2021 NFL Draft: Pro execs, scouts, coaches break down the QB class

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NFL.com 22 April, 2021 - 10:20am 27 views

Does Justin fields have epilepsy?

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields has revealed personal medical information with NFL teams ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft. ... "OSU QB Justin Fields has confirmed to NFL teams during the pre-draft process that he is managing epilepsy -- a neurological disorder that can cause seizures, per me and @TomPelissero. Sports IllustratedJustin Fields Reveals Epilepsy Diagnosis Ahead of NFL Draft

When is the NFL draft?

NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah answered questions for an hour and a half on Wednesday, previewing the 2021 NFL Draft (April 29-May 1 on NFL Network/ESPN/ABC) during a media Zoom call. NFL.com2021 NFL Draft: Seven takeaways from Daniel Jeremiah's conference call

Clemson's Trevor Lawrence is No. 1. BYU's Zach Wilson is No. 2.

Those were the consensus rankings within the league before the 2021 NFL Draft process kicked into high gear, and they haven't changed over the past six weeks or so, with the Jacksonville Jaguars still widely expected to select Lawrence with the top overall pick and the New York Jets likely to take Wilson second on April 29.

Should Ohio State's Justin Fields, Alabama's Mac Jones or North Dakota State's Trey Lance be the San Francisco 49ers' pick at No. 3? Is Stanford's Davis Mills, Texas A&M's Kellen Mond or Florida's Kyle Trask the best bet among prospects likely destined for Days 2 and 3? There are 32 draft boards, and you probably could find every possible permutation of rankings on one of them.

Here's the full breakdown of the 13 quarterbacks with the best chance to get drafted, based on conversations with NFL executives, scouts and coaches, all speaking on the condition of anonymity for competitive reasons and to provide a blunt assessment:

The question now is, can Lawrence live up to the expectations in the NFL, too? Scouts and coaches who have dug into the tape see a player more than deserving of the No. 1 pick, though not a perfect prospect or quite an Andrew Luck-type slam dunk. Lawrence doesn't have an elite arm. He could add some more pounds to his frame. Some question his pocket awareness and feel. He has a little hitch in his release. He'll throw some balls into coverage and get some balls batted down because he has a little lower release. He'll have a learning curve coming from a Clemson offense doesn't feature a ton of pro-style, dropback-type reads and throws, though fellow Tigers alum Deshaun Watson made that transition fairly smoothly. 

"Trevor Lawrence is a really good player," an NFC coordinator said. "I don't know if he's a generational talent like people are saying." Said an AFC quarterbacks coach: "If you didn't take him and you're Jacksonville, and it turned out that he was a perennial Pro Bowler, then you'll never live it down. They have to take him. I think the intangibles are there. He can throw the ball. But he does not have unique, rare playmaking ability. If I'm comparing last year to this year, Joe Burrow (who was drafted first overall by the Bengals) is picked over Trevor Lawrence 100 times out of 100." Lawrence moved up his pro day throwing session to Feb. 12 and had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder four days later. He has already resumed running and began throwing a few weeks ago, a source said, keeping him on track to be ready for training camp. "There's just over-scouting that goes on in our league -- like a guy's got to have holes or something," a college scouting director said. "I go back to when [Lawrence] was a freshman -- if he could enter the draft [then], he would've been the first pick to me after his freshman year. What is giving people pause are probably the two (college football playoff) games he lost, the one to Burrow (and LSU, in the title game) and the one to (Justin) Fields (and Ohio State, in a semifinal game) where he wasn't at his best, to be straight about it. But he's so good and talented and athletic. C'mon. That guy can win you Super Bowls."

"You watch him flutter some balls around with the bum shoulder and then the broken thumb at the end of [2019] you're not that impressed. Then you watch him this year and he's just f---ing ripping it everywhere," said an NFC scout who studied Wilson extensively. "The kid's smart as s---. He's gonna work. He's gonna compete. He's really talented. It's just a matter of how long that story can play out and not rub some people the wrong way, being a true dude and a leader and that presence." Those have been the two main questions throughout the pre-draft process: There's durability, given Wilson's relatively slight frame (6-2 1/8, 214) and injury history, including a torn labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder suffered in high school that required surgery after his freshman season at BYU in 2018, a torn labrum in his left shoulder and a fractured right thumb that required surgery and sidelined him for over a month during the 2019 season. "My man is not a big guy, now," a college scouting director said. "He's got thin shoulders, he's got a thin waist. You get you a couple Tremaine Edmunds and (Dont'a) Hightowers in your s---, and you ain't lasting long." 

