Photo: Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports
The quarterback class in 2021 is held in very high regard, but does it live up to the hype? My initial reports would suggest no, but there is a lot of potential for quarterbacks to climb their way up my board in their final seasons. There is a lot of talent in this class, but a lot of thus far untapped talent.
Here are my preliminary rankings:
1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Trevor Lawrence has been hyped up ever since his high school career in Cartersville, Georgia where he broke Deshaun Watson’s records for career passing yards and career passing touchdowns. He then walked into Clemson as one of the biggest high school quarterback recruits in recent memory and started as a true freshman. Oh, and he won the National Championship, as a true freshman.
It is easy to think someone with this resume could easily be over-hyped. But no, Trevor Lawrence is every single bit as good as he’s made out to be, perhaps even better.
His physical tools are the best I’ve ever scouted; he’s big, he’s got an absolute cannon for an arm, he is a threatening runner, and he throws with surgical precision. The touch Lawrence throws with is rare for someone with his arm strength. His arm strength is truly comparable to Josh Allen, and coming out of Wyoming it looked like it was Allen’s sole purpose in life to break the hands of whoever dared touch his passes. But Lawrence is different, he can layer his passes to be dropped in buckets from 50+ yards away.
2. Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Lance’s arm is every bit as strong as Lawrence’s maybe even stronger. He’s also a dual threat, not just a quarterback who can extend plays with his legs, but a real running threat.
A running threat that racked up 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. He also threw 28 touchdowns and no interceptions.
So now you have the picture: a gigantic quarterback with an even bigger arm tearing up FCS football. But obviously there are going to be some caveats with a player with this type of profile.
His mechanics are, to put it mildly, a mess.
He drops the ball down so low in his windup which creates an elongated release, his base is so wide leading him to over-stride and lose accuracy. He drags his front foot on the first step of his drop back. When throwing to the left sideline, his left foot is too closed which makes the ball go wherever he doesn’t want it to.
These are all highly correctable issues that are not uncommon of a quarterback in his first year starting. And his upside as a runner and ability to throw the deep ball with touch, anticipation, and accuracy gives me hope that he can develop in 2020.
3. Justin Fields, Ohio State
Fields was the number one quarterback recruit–even ahead of Lawrence–coming out of high school, and for good reason. Fields is a true dual threat quarterback, who has a strong arm and makes some incredible pinpoint passes.
But his consistency is my first problem.
He seems to be trying to get everything done too fast; whether that is moving off a read too quickly, going through his mechanics too quickly, not setting his feet before throwing, or being too willing to bail out of the pocket without substantial pressure. But I do think that these are issues that are easily corrected, especially with more time as a starter.
However, the more ominous issue with Fields are his mental errors. He often seems to misdiagnose coverages which lead to him missing routes that are open and forcing the ball into areas of high traffic. I also worry about Fields’ ability to throw the deep ball, he has the arm strength to get the ball down the field, but he rarely connects on his deep shots.
Fields can sometimes be hesitant to pull the trigger and anticipate the route being open, he instead generally prefers to see the route open before he throws it. The good thing about this is that these are correctable issues that I expect Fields to improve upon in his second full year as a starter.
4. Brock Purdy, Iowa State
I can already see establishment NFL media typing away furiously about his arm strength a whole nine months from now, but let me say, it’s fine. Yes, Purdy does not have what anyone could consider a strong arm, but he has enough to succeed given his other traits. I also think Purdy could enhance his arm strength by loading up his lower body more and not standing flat-footed.
To start, Purdy is an incredibly smart quarterback, he very frequently makes the correct reads and puts the ball in the right places. He also has the accuracy to deliver on these passes, accuracy by the way that he maintains on the run. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Purdy’s release, I do not exaggerate when I say Purdy has one of the fastest releases I have ever seen.
Look at it for yourself, blink and you will miss it.
Perhaps my favourite calling card of Purdy is his touch and anticipation. He throws the ball with the perfect amount of air to lift it over linebackers, and he often does this before the route has even broken. But his physical limitations may hold him back from being a game-changer in this class.
5. Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
Minnesota was one of the surprise teams in college football this past season, in large part due to the breakout of their quarterback, Tanner Morgan.
Morgan is one of the toughest quarterbacks I’ve watched, he would stand in front of a train if it gave him the chance to throw a touchdown pass. This is legitimately the way he plays, he is absolutely fearless in the face of pressure. Although he has very modest physical tools, Morgan is very effective in maximising his talent. He’s a smart quarterback, yes he will force some throws into heavy traffic, but he throws with very nice anticipation and he makes generally good decisions.
Morgan is also comfortable operating in an RPO style offense which is becoming increasingly valuable. I’ve also seen Morgan use pump fakes to open up throwing lanes with good effect.
We just had Joe Burrow go at number one overall–and before you get mad, no Tanner Morgan isn’t close to Joe Burrow. But Burrow sets the paradigm for a smart quarterback, with immense pocket presence, decent athleticism, and fairly average arm strength. Something worth noting about Morgan are his fumbles; he’s fumbled 14 times in 22 games.
6. Davis Mills, Stanford
Mills was a very intriguing study to me; I wasn’t really expecting much of K.J. Costello’s backup (trust me, I’ll get on to him), but I was pleasantly surprised by Mills’ game. He was a highly coveted quarterback when he came out of high school, but has never gotten the chance to show his talents on the College stage.
Mills shows the inexperience that is expected when you throw under 250 college passes; he has frequent lapses in reading the field, in facing pressure and dips in accuracy.
The circumstances under which Mills played last season were less than ideal, he came in as relief from KJ Costello, he was under frequent pressure, and his receivers didn’t give him much separation. All this culminated in Mills attempting passes that were never going to work, which somehow occasionally worked. This is a testament to Mills’ talent as a passer who can sling the ball down the field, into tight windows and with touch. And at times he became erratic under pressure, but other times he launched dimes with defenders draped over him.
As a first year starter in 2020, I really hope he can build upon these traits to break into the second tier of quarterbacks in the class.
7. Kyle Trask, Florida
Many people hate on Kyle Trask, but I don’t think it’s entirely warranted. Trask is a smart quarterback who knows where to put the ball. And for the most part, Trask gets the ball where it needs to be put. But other times, he will miss high on his passes, and I think this is due to his footwork.
Trask struggles with the issue that many other taller QBs do – over-striding. When you’ve got longer legs, intuitively your strides are going to be longer which will lead to your throwing base being wider. But when Trask’s footwork is clean, he can throw some pinpoint accurate throws.
He is also effective at extending plays with his legs and he is methodical with the ball in his hands, finding the open man and keeping the ball out of harm’s way. A part of Trask’s game I just can’t explain is his accuracy on the run, his accuracy falls off a cliff when he is off-platform.
8. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Many concerns with Mond revolve around his 1940s awkward throwing motion, but that’s actually not my biggest concern with him. I will concede that his throwing motion is sickening to watch, but it’s fairly quick. He does bring the ball behind his head a lot which certainly hinders his accuracy. But there are more concerning issues with Mond.
He has a strong arm, which is possibly his most redeeming trait. But he makes it his job to throw the ball unnecessarily hard to a point where his receivers have no chance of catching it. I like how Mond is patient going through his progressions, but this works both ways. He can be too hesitant to let the ball go which is pretty frustrating to watch.
Mond has some cases of very good ball placement which I hope he can build on in his final year at College Station. I think Mond has a lot of arm talent, and he’s quite athletic, but he has a lot to clean up.
9. Jamie Newman, Georgia
Newman is a transfer from Wake Forest and is coming into Athens to replace Jake Fromm (huge boots to fill, I know).
I have little concern about Newman’s talent, he’s a 6’4″ 230lbs quarterback with a decent arm, good touch on his passes and good running ability. I just don’t understand anything else Newman does.
Everything varies from throw-to-throw.
