The 2021 NFL draft had a surprisingly large number of quarterbacks taken in the first round. It was shocking to have five passers selected, the first time this since the 2018 draft. Looking back at previous drafts, this has occurred only four other times in the NFL’s history: in 1983 (six QB’s), 1999 (five QB’s), and 2018 drafts (five QB’s).
The 1983 draft is widely considered the best quarterback draft in NFL history. This draft netted three hall of fame passers in John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino. What people do not mention is the three other QB’s who were selected in the first round. Those players were Todd Blackledge, Tony Eason, and Ken O’Brien. Many are unfamiliar with these names– there were only two NFL Pro-Bowl appearances among these three quarterbacks, both by Ken O’Brien with the New York Jets.
The 1999 draft was not as widely regarded as a QB draft as 1983 was. Notable players were Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper, who made a combined eight NFL Pro-Bowls. The other quarterbacks in that class? Tim Cough, who lasted five years in the NFL, Akili Smith, who lasted four, and Cade McCown, who lasted only two. Not a particularly great draft class this year.
The 2018 QB draft class looked to have lots of potential at first glance. Baker Mayfield’s 2020 season was the best of his short three-year career in Cleveland, and the Browns made the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Sam Darnold’s stint with the New York Jets was underwhelming, but that could have been due to coaching and lack of talent on the offensive side of the football. Josh Allen turned himself into an NFL MVP candidate, and also led his team on a playoff run. Josh Rosen did not play a down in 2021, and was maybe a career backup the rest of his career. Last, but not least, Lamar Jackson is widely regarded as one of the elite offensive talents in the NFL and won the NFL MVP in 2019. This draft class is still writing its history, and the sky is the limit for Allen, Jackson, and Mayfield.
Now we get back to this 2021 class of Trevor Lawrence, Zack Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones. If history is any indicator, at least two or three of these quarterbacks will be a bust. The question is: who will it be? First, let’s look at the offensive lines for the teams that drafted these players. According to Pro Football Focus, the Jaguars rank 23rd, the Jets rank 22nd, the 49ers rank 9th, the Bears 28th, and the Patriots top these teams 3rd.
If that is any indicator, it would seem that the teams with veteran starter,s like the 49ers and Patriots, may have the advantage of having their rookies play behind some tremendous offensive line play. The 49ers have the best offensive playmakers of this bunch as well. Trey Lance’s athleticism could play well in Kyle Shanahan’s system, similar to what Robert Griffin III was able to do under this system in Washington. The Bears would rank below the 49ers in offensive potency, but Chicago has pass-catching talent in Allen Robinson II, as well as a top-tier defense. If Fields can build a rapport with Robinson, the sky is the limit with this team. The Jaguars have a great deal of young talented players trying to break out in the NFL, such as DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault. This also includes running backs Travis Etienne and James Robinson, the latter quietly had over 1400 all-purpose yards and ten touchdowns in his rookie year. The Jets still have a lot to prove offensively after a few terrible years under previous head coach Adam Gase. New England has one of their worst offensive seasons in 2020, but can you name a Patriots receiver from 2020 that was not Julian Edelman?
There is a good chance that two or three of these quarterbacks may be either out of the league or are career backups in five years. Alabama quarterbacks have not fared well in the NFL, so will Mac Jones break that stereotype? Quarterbacks have not had sustained success since David Garrad. Can Trevor Lawernce break the cycle? Can Mac Jones help the Patriots return to the glory of the Tom Brady years in New England? Can Trey Lance finally help the 49ers win their first Super Bowl since 1995? Can Zack Wilson help turn the Jets into a playoff team to break their ten-year playoff drought? Let’s be patient and see what happens with these young NFL talents.