The natural inclination most casual fans have to characterize quarterback prospects strictly on their physical abilities is flawed. There is value in physical skills such as arm talent and mobility, but I’m here to argue that those skills should hold the same merit as the intangible attributes. Tom Brady is the perfect example of how intangibles can overcome physical limitations, and those intangibles should be valued equally, if not more.
Trevor Lawrence has all the physical tools a quarterback prospect could want; he was made in a football lab. But his intangibles are comparable to those of the greatest prospects of all time like Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning. Lawrence simply understands the game on a fundamental level that makes it seem like the former Clemson Tiger plays in slow motion. He never seems rattled, and no stage is ever too big due to the spotlight he’s been in since entering college.
Lawrence is all but guaranteed to go first to Jacksonville, where he will team up with Urban Meyer, who has long glorified his abilities outside those that are physical. Meyer noted that football intelligence and commanding the respect of a locker room is the most important thing a quarterback can do, which Lawrence does. He has the ideal combination of physical gifts and intangibles — competitive spirit, toughness, leadership qualities, and ability to adapt on the fly — for a quarterback prospect, but which of the non-Trevor Lawrence prospects have similar intangibles?
Beginning with Trey Lance, many draft analysts have praised his intelligence and dedication to the game. Louis Riddick of ESPN said, “Trey Lance the young man/student of the game is even more impressive than Trey Lance the athlete.” The former North Dakota State Bison is as physically talented as any in this draft and has been compared to a younger Cam Newton. Lance is of a similar build and might move even better than Newton with more developed passing ability coming into the draft. Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network said, “This kid is incredibly intelligent… He can direct fronts; he can do all the stuff at the line of scrimmage you need.” Everything points towards Lance being a reliable leader and someone I wouldn’t mind sitting behind Matt Ryan for a couple of years if Terry Fontenot took him with the fourth overall pick.
Segwaying to Zach Wilson, who has a cannon of an arm but isn’t as battle-tested as Justin Fields or Mac Jones. He is that Brett Favre-Esque gun-slinger and might be more dedicated than analysts lead on. “Something I feel like separates me is just my passion for the game,” Wilson said. “I really put a lot of time into what I do. Throughout all the years, I’ve really just dedicated my life to football.” But there are massive concerns surrounding his character; this is from an anonymous NFC director, “(Wilson) has character concerns, rich kid who is an entitled brat – uncle owns Jet Blue, parents are a pain, not a leader, selfish, and he’s a know-it-all.” Many teammates came to his defense, noting it was clickbait and couldn’t be further from the truth. Though he has shown extreme toughness — per the first-half beating in the Coastal Carolina game — these comments are concerning. We won’t know how the interviews go with each team, but some questions need answering.
Moving on to Justin Fields, who has to be the most athletically gifted quarterback prospect since Lamar Jackson or Cam Newton but throws a much better ball than the two when they were entering the draft. I watched much more Ohio State than North Dakota State, so I know the toughness Fields possesses. He took a nasty hit to his hip in the Clemson game that I thought would change the game, but it didn’t. Fields came back in after missing one play and threw a touchdown to Chris Olave, which showcased his unbelievable competitive toughness. The pre-snap part of his game needs work, though. Ryan Day’s offense isn’t a one-read offense, so don’t let talking heads convince you Fields is a “one-read” quarterback, but his ability to read blitzes and redirect protection is ineffective and needs work.
I don’t think Fields transferring from UGA is too concerning, though it is more desirable for a prospect to show the intestinal fortitude to stay committed to a program as Mac Jones did at Alabama. Entering college in the same recruiting class as Tua Tagovailoa, Jones put his head down and eventually got his chance to lead Alabama’s high-powered offense after sitting for three years, which he capitalized on and even showed he might’ve been the superior quarterback in Tuscaloosa.
Jones is the complete opposite of Fields; he overachieves in the mental part of the game but has physical limitations — Tom Brady-Esque. His football IQ is off the charts; Jones excels in reading coverages and blitzes, redirecting his protections or receivers to counter how defenses attack him. He just has natural leadership that teammates gravitate towards — an absolute ace above the shoulders.
There are several examples of the former Alabama quarterback being a pure gamer whose competitive drive is second-to-none in this class of quarterbacks. Trey Wingo noted a story of Jones as a scout team quarterback where he kept throwing touchdowns against Nick Saban’s first-team defense, to which Saban told him to cut it out. Jones responded, “Tell your defense to stop it.” This takes unbelievable confidence to stand toe-to-toe with one of the best college football coaches of all time as a practice squad player.
Former teammates DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle have been outspoken about their preference to play with Jones over former fifth overall pick Tua Tagovailoa, which should be taken with a grain of salt. It is important and says a lot about how his teammates feel about him, but they had a ton of success with Jones, so of course, they’d feel this way. Jones is obsessed with football and being prepared — a film junkie — which normally correlates to success in the NFL regardless of the physical limitations.
All in all, I truly believe the stories about Mac Jones’ intangibles. Though his physical attributes won’t blow anyone out of the water, he’s the most accurate passer in this class and throws the most catchable ball — two important skills. But his mental toughness is undeniable, and he is obsessed with the game. After exploring the intangibles of each, Mac to the Falcons with the fourth overall pick would make a lot of sense. Although, I don’t believe any of these prospects are severely lacking in the intangible department.
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