Schematic fit is the lifeblood of post-draft success in the NFL. Many quarterbacks enter the NFL and don’t find success with their first team, despite the draft grades that they received from college. Obviously, some of the bigger busts had external factors. JaMarcus Russell, the Oakland Raiders 2007 first overall pick, had a terrible work ethic. Ryan Leaf – the San Diego Chargers’ second overall pick in 1998 – had drug issues that he’s overcome. But some quarterbacks don’t find the right scheme and find a restart with another team.
This season, rookie quarterbacks are expected to impact their new teams relatively early in the season. Trevor Lawrence was drafted first overall to be the face of the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise. Zach Wilson should be a day one starter as well. Justin Fields and Davis Mills are expected to push for starting positions in camp. Trey Lance and Mac Jones could easily take over starting positions for their teams as well. With all of this anticipated movement, it’s good to look at where these players rank at this point.
Here are my rookie quarterback rankings post draft as we enter the 2021 season:
2021 Rookie Quarterback Rankings
1. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Pre draft rank (and grade): 1 (103)
The clear first overall pick since he came out of high school, the anticipation for Trevor Lawrence in the NFL has been legitimate. His scouting report was full of positives, from arm strength to accuracy and extending to his mechanics. Lawrence is one of the best quarterback prospects we’ve seen in a long time.
One factor that does help with his NFL translation is the match he’s received at head coach. Lawrence ran a straightforward scheme at Clemson, one that he could master quickly as a freshman. As the years went on, Clemson really didn’t add many elements to the offense. Urban Meyer is a legendary college coach who generally keeps his schemes relatively simple as well. I wouldn’t expect the Jaguars to throw too much on Lawrence’s plate early. In fact, we covered it here. They’ve taken a lot of the media pressure off of him by signing Tim Tebow as a tight end.
We honestly don’t know much about the scheme that Jacksonville will run yet, but Lawrence has a skillset that allows him to play across multiple schemes. He’s a great talent and hands down the best player on this list.
2. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Pre draft rank (and grade): 2 (87)
Justin Fields was the projected odd man out of the top three picks, who all went quarterback and slid to the eleventh overall pick where the Chicago Bears traded up to secure him. There was some speculation why an athlete with his skillset was allowed to slip as far as he did, but it was expected – if you read this website.
Fields showed some stellar quarterback ability throughout his career at Ohio State, a two-year starter and transfer from Georgia. He backed up current Buffalo Bills quarterback Jake Fromm while playing for the Bulldogs as a true freshman. Ohio State ended up being the best thing that happened to Fields, as Ohio State competed in the College Football Playoff in both seasons. He has a cannon for an arm and is an electric athlete, running a reported 4.44 forty-yard dash on his pro day.
The problem Chicago has is that it signed veteran quarterback Andy Dalton this offseason, much to the dismay of the Bears fan base. Fields will have to beat out Dalton, who is just as new to Matt Nagy’s offense as he is, to play in 2021. Dalton has always been an average starting quarterback. Many Fields fans think that he can step in and be a star immediately. It’s possible, but Fields has some knowledge and learning to gain before being ready. We will have to see how quickly he can learn in summer camp.
3. Mac Jones, New England Patriots
Pre draft rank (and grade): 3 (87)
I loved Mac Jones throughout the draft process. How could you not? He was a relatable kid, overcome adversity, and waited his turn to play quarterback at Alabama. When he finally stepped up, he looked great despite a weaker arm than most prospects in the class. To me, the New England Patriots seemed like the best fit for Jones all along. He had long modeled his game after Tom Brady and brought many of the same aspects that Brady had in New England. Uncanny accuracy, quick reading ability, and special touch.
Because of the Patriots’ situation with Cam Newton on the roster, there is some reason to doubt that Jones will see the field very much in 2021. That’s okay. The more a rookie quarterback can sit early on, the better for their development generally goes. For Jones, the intention appears to be drafting him now for the 2022 season. When he does take the field, he’s the distributor that Bill Belichick loves. I have little doubt that Jones won’t thrive in New England.
4. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
Pre draft rank (and grade): 5 (83)
Trey Lance was my fifth-ranked quarterback entering the 2021 NFL Draft but definitely had among the highest upside in the quarterbacks in the class. He showed considerable improvement in his footwork and release motion over his two pre-draft pro-days. The knock-on Lance is honestly his lack of experience. Lack of experience oftentimes means raw mechanics, which Lance displayed on tape. That being said, he appeared to have cleaned up tremendously for the pro days. Now, we want to see if Lance has converted that to habit, and we will discover this when he takes the field and plays against a defense.
If Lance does take the field for the 49ers in 2021, I do expect there to be some bumpy starts. He threw one interception in college, mostly because of the nature of the North Dakota State offense. They ran many power sets and would establish a strong running game to fill the box and then try to throw over the top of the defense with one-on-one opportunities outside. Lance will see several different new coverages and might be slightly confused at times with different looks.
5. Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Pre draft rank (and grade): 4 (85)
Zach Wilson was the second quarterback taken off of the board. His playstyle is extremely exciting, with the ability to push the ball effortlessly from multiple platforms. A three-year starter at BYU, Wilson earned the nickname “the Mormon Manziel” in Utah for his playmaking ability outside of the pocket. With that, however, comes considerable doubt.
I think you are going to see Wilson struggle a lot early on in New York. It’s a hard place to play because of the media attention that surrounds New York teams. The pressure for a quarterback like Wilson is incredibly challenging to handle. Already, we have seen glimpses of the “culture shock” that he is witnessing away from Utah. He is an incredibly hard worker and extremely passionate about the game, so I do have confidence that he can grow into the role. However, to me, the question that remains is how well he can handle the pressure in New York. I think it’s going to take some learning.
