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2021 NFL Draft: Weighing out quarterback options for Bears

It appears likely the Bears will draft a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft, so let’s break down some of the top prospects in the class.

Butler v North Dakota State Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

The writing appears to be on the wall for the Bears to select a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Even with their 4-1 start to the season, the play at the quarterback position hasn’t been ideal for the Bears, and it seems like they are winning games in spite of their quarterback, rather than because of him.

Mitchell Trubisky looked to be the same old, same old player he was in his previous three seasons, and Nick Foles hasn’t looked much better as his replacement. Trubisky will hit free agency after this season and likely sign with another team, while Foles is far from an ideal option to stick with as a long-term starter.

The Bears’ hot start to the year will likely place them outside of the top 10 picks at the very least in next April’s draft. So, barring a major trade up which would require them to likely give up significant draft capital, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are likely out of the question for them.

While those two top prospects are presumably out of reach, there is a strong chance a handful of other talented quarterbacks could be available for the Bears to choose from. There will be content on Lawrence and Fields down the line, but for now, it might be wiser to stick to looking at the more realistic options.

These five quarterbacks are in that next tier of prospects: not quite blue-chip players, but they have the tools to be starters in the NFL if all goes well for them.

Let’s take a look at a handful of options the Bears should keep an eye on in next year’s draft.

Trey Lance, North Dakota State

Week 5 of the college football season brought about impressive games like Georgia trouncing Auburn, Oklahoma falling to 1-2 at the hands of Iowa State, Texas A&M facing Alabama and TCU upsetting Texas. However, the most intriguing game of the week may have just been North Dakota State vs. Central Arkansas, and Trey Lance was the biggest reason why.

If you’ve even been remotely following the draft at this point in the year, you’ve likely heard about Lance’s stellar season in 2019. He tallied 42 total touchdowns, 3,886 total yards from scrimmage and threw no interceptions in an undefeated, championship-winning year for the Bison. He also placed with a respectable 66.9 completion percentage and showed off tools that can help him succeed at the NFL level.

The positives in Lance’s game come heavily from a physical perspective. The 6-foot-4, 226-pound quarterback has nice height and packs plenty of power in his frame. That build helps him out quite a bit as a runner, as he combines his powerful body and determined style of running with impressive athleticism for the quarterback position. He has very good breakaway speed in the open field and is able to evade defenders with impressive lateral quickness and great ball-carrier vision in space.

As a passer, Lance brings plenty of arm talent to the table. His passes have plenty of velocity between them, which allows him to hit tough throws into narrow windows. He is able to stretch the field effectively with a strong arm and flashes of great touch on the deep ball. When his feet are set, he does a pretty good of throwing with an acute sense of anticipation. His experience executing RPOs and play action passes from under center give him some nice play-calling versatility, as well.

There are plenty of concerns surrounding Lance as a draft prospect, though. The biggest red flag is his inexperience as a one-year starter at the FCS level. Not only does he not have a large sample size to work with, but it’s completely unknown how he fares against NFL-caliber competition. A previously-scheduled game against Oregon would have been a crucial test of his skill-set, but with the Missouri Valley Football Conference moving their season to the spring, he only has one game of 2020 tape to work off of.

That game arguably did more to hurt Lance than help him. Many of his weaknesses were put on display, and his interception-less streak was broken in a matchup against Central Arkansas. He forced throws to his first read and failed to go through his progressions, his footwork looked erratic in the pocket, his touch was inconsistent, and he struggled with sensing pressure on a down-by-down basis: all flaws in his tape in the 2019 season.

Drafting Lance in the first round is arguably the riskiest move an NFL team can make, but it’s also a move that some team will end up making. The possibility for disaster is massive, but the upside that he brings is through the roof. Will the Bears be the team to take that risk? Can they even afford to make such a bold move this offseason? Only time will tell.

Zach Wilson, BYU

BYU has shocked the nation with their dominant start to the season, and arguably the biggest catalyst for their 4-0 start has been the stellar play of quarterback Zach Wilson.

Wilson is a two-year full-time starter who also started roughly half of the season for BYU in 2018. While a solid quarterback earlier in his collegiate career, he has really come into his own this season.

