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2021 Pre-NFL Draft Rookie Rankings: Quarterbacks

Just as soon as the 2020 fantasy season ends, we are on to the preparations for the upcoming season. That all starts with the NFL Draft and potential landings spots and how that affects player values. Incoming rookies can cause a major shift in the world of fantasy football. Not only for themselves but also the players around them. The position this applies to the most is of course the quarterbacks. We saw this ring true in 2020 as an influx of new blood entered the league. Both Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert looked the part from the first snap, increasing the values of the players around them, and should be locked in as QB1 prospects for several years. Tua Tagovailoa had glimpses of positive play, but the more he was on the field the more we saw the subpar play that could be cause for concern moving forward. Jalen Hurts is the name on the tips of the fantasy community's tongues at the moment as he is considered to be the new starting QB for the Eagles, and with a small sample size in 2020 he proved he could provide QB1 value.

Heading into the 2021 NFL Draft we another crop of impressive rookies coming into the league. The question will be how many are ready to make an immediate impact, and how many will have the staying power to be factored in fantasy football for years to come? The top of the position in this year's draft class is very top-heavy with Trevor Lawrence leading the charge. With the prototypical "pocket QB" becoming more of a thing of the past, we continue to see this move towards a hybrid-style player. One that is just as efficient throwing the ball in the pocket, on the move, or running the desired RPO type of offense. Evaluations on this position have had to change over the years as well. No longer can you focus on what these players bring to the table with their arms, but what value they have from a rushing perspective as well. With the 2021 class, you have a good mixture of that across the board.

Before we reach the NFL Draft you have to first get a lay of the land in terms of perceived value. Of course, landing spots for players will determine their final values heading into rookie drafts and drafts for the 2021 season. But before we get there, evaluations lead to rankings and that is what we have come to as I rank the quarterback position heading into the 2021 NFL Draft.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy football rankings for 2024 fantasy football drafts:

 

1. Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)

Considered by many for years to be a true "can't miss" prospect, Lawrence has all the tools you're looking for in a franchise signal-caller. He's stocked with amazing physical gifts, top-notch football IQ, and the leadership qualities that a team will rally around. He has excellent arm strength to all levels of the field and the accuracy to hit every throw in the book. He processes the field as well as any QB over the last several seasons as he recognizes coverages and blitzes by the defense. Although he can push the ball downfield, Lawrence tends to keep the ball closer to the line of scrimmage, indicated by leading the nation in screen yards (686). Even though the yardage was down during the Covid season, Lawrence showed over his time in college an improvement each season in completion percentage and yards per attempt. He continues to grow each year, something that will only improve his value from a dynasty perspective.

In preparations for upcoming fantasy drafts, Lawrence's value is dependent on the format in which you're targeting him. Fantasy managers looking to acquire Lawrence in season-long leagues are looking at a player that will be a QB2 in ADP before the season begins, but with his skill set, you could see an instant impact in production much as we saw from Justin Herbert in 2020. As for rookie drafts in dynasty, Lawrence is an obvious first-round selection. The case could be made for him to be the 1.01 and will be fighting with Najee Harris for dominance atop the board. But no matter where you select him, Lawrence will be a major contributor as a fantasy QB for many years to come.

 

2. Justin Fields (Ohio State)

This is where things start to get interesting at the position as opinions vary about who is the next QB off the board after Lawrence. For me, as things stand now it's Justin Fields. Since transferring to Ohio State he has been nothing but stellar from a production standpoint. He pushes the ball downfield as much as any QB in the country due in large fact to the time he is allowed in the pocket (T-3rd in the nation at 3.11 seconds to throw). His numbers rivaled that of Lawrence each of the past two seasons.

His completion percentage hovers consistently around 70% and his YPA being over 9.0 shows he can get the ball to multiple levels of the defense with 69.9% of his yardage coming on further downfield. He is a dynamic runner that can get into open space quickly, which adds value from a fantasy standpoint. He's closer to Kyler Murray in terms of skill set than he is to Russell Wilson with comparisons out there between the two. He protects the ball exceptionally well (only 18 turnover-worthy plays in college), but blitz recognition has been an issue and could lead to turnovers early in his career as he adjusts to NFL speed. The knock that you will continue to hear on Fields is his recognition in pre-snap reads and how they are a bit slow to develop. But with proper coaching and work ethic, that should change at the next level.

