2021 NFL draft headlined by the future signal-callers

Author: Colin Russo

MADISON- This past weekend, the 2021 NFL draft kicked off. After the dead period of the NFL offseason, highlighted by NFL free agency, and various college pro days. One year removed from the virtual 2020 NFL draft, where we saw draftees sitting in their living rooms, Roger Goodell in his basement, and a completely remote experience. We are finally reintroduced to a sense of normalcy, seeing Roger Goodell walk out to a large Cleveland crowd, prepared to announce the first pick in the NFL draft. The themes surrounding this year’s draft were the quarterbacks, with a handful being capable Day 1 starters, there was a mixture of teams looking to sneak into the crop to steal their future franchise signal-caller. 

Headlined by Clemson superstar quarterback Trevor Lawrence, formerly a five-star recruit, Lawrence has seemingly exceeded his wildly high expectations at every level of football, only losing 4 games since the beginning of his high school career, none in the regular season. He is now tasked with the difficult task of turning around the Jacksonville Jaguars, led by new coach Urban Meyer, who returned from retirement as one of the elite college football coaches to the NFL ranks, where he tests his luck in a situation where all the odds are stacked against him. But he goes into a franchise that has secured a generational talent at quarterback, one that has been fawned over since he was a freshman at Clemson. 

Following the predictable number one overall pick, the New York Jets selected Zach Wilson, the breakout star from BYU, a young-looking, flashy, and a massive armed quarterback who has drawn offseason comparisons to NFL stars like Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. He is tasked with turning around an equally as incompetent franchise, led by the energetic Robert Saleh, formerly the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers. Wilson is a tad undersized but has the arm talent and the flash to encapsulate the critical New York fanbase, longing for a franchise quarterback for years now. 

The first two selections in this draft were as close to guaranteed as somebody could get, but there were three first-round quarterbacks remaining, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Alabama’s Mac Jones and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance all waiting to hear their names called on Thursday night. It was the inexperienced Trey Lance who got the nod to join Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers in Santa Clara. Lance, categorized as a dual-threat star, led the Bison to a 16-0 record in 2019, leading the team in passing and rushing, with an astounding 28:0 touchdown-interception ratio. It was just COVID-19 that limited the FCS season to just one game in 2020 that led to the speculation regarding his experience. However, John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan were sold, as they selected him with the 3rd overall pick, expecting him to eventually take over the reins from Jimmy Garoppolo on a win-now ready roster as they compete in the NFL’s toughest division, the NFC West. 

After the first 3 selections, it was truly a toss-up on who would land the final two first-round caliber quarterbacks, Justin Fields and Mac Jones. Speculations varied from the Denver Broncos to the Chicago Bears to the Atlanta Falcons and so on. It wasn’t until the 11th pick of the draft that the Chicago Bears traded with the New York Giants for their selection, in which they selected Ohio State’s Justin Fields, categorized as the best true athlete of this year’s draft. Fields is an experienced player, with a huge arm and has the guts of a winner, the only stigma surrounding him was that he went to Ohio State. The Buckeyes are notorious for good college quarterbacks fizzling out shortly into their NFL careers. Fields is different however, he brought them to the College Football Playoff twice, he was remarkably efficient and is clearly more of a passer compared to those who previously helmed Ohio State. Chicago was in desperate need of a spark at quarterback, Fields does exactly that, he’s an electric player with a high upside, this was the steal of the first round. 

Mac Jones, who was speculated to go as early as 3rd overall, dropped to 15th overall, where Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots scooped him up. Jones is an immobile, yet big quarterback with high-level accuracy but not a huge arm, sound familiar? But, I digress. Jones seems to be in line to sit and learn behind Cam Newton this season and eventually take over the NFL’s most successful franchise underneath the best coach in NFL history the following season. He played at Alabama, surrounded by several first-round offensive talents (four to be exact), which is part of the reason for his drop in the draft. Five highly successful quarterbacks, who all have their own strengths and weaknesses, taking on the challenge of the NFL. Some of the more fascinating storylines for the upcoming season include how these five will turn out early on. Some quarterbacks, like Lance and Fields, are surrounded by far better rosters than Wilson and Lawrence, which could lead to early on success. In my personal opinion, there is no red flag about Lawrence, he has an elite arm with great size, no character issues and is an experienced and proven winner, leading me to believe that he will be the most successful and effective out of the five, but guessing gets you nowhere. All five are elite talents, most drafts don’t include this type of top-end quarterback talent, but the switch-ups in the NFL in regard to quarterback should make this coming season one to be remembered. From the newly-coming rookies to the shifting veterans (Sam Darnold, Matthew Stafford, perhaps Aaron Rodgers), this season is shaping up to be one where quarterbacks control the destiny of their team. This NFL draft could be one to remember in future years, where franchise-altering signal-callers get their name called and turn around their respective franchises, only time will tell.