He can throw a laser into a tight window on one play, and on the next play he will throw the ball into the dirt trying to throw a five yard hitch. The good plays in Newman’s game are very good; his top-10 plays can go up with anyone in this class. But it is the other plays where he doesn’t set his feet before throwing, or he will overthrow his target, or he will force the ball into heavy traffic.
The point is, right now I don’t know what Jamie Newman is. I hope he can clean up his slow footwork and go through his reads quicker at Georgia because if he can harness the good plays, he’s going to be good.
10. Ian Book, Notre Dame
I don’t really know what to think of Ian Book. He does some things quite well; he is fairly accurate in the short passing game, decent rhythm passer, and he’s quite athletic.
It’s a cliche to say, but he does have a knack for making plays, but you need something on top of that or you’re Johnny Manziel. And I don’t think Book quite has the skill set to elevate his game above the level of a backup.
I like what he could do as an emergency quarterback because he can provide a different facet to the offense. He’s quite a good runner which can be used on roll-out passes, which also suits his rhythmic style. But he doesn’t have the tools to be a long term starter.
11. Holton Ahlers, East Carolina
Who? Is probably your reaction upon reading this name.
And you would be forgiven for not knowing the quarterback of a 4-8 AAC team.
Ahlers was a fairly productive passer as a sophomore given the circumstances he was given. This is in large part due to his methodical, West Coast style of playing the quarterback position. The first thing you notice about Ahlers is his throwing motion, which can only be described as “50 year-old dad’s”. But as I always say about mechanics, if the ball comes out fast and it’s accurate, then I don’t care.
Now this isn’t exactly the case for Ahlers, who has a pretty elongated motion, and his throwing motion might lead on to my biggest problem with him. His arm strength is below the threshold that I consider to be NFL starter calibre. And that’s a shame because he does a lot of things well; he is an accurate short passer, good processor, good runner, protects the ball well.
But, his limitations are a problem.
Watching him reminded me of Kellen Moore, which is undercutting the physical talent that Ahlers has, but it’s a visual I can’t get out of my mind.
12. K.J. Costello, Mississippi State
I expect to be completely wrong on this take by the end of the season because Mike Leach will concoct a potion for Costello to become the ‘Quarterback Frankenstein’ meme.
But right now, Costello is far from the Frankenstein of quarterbacks.
I will give him credit, he throws with pretty good touch, especially on back shoulder throws. He is also generally fairly good at protecting the football. He has somewhat of a three-quarters throwing motion, which isn’t bad per se. However, in his case this really messes with how the ball comes out of his hand – it comes out to the side which doesn’t allow him to guide the ball with his index finger so the ball could go absolutely anywhere, and it does go absolutely anywhere.
13. D’Eriq King, Miami
He left Houston after playing four games in 2019 where one player described the team as the “first program to actively tank a football season”.
King is now the presumptive starter for the Hurricanes, but I have some reservations about him. He’s a dynamic playmaker with a strong arm that is fun to watch. But his accuracy is so inconsistent and he has this weird lean in his throwing motion. He has talent, but he is so raw as a passer.
14. Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Sam Ehlinger is a fun college quarterback; he can run, make occasional throws, and reminds people of the glory days when Tim Tebow was running College Football. But the story of Tim Tebow in the NFL is one we all know, a story of a man trying to overcome his physical limitations, a battle that would inevitably be lost.
Sam Ehlinger is the exact same.
From an arm strength standpoint, Ehlinger might first appear to have a slightly below average arm. But a deeper dig reveals a much more hurtful truth: his arm is weaker than that. His right leg comes up as he’s throwing exactly like Tebow’s left leg did. This isn’t uncommon for quarterbacks. But when it’s as egregious as Ehlinger’s is, it indicates that he is putting his entire lower body into the throw, just to get it the ball from point A-to-B.
This flagrant overcompensation completely kills his accuracy which confines him to making passes in the short game, something he has shown the ability to do. But even then his accuracy is just too erratic to be dependable.
Notable names I haven’t yet watched: Dustin Crum (Kent State), Shane Buechele (SMU), Sean Clifford (Penn State), Jack Coan (Wisconsin), Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh), Alan Bowman (Texas Tech)
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