2021 NFL Draft: Quarterback Preview
Joey Cartolano breaks down the quarterback position of the 2021 NFL Draft class for dynasty, keeper and re-draft fantasy football leagues!
Dynasty rookie drafts are simultaneously one of the most fun yet stressful experiences the industry has to offer. Draft decisions made have long term implications. It’s an opportunity to plant your flag on your favorite players, but there are pitfalls galore. One of my core dynasty rookie tenets is to remember to value talent over initial situation. One of the ways I do that is to make pre-combine, pre-draft, and post-draft rankings (the latter of which is adjusted for draft capital and landing spot). Having all those historical data points to look back on is a great reference for buying year 2-3 players who are written off too quickly.
This year is, obviously, unlike any other with the virus that shall not be named and along with that comes one of if not the craziest off-seasons for incoming player evaluations. While some people may lean too much on combine metrics, the underwear Olympics at least offers a controlled environment where we could compare the athletic measurables of these players and see how they interacted in a group setting during their first real experience of the scrutiny that comes with life in the NFL. Instead, we are relying on notoriously biased Pro Day 40 times, Twitter videos and word of mouth.
All this to say that it’s more important than ever to consider every real piece of information possible that you can gather about these players and factor them into your equation before the bias of post-draft clarity kicks in. Pre-draft rankings are a good anchor to work off before final rankings during rookie draft season. While landing spot and draft capital certainly need to be factored in, and are indicative of the leash and opportunity a player will be receive, NFL talent evaluators are far from perfect and sometimes, they themselves fall into the trap of drafting for positional or scheme-need rather than pure talent.
This is one of the deepest quarterback classes in recent memory, with five of them seemingly locks to be taken in the first round alone and the possibility of a sixth one sneaking in. There is a quarterback of every flavor; we have a generational talent dating back to high school, a one-year wonder, an FCS darling, some extremely mobile guys and some pure pocket passers. I would expect that, similar to the NFL draft itself, dynasty rookie drafts (especially Superflex) are going to have QBs going off the board earlier than usual. Let’s dive in.
- Trevor Lawrence, Clemson (6’6”, 220 lbs)
No surprises here as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck tops the list of signal callers. Destined to be the No. 1 pick since his true freshman year heroics on the way to an undefeated National Championship, Lawrence will be taken first by the Jaguars later this month. Unless you have been living under a rock, you have seen Lawrence play and excel against high level competition for the last three years. In spite of a shortened season in 2020, he still put up over 3,000 passing yards for the third year in a row to go along with a stellar 90:17 touchdown to interception ratio for his career. In addition to high-level functional mobility within the pocket, Lawrence can gain yards with his legs as well and fits where offenses are trending in that regard. He had 943 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground in his Clemson career.
While Urban Meyer may be new to the NFL, he is plenty familiar with getting the most out of his quarterbacks. Assuming Meyer’s offensive magic carries over to the big leagues, being drafted by Jacksonville will not be the death knell it once could have been for Lawrence. DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault Jr., and Marvin Jones is a solid group of receivers to grow with, along with rookie breakout back James Robinson. They could use some help at offensive tackle, and they have 2 other picks inside the top 45 selections to get that help. Regardless, with someone of Lawrence’s ilk, we always should favor talent over situation. He is a slam dunk 1.01 pick in Superflex rookie drafts, and unlike most quarterbacks deserves mid-first round consideration in 1-QB leagues as well.
- Justin Fields, Ohio State (6’3”, 227 lbs)
Fields has a much wider range of career outcomes than Lawrence, but the former Buckeye has perhaps an even higher ceiling for fantasy purposes given his immense athletic (and therefore rushing) upside. He ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at his pro day, where he also showcased incredible arm strength and an ability to throw from different angles while on the move. After committing and playing backup his freshman year at the University of Georgia, Fields transferred to Ohio State and has put that program on his shoulders the past two seasons en route to back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances. His true sophomore year in 2019 was a statistical bonanza; he compiled 3,273 yards through the air with a 41:3 touchdown to interception ratio while chipping in 137 attempts for an additional 484 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. He followed that up with an even higher per game passing yard average, a 70% completion rate, and 22 touchdowns to 6 interceptions (along with another 383 yards and 5 touchdowns rushing) in a shortened 2020, including an epic performance vs. Clemson and Lawrence in the CFP.
The concern with Fields from scouts seems to be around his ability to get past his first read in his progressions and a tendency to lock onto his preferred target on a given play. This has resulted in some instances where he holds onto the ball too long. It is hard to say if that is an area he can improve on at the next level, but there is no concern about his work ethic/leadership, and he has performed on the biggest stage college has to offer. Regardless, for fantasy purposes, his rushing upside far outweighs any perceived deficiencies with his passing game, which are not glaring enough to prevent him from being a long-term NFL starter. I am taking him at 1.02 in Superflex rookie drafts, and he deserves consideration in the back end of the first round in 1QB leagues (especially if he lands in San Francisco with Kyle Shanahan).
