Preliminary Draft 2021. The NFL is less than a month away, and practice ends in a day. With Justin Fields (Ohio State), Mac Jones (Alabama) and Kellen Mond (Texas A&M), the top quarterbacks in this class showed what they can do for teams Tuesday.
Let’s focus on the best throwing characteristics of each of the top eight quarterbacks in this class. From the arm talent seen on film to the decision making and ability to react at a high level, this group of quarterbacks can test the critical factors needed to produce at the next level. We will also include eight video clips showing these key features and explaining how each signal caller can reach their ceiling. Some features may surprise you.
ESPN NFL Draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay rank eight quarterbacks, focusing on what each player does best. And where to start if not with their common position:
Size: 6 ft-6 | Weight: 213 lbs
Rating: Number 1 (Kipper, McShay).
Lawrence is the best character trait: The talent of the arm
The video shows us that Lawrence is a promising player because of his elite skills, toughness and football awareness. The processing speed jumps out at me when I look at it, as does the ability to get in and out of the pocket. He also has a physical component to his game – besides seeing the ball carrier – on planned runs. But if we’re going to focus on one high-level attribute, I see Lawrence’s arm talent.
He has more than enough arm strength to attack all levels of the field. We saw it in the regular season victory over Georgia Tech when Lawrence found his back on a throw into the high red zone. Watch the clip below. It’s a shot from long range as Lawrence passes the ball to Amari Rodgers for a score.
More on Trevor Lawrence…
We know talent makes you stand out. Can attack all three levels of the field.
He chases the ball from the other side – with precision. @NFLMatchup #Clemson pic.twitter.com/wEUyKXLgvh
– Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) February 19, 2021
In addition to vertical or deep throws that hit the boards, Lawrence can vary the speed of the ball by throwing both touch and velocity. And even with his elongated motion that can run the ball into the wind, his natural arm talent will allow him to attack all three levels of the NFL route tree. Therefore, he is clearly the best quarterback in the class and the favorite for the Jaguars’ No. 1 pick.
Length: 1,80 m. Weight: 1.90 lbs: No. 2 (Kiper), #4 (McShay).
Fields’ best feature: Deep precision
Fields has the physical tools to play at a high level in a scheme passing game that uses his arm strength and movement skills to attack all levels of the field. He also brings an extra element to the concept of a kick/movement offense and developed runs – indicating his qualities as a thrower and runner. But the main point of Fields’ game that I keep coming back to is his accuracy on deep throws.
On throws of 20 yards or more last season, Fields completed 61.3 percent of his passes while notching a 99.1 QBR with nine touchdowns and just one interception. It’s amazing. And the video shows he’s a decisive deep ball thrower, as we saw in Ohio State’s College Football Playoff victory over Clemson, where he threw for 385 yards and six touchdowns.
In the clip below, Fields moves into the pocket to reduce the throwing window and pass the ball vertically to wide receiver Chris Olave. Yes, Hand’s talent is on display here, but so is his ability to handle the ball and move in the pocket. A perfect shot. And with that depth, Fields can be envisioned as a vertical shooter in a system that satisfies his dual threat requirements at the position.
Justin Fields passes the ball to Chris Olave for a 56-yard touchdown and a 42-21 OSU lead.
Dimensions: 1 meter 80 Weight: 1,9 kilogram: No. 2 (McShay), #3 (Kiper).
Wilson’s best line: Ability to escape and extend benefits (second reaction)
With his confident, laid-back style of play, Wilson is an aggressive, nuanced pitcher with a more talented arm who defies opponent defenses with deep balls, second-level windows and borderline verticals. And thanks to its quick and compact release, I see it as a distributor in the West Coast system. Here, the team can use both the turnaround concept and the run concept, allowing Wilson to read him with speed – and throw without fear.
The one character trait Wilson shows time and time again in the film? It’s all about excellent motor skills, the ability to run and extend the reaction game in a split second while throwing from multiple platforms. I don’t place much value on a Pro Day, but there’s no doubt that it was an impressive throw that showed these skills.
But let’s look at the return to live play. You can see it in the clip below, where Wilson throws a depth breaker. He scrambles, runs, and slides out of the pocket to throw a laser from a position outside the platform. With his pitching skills – plus the ability to deviate from the game plan – Wilson has the skills to play (and succeed) immediately.
I’m watching the video of #BYU QB Zach Wilson….
The ball spacer – with signs of movement in/out of the pocket. Compact output. Multiple platform launches. @NFLMatchup pic.twitter.com/MeTkV7OgO2
– Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) 23. February 2021
Size: 6 ft-4 | Weight: 224 lbs
Rating: Number 3 (McShay), number 5 (Kipper).
Lance’s best feature: Ability to make and process decisions
With a style of play that reflects his natural physical abilities as a dual-threat quarterback, Lance emerges as a future NFL starter who can function and produce in the play-action based NFL passing game. With 17 starts in his career at the FCS level, he has tremendous potential; he has shown the ability to make decisions and process data to excel in a pro system, even if he hasn’t played against FBS talent yet.
In a 2019 season where Lance helped lead North Dakota State to a national title, he threw for 28 touchdowns against zero interceptions. While there are situations on tape where I would like to see him be more aggressive and spread out as a pitcher, there is no doubt that he can play outside of the play-action and dropback concept itself.
