by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
January 17th, 2021
As you consume these rankings, please be aware that I’m not ranking the players based on the order I believe they’ll be taken, but instead my evaluation of their chances of success in the NFL. There are notable players that will be taken very high in the draft that I have ranked far below their respective draft order, though I will have those players much higher in my mocks.
Desmond Ridder’s decision to return to Cincinnati came after the initial posting of these rankings, every player behind him will move up a spot in the rankings with Kellen Mond of Texas A&M coming into the rankings.
1) Trevor Lawrence, Clemson; Ht: 6-6 Wt: 220
Ever since Trevor Lawrence was in high school and the Elite Eleven, he was projected to be a high pick in the NFL. From Day 1 against Furman he was great and he only got better as the games went on. Sure, he had the odd bump along the way, but everyone does. If there’s a single concern I have it’s that he sometimes struggles to make the right decision when the offensive line breaks down, but we rarely saw that happen considering Clemson’s dominance. He has a great arm that’s deadly accurate, he can make any pass you ask of him, he’s a great athlete and very good runner, and has the mind to run any offense one could ask. I’m not as certain of him being truly great for a long time in the NFL as most people are, but I think he’s the best player in the draft by some distance and deserves the top spot.
2) Zach Wilson, BYU; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 210
Wilson was someone to keep an eye on at the beginning of the season, but the outburst that he and BYU had this season was something that could not be ignored and something that has vaulted him to the top of the draft. His accuracy is absolutely unreal and his decision making is top notch in every situation. He reminds me of Matt Stafford in that he can drop his arm angle to complete passes based on situation, plus his downfield accuracy is jaw-dropping, launching inch-perfect pass game after game. In addition, he’s an underrated runner, showing patience and thought while advancing the football. He does get into trouble when the pocket gets hot and there needs to be a bit of work done on his internal clock, but that’s of very little concern to me compared to the rest of the upsides that he’s working with. I see him being a top five pick and one that we could see trades for.
3) Justin Fields, Ohio State; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 228
The draft stock of Fields has fluctuated more than any quarterback in the country this season. He opened the season by missing a single pass against Nebraska, but his performance against Indiana and Northwestern gave me pause. His herculean effort against Clemson shot him back up some boards, but the mediocre game against in the National Championship quelled some of that hype. Plus we have to factor in the injury concerns that he may have been going through, making the process even more difficult. There isn’t really an upper echelon of quarterbacks this season considering how highly Lawrence is rated, but if there was, Fields would bookend it. There’s a lot of work to do before he’s ready to start in the NFL, but based on his accomplishments and raw talent will get him picked regardless. He telegraphs his passes in a way that will result in a lot of picks at the pro level and his touch needs refining. I also have concerns about his decision making when progressing through reads, but there’s also so much upside to be had. He’s a fantastic runner and has good accuracy to all fields, always giving passes a chance to be completed at the least. He has a fluid throwing motion and a wonderful feel for the pocket. As I wrote while I was scouting him, he’s really good, but he’s not really great. A couple seasons behind a veteran could change that.
4) Trey Lance, North Dakota State; Ht: 6-4 Wt: 226
Lance actually has yet to start his season, but from what we’ve seen to this point in his career at North Dakota State he has the potential to be a star in the NFL. He’s clearly a very talented runner, something that stood out right off the bat on tape. He runs hard and fast, but he’s obviously very thoughtful while running, creating paths before they open. His arm is very impressive as well. NDSU took a lot of deep shots with Lance and it’s obvious as to why, he’s great to that part of the field. He’s causally accurate and can put absolute missiles down the field, though that does result in some overthrows on occasion. Like Fields he doesn have some telegraphing issues, but it’s not something I’m too concerned with. There’s top half of the first round potential here if the market calls for it.
5) Kyle Trask, Florida; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 240
One thing that we all need to realize when these quarterbacks are coming through massive programs like Florida and Alabama is that we need to separate the quarterback from the receivers. We have to isolate the passer and analyze him for his throws, not his full body of statistics. Did Trask have a great season? Yes. But we saw some problematic things in the bowl game when his top four pass catchers were gone, flaws that were covered up by those players. The offense run by the Gators put Trask in really easy situations with easy throws to great players, so when looking past that I felt as though there’s some issues that must be addressed. In terms of physically throwing the football, Trask is really mechanical and lacks fluidity. His accuracy is good, but it’s not great, hitting the numbers with infrequency. The offensive ease allowed him to be relaxed and develop some bad habits, passing into heavy coverage, throwing off his back foot, and settling on his reads. But there’s a lot of good things in his game as well. He ran maybe the best passing attack in college football this season and that can’t be discounted. His passion for football is unquestionable, often blocking for teammates, and his leadership was put on display before the season even started. In the pocket he has a great presence and when he’s focused, his progression is really impressive. There’s a lot of potential, but he needs work. If he’s just thrown into an NFL starting job he will likely fail off the bat. Pair him with a good coach, a good mentor, and decent weapons sometime down the road and he’ll be great.
