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QB KlassRoom

Building the Prototype 2021 NFL Draft QB

by Derrik Klassen
Updated On: April 14, 2021, 9:58 pm ET

For the purposes of this exercise, no QB will be allowed to have more than three traits listed. This is done just for the sake of not listing only Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields because that is almost certainly how things would shake out if there was no limit for each player. 

Build: Trey Lance

There is also a good argument for Justin Fields here, in large part because both he and Lance share a strikingly similar build. 

Lance measures in at 6-foot-4 and 227 pounds. That puts Lance right at ideal height for the position, allowing him to see and throw over the line of scrimmage with comfort. Lance’s weight is a clean 227 pounds, too. He has plenty of muscle, particularly in his torso, to support his bulldozer rushing style and suggest that he can handle the rigors of being hit in an NFL pocket. 

Athleticism: Justin Fields

In a similar vein to the last section, Lance could have been selected here. Lance is an explosive athlete with a ton of muscle and plenty of speed to threaten with his legs at any time. 

However, Fields is as or more explosive than Lance with a nearly identical frame, while also having an extra gear of speed. Lance can run, make no mistake, but the NDSU QB’s rushing style is a little more about short, powerful movements and grinding out yards as a power runner. Fields can evaporate pursuit angles to the perimeter, turn up the field, and be gone in a flash. Fields did not show his rushing talents as often as he could have because he prefers to operate from the pocket, but any time Fields had to leave and make a play, that man’s athletic ability was unmatched. 

That is true both in and out of the pocket, too. While Fields is not quite the lightning-quick threat Lamar Jackson is, Fields is terribly explosive for his size and can make players miss in the pocket with a couple of quick steps. Likewise, Fields clocked a 4.44 at his pro day, which is rare territory for first-round QB prospects over the past couple decades. 

Fields would be a first-round pick even with average athletic ability. Sprinkle this kind of elite athletic ability on top of his passing, though, and it is not hard to see why he should be the clear QB2 in this class behind Trevor Lawrence

Mechanics: Zach Wilson

Honestly, there is no clear winner for this category like there was last year. In 2020, Joe Burrow so handily had both the best footwork and upper body mechanics in the class. This year, the winner for footwork may be Lance or Fields, but as far as smooth, moldable upper body mechanics go, Wilson is in a category of his own . . . sort of.

Wilson carries the ball with a loose carriage, both in the pocket and on the move. When paired with impressive core strength and a flexible arm slot, Wilson is able to generate his maximum throwing power and control from just about any platform. Wilson is nowhere near the raw talent Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes are, but it is fair to say that he plays and throws with that style of loose, creative mechanics. 

Creativity (and we will get to that) also plays a big part in why Wilson succeeds outside the pocket, but being able to summon throwing platforms as easily as he does is the primary reason he is so dangerous and accurate when trying to make wild plays on the move. The caveat to this section is that Wilson's quality mechanics show up on the move far more often than in the pocket. In the pocket, Wilson's sloppy footwork can get the best of him and negate his upper body work. On the move, though, feet become almost entirely removed from the equation and it is easy for Wilson to only lean on his flexible upper body. 

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Arm Talent: Trevor Lawrence

This conundrum seems to be the case for many categories this year, but this was a very close race between Lance and Lawrence. A case could be made for either one and I had to resist the urge to list Lance, especially consider how fast the ball screams out of his hand when he lets it go. The reason I’m giving this to Lawrence is it feels as though the Clemson star has more control over how and when to calibrate his strength properly, whereas Lance is a bit more of a one-speed thrower who could stand to develop an off-speed arsenal. 

Lawrence has a truly special knack for blending velocity with proper arc and placement. The way Lawrence can bend the trajectory of any pass to his will is fascinating, and it shows up particularly on corner routes, other deep-half hole shots, and seam throws. It is hard to quantify in any meaningful way, but Lawrence so clearly understands exactly where on the spectrum between velocity and touch every pass needs to be and he knows how to pull it off. 

And yet, when Lawrence needs pure heat, he has that, too. Lawrence is perhaps a small margin behind Lance in this regard, but there is still not a single window he can not force open with sheer velocity. Granted, Lawrence can get a bit testy and try some passes that he shouldn’t because he knows how talented he is, but it still works out for him far more often than not. 

Lawrence can also summon that arm strength comfortably outside the pocket. This kind of ties back into the mechanics section, where I still believe Wilson probably has him beat, but Lawrence still does well to throw comfortably on the move and generate power. It is a corny way to phrase it, but every throw on the field is available to Lawrence at all times. 