From a fantasy perspective, Fields seems to have a safe floor at the next level. His rushing abilities should balance out any inconsistencies that we see from the passing game early on in his career. Making him a viable pick early on in the second round of rookie drafts. He likely will not reach QB1 value in his rookie season, but it should be on the horizon sooner rather than later. Managers in seasonal leagues should be able to grab him in the mid-to-late rounds as a QB2 that will pop QB1 numbers in some games but will likely be a matchup-based starter.

 

3. Trey Lance (North Dakota State)

Lance feels like the ultimate boom or bust prospect in this year's class. From a physical standpoint, he may be the purest prospect out of this year's group. He has the arm talent that is NFL-ready as the ball explodes out of his hand. He shows some touch with his accuracy on deep throws down the field but will need to polish the overall aspects of his passing game. He looks to get the ball downfield (11.5 ADoT) and his passer rating shockingly improves at each level on the grid. As much as his passing potential is intriguing, his abilities as a rusher are what could skyrocket his value for fantasy managers. Playing in a very run-heavy North Dakota State offense, Lance rushed for 1,100 yards in 2019 and another 143 in his one start in 2020. With 16 touchdowns on the ground over the last two years, Lance will be a serious threat for defenses down in the red-zone.

Looking ahead to his fantasy potential, Lance could be a make-or-break pick for many managers in 2021. You're likely looking at a prospect that will be drafted at the end of the second round or early in the third in many rookie drafts. But the dividends that will be repaid might have to wait as he acclimates to the NFL. He has QB1 potential with the rushing ability baked in, but what will we see from him as a passer consistently? That is the true note of worth on his value. Does he come into the league with some limitations in that area like Lamar Jackson, or will he be placed in a position to succeed with good-skill-position players around him? If you have a decent incumbent QB in dynasty, Lance is a perfect option to draft and see how shapes up. In seasonal leagues, Lance is worth taking a shot on late in drafts if you can roster an elite QB to play weekly while Lance gets time in.

 

4. Zach Wilson (BYU)

Wilson is another wild-card in this draft that you will find varying opinions of. He's the hot-button QB at the moment as some have him as the QB2 in this year's class. After a very mediocre performance over his first two seasons, Wilson exploded onto the scene with an amazing 2020 season (3,694 passing yards with 32 scores). His arm strength rivals the best in this group and his release is one that does not require a big wind-up to get the ball downfield.

He has above-average athleticism that makes him a threat when escaping the pocket and also one to keep tabs on in a zone-read offense. He can be pinpoint to all areas of the field with elite timing and anticipation, case in point by ranking top-5 in off-target rate in 2020. His deep yards (1,286) ranked third in the country showing off the willingness to attack defenses deep. He sometimes gets overconfident in his arm strength which gets him off-base with throws, something that could hinder him at the next level. His one-year wonder statistical output will raise the eyebrows of some, but Wilson has the intangibles that teams look for in a franchise signal-caller.

From a fantasy standpoint, Wilson should be a target in rookie drafts at some point in the late second to early third round. His skill set feels similar to that of Baker Mayfield by comparison, but with better arm talent. Although the rushing yardage is not on par with the other top quarterbacks, his 10 scores in 2020 show he has prowess around the goal-line which will increase his fantasy potential.

 

5. Kyle Trask (Florida)

Unlike Zach Wilson, Trask saw a vast improvement in his game over the last two seasons, which coincidentally enough were his first as a starter going back to high school. He is the prototypical pocket QB with little to no willingness to use his legs by evidence of his total of 54 yards rushing in college. He does all his damage from inside the pocket and is willing to stand tall and take a beating if necessary. Sometimes his stubbornness in the pocket leads to holding the ball too long and taking sacks.