Below is an example of a grid concept. When the defense presses, Lance works from his primary goal to the crossbar, then back inside to sit inside the route. He steps forward to escape the pressure and chases the ball through the middle of the field towards the goal.
North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance makes contact with TE Noah Gindorf after scrambling for a 34-yard touchdown.
With Lance, the fit with the system will be important to his success, but his ability to process and diagnose what happens after the snap increases his potential because of the traits he shows inside and outside the pocket – and as a runner. He added 1,100 yards on the ground for the Bisons in 2019.
Length: 1,80 m. Weight: 1.69 lbs: No. 4 (Kipper), 5 (McShay).
Jones’ best feature: Placement of the ball
While Jones doesn’t have the range of motion of the other top four quarterbacks in this class, I see him as a promising prospect because of his ability to throw from the pocket with accuracy and position. In Alabama’s very schematic passing game, Jones completed 77.4 percent of his passes and won the national championship last season. And while you can argue that he played with a great group of NFL talent around him, I emphasize his ability to throw with feel and rhythm and deliver the ball with placement.
Look at the following example of Alabama’s win over Ohio State in the national title game. It’s a deflected throw to Heisman Trophy winner DeVonte Smith to avoid three-deep coverage. If the back corner of the board is occupied in a 3-on-1 set, there is a deep window to attack. Jones passes to Smith, who makes this throw for a touchdown over the top of the backfield.
Florida took a 17-14 lead over LSU when Kyle Trask made a 19-yard run with Jacob Copeland.
Jones, who has shown enough movement in the pocket to get up and slide under pressure, will need to continue to develop as a time-wasting thrower with placement to reach his potential at the NFL level. But accuracy is also important, and he has shown that he can accurately recognize passes at a high percentage.
Dimensions: 1 meter 80 Weight: 1,9 kg: No. 6 (Tipper), 7 (McShay).
Trask’s best feature: Pocket movements
If you watch Trask’s 2020 video, you’ll see his ability to vary the speed of the ball and throw accurately in intermediate concepts, as well as attack the secondary. He is a true pocket pitcher with no sign of moving to create a second game reaction outside the pocket. In other words, he’s not going to beat teams by blurring the lines. But when you look at Trask in the pocket, you see that he can compete with the best in the class. It can climb, drag and reopen the launch window. It’s a different kind of skill than leaving the pocket and throwing in the run, and it’s important at the next level.
Look at the following example of Trask throwing a touchdown pass against LSU in a high red zone situation. As Trask feels the pressure of the edge, we see a subtle heave into the pocket – and a quick drop off the platform – before he throws the fade ball to score.
No. 8 Texas A&M earned a solid 43-21 home victory over Arkansas thanks to the remarkable accuracy of Kellen Mond, who notched 21-of-26 hits and three attempts.
Although I see him as the #2 quarterback in the NFL, his ability to run in the pocket will give him a chance to develop at this position despite his below average athletic ability.
Dimensions: 1 meter 80 Weight: 1,9 kg: No. 7 (Kiper), 8 (McShay).
Mills’ best feature: Anticipation
A former five-star recruit, Mills has an easy hand in the pocket. He is capable of attacking vertically, making layups or ripping the ball out of the seams with his efficient release. We see this with the lost throws or reset situations that are characteristic of the pro-style route concept at Stanford. But with 11 starts in college, we need to focus on his development, as his natural pitching ability and footwork make up for his lack of motor skills.
When I watch Mills’ video, I see a quarterback who can pass the ball with anticipation and location. Here’s an example from the Colorado contest. There’s a late rotation in the second half, and Mills is able to read it from the pocket by attacking the middle of the field on a cross ball to hit a seam ball.
#Stanford quarterback Davis Mills (6’3, 217 lbs) –
Can attack all levels of the field from the pocket. footwork + the ability to throw with anticipation. A former five-star recruit – with a high level of development. @NFLMatchup pic.twitter.com/enSc3VEvWL
– Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) March 30, 2021
While Mills is not expected to be an immediate starter, I see a quarterback with Day 2 value who has some potential given his ability to throw from the pocket with anticipation, location and deliver the ball in rhythm. He could become a starter, but he’d have to join a team that wasn’t desperate for help.
Length: 1,80 m. Weight: 1.59 lbs: No. 6 (McShay), 8 (Kiper).
Monday’s Best Feature: Timing and rhythm
When I watched the 2020 video on Monday, I saw a quarterback who is well-positioned to be a time and rhythm guard in the NFL. Yes, he can be mechanical in the pocket, with sawtooth accuracy on boundary throws, but he has shown that he can produce in pro play action concepts, make plays on motion passes and use his feet to run and stretch plays. And given the offense he played in at A&M, Monday is best suited for a strictly defined scheme that creates windows in the secondary – in addition to playing with run and pass options.
Below is an example of Montag’s strong and effective shot at the dropback concept (play begins at 0:51). He reads it and drops it in time to aim for the zone window at the deep cross/elbow.
While Monday still has a ways to go to reach his potential, his level as a projected pace-setter will allow him to develop with a professional coach in a league that is moving toward more action-based routes. And with his ability to move outside the pocket, Mond brings another element to the field besides the QB running game that can be schemed.
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