And then there's Wilson's ability to connect with NFL teammates, who surely can get on board with their new QB's edge, boy-band looks and swagger, as long as Wilson's dealing and they're winning games. One executive described it last month as "a little bit of Baker Mayfield syndrome, where you like [the edge] to a point. It's just whether or not you can control it and toe the line." Others compare Zach Wilson to Russell Wilson, a seven-time Pro Bowl pick and Super Bowl champion whose relationship with the Seahawks has become strained after nearly a decade in Seattle, with his personal brand growing beyond football. There's no spotlight like New York, where the Jets own the No. 2 overall pick. If Zach Wilson stays healthy, he has the talent to be a superstar. "If I was picking No. 1 -- hoo, man, it'd be hard for me not to take him over Trevor," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "He's got real playmaking ability. He's shorter (than Lawrence) -- I get it. But he's got ball all about him. He makes plays -- unique plays."

Media speculation about Fields' work ethic was overblown, though several coaches and scouts said they have questions about Fields' drive based in part on how things for him ended at Georgia after the much less-talented Jake Fromm retained the job in 2018. Others praised Fields for starting a petition and becoming a face of the successful push to get the Big Ten to reconsider its decision to cancel fall football, when he could’ve just turned his attention to the draft. And he showed toughness by missing just one play after a monster hit early in the national semifinal against Clemson, finishing with six touchdown passes in a 49-28 rout of Lawrence and the Tigers. The real question continues to be how well Fields processes and sees the field, coming from an Ohio State offense that's designed to limit what the QB has to read and let him play fast. "He has to see it open," an AFC executive said. "I think you appreciate [Fields' game] more when you see him live, because it's just how he's built. And I think he'll work all f---ing day. But I don't think it's ever been demanded of him from the mental side of the game." Said a coach: "You've got to do your homework, because the fact of the matter is, he's just not being asked to (process) for a lot of things. But you talk to (Ohio State coach) Ryan Day, you talk to those guys out there, they'll tell you he absolutely can. And in the interview, I would tell you yes. There's going to be a learning curve, but I think he can do it, for sure." Several people brought up the struggles of past Ohio State QBs coming from the same system, though as one AFC GM put it: "It's not Fields' fault (Dwayne) Haskins was a [mess]." Fields' hands (9 1/8 inches) are on the smaller side, but big enough.

Teams learned through the pre-draft medical process that Fields takes medication to manage epilepsy -- a neurological disorder that can cause seizures, but which hasn't affected Fields' football career, and which doctors are confident he'll grow out of, as other members of his family have. Team medical staffs have discussed Fields' treatment plan and whether any events during his NFL career, such as a concussion, could put him at greater risk. But as Day tweeted Wednesday, Fields never missed a game during his college career, and he wouldn't be the first NFL player to excel while managing epilepsy. (Most notable, Pro Football Hall of Fame guard Alan Faneca took medication to control seizures throughout his career.)

There remain questions about how Fields' quieter personality and leadership style will play in an NFL locker room (though it's worth noting the 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year, Justin Herbert, faced similar questions during the pre-draft process a year ago). The early word was, Fields didn't really get to know his teammates his first year on campus, focusing solely on winning the job. But Fields was named a captain in 2020, and the people at Ohio State now vouch for him on that front, too. "The people there believe in Justin," an AFC coordinator said. "His ability to throw the deep ball [is exceptional]. He was pissed he ran 4.4 (at the pro day), he kind of stumbled, but that's a big man now that can move. The big thing's going to be, does all this negative publicity make him have a chip on his shoulder? Is he that kind of kid?"

