NFL draft: Diving in on Elite 11 performances of four 2021 QB prospects

There’s a serious concern over whether we’ll have a college football season in 2020, so our 2021 NFL draft information gathering certainly is going to change in a dramatic way over the next several months.

After all, the Big Ten has already announced a conference-only season (if they even get that far), and the Pac-12 is expected to do the same. Other conferences face truncated, if not delayed or outright cancelled, seasons this fall.

So it’s worth a quick look at how a few potential 2021 NFL draft QB prospects performed in throwing sessions at the Elite 11 camp that wrapped up last week, led by coaches Trent Dilfer, George Whitfield, Jordan Palmer and Quincy Avery.

The Elite 11 is an annual high school quarterback competition, but there also are college counselors who attend the event. This year there were four, all of whom potentially could be in the 2021 draft class: Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, Mississippi State’s K.J. Costello and Georgia’s Jamie Newman.

Ohio State Buckeyes QB Justin Fields started out strong at the Elite 11 event last week. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ohio State Buckeyes QB Justin Fields started out strong at the Elite 11 event last week. (Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Fields and Lance are considered possible first-round picks next spring if they choose to declare. Both had brilliant seasons for their respective teams last season, showing an uncanny ability to keep their turnover totals low, throw on the move and use their legs to sting opponents.

Obviously, Fields’ level of competition gives him one leg up in a head-to-head measurement. But Lance is viewed by some talent evaluators as potentially possessing a higher NFL ceiling despite being a year behind Fields and playing at the FCS level.

Costello (Stanford transfer) and Newman (Wake Forest transfer) have yet to play for their new schools, but each possesses fascinating upside and could vault their stocks with strong final seasons.

But if there is no full season, scouts will be forced to piece together whatever bits of information and examine every throwing session they can to get a complete picture of these and other prospects. Here’s how the counselors did.

Justin Fields, Ohio State

Fields really impressed Rivals’ Woody Wommack on Day 1. He wrote then that “it was clear that Fields was the most impressive” of the four college counselors. Wommack added that Fields “(took) things seriously and impress(ed), adding that he “also took a few reps at wide receiver and was also impressive there.”

Don’t worry, Fields is still a quarterback! He just happens to be a dynamic athlete capable of doing such things. We don’t assume this will descend into a Lamar Jackson type of controversy.

Here’s some video of Fields from the “Pro Day” portion of the workouts, which is sort of a one-man-on-stage, mock-drive type of format:

Fields missed some intermediate throws and appeared to be more accurate on the deep stuff, although it’s difficult to judge in a vacuum. After all, these are mostly unfamiliar receivers, and some of them — as the background audio will inform you — ran routes on throws that didn’t always pass the coaches’ muster. Observers felt some of the receivers were “lacking.”

NFL evaluators believe Fields has the arm strength, athletic traits and confidence to develop into a starter at the next level. One person we spoke with close to the OSU program last year also seemed to indicate that Fields had a way of raising his game

Trey Lance, North Dakota State

After a fairly rough first day — Wommack said Lance “struggled quite a bit, especially at the end in the Rail Shot competition” — the Bison star seemed to bounce back on the final day of the competition.

The video displays the easy, twitchy throwing ability of the rising redshirt sophomore, as Lance connected on some pretty balls and operated well on the move:

There’s just a lot of fascination in potentially the best small-school prospect in the 2021 class. Any quarterback who logs a 28-0 TD-INT ratio, rushes for 14 TDs and leads his team to a perfect 16-0 championship season is worthy of that level of buzz.

But if there is no season for NDSU, or a significantly shortened season, should Lance consider coming out after fewer than 300 college pass attempts? That will be a hot debate the closer we get to the declaration date.

K.J. Costello, Mississippi State

Prior to last season, Costello was viewed as a classic pro-style passer who checked off boxes with his size, character, smarts and just enough arm talent. But his transfer to MSU, now coached by Air Raid proponent Mike Leach, has changed the perspective quite a bit.

Costello was Wommack’s second-ranked QB of the quartet after Day 1, and his Elite 11 Pro Day throwing session appeared to be solid, even if he has an elongated throwing motion and appears a bit robotic at times:

How Costello adapts to Leach’s system could be pretty darned interesting; it’s a departure from most of what he was asked to do under David Shaw at Stanford. But then again, his stock was hurt by multiple injuries during a trying 2019 campaign, so there’s almost nowhere to go but up if the season happens.

Jamie Newman, Georgia

We don’t have video of Newman’s Pro Day session at the Elite 11, but Wommack gave him a solid grade for his Day 1 performance — neither great nor bad. There’s a lot of that sentiment in his game on the whole.

Newman got off to a hot start last season, outdueling future Green Bay Packers first-round pick Jordan Love in the opener, but really struggled at times down the stretch — including a brutal outing at Clemson. Some of that can be explained with the left shoulder injury Newman suffered midseason, causing him to miss a few games, and he also lost his top wideout, Sage Surratt, down the stretch.

Former Wake Forest QB Jamie Newman transferred to Georgia for the 2020 season. (Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Former Wake Forest QB Jamie Newman transferred to Georgia for the 2020 season. (Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

How Newman will fit in with a Georgia offense that had identity issues last season is unknown. But it’s clear that his NFL draft stock very much hangs in the balance.

Newman has the size and ample arm talent to make for an interesting prospect, but his pocket presence felt a little shaky last season. Perhaps better protection at Georgia than he had at Wake can help boost his stock.

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