The Mitchell Trubisky experiment has not worked out in Chicago.
After three disappointing seasons in the NFL, the writing is on the wall for the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL draft to be fazed out of the Bears’ long-term plans once his contract expires. The acquisition of veteran Nick Foles through trade solidifies that Trubisky’s job as the team’s starting quarterback is anything but safe.
The Bears went all out in building a team that was ready to win now, taking advantage of Trubisky’s cheap rookie contract and bringing in accomplished veterans in hopes that the quarterback would make significant steps in time. One of those moves was a trade for All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack, which cost the Bears two first-round picks, among other draft selections.
As a result of the Mack trade, Chicago has been without a pick in Round 1 for the past two drafts. That is expected to change in 2021, however, as the Bears currently hold their own selections in the first three rounds of the draft—something they haven’t had since 2016.
This puts them in a great position to bring in their new quarterback of the future, whoever that may be. As is natural, many Bears fans have already begun looking towards what the quarterbacks in the 2021 draft have to offer. As your ever-so-dutiful lead draft analyst here at Windy City Gridiron, I felt obliged to get started on looking at some of the signal-callers in this year’s class, not only to help everyone else get a better understanding of the class, but also because life as a draftnik can only be complete by grinding tape in one’s free time.
Here are some of the quarterbacks I’ve watched that are worth keeping an early eye on for the 2021 NFL draft.
Out of the Bears’ league
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Let’s get this out of the way: barring an unforeseen disaster, the Bears won’t be able to get Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields without trading up.
Seen by many as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, Lawrence’s resume is unparalleled. A two-year starter through his first two seasons who has gone undefeated in the regular season both times, has won one of his two national championship appearances and has looked stellar doing it, Lawrence is battle-tested and as accomplished as they come for an incoming junior.
From a physical standpoint, Lawrence is the total package. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, he has prototypical height for the position and a frame that has room to add on more weight. He has fantastic natural arm talent, as his throws are delivered with tremendous velocity, regarding of whether he’s on platform or not. He can hit targets from just about anywhere on the field with his uncanny ability to throw the deep ball with strength, touch and timing. The Tiger standout is also a very good athlete for a quarterback, as he has good agility in and out of the pocket and can break away as a runner if called upon to do so.
Lawrence has a tremendous sense of anticipation, showcasing the ability to hit receivers in stride on a consistent basis. He has sound upper-body mechanics and has a crisp throwing motion. His decision making is one of the very few flaws in his game, but it is recognizable. He can stand to be much more consistent in his ability to look past his first read and avoid forcing a throw to a tightly-covered target. Overall though, Lawrence seems like a very strong bet to be the first overall pick next year. He is a blue-chip prospect at the moment important position in football.
Justin Fields, Ohio State
Another accomplished quarterback who put together a stellar 2019 campaign, Justin Fields brings a lot to the table for today’s NFL.
The 6-foot-3, 233-pound Fields threw a whopping 41 touchdowns to just three interceptions this past year and added 10 touchdowns on the ground to that total. He is a smooth thrower of the football who has ideal mechanics for the quarterback position. He throws with a very good sense of anticipation and is able to throw with good touch more often than not, and that accuracy translates well to the deep ball: he has very good touch down the field and combines that with solid arm strength.
Fields has shown that he is able to read a defense well and scan the field to identify the open man past his first read, which is a trait not many quarterbacks have at the collegiate level. He is an intelligent player who is also able to make smart decisions on RPOs. His passing talent is complemented by his abilities as a runner, as he has very good quickness and mobility both inside and outside of the pocket. He has good breakaway speed once he hits the open field, and he has the agility to change direction and make defenders miss.
While Fields doesn’t have the upside that Lawrence does and can still stand to improve his ability to sense pressure and make consistent reads, he is a pro-ready, dual-threat quarterback who could be a very high draft pick in the first round next year.
Possible early options
Trey Lance, North Dakota State
The last two quarterbacks to start at North Dakota State were drafted in the NFL—Carson Wentz and Easton Stick—and if all goes well, Trey Lance should be a shoo-in to join them.
Lance is a 6-foot-3, 221-pound dual-threat gunslinger who put up insane production in 2019. He ran for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2019, while throwing for 2,786 yards with a 66.9 completion percentage, 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Not a single one. Granted, that number is a bit misleading given his opponents dropped a few picks, but still, not throwing a single pick all year is certainly an impressive feat.
In his first season as a starter for the Bison, Lance went undefeated and led his team to an FCS Championship victory. He has one of the strongest arms in the 2021 class, as he throws with very good velocity behind his passes and has the raw arm strength to deliver the deep ball off-platform and while on the move. He has experience in a pro-style offense that has had him taking reps under center and utilizing the play action, and he can also pull off RPOs efficiently. He’s also a stellar athlete, showcasing incredible lateral agility, fantastic breakaway speed and the ability to make defenders miss both in space and in the pocket.
