The 2021 NFL Draft is set to be a quarterback bonanza. As many as five signal-callers could be selected in the first 10 picks and we might even see the first four selections all be used on quarterbacks.
History and the odds tell us some of these guys won't live up to the hype surrounding them. So which of this draft's top quarterbacks are most likely to go bust? We've got some answers for you.
Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Trey Lance has every tool you'd want for a modern NFL quarterback. But tools are one thing. Polish and having the mental side of the game locked down are another. Lance's only real question mark is whether he'll be able to translate his immense talent to an NFL field. And he's got a lot to prove in that department.
Lance is 6-foot-4, 226-pounds, has a big arm, can run and sheds tacklers like an in-his-prime Cam Newton. He aced his pro day and likely solidified himself as a top-five pick. He's uber-talented and possesses the kind of skill to make scouts drool. But plenty of talented guys have washed out at the next level.
Lance has only played one full season of college football and it was in the FCS. He led North Dakota State to a 16-0 record and an FCS title in 2019 and was brilliant along the way. He completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 2,786 yards, averaged 9.7 yards per attempt, and had 28 touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 more scores. But after entering the 2020 season with a ton of hype surrounding him, Lance played in just one game -- in which he underperformed -- and shut it down to focus on the draft.
That has to concern teams looking to select him. One great season against FCS competition likely isn't enough to convince NFL scouts Lance is ready for the big time. Which means his suitors will be betting heavily on his talent shining through in the end.
The jump from the FCS to the NFL is steep and Lance will have to make it without having a ton of experience. That could spell trouble for whichever team drafts him. -- Ryan Phillips
Justin Fields, Ohio State
While a lot of people have pointed to the disappointing recent history of Ohio State quarterbacks in the NFL as a reason to be concerned about Fields, this has nothing to do with the Dwayne Haskins and Cardale Jones of the world and everything do with Fields' consistency issues. He can dominate a game with his arms and/or legs like few others. But he can just as easily go ice cold and cost his team opportunities.
That inconsistency was evident in Ohio State's 2020 season. Fields dominated three bad teams in Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers to start the year (13 total touchdowns, no interceptions). Then he struggled mightily against ranked opponents Indiana and Northwestern (three total touchdowns, five interceptions). He made up for it with a spectacular game against Clemson (six touchdowns touchdowns, one interceptions) in the college football semifinals, but an injury kept him from being 100 percent against Alabama in the National Championship and that game ended in a blowout.
Fields' development in the NFL will ultimately come down to being in the right system under the right coach. He's got as big an arm as any quarterback in the draft this year and his speed/elusiveness as a runner places him in elite company even amongst current NFL quarterbacks. However, he's still a work in progress when it comes to reading the field and, because he's so athletic, his mechanics can get sloppy, which leads to overthrows.
Fields is the ultimate high-ceiling, low-floor guy. It will be up to the coaching staff that drafts him to raise that floor. It will take fine-tuning his ability to make quick reads and not stare down his primary target. It will take working on his internal clock and not holding onto the ball for too long. It will take being more consistent across the board against good teams and bad.
Fields could turn into a Pro Bowler. He could also be a top five bust. It's impossible to say which way it's leaning now. For a projected Top 5 pick, that's not necessarily a great sign. -- Brian Giuffra.
Mac Jones, Alabama
Jones has been skyrocketing up NFL Draft boards this offseason and is now expected to be a top 10 pick. That's a mighty jump for someone who was projected as a late-first round pick immediately after the season, but Jones has gotten a lot of hype since and finds himself in this elite company.
Jones is a polished player, perhaps the most NFL ready top-tier quarterback in the draft outside of Trevor Lawrence. However, his ceiling is lower than his fellow quarterbacks and his arm strength is probably the lowest of them all too. Some quarterbacks can get away with having a weaker arm in the NFL and carve out successful careers. But with the importance of throwing outside the numbers and stretching the field deep becoming more important than ever, arm strength is critical to success for a quarterback and it's unclear how much Jones' issues in that department will hold him back.
If Jones wasn't projected to be a top 10 pick now, he wouldn't make this list. But because of his meteoric rise, we have to look deeper. And when you look at Jones' success this year with Alabama, you have to wonder how much was a product of his success versus the superstar talent around him.
Alabama wide receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are both expected to be top 15 picks in this year's draft and running back Najee Harris is expected to be a first-round pick too. That doesn't mean Jones doesn't deserve credit for getting them the ball and orchestrating what proved to be a record-setting offense. It's simply to say we don't know how good Jones is without superior talent surrounding him.
If Fields is a high-ceiling, low-floor guy, Jones is a high-floor, low-ceiling guy. That's not necessarily a bad thing. But with a weaker arm than his competitors, his sudden rise up the draft boards and the possibility he might have been a product of Alabama's uber-talented skill players, there's reason for concern with drafting him in the top 10. -- Brian Giuffra