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The 2021 NFL QB Class: Underwhelming at Best, a Trashfire at Worst

After four weeks of the 2023 NFL season, we have seen some truly terrible performances from quarterbacks around the league and some impactful injuries. The 2021 NFL QB draft class has reached their third year in the league, and to say the least, expectations have not been met. Generally, I don’t judge a QB until their third year is done unless they have been consistently bad or mediocre, and the 2021 class has been, to say the least, incredibly underwhelming. In this piece we’re going to talk about the 2021 QB class, starting from the later picks first to get them out of the way as they did not have nearly as many expectations placed on them as the first rounders. I am fully aware that this could age poorly over the course of the season, and I truly hope that it does, because it means these players have improved, which is what we can hope for in the end.

 

Davis Mills (67th Overall, Houston Texans)

Davis Mills, AKA General Mills, was drafted out of Stanford after two seasons of consistent starting. His 2019 junior campaign was mediocre, as in eight games he notched a 65.6 completion percentage alongside 1,960 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. His 2020 senior season was almost annihilated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in which Stanford only played six games, where he started five. Through those five, he notched a 66.2 completion percentage, 1,504 yards, seven TDs and three picks. Had he gotten a full season, he was on pace for a 3,000 yard season and maybe 14 TDs. Stanford’s 2020 schedule was no slouch either, as it included an upset win over #23 Washington as part of a four-game winning streak to end the year, including other wins over Cal, Oregon State and UCLA.


Being drafted in the third round to the incredibly dysfunctional Texans, it’s safe to say Mills had little to no expectations, and this has worked greatly in his favor. In two years playing for a team widely believed to be tanking both years, Mills amassed solid stats. He currently holds a 5-19-1 record with a 63.6 completion percentage, 5,782 yards, 33 TDs and 25 INTs, earning himself a respectable career quarterback rating of 83.3. Of course, now that CJ Stroud is Houston’s starter, General Mills has likely seen his last bout of starting play unless he’s sent to a QB deficient team, such as the New York Jets. Out of all the QBs in this draft, he’s honestly exceeded expectations, and that’s saying a lot considering his draft status and likely fate as a career backup now.

 

Kellen Mond (66th Overall, Minnesota Vikings)

Kellen Mond was a consistent starter for Texas A&M over his four year career there, amassing 9,661 passing yards, 71 TDs, and 27 INTs to the tune of completing 59% of his passes. His 2020 senior season was a very respectable one as he played in all ten games, helping his team to a 9-1 record, including upset wins over #4 Florida in week three and #13 North Carolina in the Orange Bowl, their only loss to #2 Alabama on the road in week two. Despite this, his passing stats were a bit pedestrian, mustering only 2,282 yards in the air with 19 TDs and three picks, earning a 63.3 completion percentage. Overall, coming out of college he actually seemed to be a solid prospect.


In the NFL, Mond has not played any quality snaps. He threw three passes for Minnesota in 2021 before they waived him in August of 2022. He has since been signed and cut by the Cleveland Browns three times and is currently a free agent. Since he had very little expectations leveled on him, it’s hard to call him a disappointment, although one can question Minnesota’s logic of even drafting him if there was no intent to use him. That, or he was just that bad. We will never know as he never got any quality playing time.

 

Kyle Trask (64th Overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Kyle Trask played three seasons for Florida, with his last two being full 12-game seasons. 2019 was an efficient, if pedestrian year, notching 2,941 yards, 25 TDs, and seven picks over 12 games. In 2020, Trask went off, reaching fourth in Heisman voting as he threw for 4,283 yards, 43 TDs, eight interceptions, and a 68.9 completion percentage. Florida’s 2020 schedule was also not a cupcake one, as it didn’t include the typical SEC pre-season of incredibly low level squads getting paid to take the L, with the team playing a lot of quality games, including a win over #5 Georgia, but their losses were what mattered, as Mond’s Texas A&M upset them early and then they ended their season on a brutal three-game skid, losing to LSU, #1 Alabama in the SEC Championship, and #6 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl back to back to back. Overall, a solid college career.


Trask’s NFL career, to say the least, is nonexistent. Being the last pick of the second round, there wasn’t much hype around him. What definitely didn’t help him was having to sit as a backup for his first two years in the league behind Tom Brady. While there is definitely the possibility of some mentorship, he has nine pass attempts as a result. It would also seem that the Bucs don’t trust him at all, seeing how they instead voted to pick Baker Mayfield up as their starter over their second round 2021 QB. Whether he will get any playtime remains unknown, but being a late second rounder, we once again can’t really level judgement based on nine pass attempts.

 

Mac Jones (15th Overall, New England Patriots)

This is now where it gets interesting. The last QB taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft, Mac Jones represents a very personal judgement for me as a Pats fan. Mac’s college career is peculiar as he was without a doubt given the best situation any college QB can ask for, playing for the always dominant Alabama Crimson Tide. Mac’s freshman year was riding the bench as Tua Tagovailoa was the full time starter alongside Jalen Hurts and Mac’s sophomore campaign in 2019 included sharing snaps with Tua, who would be drafted by the Miami Dolphins that coming draft. In 2020, Mac’s only year as the full time starter, Bama as usual annihilated all of their opponents and won a national title, with Mac landing third in Heisman voting after a very efficient 4,500 yard campaign with 41 TDs, four picks and a completion percentage of 77.4%.


