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QB Class 2021: Justin Fields, Mac Jones lead as Trey Lance questions arise


The beginning of July is the nadir for content in the NFL. The rosters are more or less set and we’re just sitting around talking about workout videos while we wait for training camp to start or the world to end.

It doesn’t matter which comes first.

So now is the perfect time to take a look at the much-vaunted 2021 QB class, what they did last season, the offseason buzz, and where I rank them ahead of a critical second season.

1. MacJones

2021 statistics: 67.6 percent, 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 17 starts.

Jones entered the league as the most NFL-ready QB in the class and had an outstanding rookie season despite the limitations imposed by the Patriots’ offensive game plan.

After a strong seven-week streak midway through the season, Jones’ play plummeted towards the end of the season. He threw the ball just three times in a December storm in Buffalo and followed that up with back-to-back two-steal games in losses to the Colts and Bills.

The Patriots’ season ended with a resounding loss in the AFC Wild Card Round to the Bills, in which it became apparent just how much work Jones and New England’s offense has to do. to catch Josh Allen and the Bills.

Jones throws with great touch and anticipation, but arm strength needs to increase if he wants to elevate his game.

As is NFL offseason tradition, Jones got into great shape while appearing to increase RPMs.

The Alabama product continues to impress his teammates, but the Patriots’ uncertainty at the offensive coordinator level (Joe Judge? Matt Patricia?!) could hamper his Year 2 development.

However, his rookie season was good enough to put him in first place heading into training camp.

2. Justin Fields

2021 statistics: 58.9 percent, 1,870 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 10 starts.

While Mac Jones may suffer from the loss of Josh McDaniels, Matt Eberflus’ hiring of Luke Getsy as offensive coordinator should be a boon for the sophomore signalman.

I’ve detailed why Fields is leaning towards a breakout season here. In short, Fields has improved over the season, and Getsy’s offense, which promises to get him moving and attack defenses from deep, should be the perfect pattern to start Fields’ ascent.

Fields needs to practice better ball safety and accept getting rid of the ball faster instead of always looking for the killing blow.

Last season, Fields was one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL on out-of-pocket throws and led the NFL with 138.5 passer ratings on designed deployments. Unfortunately, Matt Nagy chose to only knock Fields out of the pocket 19 times last season.

This should change under Getsy.

The Bears are struggling on the offensive line and need someone other than Darnell Mooney to become a dependable option in the passing game. But Fields showed enough in the second half of last season to believe big things could be in store for him in Getsy’s Shanahan-style offense.

3. Trevor Lawrence

2021 statistics: 59.6 percent, 3,641 yards, 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in 17 games.

Go ahead and rinse last season for Lawrence. The Urban Meyer experiment was an absolute disaster in Jacksonville, giving the No. 1 pick no chance of succeeding.

The arrival of Doug Pederson, the addition of Christian Kirk, and the return of Travis Etienne should help Lawrence shine at Duval.

The Clemson product should have more success in the Jags’ new QB-friendly offense. But Lawrence needs to improve against the blitz, where he struggled a lot last season, ranking last in yards per attempt (4.9) and 30th in off-target percentage (26.5%).

Lawrence’s talent is there, but the Jags need to start helping him reach his potential.

4. Zack Wilson

2021 statistics: 55.6 percent, 2,334 yards, nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 13 games.

Things have been tough for Wilson in Year 1. JETS, yuck.

The BYU product had the lowest completion percentage in the NFL among full-time quarterbacks. He struggled with turnovers early on and, like Fields, often held the ball too long instead of making an easy throw.

However, Wilson was better at the end of the season. He’s thrown five touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last seven games, giving the Jets hope he’s bounced back from a confidence-crushing start.

Games around Wilson should be much better in 2022.

New York drafted Garrett Wilson in the first round and signed tight end CJ Uzomah. Elijah Moore could be heading for a great second season. Rookie running back Breece Hall will give the Jets a stable option out of the backfield.

The Jets’ improved supporting cast and another year of working with offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur could see Wilson jump into Year Two.

5. Trey Lance

2021 statistics: 57.7 percent completion, 603 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in six games (two starts).

The 49ers dropped Jones and Fields to take Lance at No. 3. They knew he would need to develop, but believed he had the highest ceiling of the remaining options in the quarterback class.

Lance spent most of last season working behind the scenes as Jimmy Garoppolo brought the 49ers back to the NFC Championship Game. Garoppolo bid farewell after the 49ers’ loss to the Los Angeles Rams, but the veteran quarterback remains on the roster as San Francisco failed to secure a trade partner.

All signs point to the 49ers being Lance’s team this fall. He showed off his big arm and elite athleticism on point duty during his rookie season. Still, coach Kyle Shanahan clearly had reservations about how much of his complex offense Lance could orchestrate as a rookie.

The buzz around who Lance can potentially be is palpable, but recent reports from longtime NFL insider Mike Silver and FOX Sports’ Colin Cowherd suggest that Lance has struggled with “arm fatigue” as the 49ers rebuilt his throwing motion. Members of the 49ers coaching staff anonymously dismissed the idea that Lance had arm issues.

Lance was the biggest boom-bust prospect of a packed class. Landing with Shanahan puts him in an advantageous situation, but the jury is out.

6. Davis Mills

2021 statistics: 66.8 percent, 2,664 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 11 starts.

Concerns about Mills entering the draft centered on his injury history, not his talent.

The Stanford product had a strong rookie season in which he ranked 11th in the NFL in third down passing accuracy (63.6%).

Mills will have the chance to prove to new Texans head coach Lovie Smith that he is Houston’s long-term answer this season. The ceiling isn’t as high as Fields or Lance, but Mills can establish himself as an above-average starter if he continues to develop and push the ball more aggressively.

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