NFL Draft 2021: Top 10 quarterback prospects

NBC Sports Bay Area Staff
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NFL Draft 2021: Top 10 quarterback prospects originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The NFL draft offers new hope for teams at the basement of the league standings. Struggling franchises have the chance to inject their roster and fan base with hope in the form of a new franchise quarterback, and the 2021 NFL draft class is loaded with promising signal callers.

Several quarterbacks are projected to be selected in the first handful of picks. The Jacksonville Jaguars sit at No. 1 and have an easy choice at the top of the draft. The New York Jets are at No. 2 and cemented their draft path by trading former No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers earlier this month. The San Francisco 49ers moved up to No. 3 by trading three first-round picks, including the No. 12 pick in this year’s draft, and a 2021 third-round pick to the Miami Dolphins in a blockbuster deal. The Dolphins then used that No. 12 pick in a trade package with the Philadelphia Eagles to move up to No. 6. And the movement at the top of the draft might not end there.

Here are some of the key questions surrounding the quarterback class in the 2021 NFL Draft along with the top players at the position:

Who will be the first QB drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft?

This distinction belongs to Trevor Lawrence. The former Clemson star is seen as a generational talent and has drawn comparisons to Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and even John Elway. He will be the first name Roger Goodell calls out on April 29.

How many quarterbacks are expected to go in the first round?

This is a tougher question to gauge. There will certainly be a handful of quarterbacks taken in the first few selections, and a group of five has emerged above the rest of the class. While those five players are slated to be first-rounders, it remains to be seen if another team looking for a project at the position jumps in later in the first round to increase that number.

Are the Raiders expected to draft a QB in 2021?

Mike Mayock and the Raiders have been adamant in their support for Derek Carr, and backup Marcus Mariota took a pay cut to remain with the team. But is Las Vegas willing to commit to Carr beyond 2022, the final year of his contract? If not, the Raiders could take a flier on a QB at No. 17 overall or in the later rounds.

Who are the top quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft?

Five quarterbacks are projected to go in the first round, but there are five additional options for teams looking for a signal-caller on day two.

1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

Lawrence has long been locked in as the projected No. 1 pick in this draft. He knocked off Alabama in the national championship game his freshman year before reaching the championship game again as a sophomore and the College Football Playoff a third time as a junior. At 6-foot-6, 220 pounds and with all the physical tools a team craves in a quarterback, Lawrence will be a game-changer for the Jaguars.

2. Zach Wilson, BYU

Wilson saw a meteoric rise up draft boards thanks to an eye-opening 2020 season and pro day. He completed 73.5 percent of his passes while tossing 33 touchdown passes to just three interceptions, leading BYU to an 11-1 record and blowout Boca Raton Bowl win over Central Florida. He's a big play waiting to happen and can also take care of the football. Wilson enters as the likely choice for the Jets at No. 2 in the draft.

3. Justin Fields, Ohio State

Fields is another quarterback likely to be selected in the first handful of picks. He was sensational back in 2019, throwing 41 touchdown passes to just three interceptions while rushing for 10 additional scores. The Buckeyes only played five regular-season games in 2020, but he led the team to a Big Ten title and a CFP semifinal win over Lawrence's Clemson squad before falling to Alabama in the championship game.

Fields has faced criticism pertaining to his work ethic from NFL analysts in the month leading up to the draft, leading to a larger conversation about quarterback evaluation and the overall draft process. He has garnered support, as well, in the wake of those criticisms and he could very well be the third player -- and quarterback -- taken in this draft.

4. Trey Lance, North Dakota State

Lance might be the biggest question mark of this quarterback class. Scouts will only have one game of film to look at from 2020, but it's impossible to ignore what he did in 2019: 28 touchdowns, zero interceptions and an undefeated record en route to an FCS title. He comes from the same school as Carson Wentz but is not expected to go quite as high as the new Indianapolis Colt, who went No. 2 overall in 2016. Despite the risk, there will almost certainly be a team willing to take a gamble on Lance early in the first round.

5. Mac Jones, Alabama

Jones put together one of the most efficient seasons in college football history last year and has drawn comparisons to Tom Brady, but that hasn't exempted him from skepticism. Jones compiled 4,500 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions throwing to an exceptional group of pass catchers with the Crimson Tide on the way to an undefeated season and national title. There are questions about how Jones' ability compares to his statistics, but he is still slated to be taken off the board in the early-to-mid first round and is in play to go to the 49ers at No. 3.

6. Kyle Trask, Florida

Trask will likely be one of the first quarterbacks selected after the first round in 2021. He posted 4,283 passing yards, 43 passing touchdowns and eight interceptions for the Gators last season. He eclipsed 400 yards in five games, including a narrow 52-46 loss to Jones and Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. He may lack the mobility of other prospects in this class, but his passing from the pocket will still make him an early-round pick.

7. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M

Mond had an inconsistent 2020 season despite the Aggies' 9-1 overall record. He threw for 300-plus yards and three touchdowns against both Alabama and Florida early in the year, but he also had a 11-for-34 passing day against LSU in November. Without eye-popping stats, Mond could fall to the third round or beyond.

8. Jamie Newman, Wake Forest

Newman opted out of Georgia’s 2020 season in order to prepare for the draft, so teams will have to rely on old game tape to get a gauge on the former Demon Deacon. He used his legs in college, rushing for six scores in the 2019 season. Accuracy was an issue, though, as he completed less than 50 percent of his passes in four of his final five games during his junior season. He will likely get taken late in the third day of the draft.

9. Sam Ehlinger, Texas

Ehlinger spent three seasons as the Longhorns' full-time starting quarterback, scoring with his arm and legs along the way. He rushed for 16 touchdowns in 2018 and threw 32 passing touchdowns in 2019 before settling in at 26 passing TDs and eight rushing TDs in 2020. Ehlinger will need to maximize his mobility to make it in the NFL.

10. Davis Mills, Stanford

Mills missed the start of Stanford's season due to a positive COVID-19 test, but he was productive over the final five games for the Cardinal as he completed 66.2 percent of his passes on the way to a 4-1 record. He was able to raise his stock at his pro day, but he is still projected to fall into the late rounds.

Max Molski contributed to this story