The 2021 Quarterback class was one of the most hyped up Quarterback draft classes in recent memory. The buzz leading up to draft night last year was incredible as there were discussions on TV shows and podcasts every day analyzing these quarterbacks and projecting the impact they would have on teams if they were selected by them. There were mock drafts that had four straight quarterbacks going off the board and teams trading up for them. There were two massive trade ups for Trey Lance and Justin Fields respectively during the draft. The Niners and the Bears gave up significant draft capital(Future 1st round picks and more) to move up for these guys because of their high upside and incredible mobility. Trevor Lawrence was considered a consensus number 1 pick slam dunk prospect, and Zach Wilson was being called Mormon Mahomes due to his incredible arm talent and off script playmaking he showcased at BYU. Mac Jones had one of the greatest college football seasons ever(41 TD passes to 4 INT) leading Alabama to a national championship and he was the 5th ranked QB for most people.
Using stats from this year and their rookie years, I will try to come up with a ranking of the top 5 quarterbacks in the 2021 draft class in terms of their performance this year, their rookie seasons, and then an overall ranking. This ranking will include Trey Lance, as he only started 2 games last year, and broke his leg in Week 2, but I will have to take this caveat into account. I will take into account team stats like run to pass ratio, and the supporting casts in which these quarterbacks have played with. Context definitely matters when evaluating quarterbacks, and so I will heavily factor that into my analysis and the overall talent of a quarterback matters as well. I will reserve the right to make changes to the rankings as I continue to observe these quarterbacks play over the next few weeks, as quarterbacks can start to get progressively better as the season goes on. This gives me an opportunity to update my findings.
Going into the 2021 season, I was the most sold on Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, as I would have ranked them 1 and 2 respectively before the season . In the 2021 season, all of the rookie quarterbacks went through growing pains as they had moments of brilliance, but a bunch of head-scratching moments and games were added on top. Here is a table that shows each Quarterback’s performance in multiple statistical categories across the 2021 season.
Here is a bar graph that compares the passer rating and QBR for the 2021 QB class. Passer rating and QBR are some of the most important metrics to evaluate quarterback performance, so I am zeroing on these stats to compare the quarterbacks.
Through these tables and the graph, I can conclude that Mac Jones was the most consistent out of all the quarterbacks, as his stats were more consistent as he had a better passer rating , QBR, and TD:INT ratio than all of the other quarterbacks. He also had the highest number of passing yards and TDs. But, Mac did have the best supporting cast and coaching last year compared to all of the quarterbacks. Trevor Lawrence was playing for one of the worst coaches in NFL history in Urban Meyer and had a weak offensive line and receiving core. Justin Fields had Matt Nagy and the same supporting cast issues as Lawrence had. But, Lawrence and Fields did have some games where they had massive flashes like Lawrence against the Colts in Week 18 or Fields against Pittsubrgh where he was throwing the ball downfield consistently. Zach Wilson also had a mediocre supporting cast, so it makes sense that their numbers pale in comparison to Mac Jones. Mac was more protected as the Patriots were trying to compete for the playoffs, so he didn’t have as many turnovers as Lawrence, Wilson, or Fields as the Patriots weren’t just letting him force throws. 41% of Jones' pass attempts thrown at least 20 yards downfield were over- or underthrown last season, an off-target mark that ranked 21st in the NFL (league average 36%), so the Patriots did not want to expose some of his limitations in a competing season. The Patriots had close to a 50/50 split as far as run pass ratio(47.8% run to 52.2% pass), so they didn’t throw the ball as much. Mac Jones was the best out of all the quarterbacks by far last year, but these stats sort of give context as to why his stats may be better than he actually was.