Lance’s throwing motion, decision making and accuracy consistency can improve, and his small-school status means there will have to be some sort of adjustment to the next level. However, his upside is one of the highest in the nation, and he can be a legitimate top-10 pick if he builds off of his 2019 tape.
Jamie Newman, Georgia
Jamie Newman is a Wake Forest product who realistically could have been a Day 2 pick in the 2020 draft, but he decided to not only stay in school, but transfer to Georgia and replace Jake Fromm as the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback.
He is a well-built quarterback at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds who has good bulk in his frame and ideal height for the position. He has good upper-body mechanics and has good velocity behind his throwing, showing off the ability to fit balls into tight windows. Newman throws with a good sense of timing and is able to lead his targets open. He has flashed the skills and processing quickness necessary to make full-field reads and look defenders off with his eyes. His ability to identify options after his first read and find the check down option gives him the intelligence to still make a play if things go haywire.
Newman is also a fantastic athlete for his size. He has very good breakaway speed for a quarterback and does a good job of turning on the jets once he hits the open field. For a player who’s bigger at his position, he has great lateral agility and changes direction seamlessly, making defenders miss with ease and exploiting holes as a ball-carrier.
He is prone to occasionally throw a wild ball from time to time due to footwork inconsistencies, and his poise and awareness will both need to improve if he wants to become a legitimate first-round pick. Wake Forest’s offense relied on delayed options to keep the defense guessing, but that means that Newman currently doesn’t have much experience making quick reads. His move to Georgia should indicate his draft stock, but he’s a high-upside quarterback with plenty of tools to work with.
Brock Purdy, Iowa State
One of numerous underclass quarterbacks to catch people’s eyes in 2019, Brock Purdy brings plenty to the table.
Coming off of a season in which he threw for nearly 4,000 yards, 27 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, Purdy made plenty of plays in Iowa State’s pass-happy system. He is a poised player in the pocket whose accuracy and composure is not fazed when defenders come crashing down on him. He does a good job of exploiting soft spots in zone coverage and reading defensive schemes effectively. Purdy’s timing behind his throws is generally accurate, and he is a very effective passer across the middle of the field. He has polished upper-body mechanics, as well.
Purdy has shown that when he sets his feet, he can be a dangerously accurate passer. He offers some value as an athlete, as he offers good enough agility in and out of the pocket. The pièce de résistance of his skill set is his pump fake: he does an incredible job of faking out defenders by feigning a throw to a target, only for him to either hit another open man or take off running, often opening up running lanes for him to work with.
He doesn’t have the physical tools of any of the prospects listed above him, as his arm strength is just average and his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame is pretty undersized. Working on getting his feet set more consistently will be key to his accuracy translating well to the next level. Purdy brings some upside as a potential starter in the league though, and with some improvements to his footwork and arm strength, he can be a legitimate first-round talent.
Other quarterbacks to keep an eye on
- Duke transfer Chase Brice is an intriguing prospect with a strong arm and some tools to work with. He spent his first two collegiate seasons as a backup to Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, so his sample size is admittedly extremely limited. I can’t get a proper projection on him until he starts a full season, but the upside is there for him to shoot up boards in time.
- Outside of the first three rounds, Sam Ehlinger from Texas is a guy I really like. He isn’t the flashiest player out there, but he’s a gutsy player who has good pocket presence, has a solid arm and isn’t afraid to stretch the field vertically. By all accounts, he’s also a high-character player who seems to have the intangibles to play in the NFL. A three-year full-time starter by the time the 2020 season comes to a close, Ehlinger doesn’t have the highest ceiling, but he could very well develop into a spot starter at the next level.
- In addition to the aforementioned Brice, there are a handful of other transfer quarterbacks who could potentially boost their draft stock at a new school. Miami transfer D’Eriq King is more of a runner who plays quarterback than a quarterback who can run at this stage of his career, but he showed at Houston that he’s an extremely athletic player with solid arm strength who could rise up boards if he improves his footwork and decision making. Former Stanford starter K.J. Costello moved onto Mississippi State, where his strong arm could put up monster numbers under new coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid system. Jake Bentley transferred from South Carolina to Utah, where he will look to tap into his potential that he hasn’t quite reached yet.
- Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan has been labeled as a potential early-round pick this early in the pre-draft process, but I just don’t see it yet. His physical tools—his size, arm strength and athleticism—are average at best, and he tends to collapse under pressure. I currently have less-heralded, returning seniors like the aforementioned Costello and Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond rated above him. However, Morgan has good anticipatory skills and has shown that he can look past his first read and give his team some spark on offense, so he could make sense as a Day 3 selection at this rate.