Starting just 17 college games, Jones was extremely productive after waiting his turn behind Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama, completing 74.3 percent of his passes for 6,126 yards and 56 touchdowns with just seven interceptions in his career. That includes a 2020 season in which Jones completed 77.4 percent of passes for 4,500 yards and a 41:4 TD-to-INT ratio while helping the Crimson Tide to a 13-0 record and a national title. Jones also earned first-team all-America honors, the Davey O'Brien Award as the nation's top QB and an invite to the Senior Bowl, where he had a good week. "Mac's 'Bama tape is really, really good. There's no denying that," a college scouting director said. "But you watch him in Mobile -- this doesn't really feel like a big, big, big-time guy. You trade all that s---, for him?" 

Jones (6-2 5/8, 217) certainly doesn't have the athletic ability or chiseled physique of some of the other top QBs, but he still timed and tested at his pro day, wanting to compete. He has a high football IQ, is super competitive and impressed in interviews. "If you said, 'Take one of these guys to start in a game tomorrow in the NFL,' he's the most ready," an NFC quarterbacks coach said. "But he's right up against the ceiling to me, where these other guys, if they can progress -- you're talking about Justin Fields and Zach Wilson -- those are going to be dangerous dudes now." And there's the rub on Jones, whose skeptics also point out he benefitted from playing on the nation's most talented team, behind an offensive line that gave him a lot of clean pockets. 

He had to answer during the pre-draft process for some issues in his past, including trouble controlling his temper that carried over from his youth tennis days to early in his tenure at Alabama, as well as a well-publicized DUI arrest as a freshman in 2017. "I don't even trust the player, let alone that," an AFC executive said. "Who can't throw to four first-rounders and hand the ball to Najee (Harris)?" But those who have spoken to Jones say he comes across as mature and having learned from his mistakes, and the people at Alabama vouch for him -- including teammates Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith, who spoke highly in interviews of Jones even in comparison to Tagovailoa, and former Alabama OC Steve Sarkisian. 

"The one thing about him that's different than the other [top QBs] is he can come up to the line of scrimmage and he can tell you where he's going with it pre-snap," an NFC scout said. "He's smart enough to know where his outs are and what you're going to do with him based on where the safeties are at and what you're doing on defense. I felt like he was really, really sharp, and Sark says unbelievable things about him."

In 2019, Lance completed 192 of 287 passes (66.9%) for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns without an interception -- a remarkable stat at any level -- in addition to running for another 1,100 yards and 14 scores. He has smallish hands (9 1/8 inches). A lower, somewhat elongated release (which Lance has worked to tighten during the pre-draft process) raises questions about how well Lance can adapt when he sees the speed and disguise of NFL defenses. And accuracy remains a big question on Lance, who did nothing to answer it in the only game he played in 2020 after COVID-19 bumped the Bison's conference schedule to the spring: a "showcase" game in October against Central Arkansas in which Lance accounted for four touchdowns in a 39-28 win, but seemed to be pressing; he finished 15-of-30 passing, relied more on his legs, lost a fumble and threw the first interception of his career. 

"Trey Lance misses way too many throws for me," an NFC quarterbacks coach said. "The game he played this year was atrocious. It was the first one I watched, and honestly, I couldn't believe this was the guy they were talking about." Said a college scouting director: "That's Central f---ing Arkansas. That's bad. It's hard to say, 'We're gonna take this guy top-three' -- what's the best team this guy has ever played? James Madison? That's scary. But I will say, everyone you ever talk to about the kid, the makeup is legitimately through the roof. Whatever the ceiling is, he'll make it." 

For all the unanswerable questions about Lance the player, nobody is betting against Lance the person. "His interview was amazing. He's a smart m-----f-----. He's 20 years old," said an AFC executive, who downplayed issues with Lance's accuracy. "He's f---ing throwing to me and you. He throws a pretty deep ball. I think the kid has big upside." Unlike many QBs coming out of college, Lance has operated from under center and had the authority to make checks at the line. Carson Wentz made the jump from the same program and was an MVP candidate by his second season, though he had more experience (42 games, 23 starts) and helped his cause against tougher competition at the Senior Bowl. There were no all-star games for Lance, who has thrown more than 23 passes in a game just twice. Some who attended Lance's first pro day March 12 felt he looked tight with his release. "His second workout was much better," said an NFC executive who watched the tape. "He didn't look so mechanical. His motion, it seemed more fluid. I thought he let it rip a little bit more. He showed more movement stuff, in terms of throwing on the run and off-platform -- just more of what his game is." That workout included drills and throws utilized by the 49ers, and speculation has picked up in league circles the past few days that Lance is in the mix for the No. 3 pick. There's still a lot of unknown. But as one NFC GM put it: "Trey Lance has got a chance."

