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Scouting the 2021 NFL Draft QBs:

Combining historical data with knowledge of current draft QB prospects to provide likely NFL outlooks.
2021 NFL Draft QBs

Photo: FOX Sports

The player profiles in the second half of this article were created with the help of Michael Rochman with Lindy’s NFL Draft Guide & LandryFootball.com. You can follow him for his football takes and analysis on Twitter @MR_NFLDraft.

Photo: Lindy's Sports NFL Draft Guide/LandryFootball.com

Photo: Lindy's Sports NFL Draft Guide/LandryFootball.com

Michael was good enough to share his NFL Draft QB profiles on Reddit’s NFL Draft subreddit. After reviewing his takes and reaching out to him for permission, I used many of his points in the summaries, positives, and negatives sections detailed below because QB scouting and playing with a calculator are very different things. And I only know how to do one of those things well.

And as always, you can follow me for random Bears and NFL related charts and data @ButkusStats on Twitter.

Now, let's take a deep dive into the quarterbacks of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Correlating College QB Stats to NFL Success:

I spent some time going through various college stats of NFL QBs drafted since 2015, trying to
find which traditional stats from their college days correlate most closely with their career NFL
EPA + CPOE Composite Score.

  • What is EPA: To calculate EPA (Expected Points Added), you take the number of points a team was likely to score before a play was run versus the number of points a team is expected to score after the play was run. The difference between the two results in expected points added. Those expected point values are based on models accounting for down, distance, and yard line. Statisticians then compare the models’ predictions against actual outcomes in order to verify effectiveness.
  • What is CPOE? CPOE stands for Completion Percentage over Expected. This stat is calculated by Next Gen Stats, utilizing proprietary tracking data to estimate the likelihood a given pass is completed at the time it is thrown, averages all of those expected percentages, and then subtracts that from the actual completion percentage of a player for each game.
  • What is the EPA + CPOE Composite? This is simply a composite of both stats. It is considered to be one of the most predictive stats to evaluate QB performance from year to year.
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So, I took a look at each QBs traditional stats (Games Started, Completion %, Passing Yards, Total Yards, Total TDs, Total INTs, Passing Yards/Attempt, Total Yards/Attempt, Adjusted Yards/Attempt, Passing Yards/GS. Total Yards/GS, TDs/GS, INTs/GS, TD %, INT %, Relative Athletic Score) and found the correlation coefficient to the QB Groups EPA + CPOE Composite for their time in the NFL.

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The QB group included 39 QBs drafted between 2015 and 2020. The following four stats had the strongest correlation to NFL success, and no other stats had a correlation coefficient above 0.30.

  • Relative Athletic Score: 0.304
  • Total Yards / Game Started: 0.35
  • TDs / Game Started: 0.41
  • Yards / Game Started: 0.413

Reviewing these stats, and trying to configure groupings based on statistical ranges, we see that there have only been five QBs since 2015 to accomplish 100+ TD’s, 300+ Yards/GS, 3.0+ TD’s/GS, and RAS above 8.0. I created a composite score for each player that determines how close they were to achieving these stats, and it holds a correlation coefficient of 0.515 (solid positive correlation).

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We can see that achieving the above level of college production and athleticism seems to bode pretty well for NFL success.

Who would have thought that the QBs who had the most TDs and yards would be the best ones, right? But I think one important distinction here is that in order to be a top-tier prospect, you must have done it for multiple years. But also, racking up two TDs per game across 50 games doesn't get you to that same tier.

For the 2021 NFL Draft, no QB has officially met all four of the criteria, mainly because there has not been an NFL Combine and athleticism details are not available for Trevor Lawrence. Under the assumption that Trevor Lawrence would hit 8.0 RAS, he qualifies for this first tier.

Here are the QBs that achieved all other criteria but fell short of 100 Total TDs. Typically, they fell short because they did not play enough games, coming into the NFL less experienced:

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The above less experienced group is really a mixed bag results-wise. For the 2021 NFL Draft, only Justin Fields matches this criteria group. His RAS had to be estimated as he did not do all drills required for RAS, but I feel it is a safe assumption that he would score above 8.0.

Here are the QBs that achieved all other criteria, but fell short of 3.0 TD’s/GS:

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The above group includes players who produced across four-year college careers but never consistently racked up TDs. No 2021 draft QBs qualify. Here are the QBs that achieved all other criteria, but fell short of 8.0 RAS:

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This final group consists of players who produced at very high levels consistently across multiple seasons but were lacking in athleticism. No 2021 draft QBs qualify. Finally, here are the QBs who met two or fewer of the criteria being discussed:

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And here are the QBs in the 2021 NFL Draft:

*RAS for Lawrence, Fields, Lance, Newman, Wilson, & Thomas were estimated based comparison to previous years prospects.

