Predicting Landing Spots for Quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft's 1st Round

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IApril 27, 2021

Predicting Landing Spots for Quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft's 1st Round

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    All 32 NFL franchises have multiple positional needs heading into Thursday's draft. But no single position will be as captivating as the quarterback carousel.

    Each of the first four picks could be quarterbacks. Teams further down the board might trade up into the top 10 for a chance to land the signal-caller they so desire.

    The picture is becoming clearer regarding the first two draft choices, both of which are likely to be quarterbacks. But where will the other prospects land?

    The following is a prediction regarding first-round landing spots for some of the top quarterbacks in this year's class. These landing spots were chosen based on factors such as potential team fit, need and the latest predraft buzz.

The Jaguars Make the Obvious Choice at No. 1

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars have yet to give any indication they will select anyone other than Clemson's Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick. 

    Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported on April 12 that Lawrence has already been familiarizing himself with the Jaguars playbook, adding the Tigers star has "impressed them with his retention of their scheme."

    Fans of the team sent Lawrence and his wife, Marissa Mowry, wedding gifts after the two tied the knot earlier this month. In turn, Lawrence and Mowry donated $20,000 to Jacksonville charities.

    All signs point to Lawrence hearing his name called first. An NFC offensive coordinator told NFL Network's Tom Pelisserro they question the idea of the former Tigers signal-caller being a generational talent. But one AFC quarterbacks coach told Pelissero the Jags "have" to take Lawrence.

    It would be hard to find a reason to pass on Lawrence. He completed a career-high 69.2 percent of his pass attempts in 2020, throwing for 3,153 yards and 24 touchdowns against five interceptions. Lawrence has good size at 6'6", and he can make plays with his feet as well as with his arm.

    The Jaguars have been starved for a true franchise quarterback for years. They are unlikely to pass on a guy who has generated buzz as a future No.1 overall pick since his freshman season.

Jets Put Their Trust in Zach Wilson

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    The New York Jets made their intentions clear when they traded incumbent starting quarterback Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers.

    New York will take a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick, and it seems increasingly likely the Jets will select BYU's Zach Wilson.

    Wilson was one of the most prolific passers in college football last season. He ranked second in the NCAA in completion percentage (73.5), ranking third in passing yards (3,692) passing touchdowns (33) and adjusted passing yards per attempt (12.6).

    Cecil Lammey of and reported on April 14 the Jets previously had concerns about potential lingering shoulder issues stemming from surgery Wilson had in February 2019.

    But Wilson put any concerns to rest with a tremendous pro day in which he showed off his exceptional arm talent. His showing at the end of March prompted one scout to tell Dane Brugler of The Athletic "[The] Draft starts at 3. Wilson going 2." A general manager told Tom Pelissero Wilson's pro day "may be the best I've ever seen." 

    One college scouting director voiced some skepticism to Pelissero regarding Wilson's durability. But talent evaluators are enamored with his arm.

    Wilson has already spoken to former Jets quarterbacks about playing in New York, per NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala. He is likely heading to the Big Apple.

Niners Choose Trey Lance over Mac Jones

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    Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Sunday night the San Francisco 49ers have narrowed their focus to Alabama's Mac Jones and North Dakota State's Trey Lance for the No. 3 pick.

    When the Niners first traded up to the No. 3 spot, it appeared they were angling towards taking Jones. Chris Mortensen of ESPN (h/t Josh Schrock of NBC Sports Bay Area) reported the Niners had their eye on Jones when they made the pick, adding the former Crimson Tide star is "in the 90th percentile in terms of likely to be picked."

    But I'm not so convinced the Niners stick with Jones and pass on Lance.

    Dan Graziano of ESPN reported the Niners practically designed Lance's workout earlier this month. Just days later, Rich Eisen reported San Francisco would take Lance, even saying he might have been the choice all along. Todd McShay of ESPN reported a number of Niners personnel are pushing for Lance.

    The former Bison star is different from Jones in that he excels outside the pocket. Lance—who sat out the 2020 season—rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019. That doesn't mean he can't make throws, however. 

    Lance completed 66.9 percent of his attempts for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns against zero interceptions in 2019. He averaged 11.7 adjusted passing yards per attempt.

    The decision could rest with head coach Kyle Shanahan. McShay reported Shanahan might prefer Jones. However, Shanahan said Monday (h/t Adam Schefter of ESPN) every prospect has improved in their eyes during the evaluation process.