Mond transferred to IMG Academy after his junior year of high school and is almost overly polished in interviews. He's known as a good note-taker and has a high football IQ. "He's a reserved, quiet dude, but really, really smart," an NFC quarterbacks coach said of Mond. "The thing I get stuck on with him was, there wasn't anything I could say was outstanding about him physically. It's not elite arm strength, it's not consistent down-the-field accuracy. I thought he was going to be more athletic than he is on tape. He's a little stiff." Mond's more slight build, particularly in the lower body, also raises questions, though he's been durable throughout his college career, even while getting sacked 34 times in 2018. 

"Jimbo asks a lot of quarterbacks to operate that system, and he's been able to do it even though he looks like a wideout," an AFC scout said. "I don't know if he's necessarily the big, vocal leader presence. We were walking around the Senior Bowl, he had his headphones on, staying in his own world. But on the field, I think the guy's got some moxie about him. And he knows the game."

In fairness, Trask was hurt toward the end of last season -- he played through a severe left high ankle sprain and was in so much pain in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma he had to go to the bench early in the second half. Trask missed the Senior Bowl and didn't even resume jogging until early March, weeks before his pro day, where he ran a 5.07 40, and is moving better since. The rest of Trask's medical report is long -- surgery for a torn meniscus in the spring of 2017, a broken bone in each foot that required a screw in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and minor surgery on his left (non-throwing) elbow to remove a bone chip -- but nothing overly concerning to teams. 

He throws with good touch and timing, but scouts rate his overall arm talent as good, not great. "Trask is just an absolute statue back there. And I'm not sure he's got the arm talent to match it," an AFC coordinator said. "Normally if you've got a guy that's not very mobile, not very swift on his feet, he's gotta make up for it with a Howitzer." Trask does have fans; one scout ranked him fourth in this year's class, ahead of Mac Jones and Trey Lance. A team like the Buccaneers, who have Tom Brady at quarterback and Byron Leftwich as offensive coordinator, surely wouldn't be spooked by drafting a QB who has to play on-schedule from the pocket. And Trask has proven people wrong before -- he didn't start a game in high school while playing behind future Houston and Miami QB D'Eriq King, had only one FBS scholarship offer and sat for three years at Florida before getting his shot. In his first road start -- ever -- he threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-28 loss to eventual national champion LSU in 2019. "Trask was catching steam there during the season when he was putting up the numbers," another AFC exec said. "I just think there's a clear step below, really across the board -- athleticism, arm strength. Even going back and studying him again, it's like, eh, maybe it's a little better than I thought, but I think maybe there's just a ceiling on the guy."

One of the nation's top recruits in high school, Mills suffered a torn ACL before his senior year in 2016, and sources say he has had four total surgeries on his left knee, the last in 2018: the original ACL reconstruction, a revision (redo) on the ACL, a meniscus repair and a procedure to remove a suture. He finally got his chance with the Cardinal in 2019 and, after missing several games with a left calf strain, returned to finish strong, passing for a school-record 504 yards against Washington State. He also had some bad luck, missing last season's opener after a false positive test for COVID-19, and played through a left hip strain. 

"His hype's a little bit out of control," an NFC scout said. "He's not mobile. He's not durable. His arm's OK. Kevin Hogan almost had more than he has in terms of just mobility and making plays. He came in beat up. He already doesn't run well. His escape ability under pressure, clutch playmaking -- all that stuff is really, really suspect." Mills did flash some athletic ability at his pro day, running a 4.81 40 and posting a 6.95 three-cone drill at 6-3 3/4, 217 pounds that was the best among draftable QBs in this class. "He is off the charts in terms of intelligence," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "He's only played 11 games. Where does he fit? I don't know. But if the physical catches up, he's got a chance."