Trask has shown a development with his touch the last two years and now has expanded his game in terms of arm talent. He has the strength to get it down the field and will let it go with confidence (9.8 YPA in 2020). He was fourth in the nation in deep yards in 2020 (1,269) but struggled with accuracy underneath rankings 50th with a 67.4% rate under 10 yards. That can get cleaned up at the next level and as shown with his current progression, if he hits another stride in the NFL he could be a quality starter in the league.

Trask's fantasy value is largely dependent on the landing spot. He is not ultimately ready to start early in year one and would gain a lot by learning under a veteran. In the right system, he has the potential to put up solid numbers with good talent around him. He could be molded into a low-end QB1 eventually in this league but his initial value will be as a QB2 early in the career. In rookie drafts, he may be worth a look late in the third round or even into the fourth depending on needs. But in dynasty, you're drafting Trask as a hold prospect until his time comes.

 

6. Mac Jones (Alabama)

Jones is a hard prospect to gauge among this year's class. Taking over as the starter in 2020, Jones put up a monster stat line (4,494 yards, 41 touchdowns, and only four interceptions) all while holding a ridiculous 76.6% completion rate. The argument that will be made on Jones is the fact that he was operating with all-world talent around him, making him that much better. This could be true, but he also is very talented in his own right. Not only did he maintain a massive YPA of 11.1 on the season but he was the most accurate QB in the country in passes under 10 yards. Showing evidence that he can move the ball to all levels of the field. Although he will attack deep, he tends to leave the ball short on occasion. His lack of production as a runner (just 14 yards in 2020) will also limit his potential at the next level for fantasy managers.

Looking at his fantasy potential, he's lined up to become a steady contributor as a QB2 eventually in the league. With the right matchups, of course, he will have games of QB1 output but consistency will likely be an issue in repeating that feat. Throwing into tight windows at the next level will lead to turnovers for Jones (600 more yards to open receivers than all other QBs in 2020). He's worthy of a roster spot in rookie drafts around the late fourth or early fifth round and for dynasty managers, Jones should develop into a capable backup QB.

 

7. Kellen Mond (Texas A&M)

Mond, a versatile prospect, has been as steady as they come from a production standpoint during his time in college. Although the numbers never truly wowed you, he showed capability as both a passer and a runner. He showed improvement in 2020 in his numbers, but the accuracy still leaves a lot to be desired (63.1%). He has less than average arm strength and tends to wait in the pocket for routes to develop before pulling the trigger. He does move well outside the pocket and his throws are not affected while running, which could help at the next level with more seasoned receivers to work with. He prefers to attack the middle of the field due to the lack of arm strength and will need to work more on outside seam throws. But, coming off a stellar week at the Senior Bowl, Mond is already showing some progressions during the off-season which could improve his draft stock.

As far as his fantasy value may look, Mond may be worth a stash late in rookie drafts if you have the roster space to hold him. Because it may be a while before he sees the field. His dual-threat ability could be intriguing if he works into a starter's role as I see a lot of Dak Prescott in his game. Can he work to that type of comparison? Likely not. But there is some sneaky value there for dynasty managers down the line in the NFL.

 

8. Jamie Newman (Georgia)

With the pandemic, Newman is one of the prospects that decided to opt-out so all of his analysis is more dated. His 2019 season at Wake Forest showcased a player with a dual-threat ability that can't beat a defense with both his arm and legs (2,868 passing yards and 574 rushing). Newman is not a "run-first" type of QB but doesn't mind taking off if a play breaks down quickly. In terms of passing potential, he has adequate arm strength that shows ideal ball placement down the field. He operated under a very simplistic route-tree concept in college and identified and preferred one on one situations with his receivers. There are some tools to work with, but Newman will be a project early on for coaches in the NFL to get him up to speed.

Newman's fantasy value may take a while to unlock for dynasty managers, but he is worthy of a late-round pick in rookie drafts nonetheless. You may not see him on the field much over the first couple of years, but if he lands with the right team and situation, there is value to hold on to. The dual-threat ability alone could make him a consistent QB2 in fantasy scoring with some upside.



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