    Shanahan and the Niners could ultimately opt for Lance, who brings more dynamism and has seemingly enhanced his stock in recent weeks.

Broncos Trade Up to Draft Justin Fields

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    This is where things could get really interesting.

    The Atlanta Falcons could be a candidate to select a quarterback as Matt Ryan's eventual successor with the fourth overall pick. Should they pass, however, we might see teams hoping to get the Miami Dolphins' pick at No. 6. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Miami has already received calls from teams on that front.

    In this case, the Denver Broncos move up three spots to select Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. Miami can add draft capital without sliding too far back and still having the chance to get a top receiver.

    Broncos general manager George Paton told NFL Network's James Palmer (h/t Nick Shook of the team is still high on Lock. But he also said the team wants competition under center, and Denver might not pass on the chance to land Fields.

    The Buckeyes star threw for 41 touchdowns and averaged 11.2 adjusted yards per pass attempt in 2019. He completed a career-high 70.2 percent of his attempts in 2020 and torched Clemson with a slew of deep balls in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

    That says nothing of Fields' ability as a runner who can get downhill. He rushed for 383 yards and five scores on 4.7 yards per carry in eight games last season and ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at his pro day. 

    According to Rapoport, Fields revealed to teams he has epilepsy. Rapoport added the condition has not impacted him on the field and doctors believe he will outgrow the condition.

    Paton told Ryan O'Halloran of the Denver Post he has received one call from a team interested in trading down. Let's say that team is the Dolphins, with Denver having the No. 40 pick in its back pocket and also playing with future compensation.

    The Broncos might also express interest in getting the No. 7 pick from the Detroit Lions or swapping with the Carolina Panthers (No. 8), depending on how Miami handles the No. 6 pick.

Patriots Stand Pat, Still Land Jones

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots might be interested in moving up the board to draft a top quarterback. Tom Pelissero reported they have already made calls about getting into the top 10.

    But the Pats could be hard-pressed to leapfrog the Denver Broncos if they decide to move up, and head coach Bill Belichick does not strike me as one to give up much capital. He might not need to.

    This scenario has the Pats staying at No. 15 and still having the chance to draft Mac Jones. Not many teams picking ahead of New England are likely to take a quarterback after the Broncos at No. 9. That means one of the top five guys could fall in Belichick's lap at No. 15.

    Jones might be the kind of savvy, efficient signal-caller desirable to the Patriots. One NFC scout told Pelissero the Crimson Tide star is excellent at making pre-snap reads and assessing his options at the line of scrimmage. Sound like a former Pats quarterback?

    OK, we won't compare Jones to Tom Brady. But they at least appear to have some similarities regarding intellect and poise in the pocket.

    Jones picked opponents apart in 2020. He led the NCAA in completion percentage (77.4), passing yards (4,500) and adjusted passing yards per attempt (12.8), as well as ranking second in touchdown passes (41). Granted, he had plenty of talent on the offensive line and at the skill positions, but Jones maximized that talent.

    Mike Reiss of ESPN suggested the structure of Cam Newton's contract indicates the Pats might look for a better option under center. Jones could be that guy if he is still on the board when New England picks at No. 15.

Saints Add Another Quarterback

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    Organizations such as the Washington Football Team and Chicago Bears might be interested in adding a quarterback. But neither team seems likely to leap into the top 10, nor do they seem like candidates to take a signal-caller from their draft positions (19th and 20th, respectively).

    The New Orleans Saints, however, might opt to draft a quarterback at the end of the first round.

    New Orleans owns the No. 28 pick. Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill are only under contract through 2021, and it's uncertain whether either guy can establish a stranglehold on the position. The Saints could take a flier on a quarterback and stash them away if the situation under center looks dire as the season rolls along.

    Davis Mills of Stanford is an interesting prospect to watch in this regard. Mills made all of 11 starts at Stanford. But he impressed at his pro day, completing 50-of-54 throws in poor conditions and running unofficial 40-yard times of 4.66 and 4.58 seconds. 

    Mills comes with durability concerns. Tom Pelissero reported he has had four surgeries on his left knee. But he looked mostly healthy in the following years and tested well at his workout.

    Saints head coach Sean Payton said quarterback is not a "must" in the draft. But it might not be a surprise to see New Orleans take a chance on a pro-style guy such as Mills.


    All stats obtained via Sports Reference, unless otherwise noted.