It’s time for my most contentious article of 2021! You can poll 100 football fans, and they will all disagree on the top five quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft. The problem with these rankings is that no matter how talented a guy is, it can be challenging to overcome a terrible offensive line, poor running game, or no weapons to throw to. Most of this WILL depend on team fit, so I’ve sorted them into three tiers.
There are some that will kill it in a perfect system like Kyle Shanahan‘s, others who have something that indicates there is some upside there, and guys who can change a franchise no matter where they go. I floated a few pro comparisons for some of these quarterbacks last week, so check that out as well. It’s tough to rank these guys since it is such a talented class, but this is how I have them.
Tier 3: “Everything has to be perfect” quarterbacks
I call these guys “everything has to be perfect” quarterbacks for the obvious reason — if they’re going to have any success, everything will have to be ideal around them, talent-wise and coaching. Most of these guys will only ever be backups — some high-end and some low-end. As we get closer to the top, you’ll see some more potential as a starter.
QB16 Sam Ehlinger, Texas
We’ll start with Sam Ehlinger. He could serve as a decent gadget quarterback, but frankly, he doesn’t have the arm to succeed in the NFL. He may end up moving positions.
QB15 KJ Costello, Mississippi State
Costello has a live arm, but his athleticism and decision-making under pressure leave a lot to be desired. He’s a big quarterback with a big arm, so he could stick somewhere as a developmental project.
QB14 Brady White, Memphis
White was a solid distributor in a Memphis offense that didn’t ask him to do much, but he doesn’t offer much as an athlete and is already 25 years old. He could serve as an understudy or QB3 on an established roster, but “raw” and “old” is not what you look for in a developmental quarterback.
QB13 Peyton Ramsey, Northwestern
I’m a little higher on Ramsey than most, but that doesn’t mean I think he will be a starter. He’s a one-read quarterback with a decent arm that can make some plays with his legs, and there’s value to that. He’s a bit undersized, but I could see him thriving in a backup role.
QB12 Ian Book, Notre Dame
Ian Book is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of a very storied college program, so why is he so low on this list? He doesn’t have a spectacular arm, and he was consistently protected by a very impressive Notre Dame offensive line. He’s a bit of a gambler, making some special (and horrific) throws on the run. This isn’t my comp, but someone compared him to Trace McSorely — I think that’s about right.
Tier 2: Work-in-progress, but desirable traits with some upside
I think these guys have SOMETHING that makes them special, and it could propel them to starter status one day, or at least get them a few years on an NFL bench as a developmental project.
QB11 Jamie Newman, Wake Forest
Many questions still remain surrounding Jamie Newman, who was getting some first-round hype before he opted out of the 2020 season. He checks a lot of boxes: size, athleticism, and arm strength — but I need to see a little more out of him. I think he CAN develop into a starter in the NFL, but he raises a lot more questions than answers for me right now.
QB10 Felipe Franks, Arkansas
I was not too fond of Felipe Franks in college, but I gained a lot of respect for his game under Sam Pittman at Arkansas. He is very athletic for a guy his size, and he puts some good zip on the ball. Franks works decently under pressure, and although he’ll have to make some serious adjustments in the NFL, he could be a long-term project as a backup for a good team.
QB9 Kyle Trask, Florida
Ranking Trask, Newman, and Franks was pretty difficult — they all fall into that same range for me. I’m very critical of Kyle Trask, but I have to respect his journey to becoming Florida’s full-time starter. Even though Newman has a slightly better build and athletic profile, I’ll give a slight edge to Trask. He has trouble moving outside of the pocket, pushing the ball downfield, and makes some horrible throws at times, but Trask could succeed in a West Coast Offense.
QB8 Zerrick Cooper, Jacksonville State
This is probably the biggest wild card on my list. My Clemson fans will remember Cooper, and so will my Jacksonville State crowd. Like fellow FCS prospect Trey Lance, Cooper was head and shoulders above most of his competition. He’s very sound mechanically for an FCS quarterback and has excellent size and athleticism to go along with it. Cooper makes some impressive throws, and while he’ll need some work to succeed at the next level, I like what I see out of him. He could start one day for an NFL team if he’s coached properly, but he may not declare in this class.
QB7 Davis Mills, Stanford
I’ve been high on Davis Mills for a minute, and I wrote a profile on him back when he wasn’t even listed on TDN or PFF’s respective draft boards. I’ve been following Mills since he was a five-star recruit out of Atlanta, and he still possesses a lot of those traits that lifted him to that status. Ironically enough, I think if he reaches his full potential, he’s the spitting image of Matt Ryan. I don’t think he’s as athletic as Ryan, but he can move around the pocket well enough, and he can absolutely zip the football to almost anywhere on the field. He is a guy that will live or die by the coaching staff that drafts him.
QB6 Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Oh, Kellen Mond. Ever since his freshman year, everyone has been waiting for him to break out and become this superstar under Jimbo Fischer. The problem is, he never has. While he has a live arm and good athletic traits, you have to wonder if the “next step” is ever coming for Mond. NFL coaching will produce one of two results: either Mond will finally take that next step and be one of the four or five best quarterbacks in the class, or he will succumb to the challenges of NFL defenses. My money is on the latter right now.
