Examining the top prospects at quarterback for the 2021 NFL Draft
The 2021 NFL Draft is slated to take place from April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, Ohio. While the 2020 college football season has yet to unfold, it's never too early to take a look at which quarterbacks could top the rankings or the wish list for teams next spring. The pool of top prospects at quarterback is headlined by Ohio State's Justin Fields and Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, as both are likely to go in the top five of next year's draft. The next tier is led by Texas' Sam Ehlinger, Mississippi State's K.J. Costello, North Dakota State's Trey Lance, Iowa State's Brock Purdy and Georgia's Jamie Newman.
Who are the top quarterbacks to watch in the 2020 season for NFL Draft potential? Here are the top projected options, followed by a handful of names to watch. (Note: Names are listed in alphabetical order)
Projected Top QB Prospects in 2021 NFL Draft
Ian Book, Notre Dame
Book was a key cog in Notre Dame’s run to the CFB Playoff in 2018 and showed some progress as a junior last fall. His passing yardage (2,628 to 3,034) and touchdowns (19 to 34) both increased, but his completion percentage fell to 60.2 after connecting on 68.2 in ’18. Book won’t have Chase Claypool or Cole Kmet to throw to in 2020, but new coordinator Tommy Rees can help the senior improve his draft stock by putting together the best all-around season of his career.
K.J. Costello, Mississippi State
Costello seemed to be on track for an early departure to the NFL after throwing for 3,540 yards and 29 touchdowns at Stanford in 2018. However, injuries limited him to just five games last fall. Costello left the Farm to start at Mississippi State under new coach Mike Leach in 2020. The senior should have plenty of opportunities to showcase his big-time arm in Leach’s high-powered attack to rebound back into the draft mix this fall.
Sam Ehlinger, Texas
Ehlinger’s decision to return to Texas for 2020 didn’t come as a surprise. The senior will benefit from the return to Austin, especially with an opportunity to work under new play-caller Mike Yurcich. Ehlinger rushed for 1,530 yards and 25 touchdowns and passed for 8,870 yards and 68 touchdowns over the last three years. Additionally, he’s completed 65 percent of his throws in back-to-back seasons.
Justin Fields, Ohio State
Fields transferred to Ohio State from Georgia and was granted immediate eligibility for the 2019 season. The former five-star prospect thrived in his first year with the Buckeyes, guiding the team to the CFB Playoff after throwing for 3,273 yards and 41 touchdowns to three picks and running for 484 yards and 10 scores. Fields is expected to compete with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence to be the first quarterback off the board in 2021 drafts.
Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Lance only has one full season of snaps under his belt, but his 2019 debut was a prolific one. The Minnesota native won the Walter Payton Award as the best offensive player at the FCS level, earned first-team All-America honors and guided North Dakota State to the FCS national title. Lance showcased his rushing ability by collecting 1,110 yards and 14 scores to go with 2,786 yards (67%) and 28 touchdowns through the air.
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
After leading Clemson to a 15-0 record and a national championship in the 2018 season, Lawrence got off to a slow start last year. However, the Georgia native shook off the early sluggishness to throw for 3,665 yards and 36 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. Lawrence has connected on 29 throws of 40 yards or more at Clemson and completed over 65 percent of his throws in back-to-back years.
Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
Jimbo Fisher produced three first-round picks – Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel and Jameis Winston – at quarterback during his tenure at Florida State. Mond isn’t expected to be a first-round pick, but his development is worth monitoring in 2020. The senior enters his final season in College Station with 7,379 passing yards and 52 touchdowns and 1,385 yards and 18 scores on the ground. Mond needs to be more consistent to improve his draft stock this fall.
Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
A quarterback battle between Morgan and Zack Annexstad was expected to headline fall practice last year. However, a foot injury in early August ended Annexstad’s season, leaving Morgan as the unquestioned starter. After throwing for 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns to only seven picks, there’s no doubt who is the starter in Minneapolis this fall. Morgan also led all Big Ten quarterbacks by connecting on 14 passes of 40 or more yards in 2019.
Jamie Newman, Georgia
There’s a high level of intrigue surrounding Newman as a graduate transfer to Georgia. After a strong showing in a limited stint at the end of the 2018 season, Newman started off the ’19 campaign on a tear for the Demon Deacons. The North Carolina native tossed 17 touchdowns through the first six games but injuries took a toll on his performance and supporting cast in the second half of the year. Newman finished with 2,868 yards and 26 passing touchdowns and added 574 yards and six scores on the ground. With spring practice cancelled, Newman didn’t get much time to work with his new teammates at Georgia. How quickly can he settle into a new offensive scheme?
