The 2021 draft will forever be known as the Year of the Quarterback.
With five passers selected among the first 15 picks, including three in a row right off the top, Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones will come to define this year’s draft.
For better or for worse.
There have been massive quarterback hauls in previous drafts, including a whopping six in the first round of the historic Class of ’83. But while that year delivered Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino, it also featured three underwhelming quarterbacks in Ken O’Brien, Tony Eason and Todd Blackledge.
It’s much easier to be a good quarterback in today’s NFL, where rules changes have come to favor the offense, but it’s still no guarantee that the player you select will turn out to be a Patrick Mahomes or a Mitchell Trubisky.
Here’s a look at our winners and losers:
Jets: Timing is everything, and the time was absolutely right for the Jets to select what they hope to be a franchise quarterback for first-year coach Robert Saleh. BYU's Wilson is as good a quarterback prospect this side of Trevor Lawrence as there is, and the Jets now have a big-time thrower who can grow alongside a coach who has the makings of a terrific leader. GM Joe Douglas cashed in on his smart trade last year of disgruntled safety Jamal Adams, using his other first-round pick — after moving up — to get USC guard Alija Vera-Tucker. Adding Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore in the second round and North Carolina running back Michael Carter in the fourth tells you all you need to know about Douglas’ commitment to building around his new quarterback.
Giants: The true measure of the Giants’ draft won’t be known until next year, but only because GM Dave Gettleman veered from his usual script and traded down this year to acquire picks for what is already being termed a loaded 2022 draft because of all the players who decided to return to their respective schools in hopes of not having their seasons interrupted by additional COVID-19 issues that impacted last year. Trader Dave moved down twice in the first two rounds after never trading down before as a GM, and he netted an additional 2022 first-round pick, a third-rounder and a fourth-rounder, as well as more picks for this draft. And the players he did take made sense, including first-round receiver Kadarius Toney, Georgia pass rusher Azeez Ojulari and central Florida cornerback Aaron Robinson. All this on top of a solid free agent class that included wide receiver Kenny Golladay and cornerback Adoree Jackson and the re-signing of Leonard Williams.
Bears: The Bears swung and missed — badly — on their move up to select Trubisky with the second overall pick in 2017, and Patrick Mahomes’ emergence as a star from the same draft class only reinforced their misery. But GM Ryan Pace took another swing, and it looks like he hit with his move up with the Giants to take Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields at No. 11. Fields was under heavy scrutiny in the runup to the draft, but you can’t argue against his production and his measurables. And he’s certainly a better alternative than journeyman Andy Dalton, who was anointed their No. 1 quarterback just weeks ago. With Fields falling out of the top 10, it was worth giving up next year’s first-round pick to get a potential franchise quarterback.
Patriots: There was plenty of speculation that Bill Belichick would have to trade into the top 10 to come away with one of the top quarterbacks. But the most accomplished coach in NFL history wisely let the draft come to him, and Alabama’s Mac Jones was there at No. 15 to reward the coach for his patience. Jones will have some time to learn behind starter Cam Newton, but it’s only a matter of time before Belichick will go with a pocket passer he hopes will be in the mold of Tom Brady. Belichick also did well in moving up for Jones’ teammate, Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore, in the second round. And third-round defensive end Ronnie Perkins of Oklahoma addresses depth at a position of need.
Jaguars: We’ve known all along that Urban Meyer’s guy was Trevor Lawrence, and the first-time NFL coach hopes his new quarterback can make this a championship transition from the college game. Lawrence has everything you want in a quarterback: arm strength, poise, size, mobility and the "it" factor that separates the good ones from the great ones. Meyer also did well to select Lawrence’s Clemson teammate, versatile running back Travis Etienne with his second of two first-round picks. Meyer benefited from some trades that netted important draft picks from the Tom Coughlin-Dave Caldwell regime, so there’s a chance the Jaguars will actually be decent in the coming years.
Packers: The Packers are still paying for the ill-conceived decision to trade up for first-round quarterback Jordan Love in last year’s draft. And with reports of Aaron Rodgers’ feud with the front office escalating, there doesn’t seem to be a good way out. Some observers lauded the idea of taking a quarterback before you actually need him — a move that might have been wise years ago. But with quarterbacks now playing into their 40’s and Rodgers coming off an MVP season, the team is paying for that decision. And it might end up costing them Rodgers, who appears ready to force his way out via trade. The Packers also didn’t help themselves by going defense in the first round with cornerback Eric Stokes. They waited until the third round to select Clemson wideout Amari Rodgers. Too little, too late.
Raiders: The Raiders have been a major disappointment in their three non-winning seasons under Jon Gruden, and they did little to change the narrative in the draft. In fact, they may have reached badly in the first round with Alabama tackle Alex Leatherwood, who was not considered among the elite linemen, at No. 17 overall. The Raiders went defense with their next five picks, a reminder that they simply haven’t been the same since Gruden parted ways with All Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack.
Broncos: With the ninth overall pick, the Broncos were in position to take a quarterback but opted to stand pat with second-rounder Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater, who was acquired in a trade with the Panthers. Instead, the Broncos went with cornerback Patrick Surtain II, certainly a quality player who likely would have gone to the Cowboys at 10. But Denver might regret not taking Mac Jones or Justin Fields.
Seahawks: While the Jets benefited from the trade of Adams to the Seahawks, Seattle went without a first-round pick at a time when they could have shored up the offensive line or found a pass rusher. Instead, they got neither and Western Michigan receiver D’Wayne Eskridge in the second round. Meh. Russell Wilson gets another target, but a team that disappointed in the playoffs last season after surrendering two first-round picks for Adams is now paying the price.
Bengals: Look, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to add a player of Ja’Marr Chase’s caliber, especially after he did so well playing alongside Joe Burrow at LSU. And it’s great that Burrow has another terrific target in the receiving game. But if last year taught the Bengals anything, it’s that investing in Burrow’s protection — he’s coming off a torn ACL — is the first priority. Offensive linemen Penei Sewell, Rashawn Slater or Alija Vera-Tucker would have made more sense, and the Bengals could have traded down and gotten additional picks.