Lance only started 2 games against the Cardinals and Texans, but he was pretty inaccurate and pedestrian in both of these games. He did showcase some decent running ability, and made some decisive throws with his strong arm to show some signs of promise. His passer rating was surprisingly higher than I thought, but it’s hard to judge as he only played 2 games. Davis Mills was the most surprising of the quarterbacks this year as his conventional stats were arguably better than everyone except Mac Jones, and his passer rating and QBR was right there with the top QBs in the class. He showed Texans fans that he might be able to produce above his third round draft status if given some more help. Given these contextual factors and their performances in 2021, this is my ranking for the 2021 quarterbacks down below for the 2021 season:
Rankings for 2021 QBs:
- Mac Jones
- Trevor Lawrence
- Justin Fields
- Davis Mills
- Zach Wilson
- Trey Lance (only played 2 games)
Going into the 2022 season, there were a lot of high expectations for these quarterbacks to take leaps and breakout. Lawrence, Wilson, and Fields underachieved in their rookie seasons, so they had pressure to at least show some signs of growth to garner belief that they could be elite one day. So far in the 2022 season, we have seen all of these quarterbacks be up and down. Over the first 4-5 games, Trevor Lawrence looked like the best of the bunch, while the rest of the pack was struggling. But over these last 6-7 weeks, trends have shown that Justin Fields has been performing the best without having as good of a supporting cast as the rest of the quarterbacks as he’s had around a 2:1 TD: INT ratio, completed over 60% of his passes consistently, and blossomed as a runner as he seemingly manages to pull off at least one highlight reel run a game.
There have been so many times where Fields has been able to make something out of nothing and run or extend the play and find someone open. His dual threat abilities have allowed him to mask fundamental issues of the Bears offense like horrible offensive line play(46 sacks given up) , receivers struggling to get separation, and average play calling from Luke Getsy. It’s been tough for Fields to get in a rhythm as whenever he does generate a big play through the air, Getsy goes right back to running the football up the middle and taking the ball out of his hands. In 2022, he has massively improved in throwing the ball to all areas of the field, especially the middle of the field and down the field. These passing charts below compare Fields passer rating compared to the league average in all areas of the field from 2021 to 2022. From these two charts, we can see that Fields has vastly improved his ability to throw the ball in all areas of the field, despite the pedestrian supporting cast he has and suspect playcalling. Fields has especially improved throwing in the middle of the field and down the field, which has been more of the trend of top superstar quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, and Justin Herbert, which is a good sign for him as he continues to develop.
Here is a table that shows the stats for the 2021 quarterbacks so far this season. I have excluded Trey Lance from this table as he only played one game, so it’s unfair to really rank him for his play this season. As a result, he will be placed at number 6 for my rankings this season.
Going off this table and recent trends from October onwards to Week 14 of the NFL season in 2022, I have Trevor Lawrence ranked number 1, as he has shown himself to be the most consistent pure passer out of all of the quarterbacks this season as he leads the whole class in TDs, yards, and passer rating and he has massively improved his play across the last three weeks. His performance against the Baltimore Ravens was majestic, and the clutch throws he made in the 4th quarter gave NFL fans a reminder as to why he was the undisputed number 1 pick in 2021. He also has underrated mobility, which allows him to implement Doug Pederson’s RPO(Run-pass option) scheme very effectively. Justin Fields slides in at number 2, as he has started to mature way more as a passer, and is showing off his dual threat abilities over the last 5- 6 games. But, he did get off to a slow start this season, and he just hasn’t been able to showcase his full range of passing abilities yet outside of this past Sunday against Green Bay. His rushing ability is insane as he currently has 905 rushing yards, but that style of play isn’t as sustainable, so he falls just behind Trevor Lawrence as I need to see more of him as a thrower before I put him over Lawrence. He does lead all of the quarterbacks in QBR though , and his QBR has seen a 33 point improvement compared to last year, which is staggering.