- Zach Wilson, Brigham Young (6’2”, 214 lbs)
No one saw their draft stock rise in this upside-down year more than Wilson, who went from relatively unknown BYU starter to the likely No. 2 overall pick by the Jets. Wilson racked up statistics in 2020: he was third in the nation in passing yards with 3,692 (308 per game) while maintaining a ridiculous 73.5% completion rate and a 33:3 touchdown to interception ratio. He also contributed 254 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. At his pro day and throughout the season, Wilson wowed with his ability to extend plays and make off-platform throws while still maintaining accuracy and velocity, leading BYU to an 11-1 record.
However, that 2020 production comes with the caveat that Wilson faced an extremely light strength of schedule and had his worst game of the season against BYU’s highest ranked opponent in Coastal Carolina (not exactly a powerhouse program). In 2019, when he faced three ranked Pac-12 opponents and an SEC opponent, his numbers were drastically worse (234 yards per game, 62.7 completion percentage, 11:7 TD to interception ratio with only 95 yards and 1 touchdown on the ground), granted that was in 9 games vs. 12 in 2020. While Wilson makes many amazing throws, the end results of those plays often masked some questionable decision making in the process (Ted Nguyen of the Athletic has an excellent film breakdown of these weaknesses here). While one-year wonders like Joe Burrow have found NFL success, and I can see Wilson succeeding at the next level, I think it is a mistake to take him over Fields both in real life and especially fantasy.
- Trey Lance, North Dakota State (6’4”, 224 lbs)
Lance is easily the biggest projection of any of the top signal callers in this year’s class as he has essentially only played one season of college football two years ago, and it was at the FCS (Division 1-AA) level with no games against any Power 5 conference opponents. His team did not have a season this year due to Covid. That one season, however, was spectacular from a statistical standpoint and he seems to have all the physical tools necessary to compete at the next level. Lance threw for 2,491 yards, 25 touchdowns to zero interceptions, and tallied 870 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 128 attempts on the ground.
We did not get a 40 time from him at his Pro Day, but he flashed elite athleticism for a quarterback on film (again, tough to gauge given the level of competition). NFL scouts have seen enough that he seems like a near lock for the top 10 picks in the draft. Landing spot will be especially important for Lance vs. other rookies. He cannot be expected to come in and start right away, but his upside if his skillset is nurtured correctly is tantalizing.
- Mac Jones, Alabama (6’3”, 217 lbs)
Perhaps the most polarizing prospect in this year’s class, this ranking could look silly if some of the reports around where Jones will be drafted are true. While I always try to stick to talent over situation, it would be difficult not to significantly upgrade Jones’ dynasty value if it turns out Kyle Shanahan ultimately gave up that haul of assets to acquire him instead of one of the aforementioned guys with the third overall pick. After sitting in the shadows behind Tua Tagovailoa for the better part of two seasons, Jones got his chance when Tua went down in 2019. Jones stepped in and immediately contributed, finishing that season with 14 touchdowns to 3 interceptions and a 68.8 completion percentage while averaging over 250 yards passing in the five games where he played the majority of the snaps. In 2020, he exploded for 4,500 yards, a 77.4% completion percentage, and 41:4 touchdowns to interceptions on the way to an undefeated national championship. He doesn’t offer any of the rushing upside of the other rookies, but he was fantastic as a classic pocket passer. The question is, can he do that in the NFL if he’s not protected by an elite offensive line and surrounded by weapons like at Alabama?
- Kellen Mond, Texas A&M, (6’3”, 217 lbs)
A rare 3+ year SEC starting quarterback expected to go in the 2nd-3rd round, Mond has striking collegiate profile and draft projection similarities to Dak Prescott (9,661 passing yards and a 71:27 TD to interception ratio for Mond, 9,376 and 70:23 for Prescott). Like Prescott, Mond can get the job done as a runner, having run for 1,608 and 22 touchdowns (including many designed runs) in his career at Texas A&M. In his senior year, Mond had the Aggies right in the conversation for the College Football Playoff as the clear fifth best team in the country, only losing to Jones’ undefeated Alabama squad. I have a feeling that Mond will end up getting drafted on the earlier end of his projection given how high the top 5 QBs are projected to go in the draft. He is going to be a great value play in Superflex rookie drafts, where he should consistently slip amidst a great skill position class.
- Kyle Trask, Florida (6’5”, 236 lbs)
On paper, Trask looks like an above average NFL quarterback prospect. He has elite size, started for two years in the SEC, and had an elite statistical campaign as a senior when he was second in the country in passing with 4,283 yards and 43 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions while maintaining a solid 68.9 completion percentage at 9.8 yards per attempt. Trask put up solid passing numbers as a junior as well, throwing for 2,941 yards and 25 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. Anyone who has watched Trask play over the last two seasons, however, knows that he is limited compared to the other quarterbacks in this class. He offers nothing in terms of rushing ability and despite prototypical QB size does not have elite arm strength. Still, it is clear NFL scouts are intrigued as he is getting early second round buzz. Some team will give him a chance to be their starter, which is more than I can say for the rest of this QB class behind him.
Best of the rest: Davis Mills (Stanford), Ian Book (Notre Dame), Sam Ehlinger (Texas), Felipe Franks (Arkansas), Jamie Newman (Georgia)
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