Through his first four games of the 2020 season, Wilson has thrown for 1,241 yards, 8 touchdowns and just one interception, while completing a whopping 81.2 percent of his passes. His team has topped 45 points in all but one of his starts so far this year. He has also been a threat on the ground, having rushed for 6 touchdowns to start off the season.

Wilson’s accuracy and poise in the pocket is much greater than most quarterbacks at the collegiate level. He does a good job of maneuvering the pocket and evading defenders with his solid athleticism and quick feet, and his footwork stays sharp despite incoming pressure. His weight distribution when he follows through his throws is consistently sound, making it easier for him to deliver an accurate ball. Wilson is also a mechanically polished thrower of the football who has a quick release that is already ideal for the NFL level.

He doesn’t have an elite arm, but Wilson still has plenty of arm talent to work with that allows him to make plenty of impressive throws to all parts of the field. He delivers his throws with some nice zip and can fit his passes into tight windows. The BYU junior does a good job of anticipating his receivers open and executing his throws with timing, and he also has enough athleticism to extend the play and improvise outside of the pocket.

The one big questionable factor in Wilson’s game is a lack of premier physical tools. He only weighs 210 pounds, and while he has solid height at 6-foot-3, he will need to add some more strength to what is currently a skinny frame. He is a good functional athlete, but he doesn’t have fantastic lateral quickness to make defenders miss in the open field. Like previously mentioned, he has a good but nor great arm, and he still occasionally stares down his first read from time to time.

It’s too early to declare Wilson as a first-round pick, seeing as though his 2019 season was pretty average and it’s still early in the 2020 campaign. However, his start to the new year is arguably as good as any quarterback in the nation, and if he continues to play this week for the rest of the year, he could not only rise into first-round territory, but he could potentially beat out Trey Lance for the QB3 spot in this class.

Jamie Newman, Georgia

I’m not one to criticize college players for their decisions to opt out of the 2020 season, seeing as though the current circumstances provide for several valid reasons to head right to the NFL.

However, I would have liked to see Jamie Newman put together another season as a starter—this time in the SEC—because he clearly has plenty of tools to succeed in the league, but he could still use some extra in-game reps to develop.

Newman spent his previous three collegiate seasons at Wake Forest, starting for the entirety of 2019 and stepping into the role for four games in 2018. He transferred to Georgia for his senior season but opted out of playing and instead deciding to prepare for the NFL Draft. He threw for 2,868 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, as well as adding 574 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground.

As is the case with the aforementioned Trey Lance, Newman also possesses plenty of physical upside. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder brings a powerful frame that allows him to run through defenders as a runner, as well as withstand big hits in the pocket. He has one of the strongest arms in the class and can execute throws with plenty of zip and distance behind them. He’s also an extremely underrated athlete, as he has great lateral agility in the open field and very good breakaway speed.

During his time with Wake Forest, Newman executed several RPOs and read options to plenty of success. While their delayed-option offense could mean that his processing speed on pro-tempo options may or may not need work, his ability to fire off accurate passes while holding on to the ball for an extended period of time to throw the defense off is impressive. He has flashed the ability to make full-field reads and deliver passes with nice anticipation.

While Newman has plenty of intriguing physical traits, he can stand to improve in the technical aspects of the quarterback position. His footwork in a collapsing pocket can fall apart, which hurts his ability to deliver an accurate ball. Despite his athleticism, he ends up finding himself in disastrous situations under pressure due to a lack of notable pocket presence. He has a strong arm, but his mechanical flaws and inconsistent touch can cause him to underthrow some deep balls.

By the time Newman gets drafted, he will not have played a single snap of football in 16 months, and he will only have one full year as a starter at the collegiate starter: he started in just four games in 2018. With the way that players like Zach Wilson and Kyle Trask have played in the 2020 season, the Georgia transfer could find himself falling down the draft board significantly.

The chances of Newman being a first-round pick appear to be much smaller than they were before the season started, but he’s still a talented athlete with a high ceiling at the next level. If a team is looking for a developmental quarterback option late on Day 2 or even early on Day 3, then he could be a player worth taking a chance on.

Kyle Trask, Florida

All offseason, one of the big storylines of the 2020 college football season was, “who will the next Joe Burrow be?”, that is, a decent quarterback who would turn into a great one.

