Ranking the Top 10 Quarterbacks Eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2020

Ranking the Top 10 Quarterbacks Eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The 2021 NFL draft is less than six months away. While we don't know which players will make themselves draft-eligible, we know this: On paper, the 2021 class should be loaded at the quarterback position.

    This is good news for both quarterback-needy teams and those looking to develop players for the future—there truly should be something for everyone. Here, we'll take a look at the most promising quarterback prospects who are eligible for the 2021 draft.

    We'll rank each of our top 10 signal-callers based on factors like 2020 production, career body of work, supporting cast, NFL readiness and physical upside. We'll also pair each prospect with an NFL team based on factors like positional need, scheme fit and draft position.

10. Sam Ehlinger, Texas

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Listed at 6'3" and 225 pounds, Texas Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger has the size and build of an archetypal quarterback. He has plus athleticism and is a solid runner for the position. He has plenty of big-play ability and has racked up 1,834 passing yards, 323 rushing yards, 29 total touchdowns and just five interceptions in 2020.

    According to Texas coach Tom Herman, Ehlinger also has the intangibles of an ideal quarterback.

    "If you could design the mental and emotional makeup of a quarterback, you couldn't have designed one better in a laboratory," Herman told SiriusXM Radio.

    However, when watching the Longhorns in action, one notices many of Ehlinger's targets are wide-open when receiving the ball. His throws lack zip, and accuracy is also a question mark, as he has completed just 58.8 percent of his passes this season.

    It's fair to wonder how effective Ehlinger can be throwing into NFL windows consistently. He's likely to be a career backup best served in an offense that excels at creating space downfield. A team like the Los Angeles Rams could be perfect for him, allowing him to grow as an understudy to Jared Goff. Ehlinger should be drafted, but probably not before Day 3.

    Best Fit: Los Angeles Rams

9. Brock Purdy, Iowa State

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    Matthew Putney/Associated Press

    There's a lot to like about Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy. While he's slightly undersized at 6'1" and 212 pounds, he has adequate arm strength, a tremendous amount of pocket presence and a keen ability to escape the rush.

    On film, Purdy's patience and willingness to work through his progressions are apparent. Unlike many pro prospects, he is not a one-read quarterback.

    However, consistency is not his strongest suit. He can have amazing games and then bad ones, like a 145-yard, one-interception performance in this year's opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.

    "In a year where there appear to be three clear top QB prospects—Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Trey Lance—and a big glut of contenders for QB4, Purdy didn't do anything in Week 1 to help his cause," Yahoo Sports' Eric Edholm wrote after the opener.

    While Purdy can put good velocity on the ball, he has struggled to push it downfield and to hit tight windows on the perimeter. He's likely a project at the next level and a good fit for a passing system that does most of its damage between the hash marks.

    A likely Day 2 or Day 3 selection, Purdy could be a long-term backup for a tight-end-centric team like the Baltimore Ravens.

    Best Fit: Baltimore Ravens

8. Jamie Newman, Georgia

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Jamie Newman is a tough prospect to evaluate because he transferred from Wake Forest to Georgia and then opted out of the 2020 season. He has accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl, and he will have a lot riding on his week in Mobile, Alabama.

    However, Newman is an intriguing prospect as the NFL has become more accepting of dual-threat quarterbacks. The 6'4", 230-pound quarterback is a powerful runner who racked up 574 yards rushing, 2,868 yards passing, 32 total touchdowns and 11 interceptions at Wake Forest in 2019.

    While Newman isn't the most accurate passer in this draft class—he completed 60.9 percent of his throws last season—he shows solid ball placement and anticipation on short and intermediate throws on film. His deep balls lack accuracy, though, and he may be limited to being a high-end backup.

    Newman would be a solid fit for a team like the Dallas Cowboys, who already have a mobile quarterback in Dak Prescott and a run-oriented offense. Though Prescott's future remains uncertain, Dallas appears committed to him and unwilling to draft a signal-caller early.

    "Dak's our quarterback," vice president Stephen Jones told reporters Monday. "We're so fired up about him and him leading us into the future."

    While the Cowboys may be sold on Prescott for the long term, they've learned about the importance of a high-end insurance policy the hard way this season.

    Best Fit: Dallas Cowboys

7. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    With Texas A&M's Kellen Mond, we're beginning to get into prospects who should get serious Round 1 consideration. Though not as complete a prospect as players like Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, Mond is a polished passer, an above-average athlete and an experienced starter, one with 43 college games on his resume.