*RAS for Lawrence, Fields, Lance, Newman, Wilson, & Thomas were estimated based comparison to previous years prospects.

It should be noted that QB evaluation goes well beyond the numbers. I am a believer that a combination of statistics and film needs to be used in assessing these prospects. A player like Sam Ehlinger is a prime example here. He was productive across multiple years of college play and tests well athletically. But he has many other issues in his play that drop him down this board (see below prospect breakdowns).

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Below, I present a breakdown of each prospect with their positive and negative qualities, a comparison based on the composite scores and similarities to similar QBs from the past six drafts, and a comparison for their ceiling, most likely, and floor development scenarios. Additionally, in each profile, I inserted a "Draft Projection" category. This is not a prediction, but more of a valuation on how much draft capital that I believe each QB is worth in a vacuum.

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Trevor Lawrence:

* denotes an estimated figure

* denotes an estimated figure

Composite Score: 4.3

Most Comparable Score: Dak Prescott (4.2)

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Summary:

Since his freshman year playoff run, NFL fans all over the world have been waiting for the chance to see Trevor Lawrence play on Sundays. He is the most highly touted QB prospect since Andrew Luck, and there is a massive expectation for him to be a franchise-changing talent. However, in some circles, opinions have slightly shifted.

The goal for any NFL team is to find a game-changing talent at QB who raises all ships. Lawrence appears to be that player, possessing the ceiling to be special.

Positives:

  • Elite Arm Talent. Ability to place ball downfield with velocity. Can throw off all platforms and on the run.
  • Good mobility to run or evade pressure and create. A playmaker built for today's game.
  • High football IQ with quick processor; decisive. Picks up on covering shifts and finds openings quickly.

Negatives:

  • Can get tunnel vision and stare down targets. Slight tendency to tell defenders where he is going.
  • Often runs into contact, dropping shoulder. Tendency to get laid out. Needs to slide more.
  • Costly accuracy misses can lead to opportunities for defense. Needs to cut down how costly these misses have been.

Ceiling: John Elway

Most Likely: Justin Herbert

Floor: Jay Cutler

Lawrence is extremely difficult to comp. It is very rare to see a prospect combine his size, arm talent, speed, athleticism, and smarts. There is a reason he has been talked about for three-plus years. Elway was a tremendous athlete with a massive arm but lacked the size and speed that Lawrence has. Justin Herbert is probably his closest comp in size / speed / arm / athleticism. I chose Cutler for his floor because he was an athlete with an otherworldly arm. But his size and speed weren’t on par with Lawrence. A more favorable floor comp could be Stafford, but I thought that was too high for a floor.

The goal for any NFL team is to find a game changing talent at QB who raises all ships. Lawrence appears to be that player, possessing the ceiling to be special.

Justin Fields:

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Composite Score: 4.4

Most Comparable Score: Tua Tagovailoa (4.4)

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Summary:

Fields has tried to style his play after Russell Wilson, so with size being the only real differentiator there regarding their abilities, I thought it fit well. McNabb fits as his most likely case. Fields is more explosive than McNabb was, but I feel they play in a similar fashion. As athletes with big arms who keep their eyes downfield, Mariota would be the floor. They possess similar athletic traits and size, coming from similar colleges with histories of QBs producing more than their individual talent.

Positives:

  • Great accuracy/ball placement
  • Elite toolbox with untapped arm potential
  • Rare combo of size & mobility

Negatives:

  • Pre-Determined reads. Often chose pre-snap and misses better options
  • Throwing mechanics can get messy, not delivering crisp spiral (untapped arm talent)
  • Penchant for heroics can lead to poor ball security

Ceiling: Russell Wilson

Most Likely: Donovan McNabb

Floor: Marcus Mariota

Zach Wilson:

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Composite Score: 3.4

Most Comparable Score: Gardner Minshew (3.2)

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Summary:

Two words to describe Wilson? Explosive and fun. Wilson is a player who jumps off the film and does a lot of exciting things on the grass. He has flown up draft boards, and that rise is well warranted. While he did not play in a Power-5 conference, the talent he showcases makes it evident that he has the making of a good prospect. He can fling the rock downfield, work off-script, and pick up yards with his legs. He will need to work to be less dependent on bad CB play, find more consistency in his throws, and stay healthy in the NFL with his reconstructed shoulder (2019 injury/surgery).

I'm not sure he has the type of arm to throw 20-yard ropes through tight windows, but certainly has enough to make all the throws. He is very accurate off platform and deep, but hit or miss from pocket to the short and intermediate. There is no doubt that he is magic off-schedule and throws one of the most catchable deep balls around. Wilson has an extremely quick release with an ultra-aggressive mindset that paid off for him. He plays with swagger and has favorable leadership qualities.

