Let’s rewind for a second.
The 2020 COVID-impacted NCAA football season, as well as the subsequent 2021 NFL Draft, were placed under the most unusual of circumstances from minute one.
Opt-outs were prevalent among many teams in the college ranks. The direct result of these opt-outs, plus the truncated final seasons the 2021 prospects all faced, was exemplified in the draft.
At the center of this class were five big-name first-round quarterbacks: Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones. This class was expected to feature one of the greatest quarterback groups of all-time. Currently, all are halfway into their third professional seasons under varying circumstances.
Having watched these quarterbacks play for nearly three years, let’s re-rank the class.
QB1: Trevor Lawrence
Urban Meyer was hired to guide Lawrence, and he also nearly destroyed Lawrence in the same fell swoop. In those 13 games Meyer spent with the Jaguars, the then-rookie had thrown 15 interceptions and had very little to show for being the top pick. Fortunately, in stepped Doug Pederson.
Pederson, who had already mentored one young quarterback in Carson Wentz, assumed the reins of the team and of Lawrence’s progression in 2022. Despite a 4-8 start to last season, the Jaguars ripped a five-game winning streak, aided by division rival Tennessee’s historic collapse, which allowed the Jaguars to win the AFC South title and even secure a playoff victory in dramatic fashion. In doing so, Lawrence took leaps forward in his play with an increase in touchdowns, a decrease in interceptions, and an improvement in general productivity across the board.
Through nine weekends of 2023, Lawrence’s play has progressed further. He has now thrown for over 1,900 yards and nine touchdowns against only four interceptions. Lawrence remains the QB1 in this redraft.
Trevor Lawrence (Rank among QBs)
On Target %: 79.1% (4th)
Big Time Throws: 16 (6th)
Deep Passing (20+): 98.3 Grade (1st)
Time to Throw: 2.48 Secs (4th)
— Daniel Griffis (@DanDGriffis) November 9, 2023
QB2: Justin Fields
Justin Fields is an enigma. The 11th overall pick of the 2021 class has shown flashes of brilliance in his two-and-a-half seasons of play, yet also has equivalent amounts of lowlights within that same amount of time for a club that has only won 12 games in the time since Fields’ drafting.
Ask any observer and most will believe that Fields can become the class’s QB1 if he receives significant help on offense, but the Bears’ front office has failed on that count multiple times, including bringing in Chase Claypool. The ex-Steeler became enough of a problem to the team that the Bears dealt him to the Dolphins at this year’s deadline.
Fields himself stoked some controversy this season when he pinned blame on coaching for the Bears’ woes in a series of comments that he later clarified.
Fields is this class’s QB2 with the opportunity to grow further if the right pieces can finally be put into place.
This is the last time Justin Fields played a full football game.
But between throwing 10 passes and getting hurt. He somehow turned into Jamarcus Russell. pic.twitter.com/mB9ZIS9buq
— illwill (@79illwill) November 5, 2023
QB3: Mac Jones
Jones was the 15th pick in 2021. As a rookie, he threw 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while being named a Pro Bowler and leading the Patriots back to the postseason. He also became the only rookie quarterback in the class that led his team to a winning record at 10-7.
In 2022, Jones began to regress. His touchdowns dropped from 22 to 14, and his passing yards also dropped from 3,801 to 2,997. The Patriots fell right back out of playoff contention, finishing 2-5 after a 6-4 start, with most of the blame being pinned on Jones’s inconsistent play.
Through nine games of 2023, things have only gotten worse. Jones has already thrown nine interceptions through nine games, and the Patriots currently sit at 2-7, on pace for their worst season since at least 2000. Considering the relative gulf between himself and the last two quarterbacks of this redraft, Jones is the QB3.
Mac Jones misses a wide-open Tyquan Thornton on fourth down.
Got to make that throw…pic.twitter.com/GxJ1qDyAxr
— Thomas Carrieri (@Thomas_Carrieri) November 5, 2023
QB4: Zach Wilson
Wilson was selected immediately after Lawrence. In the two-and-a-half seasons that followed, Wilson has played far from what would be expected of a No. 2 pick. In 29 career starts, Wilson has compiled an 11-18 record as a starter, throwing 20 touchdowns against 23 interceptions with a completion percentage of 56.6.
A lifeline was offered to the Jets and Wilson in the form of Aaron Rodgers to open 2023. Rodgers had even begun to take Wilson under his wing in an attempt to mold the younger quarterback into a more consistent player. That all changed when Rodgers tore his Achilles just four plays into the Week 1 opener against the Bills. Wilson was immediately thrown back into the starting job and produced less-than-stellar results. Calls for the Jets to bench Wilson have been bizarrely unanswered.
Wilson is the QB4 of this redraft.
Can’t make Zach Wilson’s life much easier than it was on this play. pic.twitter.com/32PLY81Qv7
— Tony (@Tonyknowsball0) November 8, 2023
QB5: Trey Lance
Lance was dealt perhaps the unluckiest hand of all five first-round quarterbacks. He was supposed to be the next man up in San Francisco following Jimmy Garoppolo, and the 49ers made a trade a full month beforehand to jump nine selections. He has started exactly four games in his career, delivering a 2-2 record.
In 2021, Lance saw his first career start when Garoppolo was temporarily sidelined with a calf injury. In 2022, Lance was named the Week 1 starter. Both times, Lance suffered injuries of his own, including a season-ending ankle injury in 2022 that handed the reins back to Garoppolo.
Before the 2023 season began, the 49ers traded Lance to the Dallas Cowboys for a fourth-round selection. He is presently the Cowboys’ third-string quarterback, unlikely to actually see any time on the field behind Dak Prescott. Given the relative lack of progression or stats to compare to the four other quarterbacks in this class, Lance is destined for the QB5 spot.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think in this league when you do the right things and you’re made of the right stuff, eventually… pic.twitter.com/TxpJEOajFY
— JPAFootball (@jasrifootball) October 8, 2023
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