    A slight 6'3" and 217 pounds, Mond is best suited to be a pure pocket passer. He can scramble when needed—he had 500 rushing yards in 2019—but running shouldn't be his first or even second option at the pro level.

    Mond has all the physical tools to succeed as a pocket passer at the pro level, though. He has a quick release, above-average arm strength and solid accuracy. He has completed 64.3 percent of his passes this season for 1,468 yards with 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

    Ideally, Mond will land with a team that runs a more traditional dropback passing attack. The Chicago Bears could be just such a team if they continue to employ head coach Matt Nagy beyond this season.

    The Bears have already turned the page on Mitchell Trubisky, but Nick Foles is not the long-term answer either. They will likely be looking to upgrade in the draft, but at 5-4, they may not draft highly enough to land one of the top prospects.

    Best Fit: Chicago Bears

6. Zach Wilson, BYU

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    BYU's Zach Wilson is another borderline first-round prospect who could continue to creep up draft boards as the season progresses. The biggest knock on him is the lack of high-level competition he has faced in 2020.

    Wilson has been impressive, completing 75.1 percent of his passes for 2,512 yards with 22 touchdowns and just two picks. However, he has faced the likes of Navy, Troy, Texas State and Western Kentucky.

    On film, Wilson has shown the mechanics, anticipation and accuracy of an NFL starter. He moves well in the pocket, delivers a catchable ball, works well through his progressions and typically places the ball where only his receiver can make a play.

    Listed at 6'3" and 210 pounds, Wilson is on the skinnier side, but he should be able to add bulk during the predraft process.

    One of the better pocket passers in this draft class, Wilson would be a terrific fit for a team that utilizes vertical routes and play action. The San Francisco 49ers could provide an ideal home—and they have already shown interest.

    "One area scout told me the team has sent top evaluator Adam Peters to see BYU's Zach Wilson and Alabama's Mac Jones this season," Bleacher Report draft analyst Matt Miller recently wrote.

    If San Francisco decides to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo, Wilson could be a late Round 1 target.

    Best Fit: San Francisco 49ers

5. Kyle Trask, Florida

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    While Wilson has played an underwhelming slate of opponents, Florida's Kyle Trask has already gone up against teams like Mississippi, Texas A&M and Georgia. While Trask is relatively raw—he never started at quarterback before 2019—he has proved he can thrive against elite competition.

    While Trask has a few mechanical issues to sort out—again, he isn't a polished prospect—he has flashed high-end arm strength, accuracy and mobility. He has completed 68.7 percent of his passes this year and completed 69.8 percent against a good Georgia defense.

    Trask carved up that defense, throwing for 474 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.

    While he is mobile, he is not a true dual-threat quarterback. He can glide around pressure and throw from multiple platforms, but he would be most effective in an offense with a strong line and a traditional dropback scheme.

    Trask and the Indianapolis Colts could fit each other perfectly. Though not as athletic as former Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Trask has many of the same qualities as a thrower and as a leader. He could provide a clear upgrade over an aging Philip Rivers, while coach Frank Reich could help Trask reach his potential as a signal-caller.

    Best Fit: Indianapolis Colts

4. Mac Jones, Alabama

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Statistically, Alabama's Mac Jones has been nothing short of impressive this season. He has completed 78.5 percent of his passes for 2,196 yards, 16 touchdowns and two interceptions for the undefeated Crimson Tide.

    The biggest question mark with Jones is his supporting cast. He's surrounded by NFL talent like wideouts Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith. It's not unfair to look at the roster and think any competent quarterback could produce impressive results.

    Here's something to keep in mind, though. Joe Burrow was surrounded by NFL-level talent at LSU last year too, and he's already become a high-end starter with a bad Cincinnati Bengals team. While Jones isn't the can't-miss prospect Burrow appeared to be, he's not just a product of the Alabama roster.

    "He gets a boost from that elite talent, sure, but he consistently makes pro-level throws," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. recently wrote. "The things he's doing translate to the next level. He has also shown some ability to maneuver in the pocket and make quick decisions. That's crucial."

    Jones sees the field well, works through his progressions quickly, identifies the best open target and delivers the ball with haste. While he has plenty of arm talent, he would be a tremendous fit for a precision and timing-based offense like that of the New England Patriots.

