2021 QB class: Justin Fields, Mac Jones on top as Trey Lance questions arise | #macos | #macsecurity


The beginning of July is the content nadir in the NFL. Rosters are more or less set and we’re just sitting around talking about workout videos waiting for training camp to begin or the world to end.

Whichever comes first.

So, it’s a perfect time to take a look at the vaunted 2021 QB class, what they did last season, the offseason buzz, and where I rank them heading into a critical second season.

1. Mac Jones

2021 stats: 67.6 percent, 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in 17 starts.

Jones entered the league as the most NFL-ready QB in the class and authored a stellar rookie season despite the limitations put on him by the Patriots’ offensive game plan.

After an excellent seven-week stretch in the middle of the season, Jones’ play dipped toward the end of the season. He threw the ball just three times in a December windstorm in Buffalo and followed that up with back-to-back two-interception games in losses to the Colts and Bills.

The Patriots’ season ended in a blowout loss in the AFC Wild Card Round to the Bills, in which it became apparent how much work Jones and New England’s offense must do to catch up to Josh Allen and the Bills.

Jones throws with great touch and anticipation, but the arm strength needs to increase if he’s to elevate his game.

As is an NFL offseason tradition, Jones got into excellent shape while appearing to ramp up the RPMs.

The Alabama product continues to impress his teammates, but the Patriots’ uncertainty at offensive coordinator (Joe Judge? Matt Patricia?!) could hamper his Year 2 development.

 

However, his rookie season was good enough to land him at No. 1 heading into training camp.

2. Justin Fields

2021 stats: 58.9 percent, 1,870 yards, seven touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in 10 starts.

While Mac Jones might suffer from the loss of Josh McDaniels, Matt Eberflus’ hire of Luke Getsy as offensive coordinator should be a boon to the second-year signal-caller.

I went in-depth on why Fields is trending toward a breakout season here. The long and short of it is that Fields got better as the season went along, and Getsy’s offense, which promises to get him on the move and attack defenses deep, should be the perfect scheme to start Fields’ ascension.

Fields has to practice better ball security and be OK with getting rid of the ball quicker instead of always looking for the kill shot.

Last season, Fields was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL on throws outside the pocket and led the NFL with 138.5 passer rating on designed rollouts. Unfortunately, Matt Nagy elected to only roll Fields out of the pocket 19 times last season.

That should change under Getsy.

The Bears have issues at offensive line and need someone other than Darnell Mooney to become a reliable option in the passing game. But Fields showed enough in the second half of last season to believe big things could be in store for him in Getsy’s Shanahan-style offense.

3. Trevor Lawrence

2021 stats: 59.6 percent, 3,641 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions in 17 games.

Go ahead and flush last season for Lawrence. The Urban Meyer experiment was an unmitigated disaster in Jacksonville, giving the No. 1 overall pick zero chance to succeed.

The arrival of Doug Pederson, Christian Kirk’s addition, and Travis Etienne’s return should help Lawrence shine in Duval.

The Clemson product should have more success in the Jags’ new QB-friendly offense. But Lawrence needs to improve against the blitz, where he struggled mightily last season, ranking last in yards per attempt (4.9) and 30th in off-target percentage (26.5 percent).

Lawrence’s talent is there, but the Jags must start helping him to reach his potential.

4. Zach Wilson

2021 stats: 55.6 percent, 2,334 yards, nine touchdowns, and 11 interceptions in 13 games.

Things were rough for Wilson in Year 1. J-E-T-S, yuck.

The BYU product had the lowest completion percentage in the NFL among full-time quarterbacks. He struggled with turnovers early on and, like Fields, often held the ball too long instead of taking the easy throw.

However, Wilson was better during the back end of the season. He threw five touchdown passes and only two interceptions in his final seven games, giving the Jets hope that he rebounded from a confidence-crushing start.

The parts around Wilson should be a lot better in 2022.

New York drafted Garrett Wilson in the first round and signed tight end C.J. Uzomah. Elijah Moore could be headed for a big sophomore season. Rookie running back Breece Hall will give the Jets a stable option out of the backfield.

 

The Jets’ improved supporting cast and another year working with offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur could have Wilson set up to make a jump in Year 2.

5. Trey Lance

2021 stats: 57.7 percent completion, 603 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions in six games (two starts).

The 49ers passed on Jones and Fields to take Lance at No. 3. They knew he would need to develop but believed he had the highest ceiling out of the remaining options in the quarterback class.

Lance spent most of last season working behind the scenes as Jimmy Garoppolo marched the 49ers back to the NFC Championship Game. Garoppolo said his goodbyes after the 49ers’ loss to the Los Angeles Rams, but the veteran quarterback remains on the roster as San Francisco has failed to find a trade partner.

All signs point to the 49ers being Lance’s team this fall. He flashed his big arm and elite athleticism in spot duty during his rookie season. Still, coach Kyle Shanahan clearly had reservations about how much of his complex offense Lance could orchestrate as a rookie.

The buzz around what Lance can potentially be is palpable, but recent reports from long-time NFL insider Mike Silver and FOX Sports’ Colin Cowherd suggest Lance has been struggling with “arm fatigue” as the 49ers have rebuilt his throwing motion. Members of the 49ers coaching staff have anonymously shot down the notion that Lance is having arm issues.

Lance was the biggest boom-bust prospect of a loaded class. Landing with Shanahan puts him in an advantageous situation, but the jury remains out.

6. Davis Mills

2021 stats: 66.8 percent, 2,664 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in 11 starts.

The concerns about Mills entering the draft were about his injury history, not his talent.

The Stanford product put together a solid rookie season in which he ranked 11th in the NFL in third-down passing accuracy (63.6 percent).

Mills will have a chance to prove to new Texans head coach Lovie Smith that he’s Houston’s long-term answer this season. The ceiling isn’t as high as Fields or Lance, but Mills can cement himself as an above-average starter if he continues to develop and pushes the ball downfield more aggressively.

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