Every year, the National Football League is greeted by new young talent. Some of these college stars succeed while others find themselves overwhelmed by the amount of talent in the league. Last year, sixth-overall-pick Justin Herbert tore up the gridiron, throwing for over 4,300 yards with a passer rating of 98.7. Meanwhile, 26th overall pick Jordan Love hasn’t stepped foot on the field. 2019 first-overall-pick Kyler Murray is already hearing MVP talk and 2018 32nd-overall pick Lamar Jackson already won himself an MVP. In those same classes, 15th-overall-pick Dwayne Haskins and third-overall-pick Sam Darnold have already been run off their team’s roster. Every year there is a wide disparity in success between every first-round draft pick, especially at the quarterback position, and this year will be no different.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Trevor Lawrence is excellent, setting the record for career quarterback wins in Clemson history. He won the College Football Championship in his freshman year and then made it back there in his sophomore year before being taken down by the LSU juggernaut squad. He’s been ranked as the best quarterback in his class since he entered high school and is 86-4 in all his games since then. As a three-year starter at Clemson and a high school standout, Lawrence has a great sample size to judge him off of. Lawrence’s elite size and athleticism as well as his poise under pressure in the pocket will help him become one of the next great quarterbacks in this NFL. However, before he becomes a star quarterback, he will need to improve his deep-ball placement and become more self-sustainable outside of play action play calls.
While the Jaguars were out picking their quarterback of the future and face of the franchise, the Chicago Bears decided to trade two first round picks, a fourth round pick, and a fifth round pick for Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. Fields sat behind former 5th round quarterback Jake Fromm for a year at Georgia and decided to transfer when he learned he would be spending his sophomore season behind Fromm as well. Fromm went on to be drafted by the Bills and has yet to play a snap in an NFL game. Like Lawrence, Fields has been a top recruit since high school. He has never lost a Big Ten game as a starter and has led the Buckeyes to a National Championship appearance. In this National Championship against Alabama, Fields and his stacked Buckeyes roster lost 52-24, in a game where he completed 17 of 33 passes for 194 yards and only one touchdown while running for another 67 yards.
In his Ohio State tenure, Fields failed to go through his progressions and complete passes to his second read. Fields stares down his target for entire plays, resulting in a lot of unnecessary sacks considering his elite athleticism. He heavily relies upon good protection and holds onto the ball for far too long, which will not be effective in the NFL when he is no longer behind an outstanding offensive line like OSU’s. If he is lucky enough to see pressure coming, he locks his chin to his chest and runs without stopping to look at his check down or keep his eyes downfield while scrambling outside the pocket like so many of the great NFL quarterbacks do. Fields often throws off poor footing, has a sub-par feel for edge pressure, terrible field vision especially against a blitz, and stares down his first read the same way Connor McGregor stares down his opponents in pre-fight press conferences. His deep-ball placement is below average and, even on short and medium throws, he does not lead his targets up field. He throws a lot of balls behind and short of their targets which will only become more apparent in the NFL with a bigger football and tighter coverage. Justin Fields will not succeed in the NFL and will go down as yet another Ohio State quarterback bust as well as another terrible Chicago quarterback.
While we are on the topic of NFL busts, it is appropriate to mention Jordan Love, who may be seeing the field for the first time this season now that Aaron Rodgers is unhappy with his situation in Green Bay. If Rodgers is not traded, it is very possible that he sits out the 2021-2022 football season which would leave Love with the responsibility of maintaining the Packer’s long history of legendary quarterbacks.
Last season, Packer’s General Manager Brian Gutekunst tried to jump the gun by drafting a first round quarterback in anticipation of the decline of 36 year old quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Now that Rodgers is ready to move on from the Packers at the same time Gunekunst expected, albeit in unforeseeable fashion, the Packers are very hesitant to let him go. Rodgers is forcing Gunekunst’s hand and basically making him tell the world that he does not have faith in his first-round quarterback Jordan Love. Due to COVID-19, media and press have not been allowed to attend team practices, resulting in a severe lack of NFL film on Jordan Love. Also, when Coach Matt LeFleur had the opportunity to give Love some playing time in real games last season during weeks 16 and 17 when the Packers led the Titans 40-14 and led the Bears 35-16. LeFleur had a golden opportunity to debut his rookie quarterback and decided it would be best to hide Love’s NFL talent, perhaps to maintain his trade value and protect him from fan criticism. The Packers organization is subtly telling us that they do not have faith in Jordan Love’s abilities. Love was seen as a project quarterback who would need guidance coming out of the draft. He received one offer coming out of college and that was from the Mountain West football team, Utah State. In 2019, Love and the Aggies achieved a 7-6 win-loss record.
Love threw for 20 touchdowns and led the FBS in interceptions with 17. He ranked 54th in FBS with a completion percentage of 61.9% and 20th in passing yards with 3,402 yards in the air. Love does not make up for these lack-luster stats with his feet either. His 4.74 40-yard dash time and otherwise below-average NFL draft combine performance does not help his case. Love drew playstyle comparisons to Blake Bortles coming out of college and was seen by most as a second round talent. In the NFL, Love will be punished by NFL defenses for his looping windup, which slows down his release. Also, Love only completed 31.8% of his deep throws which is concerning since he is supposed to be a deep ball specialist. In Love’s defence, he ran his 2019 campaign with no help and a new coaching staff. Since then, he has been thrown into an uncomfortable Green Bay quarterback room, which has stunted his growth as a quarterback. Love is a talented prospect: he can throw the ball in a tight spiral from many different throwing angles and has elite arm strength. He could succeed with another team with great coaching but it would be hard for him to do so with Green Bay.
I think it would be best for the Packers to fire GM Brian Gutekunst, keep Aaron Rodgers, and see what they can get for Love on the trade market. Love has fallen victim to too many poor situations which has stunted his growth as an NFL prospect.
Finally, on a brighter note, second overall pick Zach Wilson will exceed expectations with the New York Jets. Coming out of BYU, Wilson posted an outstanding 11:1 touchdown:interception ratio in 2020. He had an enormous jump in production in his junior season. He ranked second in the FBS in completion percentage (73.5%), third with 33 passing touchdowns (and just three interceptions), and tenth with 307.7 passing yards per game (3,692 total). Wilson also rushed for 10 touchdowns and led his Cougar squad to a 11-1 record as a starter. Wilson is able to keep plays alive outside of the pocket and keep his eyes downfield to find open receivers. He showcased good arm strength when throwing off balance and was unafraid of making tight-window challenges. He is an athletic play extender with a big play mindset. This is appropriate because he had a 54% completion rate on deep throws last season and a 68% completion rate on medium throws, according to Pro Football Focus. Wilson senses pressure off the edge and maintains a strong base inside the pocket.
With a running game to keep defense honest and an arm that will compete with the best of the best, Wilson is primed for success. Unfortunately, he will be thrown into a dumpster fire New York organization where he will have to make the best out of what he is given. However, new head coach Robert Saleh seems like a good hire and the Jets added a few weapons to their offense this off-season such as Tevin Coleman and Corey Davis. This and the improving offensive line will help support Wilson’s confidence and swagger as a rookie.
This rookie class is full of talent—only time will tell how that translates to the big league.