    While New England doesn't feature the firepower Alabama does, Josh McDaniels' system hinges on finding the open man more than on individual stars. Patriots coach Bill Belichick is plugged into the Alabama pipeline and could provide a seamless transition to the NFL for Jones.

    Best Fit: New England Patriots

3. Trey Lance, North Dakota State

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    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    While Jones' draft stock hinges almost entirely on the 2020 season, North Dakota State's Trey Lance is relying largely on his 2019 tape. He has played in just one showcase game this season but was phenomenal last season.

    In 2019, Lance passed for 2,786 yards, rushed for 1,100 yards and logged 42 total touchdowns without an interception.

    Level of competition is a concern, but his physical toolbox is not. He's dripping with arm talent, athleticism, field vision and running ability. At 6'4" and 226 pounds, he possesses the size to remain a true dual threat at the pro level.

    This dual-threat upside is why Lance ranks so highly more than three months from the scouting combine. Players like Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen and Kyler Murray are taking the NFL by storm, and Lance could be the next modern-style quarterback to do so.

    While the predraft process will significantly impact Lance's draft stock, he has as much upside as any signal-caller in this class. The lack of a legitimate 2020 season is what keeps him below Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence.

    From a fit standpoint, the Washington Football Team could be perfect. The franchise appears ready to turn the page on Dwayne Haskins Jr., and coach Ron Rivera has extensive experience working with dual-threat prototype Cam Newton.

    With a seasoned coach and a strong defense to support him, Lance could burst onto the NFL scene the way Jackson did a couple of years ago.

    Best Fit: Washington Football Team

2. Justin Fields, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    In a different draft class, Ohio State's Justin Fields might be the clear-cut No. 1 prospect. He's played just three games in 2020 but has been spectacular. He has passed for 908 yards, rushed for 57 yards, logged 13 total touchdowns and thrown zero interceptions.

    Fields was equally impressive in 2019, finishing with 3,273 passing yards, 484 rushing yards, 51 total touchdowns and just three interceptions. Of course, playing quarterback is about more than raw statistics. Fortunately, he has shown that he is too.

    A polished and accurate pocket passer, Fields can take over games with his arm strength and accuracy. He's also quick and athletic enough to take over with his legs when he has to. What might be most impressive, though, is Fields' desire to continually improve his game.

    As The Athletic's Dane Brugler wrote:

    "Instead of opting out, Fields did everything in his power to push for a Big Ten fall schedule because he wanted to show the world, including NFL scouts, the improvements to his game. ... Fields is showing improved vision and willingness to work his progressions, which is the development evaluators were hoping to see from him."

    Assuming Lawrence goes No. 1, Fields is almost a lock to go No. 2 at this point. Therefore, only a handful of teams will realistically have a shot at him. The Jacksonville Jaguars are one of them, and they could desperately use a quarterback of his caliber.

    In Fields, Jacksonville could finally have the high-upside, dual-threat quarterback it once thought it had in Blake Bortles.

    Best Fit: Jacksonville Jaguars

1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

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    Ken Ruinard/Associated Press

    Clemson's Trevor Lawrence is the cream of the quarterback crop in 2020, and the only way he doesn't go No. 1 is if he opts to return to college or if some team foolishly talks itself out of drafting him. The 6'6", 220-pound gunslinger is arguably the most can't-miss prospect we've seen since Andrew Luck.

    "I've honestly never seen anything like him," one NFL quarterbacks coach said, per Miller. "You've seen guys with a bigger arm, and you've seen guys who are faster, but I've never seen a prospect who has every trait you need and has them at a high level."

    In six games this season, Lawrence has thrown for 1,833 yards with 17 touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing for four scores. He already has one national title on his resume, has appeared in two title games and could make it to a third this season.

    However, Lawrence isn't just an elite prospect because of what he's done on the field, as Miller recently pointed out.

    "One NFL executive and likely future general manager added, 'One of the best things you hear about him is that he's super confident but also super chill,'" Miller wrote. "'He's very laid-back but very intelligent. His teammates love him.'"

    Lawrence is a fit for virtually any team and system, and the only question is which team will end up with the No. 1 choice. The 0-9 New York Jets are well on their way to securing that coveted draft slot. Going 0-16 won't feel so bad if Lawrence is the prize that awaits them.

    Best Fit: New York Jets

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