Positives:

  • Pure playmaker. Works well off-script for homerun plays to all parts of field. Ball jumps off his hand.
  • Ability to adapt: changing arm angles, ball velocity, throwing platforms to challenge defensive front
  • Self-confidence. He played 2020 with a special type of confidence & swagger. It’s his game, and everyone else is just in it.

Negatives:

  • Risk taker. Throws a lot of 50/50 balls and got away with it due to level of competition.
  • Hit-or-miss accuracy. Better off-script than within system.
  • The little things: turning back to LOS, sell the PA, take the check-downs when nothing else is there.

Ceiling: Steve Young

Most Likely: Tony Romo

Floor: Jim McMahon

Steve Young serves as the ceiling here, as a mobile playmaking machine who loves to go downfield and whose development may depend on finding the right system. Tony Romo is the most likely case as a guy who did great off-schedule and played with an ultra-aggressive style but had injury issues that cut his career short. It's a similar story with the floor here, with McMahon being a fiery competitor with a flare for the dramatic whose injury issues cut his career very short. Two out of three comps being BYU QBs ain’t half bad!

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Trey Lance:

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Composite Score: 3.5

Most Comparable Score: Josh Allen (3.3)

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Summary:

Moves like a running back. His arm talent takes away defenses' chance to play close to the LOS to try to limit the passing game. Expect growing pains early that will hopefully be ironed out with time, notably regarding his anticipation and touch on passes.

At NDSU, he was tasked with pre-snap calls and post-snap reads. While it may not have been to the extent of most NFL offenses, he does have a degree of experience running an NFL-style offense. If he lands with a coach who keeps the playbook within his abilities and plays to his strengths early in his career, he could certainly develop into one of the top QBs in the class. He fits the recent trend of developing high-ceiling QBs in the NFL with an elite mix of arm talent and mobility.

Positives:

  • Elite arm strength.
  • Has a full toolbox with top-notch speed and agility for the position.
  • Showed ability to handle pressure with poise, stepping into pocket and making throws with zip.

Negatives:

  • Throws behind WRs. Issues leading WRs on intermediate and vertical routes due to not stepping into the throw.
  • Processing speed. Does not anticipate passes well enough yet, getting by on arm talent and athleticism.
  • Experience. Only one year of starting experience and it came at FCS level.

Ceiling: Randall Cunningham

Most Likely: Josh Allen

Floor: Paxton Lynch

Lance may have the best raw gifts in this class. And his upside is massive, looking like a Randall Cunningham-type prospect. But his downside is also massive. Raw talent picks are risky, and when they pay off they pay off big time. The most likely is Josh Allen, as I would expect Lance to take two years before he truly becomes the game-changer he is capable of being. The floor is Paxton Lynch, a raw toolsy prospect who didn’t stick in the NFL. In this scenario, Lance would be overwhelmed by how much he does not know and fade out of the NFL.

Mac Jones:

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Composite Score: 4.0

Most Comparable Score: Mitchell Trubisky (4.1)

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Summary:

Jones is a traditional pocket passer. He possesses more speed than perceived, but he's certainly not a guy you would expect to gain much on the ground. Jones has the ability to plan pre-snap and adjust post-snap beyond his years. He's very accurate when given adequate protection and can read the field quickly to make multiple reads consistently. He posted video-game numbers at Alabama while playing on one of the more talented offenses college football has ever seen.

Jones also has the ability to process the field quickly and deliver the ball where it is supposed to go on time. Ultimately, that's a high-floor player who can execute a well-schemed offense with talent around him, but he may not elevate others without scheme/OL/skill-position help. Overall, Jones has a limited upside, but his downside is a serviceable starter.

Positives:

  • Elite processing. Wins pre-snap and post-snap, adjusting to second and third reads when necessary. Active eyes to see whole field.
  • Touch & Ball location. Drops it in the basket to all levels consistently. Gives WRs chances to make plays.
  • Timing. Hits WRs in stride and gives them chance to gain YAC in space.

Negatives:

  • Pocket passer. Limited upside to extend plays and pick up yards on the ground.
  • Arm talent. Arm is adequate, but not able to bail him out. Reliant on making right reads because he will not squeeze into many tight windows.
  • Handling pressure. Habit of falling onto back foot when pressured without arm talent to make up for it.

Ceiling: Matt Ryan

Most Likely:Kirk Cousins

Floor: Sam Bradford

The ceiling for Jones would be the MVP version of Matt Ryan when Kyle Shannahan was his offensive coordinator. This assumes good protection, scheme, and skill positions around him. Kirk Cousins is the most likely case, as a QB who is as good as what’s around him, but might always come up short. His floor is along the lines of Sam Bradford as a guy who was good enough to start but never good enough to excel in the NFL.

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Kellen Mond:

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Composite Score: 3.5

Most Comparable Score: Daniel Jones (3.2), Paxton Lynch (3.4)

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Summary:

Mond is somewhat of an enigma among scouting circles. He's a QB who has the potential to split draft rooms because nobody is quite sure of what type of player he is or will become. His past experiences may show us what is most likely for him. Mond can be a very good QB at times but may have issues with consistency that will always cause moans.

