2021 NFL draft: Breaking down the tiers of this year’s QB class

Luke Easterling
·4 min read

Every year, the NFL draft conversation is driven by the quarterbacks.

That’s particularly true when a class is as loaded with top talent as this year’s group, which could end up putting a signal-caller in each of the top four spots come draft weekend.

There’s plenty of talent at the top, some intriguing names in the middle, and a couple of under-the-radar guys who could surprise. There’s an elite prospect at the top, and a logjam right after.

But where are the clear-cut drop-offs among this group of quarterback prospects?

Here’s how I break up one of the most promising quarterback classes in recent memory:

Tier 1: Trevor Lawrence

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From the moment he torched the Alabama defense in a blowout win for a national title, we knew Lawrence was in a league of his own, and destined to be the No. 1 pick as soon as he was eligible. While there might be a few contrarians who will tell you otherwise, Lawrence is still in his own category among this year's top quarterback prospects. Yes, there were moments of inconsistency throughout his college career, but his combination of mental and physical tools are as good as any we've seen in a quarterback prospect in recent memory. He's got the arm, the athleticism, the processing ability and even the leadership qualities you want at the game's most important position. Lawrence has always been the clear-cut QB1 in this class. That hasn't changed since his freshman year, and it won't change between now and draft weekend.

Tier 2: The Best of the Rest

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While there will be plenty of teams disappointed that they won't get a chance at Lawrence, this next tier will give them plenty of worthy consolation prizes. The battle to be the second-best passer in this year's class is a three-horse race between Ohio State's Justin Fields, BYU's Zach Wilson and North Dakota State's Trey Lance, all of whom can make a strong case to be the next guy off the board after Lawrence. You could stack those three guys in any order, and it would make sense. Which one comes off the board first will depend on what a particular team is looking for in terms of skill set and how it fits their scheme, but it would be hard to go wrong with any of them.

Tier 3: Mac Jones

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After the season he just had, Jones has been a popular pick to fly up the board and perhaps hear his name called in the top 10, even ahead of some of the names listed in the previous tier. But while his 2020 campaign was impressive, putting up huge numbers while leading the Crimson Tide to an undefeated season and a national title, Jones doesn't have the physical tools that put prospects like Fields, Wilson and Lance higher on the pecking order. While he may end up going ahead of one of those passers, Jones would make more sense in the middle of the first round as opposed to a top-10 or top-5 selection. That said, there's a bigger drop-off between Jones and the rest of this year's quarterback class than any gap between the second tier and Jones, so it won't be surprising to see him go earlier.

Tier 4: Day 2 Fallbacks

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After Jones, there's a sizable drop-off to the next-best quarterbacks in this year's class. Texas A&M's Kellen Mond is one of this year's more underrated players at the position, and Florida's Kyle Trask could make a strong case of his own to be the next guy off the board. There are plenty of quarterback-needy teams who will be picking too late in the first round to land any of the names mentioned above, which could leave them in panic mode. If all five of the top passers come off the board in the top 10, teams like the New England Patriots (No. 15 overall), Washington Football Team (No. 19 overall) and Chicago Bears (No. 20 overall) are likely to take the best available prospect at another position, and turn their attention to Day 2, where Mond or Trask could be their top target.

Tier 5: Projects and Flyers

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After those seven guys are gone, it's probably not worth looking at a quarterback prospect until the late rounds, where a high-upside project or high-floor prospect with starter tools could provide a decent return on investment. Wake Forest's Jamie Newman has a promising combination of arm talent and athleticism, while Stanford's David Mills could eventually become a starter in the right situation. After those guys, it's hard to see a prospect with clear-cut starter skills. So, if you haven't landed your quarterback in this year's draft at this point, you're probably better off waiting until next year's draft.

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