6. Davis Mills, Houston Texans
Pre draft rank (and grade): 9 (71)
Davis Mills was really held back in his evaluation by injuries. Mills flashed brilliance at times in a run-heavy scheme at Stanford. His intermediate-level passing is spot on, reminding you of Ryan Tannehill with his quick thinking ability and arm talent in that area of the field. However, watching him on tape, I often felt Mills was playing to his full potential and didn’t offer much upside.
Mills went in the third round for a reason. The Texans are beginning to bank that Deshaun Watson may not play for them this season. Because of that, they added a savvy veteran presence by signing Tyrod Taylor. Mills, the Texans’ first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft because of the Laremy Tunsil trade last year, shows that they are preparing to play without Watson.
Taylor has had issues staying healthy while starting for the Los Angeles Chargers and the Cleveland Browns over the last few years. It hasn’t been all his fault. Right before the Chargers’ week two matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs, the team doctor punctured Taylor’s lung while administering a pain-killing shot for his injured ribs. Justin Herbert filled in and kept the starting job the rest of the season.
It’s not a reach to think that Mills could see considerable playing time in 2021 in Houston.
7. Kellen Mond, Minnesota Vikings
Pre draft rank (and grade): 6 (77)
Kellen Mond is famously one of the favored prospects by former NFL quarterback and current NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms. Mond flashed greatness at Texas A&M, has a good arm, and was an excellent leader for the Aggies. Regardless, he tended to be inconsistent and has some mechanical issues – which is why he was drafted in the third round.
Mond’s release is very high and tight – it’s a good thing, but his entire body appears tense at all times. His feel for the play around him was limited on tape too. Mond won the MVP award at the Senior Bowl scrimmage, but it wasn’t because he was flat-out impressive at all times. He made mistakes but bounced back from them.
The Vikings appear to have drafted Mond to push their starter, Kirk Cousins, and try and provide some competition. Cousins has flashed brilliance while in Minnesota but overall has been overwhelmingly average. Everything weakness that Cousins has is a strong point to Mond, which should make the entire situation very intriguing for us to watch over the summer.
8. Kyle Trask, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pre draft rank (and grade): 10 (70)
From reports coming out of Tampa Bay, Kyle Trask already impresses coaches with his ability to process information and recognize some disguised coverages. The Buccaneers almost selected Trask with the 32nd overall pick in the draft, but ultimately the Buccaneers decided to select edge rusher Joe Tryon, out of Washington. When the Buccaneers drafted Trask with the 64th pick, it set off a run on quarterbacks. The Vikings quickly drafted Kellen Mond two picks later, and the Texans selected Davis Mills after that.
Trask lacks game experience over the course of his high school and college careers. He was a walk-on at Florida, eventually earning a scholarship because he backed up his entire career in high school to D’Eriq King, the super senior quarterback currently at Miami. However, once earning the starting job in Florida, it was clear that there was something special about Trask. With time, he can develop into a good quarterback. The Buccaneers sound like they are delighted with him and would love to have him step into Brady’s role when the legend retires.
9. Ian Book, New Orleans Saints
Pre draft rank (and grade): 8 (72)
Ian Book has long said that he models his game after Drew Brees. Now, let’s be clear very quickly – Book is no Brees. Book is an improviser to the core. He prefers to ball with the play out of the structure and while he’s creating – which is typically a bad thing for a quarterback in the NFL. He struggles to throw balls on time and instead dances out of the pocket like a backyard football game.
Book will be the third-string quarterback in New Orleans, behind Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston. I don’t think it’s outside of the realm of possibility to believe that if things end up going south for the Saints, that Book will see some playing time late in the year. Don’t expect it, but it’s a possibility. He really needs to sit for a couple of years, and I think his upside is a low-end starter/high-end backup.
10. Jamie Newman, Philadelphia Eagles
Pre draft rank (and grade): 7 (72)
Jamie Newman went undrafted in 2021 after transferring from Wake Forest to Georgia and then opting out of the 2020 season due to Covid-19. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles, who find themselves thin at the quarterback position. Jalen Hurts is the face in Philadelphia currently. The Eagles added NFL veteran Joe Flacco to the roster as well. Outside of those two players, it’s Jamie Newman.
Newman would be a better-suited backup to Jalen Hurts because the two share similar playing styles. Both have good arms and can extend the play outside of the pocket with their athleticism. It was probably the most favorable position for Newman to land, which is why he is the lone undrafted free agent rookie on this list – I think he makes the 53-man roster strictly out of need.
11. Sam Ehlinger, Indianapolis Colts
Pre draft rank (and grade): 11 (69)
Sam Ehlinger has already seen a rough start to his NFL career, starting with the unexpected loss of his brother, Jake, days after he was drafted. Ehlinger did not participate in minicamp as a result. We continue to pray for the Ehlinger family and offer our support through these troubling times for the family.
I knew he would be drafted entering the cycle because of his high football IQ, work ethic, and impeccable motor. Ehlinger is a self-motivated individual who drove rave reviews for his coachability at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. The issue with Ehlinger is the hot/cold problems that he had on the field in Texas. His inconsistency is a detriment to his team while he’s on the field.
If he can finetune dome of the mechanical issues that he displayed in college, Ehlinger is a high-upside backup, in my opinion. He’s a good face and mind to have in the locker room, very football savvy, but will probably have a more successful career in coaching than he will as a quarterback.