6) Shane Buechele, SMU; Ht: 6-1 Wt: 207
If the name Shane Buechele rings a bell, there’s probably a couple of reasons why. The first is that the SMU quarterback started his career in Texas before being usurped by Sam Ehlinger (more on him later). The other reason could be that he’s on SportsCenter pretty often because he’s a great passer with a ton of highlight throws. SMU committed to an Air Raid type of offense, surrounding Buechele with good weapons to find with his talented arm. My main concerns with the player is that he sometimes struggles to find openings when the pressure is on, but that can be worked on and is a good compromise for the rest of his game. Like Wilson he can throw from different arm slots and passes unbelievably well from all of them. He’s fantastic downfield with a casually huge arm and very good accuracy, but that big arm can sometimes get him in trouble with overthrows. The longer a play goes on the more unnerved Buechele can get, but his ability to get out of that trouble with ridiculous off balance throws again outweighs the issues. I love his abilities and think his ceiling is ridiculously high in the right scenario.
7) Jamie Newman, Georgia; Ht: 6-4 Wt: 230
We didn’t get to see the Wake Forest transfer play in black and red this season as Newman opted out of the 2020 season before he even got a snap of playing time in Athens, but that’s not a big deal to me because the film he put out at Wake Forest is drool-inducing. Aside from the occasional forced throw or telegraph, Newman was impeccable. He’s a solid pocket passer with a lot of patience and really good fundamentals. His footwork and vision far surpass his status at Wake Forest and his constant processing of what’s in front of him is extremely impressive. He’s accurate to all fields and gives every throw a chance to be caught, plus his touch is close to the best in this class. On top of that, he ran for over 500 yards in 2019 and will be able to do so in the NFL as well. Now, his strong arm and forced throws can get him into trouble in terms of interceptions and incomplete passes. I feel as though there’s a final level that he has yet to tap into as a passer so if he goes somewhere with a good quarterbacks coach he should be able to turn into a star down the road.
8) Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati; Ht: 6-4 Wt: 215
Desmond Ridder is like Newman in that it feels like he has another level of production to reach, but Ridder’s level is based on becoming more consistent instead of being flatly better overall. Whenever the Cincinnati product was on his game he was almost unstoppable. In those cases he’s one of the best running quarterbacks in the country with awesome accuracy, playing relaxed and with poise that indicates potential success in the NFL. He wasn’t just running the offense in Cincy, he was leading the team. But there are issues that get back to being more consistent. Despite being very good in the pocket with a good clock and feel, his accuracy would waiver. He wasn’t great rolling out and was much better with his feet set, so getting better on the run is a big point for him. At times it felt like Ridder could get a bit excited and miss throws because of it. If he can consistently access the version of him that made Cincinnati one of the best teams in the country this season he’ll go down as one of the better quarterbacks from this draft.
9) Brock Purdy, Iowa State; Ht: 6-1 Wt: 212
Purdy was one of the main orchestrators of the Iowa State offense that produced such a great season in the Big 12. With Breece Hall and Charlie Kolar helping Purdy elevate his play, there were some hidden flaws that weren’t unearthed, but there were also some really nice perks that weren’t recognized as well. Starting with the bad, Purdy seemed to enjoy throwing out of off balance or uncomfortable positions instead of setting his feet, even when he had time. That will result in interceptions in the NFL and was especially frustrating considering how good he is with set feet and how quickly he can get set. Purdy also struggled to hit vertical routes, particularly in the seams. Overall there’s some inconsistencies to be ironed out and fine tuning to be done, but the good stuff is really impressive. There were multiple instances of Purdy rolling to his right and hitting targets downfield which was very impressive. He excels when targeting crossing route and digs which indicates his timing and leading abilities are good. I really like the accuracy and he’s a good runner that makes smart choices, but I think the ceiling just isn’t very high. He could pan out in the right situation, but I have some doubts.
10) Mac Jones, Alabama; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 214
It may seem a bit harsh to have Mac Jones this far down the line after being a Heisman finalist, winning a National Championship, and having a generally very good season, but when I separated the player from the unbelievable talent around him, I didn’t feel as though he was all that great. In terms of being technical and refined, he was awesome. I loved the way he worked through his progression and always gave his receivers a shot at catching the ball. I loved the touch he displayed, I thought his deep ball was fine, and you could tell he’s a very smart player, but the physical limitations concern me deeply. First off, he’s not very mobile. He lacks the hip quickness and elusivity that make Josh Allen and Pat Mahomes great players and his stiffness in the pocket makes my back hurt. His consistency on short throws makes me nervous as well and despite his great accuracy figures, I have concerns that those numbers will drop severely once he doesn’t have five first round level offensive talents at his fingertips. He struggles when having to truly lead his receivers to complete passes and his footwork needs to improve. But the most damning thing I saw was that despite knowing what the right play was in the moment, sometimes Jones just couldn’t get it done. That’s what separates pros from the rest of us and that’s what really concerned me. If Jones went to South Carolina would we be having this conversation? I don’t think so.