Mac Jones has put together some solid performances, his game against the Vikings being his best off the season, but he was average the first three games before his ankle injury and he’s overall been severely limited by the offensive scheme. He’s turning the ball over at a higher rate compared to last year as he has 7 interceptions in 9 games played and he hasn’t shown the flashes that Fields and Lawrence have shown this year, so he slots in at 3. Davis Mills has been very disappointing this season as he just got benched for Kyle Allen and his stats dipped considerably across the board from last year to this year, so he comes in at 4. That is not a good sign for him. Zach Wilson fizzled out after just 6-7 games as he just never found his footing this year. The Jets have surrounded him with solid weapons like Garrett Wilson, Corey Davis, Breece Hall before he got hurt, and Elijah Moore, but Wilson couldn’t make it work with those guys. An appalling stat which may have been the reason for his benching was in the game against the Patriots, Wilson had a 44% completion rate to receivers that had 3+ yards of separation. That is a massive indictment on Wilson’s ability to read the field, and at least Mills has been a more efficient passer, so Wilson comes in behind Mills at 5. Trey Lance comes in last as he only started 1 game this season in a monsoon against the Bears before breaking his ankle, and he was below average in that game.
Ranking so far in progress for the 2022 season :
- Trevor Lawrence
- Justin Fields
- Mac Jones
- Davis Mills
- Zach Wilson
- Trey Lance
In conclusion, I believe Trevor Lawrence has been the best quarterback across both years, but right now Justin Fields is playing the best football out of any quarterback this year, and if the Bears put the right pieces around him, his dual threat abilities could trump all the other quarterbacks, even if Trevor Lawrence is the better passer. Lawrence has played really well over the last four weeks, and has shown to be very accurate in clutch moments, like his performance against the Baltimore Ravens. I believe Fields and Lawrence will separate themselves from the pack as the years go on. Both Fields and Lawrence struggled in their rookie years, and were not better than Mac Jones or even Davis Mills in some instances, but the NFL requires quarterbacks to update their resume. This year, Lawrence and Fields have updated their resumes and have taken major leaps while the other quarterbacks have either stagnated or regressed. They have reminded NFL fans why they were so hyped up and in a contested rivalry with each other from high school to the NFL draft. Zach Wilson just got benched , and as a result he is near the bottom of the rankings despite having so much hype going into the NFL. He has been disappointing to say the least as the Jets players don’t seem to rally around him, and Mike White has so far operated the offense more efficiently than Zach Wilson, which is concerning. His long term future with the Jets is very much in question. Trey Lance is such a wildcard as he is in a great position to succeed one day in San Francisco with Kyle Shanahan, the receivers(Deebo and Aiyuk), and McCaffrey with the run game, but his ankle injury may jeopardize his long-term potential. He has also shown massive struggles as a consistent passer, so he will have to improve considerably to tap into his potential. Trey Lance will be under monumental pressure going forward to succeed and be the guy going forward as with Garoppolo’s foot injury, it leaves no doubt that Trey will probably take the reins in 2023. I have Trey Lance ranked 4th right now in my final rankings, as even though he has barely played the first two seasons and been below average, I’m betting on him one day being a solid quarterback given that he has so much talent around him.
Davis Mills and Zach Wilson have been benched, so it’s hard for me to put Trey below them as he will get a shot next year to prove he’s the guy and he hasn’t had the chance to show he’s as bad as those two quarterbacks have been this year. Davis Mills got benched for Kyle Allen this year and maybe forever as a Texan as the Texans are barreling towards potentially drafting a quarterback with the number 1 pick next year(Bryce Young?). There is no knowing where Davis Mills ends up next year, but his rookie year was a bit promising, so teams could try to see if they can develop him more. Mac Jones is solid, but his long-term ceiling is in question , especially if the Patriots can’t find a better playcaller than Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick can’t give him big time weapons. His rookie year was pretty good, but he has massively regressed since then, so he will need to show more signs of growth before I can rank him near Fields and Lawrence. I still feel like he will be a solid NFL quarterback though as he is accurate and can go through his progressions quickly.
Final QB rankings overall based on first two years and projecting forward :
- Trevor Lawrence
- Justin Fields
- Mac Jones
- Trey Lance (Due to supporting cast of the Niners)
- Davis Mills
- Zach Wilson