The Worst Potential Landing Spots for 2021 NFL Draft's Top QBs
Fit is the most important detail for an NFL quarterback, and that's especially true for rookies.
The right combination of passer-coach fit and scheme and an organization's willingness to support development all play a big role in whether a signal-caller becomes a franchise-type player who can elevate a team.
Examples abound. Does Josh Rosen bust if he doesn't land behind a terrible offensive line and with an organization that gave up on him right away? Does Josh Allen flirt with MVP-level production without a patient Buffalo Bills team giving him time and surrounding him with weapons like Stefon Diggs? The classic Tom Brady example persists, too.
Simply put, some situations are better than others for each prospect based on scheme and talent fit, the stability of the coaching staff and a franchise's willingness or ability to surround the quarterback with helpful pieces.
The following landing spots are the worst-case scenarios for this draft's top passers.
Trevor Lawrence: Anywhere Other Than Jacksonville
Clemson star Trevor Lawrence already avoided a potential disaster late last year when the New York Jets coughed up a seemingly unbeatable lead on the first overall pick, and that's because anything other than Jacksonville just doesn't seem right.
After completing 66.6 percent of his passes for 10,098 yards and 90 touchdowns against 17 interceptions over three seasons, Lawrence has been a lock for the No. 1 pick in the same way Joe Burrow was last year.
Of the teams picking in the top three, Jacksonville is the best fit. It has the flashy new head coach hire who won't go anywhere for a long time thanks to Urban Meyer, as well as many ways to improve the roster thanks to the league's most cap space ($40.9 million) and nine other picks in this year's draft, including No. 25 overall.
On paper, Lawrence immediately gets to step into an offense that boasts breakout running back James Robinson and wideouts DJ Chark Jr., Marvin Jones Jr. and Laviska Shenault Jr., all while not facing ridiculous expectations to instantly be amazing and get the Jaguars to the playoffs right away.
Zach Wilson: Atlanta Falcons
BYU star Zach Wilson going to the Atlanta Falcons at fourth overall would mean falling past better fits with the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers.
It would also mean sitting for at least one year on a team in a tough cap spot.
Ideally, Wilson will land with the Jets even though they have a defensive-minded head coach (Robert Saleh). The roster is a work in progress, but the organization has droves of cap space, and the Corey Davis-Denzel Mims duo could develop into something special.
In Atlanta, Wilson would have to sit behind Matt Ryan, who's heading into his age-36 season. There doesn't appear to be any simple escape from his contract given the staggering $65 million in dead cap this season.
Ryan's contract has an out built into it after the 2021 campaign, but ask the Green Bay Packers how trying to move on from a veteran who still has a spark left after drafting a possible successor can go. Wilson could waste more than one year sitting on the bench even though guys like Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert have made it clear rookie passers need to be on the field.
By the time he's playing, a core headlined by Julio Jones will be that much older.
This isn't to say a new Atlanta coaching staff headed up by offensive guru Arthur Smith isn't appealing. But the overarching situation could lead to stunted development as a roster on the downswing and a contractual standoff might waste Wilson's cheap rookie years.
Justin Fields: Miami Dolphins
Justin Fields was prolific at Ohio State, completing 68.4 percent of his passes for 63 touchdowns and nine interceptions while rushing for 15 more scores over two seasons.
The Buckeyes standout presents the sort of physical, versatile playing style that might mesh best on a team like the New England Patriots, where he could swipe the job from Cam Newton and be comfortable right away. Or, in a worst-case scenario, he could land in a place where he isn't guaranteed to be the starter from day one.
The Miami Dolphins used a first-rounder on Tua Tagovailoa last year, and while it seems like they will stick with him, it's smokescreen season as the team clutches the No. 6 pick.
On paper, Miami has some good things going for it, such as the state of the rebuild, droves of assets and a DeVante Parker-Will Fuller V combo at wideout. But much like when the Arizona Cardinals gave up on Josh Rosen, he wouldn't be guaranteed the job. And if Fields does succeed in pushing out Tagovailoa, expectations to become a Kyler Murray-style franchise savior would be through the roof.
Trey Lance: New York Giants
Trey Lance might sneakily be the most intriguing quarterback in the draft thanks to his physical skill set. He's huge (6'4" 224 lbs), threw for 30 touchdowns and one interception over 17 collegiate starts and bullied his way to 1,200-plus rushing yards with 16 scores on a 6.8 yards-per-carry average over that same span.
Unlike some of the other top passers in this class, Lance might do well learning from the sidelines for a year since he's trying to make the jump from North Dakota State to the NFL. Maybe that could happen in a place like Atlanta or, if he drops far enough in the order, with a team like the New Orleans Saints that has an established one-year starter (Jameis Winston) and plenty of running elements to the offensive playbook.
A team like the New York Giants, however, does not qualify.
Those Giants sit 11th in the order, and a new Joe Judge-led coaching staff isn't guaranteed to keep rolling with 2019 sixth overall pick Daniel Jones. Over two ho-hum seasons, he's completed just 62.2 percent of his passes with 35 touchdowns and 22 interceptions, averaging only 6.6 yards per attempt.
Should Lance land with the Giants, provided he takes a brief fall over those level-of-competition concerns, he might be forced into starting right away on a roster that isn't ready to uplift him. For proof, just look at Jones' developmental track so far.
Expectations in the media spotlight of the Big Apple are astronomical, as Sam Darnold could confirm during his time with the New York Jets.
Mac Jones: San Francisco 49ers
Unless it's a crafty misdirection in the middle of smokescreen season, Alabama quarterback Mac Jones seems destined to come off the board third overall to the San Francisco 49ers.
And that could be a problem.
Jones is a late-riser. He was impressive in college, of course, completing 74.3 percent of his passes with 56 touchdowns and seven interceptions. But he did so while coasting along with a Nick Saban-recruited supporting cast. Alabama passers haven't exactly been successful in the NFL lately, barring a rise from Tagovailoa.
There's a reason Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus had to pen an article about whether Jones can succeed at the pro level despite his lack of "high-end traits." That's a red flag in and of itself, especially for a 49ers team that would likely want to start him right away after investing three first-round picks to move up from No. 12 to No. 3 in the draft order.
Maybe an offensive whiz like Kyle Shanahan can indeed squeak the most out of Jones. But the 49ers don't have the host of weapons Alabama did. With the Crimson Tide, Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy, among others, always created separation. The 49ers don't have weapons like that, and timing windows get even smaller in the pros.
Atlanta, given its host of receiving options, might be a more comfortable setting while Jones adjusts. Maybe a reunion with Jeudy on the Denver Broncos could also work.
But for as much hype as the Jones-49ers fit is starting to get, the expectations could quickly grow to unobtainable levels.