11) Sam Ehlinger, Texas; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 225
Ehlinger was the replacement of Shane Buechele at Texas and it was a decision that perplexed me for as long as he played. Ehlinger isn’t a bad quarterback by any means, in fact he ran one of the more functional offenses in the country with less weapons than a Texas team ought to have. I really enjoyed watching him be a force in the pocket and throw great balls to short targets. I felt he was a very good passer with set feet and was really impressed when he ran the ball, absolutely trucking defenders with regularity. But there’s a whole lot of work to be done here. He’s wildly inaccurate in most cases, notably on the run and on balls 20+ yards downfield. He loves to float the ball when he doesn’t need to and doesn’t have a very good feel for the pocket, sometimes making it feel like he was guessing when to run and when to stick. He also needs to get better at making passes with receivers turning upfield, often leaving it up to the receiver to go and get the ball instead of placing it in the route. Overall he would be much better off if he developed some stronger spatial awareness and made better decisions. I don’t love the upside here.
12) Dustin Crum, Kent State; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 207
Dustin Crum is certainly the most unknown name on this list and that’s not the fault of anyone here, it’s just that Kent State gets a very small bit of coverage in a big pool of college football. He didn’t play much this season, but his production was extremely desirable when he did. He’s a good runner with a nice field awareness that makes him tough to bring down. He’s patient and lets the game come to him, consistently making the right pass down after down. He has a good arm with nice touch and accuracy and even though he doesn’t have a huge arm, he can make nice plays downfield. His stats were gaudy and that will raise eyebrows when checking his competition, but I believe he’s suited to be a good backup at some point. The ceiling isn’t extremely high, but the floor is.
13) Feleipe Franks, Arkansas; Ht: 6-6 Wt: 228
Franks was the top man at Florida for a while before a gruesome leg injury sidelined him and allowed Kyle Trask to take over Gainesville, resulting in Franks heading over to Arkansas for more playing time. Franks was key in dragging Arkansas out of what seemed to be a season destined for complete loss, making them a tough out in almost every game they played. He’s an experienced runner with a huge frame that is both imposing to play against and inspiring to play with. His accuracy on short passes is notable and his accuracy to the middle of the field is a big strength heading to the NFL, but I don’t love some of his other qualities. Sometimes Franks decides to just flip the ball out to his receivers instead of throwing, leading to incompletions where yards were there to gain. In hand, his precision is poor. He gives his receivers a chance most of the time, but I found it rare for hands and numbers to be found with regularity. His internal clock when the pocket heats up needs to improve quite a bit and his decision making needs to speed up, but what I found most startling was that sometimes he just misses for no reason.
14) Ian Book, Notre Dame; Ht: 6-0 Wt: 206
Like many of the quarterbacks on this list, Book was instrumental to making his team as good as they were this season, noticeably growing a lot in a way that made Notre Dame a serious contender for most of the season. His clutch play helped beat Clemson the first time and will draw NFL eyes by itself. He doesn’t make too many bad decisions and his running ability and internal clock make him a dangerous asset when the pocket collapses, something that didn’t happen often at Notre Dame. I like his accuracy on horizontal routes and he’s tough to handle in most situations. His deep ball leaves a lot to be desired and though his weapons weren’t great this season, I think that’s going to be a big issue moving forward. To be honest he’s kind of a boring quarterback to watch when he’s not in a big moment and that’s probably not a bad thing. I think he’s going to be a nice backup who can be mixed into gameplans.
15) Malik Cunningham, Louisville; Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200
Cunningham is probably going to draw a lot of parallels to Lamar Jackson for obvious reasons. He’s an African American quarterback from Louisville with good running skills, so I hope people don’t pigeon hole him as only a running quarterback or someone who should convert to receiver or running back. Sure, his arm isn’t a cannon, but it’s not bad by any means. He’s all Louisville had this season apart from Tutu Atwell and even he wasn’t the biggest boost. If Cunningham can get into a decent offense that caters to his skillset and gets some good coaching to help him make the right calls all the time I could see him ending up as a good player down the road. He has vertical accuracy and is close to having really, really nice touch. Like I said earlier, he’s a very good runner with nice elusivity that can probably cover up any throwing issues until they’re worked out. He probably won’t be a starter at any point, but I see no reason why he can’t make a team.