While unlikely that any quarterback from this class not named Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields will be the first selected, one player who has improved drastically so far in 2020 has been Kyle Trask.

Though his Florida Gators lost on Saturday, it was no fault of Trask’s, who looked like a legitimate early-round pick. Through three games, he has thrown for 996 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and just one interception with a 71.8 completion percentage while leading one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the nation.

Trask brings three things in particular that should be intriguing to NFL teams: size, mechanics, and accuracy. He has a 6-foot-5, 239-pound frame that is able to withstand hits in the pocket and allows him to see the field over his offensive linemen. His accuracy and overall touch has been consistently improving at Florida, and his start to the 2020 season has shown that his downfield ball placement is the best it has ever been. Trask throws with a nice release with good weight distribution when he follows through.

Being a bigger quarterback, Trask plays with plenty of toughness in the pocket and isn’t afraid to take a licking. He is able to stay poised under pressure and maneuver his way around the pocket despite not having great athleticism. His ability to scan the field and identify checkdown options has gotten much better, as well.

Trask doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as many of the top quarterback prospects in the 2021 class. He doesn’t have an incredibly strong arm, and his athleticism is below-average for the position. While he does a good job of standing tall in the pocket and continuing to scan the field, his footwork under pressure can still improve, as it occasionally still causes him to deliver an erratic ball.

As a big quarterback with toughness and consistently improving accuracy, Trask has shown that he can adapt and get better against NFL-caliber defenses. He may not be a first-round pick because of a limited ceiling, but as a Day 2 option, he would be an incredibly interesting option.

K.J. Costello, Mississippi State

Watching K.J. Costello is incredibly maddening simply because he has so many tools but just hasn’t been able to put a consistent body of work together.

When Costello shines on the big stage like he did in the 2020 opener against LSU, it’s remarkable to watch, simply because of his raw abilities. He’s clearly a major work in progress and has several throws that makes you think, “how did he just get away with that?”, but his pure arm talent allows him to get away with some fundamental flaws.

New Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach operates a pass-heavy, Air Raid offense, and Costello has certainly gotten plenty of passing reps because of it. Through his first three games, he has thrown 174 passes and had 1,168 yards with 6 touchdowns, but he has also thrown 9 interceptions in that span.

Costello is a tall and well-built quarterback at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds who has a frame that scouts drool over at the position. By the end of the 2020 season, he will be a three-year full-time starter who also saw playing time in 2017. He was a team captain and an all-academic honorable mention in the Pac-12 during his time at Stanford before transferring to Mississippi State for his senior year.

The big selling point with Costello as a draft prospect is his arm strength. He is able to throw the ball a significant distance with plenty of velocity, regardless of whether his feet are set or if he is on the move. His natural talent allows him to fit throws into tight windows, and he has shown some promise in regards to his ability to stretch the field with decent touch on the deep ball. He throws with an overall acute sense of timing and anticipation, allowing him to lead his receivers open and hit them in stride more often than not.

Costello has been hot and cold throughout his collegiate career, but when he’s on, he plays like one of the best quarterbacks in college football. That was certainly apparent against LSU a couple of weeks ago, when he threw for five touchdowns and 623 yards en route to helping the Bulldogs upset the defending national champions. He had his fair share of dominant performances as the starter at Stanford, too.

What could hurt Costello’s draft stock down the line is exactly that, though: his maddening inconsistency. He’ll have games like his aforementioned LSU outing, and he’ll also have games like his performance against Kentucky on Saturday, when he threw four interceptions and no touchdowns. You’ll get the good side of Costello just as often as you’ll get the bad side of him.

His mechanics are all over the place, as he has somewhat of an elongated throwing motion and plays with poor footwork and weight distribution. He has a tendency to throw off of his back foot way too often, even when he isn’t facing pressure in the pocket. Even when he executes incredible throws, odds are he does so in spite of messy footwork.

Costello will have to work on his ability to scan the field and go through progressions, as he stares down his first read more often than he should. He suffered durability issues with hand and head injuries in 2019, and his athleticism is pretty pedestrian.

Because of the glaring issues in Costello’s game, it’s unlikely he will make it into the first round—or even in the first three rounds—of the 2021 draft. However, if a team feels confident in their ability to develop him and work around his obvious raw talent, he could be drafted higher than many expect.