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Accuracy

Short/Medium Accuracy: Justin Fields

The brief caveat here is that Fields is merely average in the 1-5 area, per my charting. Fields does have a slightly laborious release and a reluctance to throw quick game if he does not have to, which is why he is not quite elite there. Between 6-15 yards, however, Fields is absolute money and on a different level from every other passer in this class, even the exceptionally accurate Mac Jones
Fields’ arm strength is not too far behind the likes of Lawrence and Lance. Like those two, Fields can drive the ball to the sideline on throws such as speed outs, comebacks, 10-yard outs, etc. Likewise, he can generate more than enough velocity to fit windows over the middle of the field. 

What really fascinates with Fields’ placement is how well he understands throwing around defenders. Sometimes a ball needs to be put low and away to keep it away from a defender, sometimes the ball needs to be high on the back shoulder. No matter the route or situation, Fields has an innate sense for how to find the exact spot where his receiver still has a shot at it while the defender simply does not. The two best QB prospects at this which I can remember since starting draft work in 2013 are Deshaun Watson and Joe Burrow, and Fields is as good or better than those two in this department. Fields genuinely has special accuracy.

 Deep Accuracy: Justin Fields

Purely off the charting numbers, Zach Wilson would be king in this category. And make no mistake, Wilson is still a plenty dangerous deep passer just off the eye test. His arm strength is wonderful and he does well to calibrate the right arc on his deep throws to make things easy on his wide receivers. The accuracy difference between Wilson and Fields was just a couple percentage points, though, and I believe Fields’ degree of difficulty was often higher. 

Many of Wilson’s deep passes were automatic go balls or shot plays. He still hit them at an alarming rate, but there was quite a bit of rhythm there. Fields, on the other hand, was regularly going through a full progression to get to a vertical on the other side of the field and still putting it in a pinpoint location. Fields’ combination of booming arm strength and devastating ball placement makes him a threat to rip one down the field no matter how late in the concept it is. Perhaps Fields will experience some growing pains testing this bravado out in the NFL, but I trust him to figure it out. 

Field Vision and Decision Making: Trevor Lawrence

From time to time, Lawrence pushes his limits and forces some questionable throws. There is no denying he has that kind of aggression to his game. That aggression is a benefit to him more often than not, though, and allows Lawrence to play with a different margin for error than other quarterbacks when coupled with his arm strength. 

Clemson’s RPO and screen-heavy system did not showcase Lawrence’s process as often as it could have and that is a shame. It is certainly not that Lawrence was incapable, it’s just that Clemson has their system and did not feel compelled to stray from it no matter the QB. The same was true even when Deshaun Watson was QB. 

When given legit dropback concepts, though, Lawrence shined. His ability to zip 1-2-3 through his read and throw a backside dig or come down to a shallow on the opposite side of the field that he started from is impressive. Sprinkle that kind of processing on top of his wonderful pocket management and arm talent, and you have a QB who can always get to and complete the right throw at any time … save for the couple instances a game where Lawrence pushes his luck because he’s talented enough to try it. 

Pocket Management: Trevor Lawrence

The best way to describe Lawrence’s work in the pocket is that he solves issues before they even arise. Lawrence has a special innate sense to feel where the pocket is breaking down and move in the exact way that evades the initial pressure without running himself into other pressure. There are so many instances on film where Lawrence preemptively moves to avoid pressure and work himself into a perfectly clean position. That kind of awareness just does not exist at the college level, for the most part. 

Lawrence is also incredibly efficient in his movement, especially for someone as lanky as he is. We might expect a 6-foot-6 gumby QB to be kind of awkward navigating the pocket, yet Lawrence plays with quick, controlled movements that only take him as far as he needs to go in order to evade pressure. Doing so allows him the maximum amount of room to work with after evading the initial pass-rusher, which either gives him more comfortable platforms to throw from or the space to make another move, if need be. Lawrence’s NFL-readiness shows up in many different ways, but his pocket management is, to me, the clearest example of him being a plug-and-play NFL starter. 

Playmaking / Creativity: Zach Wilson

Alongside the pocket management section, this creativity section was one of the two easiest to crown a winner. Wilson is clearly the rowdiest gunslinger in the class and has shot up boards over the past year almost entirely because of people equating his game to Mahomes. 

Now, to be clear, Wilson is nowhere near that good. It’s just unreasonable to believe he is. Mahomes is in a different stratosphere of creativity and talent. That said, Wilson does have a good eye for weird avenues out of the pocket and tricky throws from outside the pocket. He is more than willing to escape the pocket with some sort of circus act before throwing back across his body towards the middle of the field. Wilson will surely run into more trouble trying to execute these plays in the NFL than he did in college, but he should be able to find his comfort zone by year two or three.

Derrik Klassen

Derrik Klassen is an NFL, NFL Draft and college football writer covering CFB and NFL Draft for NBC Sports EDGE. Derrik also covers the NFL for Football Outsiders. Find him on Twitter @QBKlass.