Tier 1: Potential franchise quarterbacks
Look, there’s about four different ways you can slice this pie. I really like things about all five of these guys, but the margin between QB2 and QB4 is razor-thin. It seems after the 49ers & Dolphins trade that one of these guys will get the privilege of playing for Kyle Shanahan, so it’s hard not to pencil the guy I think they will draft in for QB2. I have faith in Mike LaFleur, but whoever goes to the Jets will have a significant disadvantage over the others. I’ll put my bias aside and evaluate them as the prospects they are.
QB5 Mac Jones, Alabama
Mac Jones could battle it out with Spencer Rattler and Sam Howell for QB1 in 2022, and I think he’s incredibly valuable as QB5 in this class. With whispers the 49ers may select him third overall, I think Jones will pick up right where he left off at Alabama. Steve Sarkisian formed a perfect offense around Mac, and I’m not going to knock him for having fantastic weapons around him — it clearly made him a lot of money. Sarkisian did utilize a lot of one-read throws with elite targets typically wide open, but Jones still delivered when asked to make throws into tight windows. He probably has the second-best deep ball in the entire class, and even though he doesn’t have top-tier arm strength, he can throw to all levels of the field and put some impressive touch on intermediate routes.
Jones throws with excellent anticipation and does a fantastic job of throwing to spots — not to players. He’s also a much better athlete than he gets credit for. I think Jones could be a franchise saving quarterback, if he goes to a team like the 49ers, Patriots, or Steelers, he could easily be the high-level quarterback he was in college. Don’t take QB5 as an insult; Mac Jones could easily be a Ben Roethlisberger level quarterback if he gets into the right situation.
QB4 Zach Wilson, BYU
Remember when I said one poor soul will end up having to try and save the Jets? Yeah, that’s Zach Wilson — one of my favorite players in all of college football. I’m going to put that aside and stick with what I like about Wilson, which will land him at QB4. As far as instincts and intangibles go, he is one of the best quarterbacks in the draft. He’s one of the only guys that can roll out, push the ball 60 yards downfield, and throw a guy open consistently. Wilson has the best deep ball in the entire class, even under pressure.
You have to consider his level of competition and limited production time at BYU, but his traits are so unique I can’t overlook them. Wilson also worked with a VERY clean pocket most of the time at BYU and had a bad habit of throwing off his back foot. I’m not sure how he will interview, but if he’s franchise quarterback material as a person, he may very well be the first competent quarterback the Jets have drafted in my lifetime. I think he’s the most special player in the class, but it will all boil down to him elevating the talent around him and developing.
QB3 Justin Fields, Ohio State
Justin Fields is QB1 by a mile in 2022 (for now); it’s just a testament to how good this quarterback class truly is. If you want to talk me into Fields being QB2 or QB5, there are decent arguments for both sides. For now, he would be incredibly valuable as the third or fourth quarterback selected. Fields really checks all of the boxes; he’s athletic, a good leader, has a great arm, and can command an offense. He also really improved his deep ball this past season. If he reaches his peak, I think he can be a bigger and stronger version of Russell Wilson. That’s a very high compliment for a QB3.
My only bone with Fields, for now, is that he ran a very quarterback-friendly offense at Ohio State with exceptional playmakers. No, that’s not his fault, but you have to consider he will need some seasoning before he’s ready to take on the NFL. Fields also struggled against Northwestern with a depleted roster, and he looked a bit spooked at times when guys weren’t getting open. Still, in the confines of that offense, he made plays with his legs, delivered impressive throws with velocity, and limited mistakes. His potential is sky-high, but he’s my third-ranked quarterback going into this draft.
QB2 Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Yep, I’m moving Trey Lance to QB2. I always hear Lance is so “raw,” but honestly — I don’t think that’s the case. I could talk about Lance for hours; he has an incredible arm, is easily the best athlete of this group, and is very good about limiting turnovers. In addition, he called his own audibles and pass protections at North Dakota State. It is so rare for a guy to be this high character and intelligent at 20 years old. Mechanically, he’s silky smooth.
While I say he’s not as raw as many believe, he could still benefit as an understudy for a season or two. If this kid adapts to the NFL, he will take over the league. I think his first season of NFL action, likely 2022, will look a lot like RGIII’s rookie season. After that, he could very easily win multiple MVPs. That being said, Lance likely has the lowest floor of the five. He needs to go to a competent staff to utilize his raw ability. I think if he ends up in San Francisco, Atlanta, or New England, he’s the next big thing in the NFL.
QB1 Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Look, I’m not completely sold on Trevor Lawrence as the QB1 NFL Hall of Fame lock that many believe he is, but he’s QB1 for a reason. He easily has the highest floor AND ceiling of this class. He also seems to be a high character kid that can lead an offense. If we’re talking bust-proof, Lawrence is as close as you can get. Nobody will call you an idiot for having Lawrence as QB1 if he ends up being QB2. He really has it all — the arm, the size, the athleticism, the leadership, the touch, the poise; he’s as clean as they come prospect wise. I think he’ll be a lot like Andrew Luck in his prime. He consistently made plays for Clemson, led them to a championship, and did nothing but win during his time in college. There’s no reason to knock him down from QB1, and don’t be shocked if he’s in Canton in 20 years.