Franks started 24 games at Florida before suffering a dislocated and fractured ankle in 2019 that opened the door for Kyle Trask. He went as a graduate transfer to Arkansas, started working with a private QB coach, Steve Calhoun, and completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,107 yards with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions in eight starts last fall. "Film at Arkansas was probably better than what I was expecting off the Florida stuff," a college scouting director said. But Franks still has a long ways to go. As another team source said: "Of the guys I interviewed at the Senior Bowl, [Franks is the one] you walked away saying, he's going to have to learn a lot." 

Franks' arm is so good, the Boston Red Sox took him in the 31st round of the 2019 MLB Amateur Draft as a pitcher, even though Franks hadn't played baseball since his junior year of high school. His brother, Jordan, played three seasons in the NFL as a tight end, and one coordinator predicted Franks could be taken for a "Logan Thomas-type role" -- drafted as a QB, with the possibility of moving him to tight end in a year or two. "I liked him a little more than our scouts, just because he has traits," another coordinator said. "If you're going to coach a guy and try to develop him, don't get (Texas' Sam) Ehlinger -- you know exactly what you're getting. Draft Franks, because the 5 percent chance [he] can be a No. 2, you might hit."

"Maybe somebody takes a flier on a Book, but I don't think that kid's got what it takes to play in the league," an AFC coordinator said. "He's got perfectly clean pockets that he bails on all the time, and it's because he can't see." In 47 college games (35 starts), Book completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 8,948 yards and 72 touchdowns with 20 interceptions. He ran for another 1,517 yards and 17 scores. "I enjoyed watching his tape," an NFC coordinator said. "He's got some swag to him. He's got some moxie to him. He knows how to play football."

"I'm not an Ehlinger guy," an NFC coordinator said. "Now, his interview was unbelievable. That kid should be a coach." Ehlinger fulfilled a lifelong dream by suiting up for Texas, the alma mater of his father, Ross, who passed away in 2013 from a heart attack while competing in the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon. "This kid is super mature, really grounded," an AFC quarterbacks coach said. "He doesn't quite throw it well enough."

Still, some team may be willing to take a shot on Newman's athletic traits. "He's built like a linebacker. They were doing a lot of the zone-read, quarterback runs, he's running over guys (at Wake Forest)," an AFC scout said. "It's a shame, because I think people see the talent and they see the potential. There has just been some decision-making along the road that [makes you] question some maturity there from that position."

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Curran and Perry predict who Pats will take with 15th pick

nbcsports.com 31 December, 1969 - 06:00pm

They'll have to answer that question next week when they're on the clock with the 15th overall pick. Perhaps they'll even trade up the draft board if they have their minds set on a particular player. ESPN's Mel Kiper, for example, projects the Patriots to trade up to No. 7 and select Alabama QB Mac Jones.

NBC Sports Boston's Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry played the role of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in Wednesday night's Early Edition. With Jones still on the board at No. 15, here's how they made their selections.

"Even if I took Mac Jones, which I'm not gonna do, I wouldn't be solving the quarterback problem," Curran said. "You know why? Because Mac Jones is already on the roster and he's been there for two years, it's Jarrett Stidham. ...

"What we're gonna do here is take the best linebacker and it's not Blake Gallagher out of Northwestern, it's going to be Micah Parsons out of Penn State. We're taking one of the five to six best athletes and prospects in the draft."

Perry, on the other hand, couldn't pass up the opportunity to draft Jones in that spot.

"I would have taken Mac Jones because he plays the most important position in the sport by a long shot, because he is very accurate, because he checks a lot of the boxes the Patriots typically draft at that position," Perry said. "He succeeded at a high level, played against some really good defenses, we know he got good coaching at Alabama. He has enough size, he has enough arm strength for them.

"He really is maybe the best fit at that position in this class for the Patriots even if most of the region here doesn't necessarily think that he is a great prospect. Micah Parsons would concern me a tad for the Patriots as good as of an athlete as he is."

Parsons has some character concerns, but there's no doubting his enormous talent. He opted out of the 2020 season but tallied five sacks, four forced fumbles and 52 solo tackles in 2019.

As for Jones, the Crimson Tide signal-caller completed 77.4 percent of his passes for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns and only four interceptions last season. He is expected to be one of the first five QBs selected.

The 2021 NFL Draft is set to begin April 29.

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