His pure arm talent and mobility are extremely enticing. If he can clean up his mechanics and improve in reading defenses, Mond could be a solid starting NFL QB and is likely worth the risk of picking in the middle rounds.

Positives:

  • Raw Arm Talent. Can simply make passes that most QBs can not.
  • Powerful runner with good mobility.
  • Shows signs of handling pressure with poise, staying in pocket & delivering with added ability to throw off-platform.

Negatives:

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  • Consistency. Runs hot and cold, can look like a different QB week to week.
  • Ball placement. Tendency to underthrow passes to the sidelines; not getting all of his arm talent.
  • Inconsistent decision-making. Prone to some back breaking turnovers or near turnovers.

Ceiling: Dak Prescott

Most Likely: Mitchell Trubisky

FloorDeshoneKizer

The best case for Mond would be Dak Prescott. Developing his skills into an efficient playmaker with tools to win in many different ways. The most likely result though is closer to Mitchell Turbisky as a QB with good tools that never puts it completely together with his throwing mechanics or field reads. The floor would be Kizer, as a QB who never really takes any developmental steps from when he came into the league and washes out after a few years despite his tools.

Jamie Newman:

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Composite Score: 3.5

Most Comparable Score: Carson Wentz (3.4)

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Summary:

Newman flew up draft boards after his 2019 season at Wake Forest. He then announced his transfer to Georgia to play out his final year in 2020. However, Newman chose to opt out and the speculation surrounding why has been questioned ever since.

On tape, there is a lot to like in Newman’s play. His arm pops with strong zip and impressive throws off various angles and platforms. But there are remaining questions about his precision as a passer, and he will need to sharpen his mechanics if he wants to find more consistency. Newman could be an intriguing mid-round gamble with boom/bust potential for an NFL team.

Positives:

  • Plus arm talent. Ball jumps out of his hand. Gets good zip when needed, but also throws a good vertical ball.
  • Mobility. Dependable athleticism with strong instincts as a runner and ability to throw on the run.
  • Aggressive. Keeps eyes downfield and attacks deep. Has shown growth in progressing through reads, but still needs work.

Negatives:

  • Ball placement. Throws often off the mark, making WRs job more difficult than it needs to be.
  • Mechanics. Misfires due to poor throwing mechanics. Needs to find consistency in his throwing motion.
  • Experience. Only 16 starts. Opted out of 2020 season. Questions surrounding opt out timing.

Ceiling: Steve McNair

Most Likely: Jacoby Brissett

FloorKordell Stewart

The size and athletic profile comps well to McNair. But Newman has a lot of work ahead of him to reach that lofty height. Brissett seems to be his middle ground as a big armed serviceable starter that serves better as a backup, although Newman is more athletically gifted than Brissett. His floor would be similar to Kordell Stewart. With a big arm and athletic traits, he holds value on a roster. But his value may be based on specialty packages and non-typical QB use if he doesn’t further develop. I also considered Aaron Brooks for the floor here.

Feleipe Franks:

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Composite Score: 3.4

Most Comparable Score: Carson Wentz (3.5), Josh Allen (3.3)

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Summary:

Franks was a hyped recruit to the Florida Gators, but coupled with that hype was inconsistent play.

After spending his final season at Arkansas, there was noticeable growth that could inspire hope that he has been underdeveloped rather than fatally flawed.

At the NFL level, Franks will need to improve his field reading abilities, use of touch on passes, and overall feel for the game. If things go his way and he continues to grow, he could find himself sticking on a roster at the next level with hopes of developing into something more.

Positives:

  • Length. Longs arms, long legs, big frame, long strides. Ability to pick up yards and evade defenders. Avoids batted balls.
  • Senior year development. Has taken massive strides as a QB prospect since leaving Florida. Improved accuracy and decision-making in 2020.
  • NFL Frame. 6-foot-6 and 234 lbs, offers good size combined with solid movement skill and arm talent.

Negatives:

  • Inconsistent arm talent. Shows signs of good arm talent, but has to reign it in. Doesn’t always find correct velocity or distance.
  • Anticipation. Needs to improve as a field reader and throwing ahead of the WR.
  • Accuracy. Despite strides made, still too inaccurate. Will need to continue to improve in repeatable motions and delivery.

Ceiling: Josh Allen

Most Likely: Nate Sudfeld

Floor: Paxton Lynch

Franks' ceiling could be sky-high, similar to Josh Allen. But he is a lot further from that ceiling than most who would be mentioned with similar potential. More likely is a career closer to Nate Sudfeld, who has some size and tools but serves as a backup. His floor is out of the league in a few years, similar to Paxton Lynch.

Kyle Trask:

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