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2021 Quarterbacks

Mac Jones trade latest blow to class

Before greeting the 2024 free agency period, a brief farewell to the careers of most of the 2021 quarterback draft class. It was a promising group -- there were 5 selected in the top 15 picks, just the second time that's ever happened -- but it sure hasn't turned out very well.

True, it was only three years ago, and it's too soon to call some of those careers. For the draft historians, anyway. I'm going to go ahead and say we've got one franchise guy, one maybe franchise guy, and three busts.

Mac Jones was traded for a sixth-round pick yesterday. In Jacksonville, he'll probably back up the top pick in the 2021 draft, Trevor Lawrence. (Probably, because let's see if he actually beats out C.J. Beathard.) Lawrence hasn't exactly set the league on fire, but if we give him a mulligan for the comical Urban Meyer year, he's 17-16 as a starter with an average of 23 TDs and 11 interceptions the last two years, with a division title and a playoff win. He doesn't look like he'll be dominating the AFC South (will he even be one of the division's top 2 quarterbacks the next five years?), but I'd be OK with him as a Jaguars fan. If somebody tells you Mac is going to be competing or pushing him, they're mistaken. Mac has value if Lawrence blows out his knee in September -- that's it.

Justin Fields hasn't been traded as we speak, but the week is still young. It's gonna happen. We know Pittsburgh is off the table, since they've hitched their wheelbarrow to Russell Wilson for 2024. Atlanta (if Kirk Cousins stays put), Minnesota (if he doesn't) or one of the AFC teams with no quarterback (Raiders, Broncos, Patriots) are other potential landing spots. But the fact that he'll be traded for probably a third-round pick at best highlights the general skepticism about his NFL future.

Zach Wilson is still a Jet, but that should also be changing soon enough. Wilson has started 33 games, going 12-21 while averaging 185 passing yards and throwing 23 touchdowns, taking nearly 3.5 sacks per game. He's terrible. The only way I can see him getting traded is if the Jets agree to pay a portion of his salary. There is zero chance of his fifth-year option being picked up. If a top-5 draft pick quarterback has shown less in his three years in the league, I can't think of him. We can debate JaMarcus Russell, but even Russell threw 4 more touchdowns (13) in his one full season as a starter than Wilson has in any of his three years. Wilson last year got benched for Trevor Siemian AND Tim Boyle, and neither of those guys will necessarily even be on a roster this season.

Trey Lance -- hey, stranger things have happened. But most likely he's not going to see the field as a starter anytime soon. Injury to Dak Prescott is Lance's only chance of his first season with 3 NFL starts.

That's your 2021 quarterback draft class. A sobering thought for anyone getting too excited about the 2024 draft class. I think this is a more highly regarded group, with five or even six potential first-rounders, but you can never be too sure. Few would have expected the group from three years ago to flop this hard.

Table shows the NFL seasons from those five first-rounders from three years ago, sorted by fantasy rank. Lawrence has a couple of top-12 fantasy finishes, Fields (primarily because he ran for 1,143 yards) one. That's it for the group.

FIRST-ROUND QUARTERBACKS, 2021 NFL DRAFT
RdYearPlayerGPassTDINTRunTDRk
12022Trevor Lawrence, Jac.17411325829157
12023Trevor Lawrence, Jac.1640162114339410
12022Justin Fields, Chi.15224217111143811
12021Mac Jones, N.E.1738012213129017
12023Justin Fields, Chi.132562169657418
12021Trevor Lawrence, Jac.1736411217334222
12022Mac Jones, N.E.1429971411102122
12023Zach Wilson, NYJ12227187211028
12021Zach Wilson, NYJ132334911185430
12023Mac Jones, N.E.112120101296030
12021Justin Fields, Chi.121870710420231
12022Zach Wilson, NYJ9168867102133
12021Trey Lance, S.F.660352168140
12022Trey Lance, S.F.21940167062

I'm not going to claim to know for sure whether or not Fields can still take another step forward, or if Lance can still emerge. But if there were much league-wide optimism on either front, they wouldn't have been traded for as little as Lance was (a fourth-round pick), and Fields probably will be.

All in all, a very disappointing draft class.

--Andy Richardson

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