releasing the ball at the last second.
Most of the criticisms made on Lawrence are more nitpicking than anything. The primary knock on him has been that he can get locked onto his first read and not move through his progressions fast enough. Outside of that, he has made a few bad decisions that led to interceptions.
Dubbed the most certain thing since Andrew Luck, the fantasy community will be thrilled to add Lawrence to the quarterback pool in 2021. Tank for Trevor (or lose for Lawrence) exists for a very good reason.
Lawrence will immediately enter fantasy consideration upon joining the league and has the ceiling of a perennial Top 5 option at the position. In terms of floor, Lawrence should settle in around QB 15 with not much more room to the downside. Simply put, he has elite passing ability coupled with plenty of rushing upside.
Lawrence will be the consensus 1.01 in 2 QB and SuperFlex formats. In 1 QB leagues, he’s likely to be selected between picks 6-10.
# 2 – Justin Fields, Ohio State University, Junior (6’3, 228 lbs)
Justin Fields has been the clear #2 quarterback of this class for quite some time. No changes appear likely as we approach the draft. A two year starter at Harrison High School, Georgia, Fields absolutely lit it up in his two years as the starter. During that stretch he threw for 4187 yards, 41 scores and ran for another 2096 and 28 scores.
Fields was ranked as the #1 overall recruit in the 2018 class by ESPN although Rivals and 247Sports had him #2 behind Lawrence. After initially committing to play for Penn State, Fields withdrew his commitment and joined the University of Georgia where he spent the 2018 season behind Jake Fromm. Following that season, Fields announced his transfer to Ohio State.
Below are his passing totals during his time in the NCAA.
It’s not hard to notice the steady improvement and dominance Fields has exhibited at Ohio State. Additionally, he continues to live up this dual-threat billing with the following rushing totals.
While Fields is a little smaller than Lawrence, he still possesses the kind of size, athleticism and arm strength that teams look for in a franchise quarterback. Athletically, he’s exceptionally fluid and uses that to his advantage as a runner. He can make defenders miss, break tackles and break off big runs. Should have no problem clocking a sub 4.6 40 at the combine. Moreover, his athleticism enables him to make special plays outside the pocket when things break down.
As mentioned, Fields also has terrific arm talent. NFL level strength, accuracy and touch are evident at times. His history as a tremendous baseball player likely helped develop his ability to make tough throws on the run. Anticipation and the ability to throw receivers open is there but lacks consistency. There will be no questions about his toughness as he enters the NFL.
While not as polished a prospect as Lawrence, there aren’t a ton of weaknesses in Fields’ game either. One of the bigger ones is his ability to progress beyond his first read. Part of this can be attributed to the style of offense that Ohio State deploys with Fields, consistently utilizing RPO’s and zone reads.
Decision making is another area Fields will have to continue to improve if he’s to reach his ceiling in the NFL. There have been more than a few times where he’s tossed up head scratching prayers. Needs to take another step forward with ball placement and anticipation to truly excel as a pro.
Fields should offer a ceiling comparable to that of Trevor Lawrence, which is a Top 5 at the position. He still has plenty of room to grow as a prospect and his skill set includes all the required tools for sustained fantasy success. He’s one of the better quarterback prospects in recent memory and has the historical production to back it up.
In terms of floor, Fields doesn’t provide fantasy GMs with the safety net that Lawrence will. While rushing ability should keep him in the conversation as long as he’s starting, he’s unlikely to have the staying power that Lawrence will as a passer.
Fields should wind up the #2 pick in most 2 QB and SuperFlex leagues, though he could slip as low as 5. In 1 QB leagues, anticipate Fields being selected in the 12-18 range.
#3 – Zach Wilson, Brigham Young University, Junior (6’3, 210 lbs)
Wilson played his high school football at Corner Canyon in Draper, Utah. He emerged as the starter in his junior year and never looked back. Following his time at Corner Canyon, Wilson committed to playing his college ball at BYU. He was the 38th ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2018 recruiting class and a 3-star recruit.
During his freshman year at BYU, Wilson became the youngest starter in school history. His performance at BYU hasn’t quite seen the linear statistical improvement that many top quarterback prospects do as evidenced by his passing and rushing totals below.
