The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft has come gone and while there were a few surprises, the “big five” quarterbacks were all selected in the top half of the draft has expected.
So, now that the dust has settled, who’s in the best fit going forward and when will we find out?
Now, look…none of these guys are likely to come in and become a superstar overnight. Most likely won’t even start week one or even up until the middle of the season. But, that’s usually a good thing!
Each selection comes with its on risk and reward factor, but we’ll take an in-depth look at each quarterback selected and how I believe they’ll “mesh” with their new NFL franchises including when we’ll see each rookie.
#1 – Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
We’ve been able to break this pick down since January because it was the no-brainier of the NFL Draft. Lawrence has been labeled, “Can’t Miss,” “Franchise Savior,” and “The Greatest QB Prospect Ever.”
No pressure, right?
While Lawrence checks all the boxes including the ticket-selling, must-see TV box that the Khan’s will love as we close in on the season, the Jaguars must be smart when it comes to throwing the young QB prospect into the fire. That will be hard to do since the city, and most the NFL, can’t wait to see what Lawrence becomes as a pro, the best bet is to hold him out until at least Week 4 or 5 if possible if not later.
With Gardner Minshew and C.J. Beathard on the roster, starting them early while Lawrence gets a chance to watch the game up close and continue to rehab the spring shoulder surgery is the best option for his long-term success.
As for the fit, I love the idea of Lawrence in an Urban Meyer-offensive scheme. But, it may take a few years to build around the young quarterback. Right now, Jacksonville still has holes everywhere on offense and defense. With D.J. Clark at WR and the combo of James Robinson and another first-round selection in Travis Etienne, the Jaguars offense could create some highlights, but the offensive line is a work-in-progress and the defense is a complete rebuild of where it was just three seasons ago.
Overall, Lawrence should be able to come in toward the middle of season and learn in a low-pressure setting as the Jaguars aren’t expected to be playoff contender in 2021. But, after a full season, another free agency period, and another likely top ten draft pick, expectations will be much highers for Lawrence and Jacksonville in 2022-23.
#2 – Zach Wilson, New York Jets
If there’s one quarterback rookie that is most likely to start week one, I’d put money on Zach Wilson with the Jets. Wilson comes from a pro-style offense and is a high IQ player who won’t take long to adjust to the NFL style of play.
The Jets also don’t have a ton of options at quarterback unless they plan on signing a veteran to push and/or guide Wilson during his rookie year. While I think it’s best for players like Lawrence, Lance, Fields, and Mac Jones to sit early in the season, I’m really content with Wilson playing from day one for the Jets.
New head coach Robert Saleh will put a lot of focus on improving the Jets’ defense this season and I expect that to pay off by December as the Jets have a young nucleus of talent on the defensive side of the ball. New offensive coordinator Mike Lafleur will be the one who guides Wilson through his rookie year.
Lafleur dealt with an unusual quarterback carousel in San Francisco, but usually kept the 49ers in the NFL’s top half when it came to passing yards and passing efficiency throughout the last three seasons. Lafleur will be able to take Wilson under his wing and create an offense built around the young quarterback going forward.
#3 – Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
While I love this pick so much more than the idea of the 49ers drafting Mac Jones, I still feel as if the less of Lance we see in 2021, the better.
Lance was 17-0 as a starter, but has played and thrown the ball less than any top ten quarterback draft pick in NFL history. He’s the enigma of the 2021 NFL Draft class, but also the most intriguing and the biggest risk-reward pick in the last few seasons.
Lance is phenomenal decision-maker who can make every throw, has excellent mobility, and is built like an NFL All-Pro. Lance would’ve been a great with any team in the Draft that could sit him and allow him to develop for at least one season. The 49ers at pick No. 3 is not different.
Keeping Jimmy Garoppolo is the key for San Francisco as we must remember how sought after and big of a prospect Jimmy was just a few seasons ago. Moving on from Garoppolo right now would be a mistake even if the 49ers selected Trevor Lawrence. This is Garoppolo’s team for at least the next season. Kyle Shanahan loved what Garoppolo when he first acquired the quarterback, but of course, when it comes to the draft, its easy to want to play with the new shiny toy.
A full year to develop, work with Garoppolo and Shanahan is a must for the North Dakota State prospect. I believe Trey Lance would thrive and become a statistical star in the Kyle Shanahan zone-read offense, but I hope we don’t see it until at least week 12 or later including the possibility of no starts until 2022.
#11 – Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
I never thought I would say this, but the Chicago Bears won day one of the NFL Draft. It’s hard to remember that back in January, some were calling for Justin Fields to leapfrog Trevor Lawrence as the top player in the draft! Now, that was short-lived and preposterous, but it just shows how big of a prospect Fields is.
Some questions about his mechanics, anticipation, and adaptability to the NFL game led to a slide, but to land Fields anywhere outside the top five is a steal if I’ve ever seen one. But, to the Bears at No. 11?? That’s a home run for Matt Nagy.
The Bears have two veteran quarterbacks to mentor the young quarterback this season with Nick Foles and Andy Dalton; two quarterbacks with great experience, skills to play at a high level in 2021, and understanding that neither are the “face of the franchise” being on the wrong side of 30.
Both quarterbacks will play this season, but the bigger role for both is the development of Justin Fields as he may not play in 2021 which would be a-okay in my book. Depending on what happens with the Packers this offseason with their quarterback situation, the Bears could contend for the playoffs this season, but if things go wrong and they find themselves way out of the playoff picture by week 12, the Bears may go ahead and pull the trigger on Fields.
Fields’ playing time this season will all depend on the success of the Bears under Foles and/or Dalton as well as their ability to stay healthy which has been a problem for both men over the last few seasons.
#15 – Mac Jones, New England Patriots
Tom Brady 2.0?? Let’s pump the brakes a bit here Patriots’ fans.
There’s still a bunch of question marks about Mac Jones including his ability to get out of the pocket against NFL-speed defense, but in terms of an NFL passer? He may be number two in this draft behind Lawrence. Plus, it’s without a doubt he’ll improve rapidly learning from the combination of Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels if there’s still room to learn after a few years under Nick Saban.
Mac may be the best-coached 20-something year old NFL player in the history of football, honestly.
Nonetheless, when the Patriots made the surprising decision to re-sign Cam Newton, it made it clear that New England intended to start Newton for the foreseeable future. But, how long is that?
Depends on two things: Newton’s health and Mac Jones’ development.
Cam Newton has taken a beating the last few seasons and it’s clear he’s not the same “SuperCam” he was in the Carolina days. As a day on starter though, Newton is still the best option though for the Patriots. It’s key to remember though that the Patriots have done a rare thing and spent a good amount of money this offseason in hopes of returning to a playoff and championship contending team.
Bill Belichick isn’t afraid to hurt feelings (right, Drew Bledsoe?), so while other rookies may only play this year if their team struggles, if the Patriots are even close to contending for the playoffs and Newton is banged up or turning the ball over at a high rate, don’t be surprised to see Mac Jones anytime between week six and week ten. Mac Jones is great at reading a defense, has veteran-like pocket presence and can make every pocket throw – all things that will make Jones a big time weapon in the Josh McDaniels offense.
I can see Mac Jones leading the Patriots into a late run that leads to a wild card spot in the playoffs. Probably not your Rookie of the Year, but Mac will likely be the first class of 2021 quarterback to start a playoff game this season.