Best and Worst Landing Spots for 2021 NFL Draft's Top Quarterback Prospects
Quarterback is unquestionably the most important position in today's NFL. The problem is that there aren't enough high-level starters to fill all 32 starting jobs. There are plenty of serviceable signal-callers, to be sure, but truly elite quarterbacks are few and far between, and the teams that don't already have one are constantly looking to address the problem.
That's why quarterbacks are often taken high in the NFL draft even when their bodies of work might not justify an early selection. Franchises are constantly rolling the dice on young signal-callers and are more frequently pulling the plug on them to dip back into the draft pool.
Four quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the 2020 draft, and we could see even more signal-callers go in Round 1 this year. The question, of course, is where they will land.
Here, we'll examine the top five quarterback prospects for 2021—as ranked by ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay—and determine the best and worst landing spots for each. Factors like supporting cast, playing opportunity and scheme fit, where applicable, will be considered.
We'll also be realistic with draft ranges for each player. While being Tom Brady's understudy might be ideal for a quarterback, landing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers isn't realistic for a potential top-five selection.
Players are listed in alphabetical order.
Justin Fields, Ohio State
Ohio State's Justin Fields probably won't be the first quarterback off the board in the spring. However, he could still be a top-10 selection. A capable dual-threat quarterback, he has amassed 1,906 passing yards, 316 rushing yards and 26 total touchdowns with six interceptions in seven games this season.
It would be a mild surprise if Fields isn't one of the first three quarterbacks taken in Round 1.
Best Fit: Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers could provide an ideal home for Fields in the NFL. While he isn't exactly a finished product, having two bright offensive minds in head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady overseeing his development could be huge.
The Panthers also have a superb supporting cast headlined by Christian McCaffrey, Robby Anderson and DJ Moore. Plus, Fields could have the added benefit of learning behind the experienced Teddy Bridgewater for a year.
Worst Fit: Miami Dolphins
Would the Miami Dolphins turn the page on Tua Tagovailoa after less than one full season? The team has suggested it won't.
"Tua, we're very happy with. He's our starting quarterback," general manager Chris Grier told reporters.
However, anything could be possible if the Dolphins fall in love with Fields.
Remember, the Arizona Cardinals dumped Josh Rosen after less than a full season to go with Kyler Murray. The problem for Fields is that a similar move in Miami could lead to wildly unrealistic expectations that could set him up for failure, especially if the Dolphins don't bring back Ryan Fitzpatrick as a mentor and force him to start early.
Mac Jones, Alabama
Alabama's Mac Jones probably won't be a top-10 selection. He's a one-year starter who has benefited from one of the best supporting casts in college football. Teams are going to wonder how much of his Heisman bid was the product of players like DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris and Jaylen Waddle.
However, Jones has shown he can take advantage of the talent around him. He has great pocket presence, works through his progressions quickly and has flashed great touch and accuracy on short-to-intermediate throws.
One of the more traditional pocket passers in this year's draft, Jones should be a solid fit for a team with a strong running game and a traditional dropback scheme.
Best Fit: Indianapolis Colts
While Jones moves around the pocket well, he is a relatively stationary quarterback. The Indianapolis Colts just so happen to have found success this season with a similar passer in Philip Rivers. Jones could potentially learn under him for a season—if the veteran is re-signed—or be set up to start early.
With a strong running game led by Jonathan Taylor, a stellar offensive line and young pass-catchers like Michael Pittman Jr. on the roster, the Colts could provide an opportunity for early success. Indianapolis and head coach Frank Reich could also be great for Jones' long-term development.
Worst Fit: Chicago Bears
If the Chicago Bears move on from Mitchell Trubisky in the offseason, they'll be looking for a quarterback who can win right away. That could lead to unrealistic expectations for Jones, who may only be a quality rookie starter with the right supporting cast.
The Bears may lose No. 1 receiver Allen Robinson II in free agency, and aside from budding rookie Darnell Mooney, that would leave them with little offensive talent. Their offensive line has some holes on the interior, and they may be looking at one final chance for head coach Matt Nagy.
All that could put Jones in a difficult situation.
Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Trey Lance is a difficult evaluation because he played just one game in 2020. Going back to the 2019 season, though, the North Dakota State standout showed the potential to be a premier dual-threat quarterback at the pro level.