Anyone taking a second to analyze those numbers will point out a very underwhelming sophomore campaign. No dispute there. However, Wilson was plagued by a right-hand (throwing hand) injury that required him to have surgery and contributed to his downturn in play. As one can see, he seems to have healed okay for his junior season.
Staying in line with the theme of this class, Wilson is another particularly athletic quarterback. Thinner than the aforementioned QBs, Wilson does a great job of blending agility and awareness to compensate. He shows no distress when plays break down and creates efficiently downfield when outside the pocket. Keeps his eyes downfield and makes some ridiculous deep throws. There are a number of extremely difficult throws he’s made this year off his back foot, using various arm angles and contorting his body. They call him the “Mormon Mahomes” for a reason.
Playing at BYU, there was always going to be questions about the level of competition Wilson faced. Wilson had plenty of flashes in the recent loss to Coastal Carolina but ultimately left some plays on the field. It’s fair to wonder how he’ll fare against tougher opponents.
Additionally, Wilson has a few bad decisions to his name and is guilty of trying to do too much at times. Injury history is not a red flag, however it’s certainly not a positive either.
Wilson projects to be taken in the first 15 picks of this year’s NFL draft yet appears likely to slip to the 3rd and beyond in 1 QB rookie drafts. If you’re a quarterback needy team, any time you can find a mid-early first round selection in the third and beyond, it’s an asymmetric bet. Throw in the fact that Wilson can pick up yards with his legs, and he becomes even more attractive. His ceiling is that of a consistent Top 12 fantasy QB though aspirations of a Top 6 could be too lofty with the wealth of young talent at the position.
#4 – Trey Lance, North Dakota State University, RS Sophomore (6’4, 226 lbs)
Lance was widely considered the #3 quarterback of the 2021 class until recently. Following his decision to opt out, and the stellar play of Zach Wilson, that status has begun to shift.
As a high school student, Lance played for Marshall high school in his home state of Minnesota. Although he enjoyed plenty of success at Marshall, he was not a highly sought after recruit and not considered a legitimate QB prospect by respected programs. Instead, Lance committed to play for the North Dakota State Bison at the FCS level. He was the 49th ranked dual-threat QB by 247Sports in the 2018 recruiting class.
As a Bison, Lance went undefeated, leading them to a national championship and becoming the first freshman ever to win the Walter Payton Award. During that season memorable season, he posted the following passing and rushing totals:
The numbers are truly remarkable for a freshman quarterback but the level of competition he faced in the FCS rightfully takes away some of the shine.
As you can deduce from the above, Lance is a superb athlete and among the most athletic quarterbacks of this class. He was extremely productive as a runner during his time with the Bison and effectively utilized his athleticism to escape defenders and make throws on the run. As a runner, Lance combines good power, speed and vision. He projects to be a legitimate dual-threat as he enters the NFL.
When we examine Lance as a thrower, we see a kid who has plenty of arm strength coupled with the necessary touch and accuracy to place it all over the field. Strength and velocity are clearly his best traits at this phase of his development. Technically speaking, his throwing mechanics present no major concerns which is somewhat uncharacteristic of dual-threat QBs. Displayed good awareness and poise in the pocket along with the ability to stand in and take a hit.
Consistency will be one of the words you encounter most when discussing Lance’s flaws. First, Lance’s accuracy has been inconsistent and he’s missed more throws than you would like to see. This inconsistency was present at all depths of the field.
Although he’s extremely tough, Lance needs to do a better job of protecting himself as he transitions into the NFL. He took far too many clean hits at NDSU and if that trend continues it will not bode well for his NFL career.
His level of competition was decidedly weak. How will he fare against NFL defenses? Lance is still a raw, developmental prospect who will need time to learn the position at the NFL level. Needs to improve upon the nuances of the position and implement them regularly.
Lance will be (correctly) selected at least a full round below Lawrence/Fields in rookie drafts this year. His ceiling as a fantasy quarterback isn’t as far off as that might indicate, even though his path to reaching it is much less certain. As a result, Lance could wind up being a tremendous value in the 3rd round and beyond of 1 QB drafts for owners who don’t mind exercising patience. In terms of floor, Lance’s is considerably lower than the quarterbacks ahead of him. If Lance is overwhelmed at the professional level, he could wash out in a matter of years.
If you enjoyed this piece, I have a similar article that focusses on the top Tight Ends of the 2021 class that can be read here 2021 Rookie Tight Ends: The Big 3