When the Patriots drafted Mac mid first round in 2021, I had my doubts. First, he had played only one full season in an incredibly stacked squad that always had leads and always held them. Second, Bill Belichick’s history of first round offensive players that are not offensive linemen is laughably bad. Third, outside of Tua and Hurts, Alabama has not produced a quality NFL QB since Ken Stabler in 1968, and even then, he threw more picks than TDs in his career.


Mac’s 2021 rookie season soothed some of those concerns, earning the runner up in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race to the tune of 3,801 yards, 22 TDs, 13 picks, a 67.6 completion percentage, and a QBR of 50.9, AKA league average. 2022 marked the beginning of Mac’s decline, as his sophomore season was a noticeable slump, where he threw 14 TDs to 11 INTs alongside 2,997 yards and 65.2% of his passes being completed, earning a QBR of 38.4. The blame was largely placed on Matt Patricia being a bad offensive coordinator, which is a fair assessment, until this season began. Outside of week one, Mac has looked worse and worse, with his week four performance against the Dallas Cowboys being the icing on the cake as a pick six and a fumble returned for a touchdown contributed to his benching for Bailey Zappe. One would hope that by your QB’s third year, he would begin to figure things out. This has not been the case, as he has struggled immensely and declined steadily over his career. To say the least, as it stands, Mac does not appear to be the long-term solution at QB for the Patriots, which is terrible considering he was viewed as the most “pro-ready” QB prospect in the first round. There is still a lot of season left, but as it stands the Pats have a QB controversy brewing, and a potential bust on their hands, and this is before mentioning his boneheaded dirty moves he has committed thus far in his career.

 

Justin Fields (11th Overall, Chicago Bears)

Justin Fields, popularly known as Bustin Fields, only had two seasons as a starter in college, his first year at Georgia having sparse opportunities, so he went to Ohio State. His 2019 campaign as a sophomore was very good, going for 3,273 yards, 41 TDs, and three INTs while completing 67.2% of his passes. His 2020 junior season landed him seventh in Heisman voting, as in eight games he passed for 2,100 yards, 22 TDs, 6 picks, and a 70.2 completion percentage. Ohio State’s 2020 schedule was solid, including three Top 25 matchups and a win against #2 Clemson in the Sugar Bowl before being absolutely dismantled by #1 Alabama in the National Championship. On the surface, this is really good, until you consider the exceptionally cursed history of Ohio State mass producing NFL QB busts.


With the Ohio State narrative before him, Fields went out and immediately began to lose. His 2021 rookie season was a disaster as he threw seven TDs to ten picks, 1,870 yards, and notched a QBR of 26.4 over 12 games. 2022 was a slight improvement as he threw for 2,242 yards, 17 TDs, 11 INTs, and earned a QBR of 56.3 while completing 60.4% of his passes, a slightly above average season. There was reason for concern, however, as he also took a league high 55 sacks. Despite the warning flags, the NFL media hyped Fields into a level he never deserved entering the 2023 season, and thus far he has looked terrible, already at 17 sacks through four games with seven TDs to five picks and a QBR of 35.8. If he continues to play at this rate, he will end up taking at least 68 sacks, tying him for third alongside David Carr in 2005 for most sacks taken in a season. Plain and simple, this level of production is putrid for a QB taken so high. The Bears have another Mitch Trubisky on their hands and it’s likely that Fields will be a bust unless he magically turns into Madden 2004 Michael Vick. All the unwarranted hype will make this outcome certain.

 

Trey Lance (3rd Overall, San Francisco 49ers)

In retrospect, Trey Lance has to be one of the most mind-boggling draft picks in recent times and one of the biggest examples of the “Josh Allen Effect”, the trend where NFL scouts will ignore potential red flags about a QB prospect as long as their physical potential can be harnessed, ignoring the graveyard of NFL QB busts who fall into this category. Trey Lance had exactly one season of full time play at North Dakota State, that being his 2019 sophomore season. Outside of then, he played three games, two in his 2018 freshman season, and one in his 2020 junior year. This, I would think, is a major red flag. 19 games is a pitiful sample size for a quarterback. North Dakota State’s 2019 season was a solid one for its level, but Lance played terribly against South Dakota State and James Madison in the national championship, where he passed for 62 and 72 yards respectively. His season stats were 2,786 yards, 28 TDs and no interceptions, with a completion percentage of 66.9. While these are good stats, they are too little to genuinely say that a QB will be NFL worthy. At this point, there are so many red flags that make you wonder why Lance was so hyped up and even worth a third overall pick, especially at the cost the 49ers paid to trade up to pick him being four later draft picks.