In 2019, Lance threw for 2,786 yards with 28 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 more scores.
Lance is best-suited for an offense willing to embrace his dual-threat ability, just as the Baltimore Ravens did with Lamar Jackson.
Best Fit: New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have shown they're willing to roll with a run-heavy quarterback. Head coach Sean Payton went with dual-threat Taysom Hill over Jameis Winston while Drew Brees was injured during the 2020 regular season.
Lance could play a similar role to the one Hill had, only he could likely do it better. He has the breakaway quickness Hill lacks, and that could make him a deadly addition to a backfield that includes Alvin Kamara.
Assuming Michael Thomas is back for 2021, Lance's big arm could also be a significant asset in Payton's offense.
Worst Fit: Indianapolis Colts
While the Colts could be a great landing spot for a dropback passer like Jones, they may be a poor fit for Lance. Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni have already tried to make a dual-threat quarterback work once, utilizing Jacoby Brissett as a full-time starter (when healthy) in 2019.
While the Colts kept Brissett as a backup for the 2020 season, they obviously viewed a more traditional passer as a superior option, which is why they brought in Rivers for the year and may shy away from a quarterback like Lance in the draft.
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Clemson's Trevor Lawrence is unquestionably the top signal-caller in this draft class. While he isn't going to the College Football Playoffs title game this year, he has plenty of big-game experience to go with proven production and a generational skill set.
"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," one unnamed NFL quarterbacks coach told draft expert Matt Miller.
If we're being honest, there isn't a team that Lawrence wouldn't fit.
Best Fit: Jacksonville Jaguars
If we're being realistic, Lawrence isn't falling past No. 2. If the Jacksonville Jaguars were to somehow pass on him, the New York Jets would gobble him up.
Between these two franchises, the Jaguars have the most to offer.
No, the Jaguars don't have a head coach in place. However, they do have a strong supporting cast that includes James Robinson, DJ Chark Jr. and Laviska Shenault. Jacksonville will also have the most cap space in the league and another first-round pick to further build around Lawrence.
Worst Fit: New York Jets
The Jets are similar to Jacksonville in that they have no head coach, the second-most cap space and two first-round draft selections. However, their supporting cast isn't as established.
There is nothing resembling a No. 1 receiver on New York's roster, and the Jets lack a high-end running back. They do have a blossoming left tackle in Mekhi Becton, but that's about it. Between these two franchises, New York is the one that Lawrence should hope to avoid.
Zach Wilson, Brigham Young
Brigham Young's Zach Wilson may be the biggest quarterback riser in this draft class, and he's now the No. 2 QB on McShay's big board.
"I love Wilson's competitiveness and toughness in the pocket, and he has a high-end ability to extend plays," McShay wrote. "His deep-ball accuracy is also outstanding."
Wilson is a fairly traditional pocket passer, though he does have enough movement skills to utilize bootlegs, run-pass options and late-developing play-action passes.
Best Fit: San Francisco 49ers
From a system standpoint, the San Francisco 49ers would be an ideal fit for Wilson. Kyle Shanahan's offense thrives on pocket movement and play action, and Wilson could execute it to perfection. The 49ers are also loaded with supporting talent, from wideout Deebo Samuel to tight end George Kittle and running backs like Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr.
The 49ers may need to trade up to land Wilson. It would also likely require Shanahan pulling the plug on Jimmy Garoppolo. Both events could unfold in the offseason, though, especially if Shanahan falls in love with the potential matchups Wilson could provide in his offense.
Worst Fit: New York Giants
Would the Giants turn the page on Daniel Jones after only two seasons? If the right quarterback prospect is sitting there in the draft, perhaps. Jones didn't exactly flourish under new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett this season, and the current coaching staff didn't select him.
However, that doesn't mean Wilson should be hoping to land with the Giants. While he has a similar skill set to Jones, that isn't necessarily a good thing. New York had the league's 31st-ranked offense in 2020. While getting star running back Saquon Barkley back should help next season, the Giants are not an offensive powerhouse.
New York also has some serious questions along the offensive line. The unit surrendered 50 sacks on the season. Swapping out one mobile pocket passer for another isn't necessarily going to fix the problem.