Trey Lance’s NFL career has, unsurprisingly, been severely underwhelming. In his rookie year in 2021, Lance played six games, mainly whenever Jimmy Garoppolo was injured, in which he threw for 603 yards, five TDs and two INTs. The next year, his first and only year as starter, he played in two games where he injured his ankle and lost his entire season. This is bad enough but then the Niners completely botched handling Lance. First, he had all the red flags highlighted earlier. Second, he was drafted to a team in the middle of their championship window that had a solid Jimmy G and the surprise gem of a QB in Brock Purdy. As a result, a QB controversy emerged as Purdy played over his head in 2022 and came out as the top option as the Niners let Garoppolo go to the Las Vegas Raiders. Lance subsequently was beaten out by confirmed bust Sam Darnold for the backup job and traded to the Dallas Cowboys for a fourth-round pick, where he sits as the third string QB. Without a doubt, Lance is going to be seen as an absolute bust and it’s not a surprise. He was overhyped as a prospect, drafted by the wrong team for an absurd price, and now sits on the fringe of a roster only three years after being drafted. I do feel bad for Lance, but he never should have been a third overall pick.

 

Zach Wilson (2nd Overall, New York Jets)

The newest part of the New York Jets bust QB carousel, Zach Wilson played for BYU for three years, his last two years being time as a full time starter. His 2019 season as a sophomore was promising, given that in nine games he passed for 2,382 yards, 11 TDs and nine picks. His 2020 season was a great one, until you consider the opposition he faced. BYU faced two Top 25 squads, blowing out #21 Boise State but then two weeks later being handled very well by #18 Coastal Carolina. Outside of those two matches, BYU had a very soft schedule, with easy wins over Navy, Troy, and Western Kentucky calling its strength into question. Stats wise, Wilson performed well, reaching eighth in Heisman voting through 3,692 passing yards, 33 TDs, three INTs, and a 73.5 completion percentage, although the talent he faced makes these stats likely inflated.


Zach Wilson, to say the least, is a bad NFL QB. His rookie season in 2021 was a mess as he went 3-10, threw nine TDs to eleven picks, 2,334 air yards, and a QBR of 28.2. Also of note is he took 44 sacks for a league high 370 yards lost. 2022 was not much better, as he passed for 1,688 yards, six touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a QBR of 38.5 over nine games. His play on the field has defined his career, leading the Jets to pick up Aaron Rodgers in the hope that he could make the team relevant… until he tore his Achilles in week one and forced Wilson back into the starting role. Being the second overall pick, Wilson’s play has been terrible for such a mantle. Without a doubt, Wilson is a bust and will likely join previous Jets bust Sam Darnold as a career backup once the Butt Fumble find a new man. Might I recommend Davis Mills?

 

Trevor Lawrence (1st Overall, Jacksonville Jaguars)

First overall pick Trevor Lawrence played all three years at Clemson as the full time starter. Year to year, Lawrence was very consistent, with his sophomore season in 2019 being his statistically best one on paper, but 2020 would have been his best had COVID not forced a shorter ten game schedule over the 15 he had his prior two years. In ten games, he passed for 3,153 yards, 24 TDs, five picks, and a completion percentage of 69.2. With five more games, it is likely that he would have surpassed his 2019 best. The 2020 Clemson schedule was also not exactly a cakewalk, as they played four Top 25 foes, beating #7 Miami and #2 Notre Dame handily while losing to #4 Notre Dame earlier in the year in double overtime and to a handy loss to #3 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. After earning the runner up spot in the Heisman vote, Lawrence was seen as the consensus #1 pick and a generational talent, and as such he was picked by the Jaguars, with the first overall pick.


Lawrence’s NFL career has been very interesting to say the least. His rookie season was a mess as the Jaguars had legendary head coach Urban Meyer leading the charge, and Lawrence as a result played terribly, notching 3,641 yards, 12 TDs, and a league leading 17 picks to go alongside a QBR of 33.5 and a completion percentage of 59.6. In his sophomore campaign, free from Meyer, Lawrence seemed to step into the mantle of a first overall pick, passing for 4,113 yards, 25 TDs, eight INTs, a QBR of 56.1 and a 66.3 completion percentage. As a result, he was seventh in the MVP vote that year. After leading his team to a major comeback against the Los Angeles Chargers in the postseason, it seemed the sky was the limit. Lawrence in 2023, however, has started incredibly pedestrian, with mediocre performances against the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans making one question whether or not he will reach the heights of last year. While Lawrence is by no means a bust like the rest of this QB class (except for you General Mills, you’re doing just fine), he has yet to show he is the true impact player and generational talent that he was touted to be as the first overall pick. To be fair, that’s a kind of mantle few really ever hit on.

 

After pouring through my research for this analysis, it’s clear to me that this QB class is at best mediocre as it currently stands. Wilson, Lance, Fields, Jones, Trask, and Mond are all looking to be busts while Lawrence fights the expectations he has on him and Mills simply exceeded the zero expectations placed on him. If anything, this class has to be one of the most overhyped in recent memory. I simply can’t believe NFL scouts could look at players like Wilson and Lance and be convinced a first round pick was worth using on them. Hindsight is always 20/20, but players like them had major red flags that a couch analyst like me could spot. Again, I know this can age poorly, and I want it to. If this ages like milk, then it’s a major win for all these players. As it stands now, however, this QB class is one to forget.

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