Brock Purdy, Iowa State
After an impressive debut as a freshman in 2018, Purdy was even better as a sophomore last fall. Directing an Iowa State offense that averaged 32.3 points a game in Big 12 play, Purdy completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 3,982 yards and 27 touchdowns to nine picks. He also added 249 yards and eight scores on the ground.
Kyle Trask, Florida
Trask has an interesting backstory, as he played behind Miami (and former Houston) quarterback D’Eriq King in high school and competed in only four games from 2016-18 at Florida due to injuries and a redshirt year. However, the lack of experience wasn’t an issue once he was pressed into the starting role with Feleipe Franks lost for the year in September due to injury. Trask completed 66.9 percent of his throws for 2,941 yards and 25 touchdowns last season and begins 2020 near the top of quarterback rankings in the SEC.
Others to Watch
Chase Brice, Duke
Brice played well in limited time at Clemson, but with Trevor Lawrence entrenched as the starter, snaps were going to be limited in 2020. He transferred to Duke with immediate eligibility and will benefit from an offseason working under coach David Cutcliffe.
Tommy DeVito, Syracuse
DeVito was a big-time prospect out of high school but had an uneven season (2,360 yards and 19 touchdowns) in his first year as the full-time starter.
D’Eriq King, Miami
King is a dynamic playmaker that will get a chance to showcase his talent at Miami after transferring from Houston for his final year of eligibility. The Texas native accounted for 3,656 total yards and 50 overall touchdowns in a prolific 2018 campaign for the Cougars.
Kenny Pickett, Pitt
Pickett enters the 2020 season atop the depth chart for the third year in a row. His passing yardage (3,098) took a big step forward with Mark Whipple calling the plays in 2019, while his completion percentage hit above 60 percent for the first time in his career. Pickett has tossed 26 touchdowns over 30 games in the Steel City.
Shane Buechele, SMU
With Sam Ehlinger locked into the starting job at Texas, Buechele transferred to SMU for an opportunity to start in the team’s high-powered offense. Buechele posted huge numbers (3,929 passing yards and 34 touchdowns), as the Mustangs averaged 41.8 points a game last season.
Brady White, Memphis
The 2020 season marks White’s third consecutive season at the helm of Memphis’ high-powered offense. He’s passed for 7,310 yards and 59 touchdowns and connected on over 60 percent of his throws over the last two years.
Charlie Brewer, Baylor
With Baylor rebuilding on defense under new coach Dave Aranda, Brewer and the offense is likely to be the focal point of the 2020 team. The Texas native has showed steady improvement in on-field production and passed for a career-high 3,161 yards and 21 scores last fall.
Jack Coan, Wisconsin
Coan was steady (2,727 yards and 18 touchdowns) in his first year as the starter in Madison but will face pressure for the job from redshirt freshman Graham Mertz this fall.
Dylan McCaffrey/Joe Milton, Michigan
The battle to replace Shea Patterson will begin in fall practice. Both McCaffrey and Milton have flashed potential in limited snaps as a backup but neither has a start in their career. Listing both here is all about about upside.
Brandon Peters, Illinois
Peters transferred from Michigan to Illinois in search of playing time and his steady play was a reason why the Fighting Illini made a bowl game last year. Over 11 appearances, he threw for 1,884 yards and 18 touchdowns to eight interceptions.
Dustin Crum, Kent State
Crum had a breakout 2019 campaign, throwing for 2,622 yards and 20 touchdowns to lead Kent State to a 7-6 mark and the program’s first bowl victory. He also connected on 69.2 percent of his throws and led the team with 707 rushing yards and six scores.
Chase Garbers, California
Injuries derailed a promising 2019 season by Garbers, but there’s optimism for the junior to take another step forward under new play-caller Bill Musgrave in 2020.
Davis Mills, Stanford
Mills is a breakout candidate for 2020. He replaced an injured K.J. Costello in the starting lineup last fall and connected on 65.6 percent of his throws for 1,960 yards and 11 touchdowns to five picks. Mills also battled injuries in 2019, but with a healthy season, could jump onto the radar for an early entry into the draft.
Myles Brennan, LSU
Brennan has big shoes to fill in replacing Joe Burrow. The Mississippi native has patiently waited for the chance to be a full-time starter and played well in three years as the team’s backup. Brennan has connected on 42 of 70 throws for 600 yards and two touchdowns over 17 appearances and could have a breakout year directing LSU’s offense.
Mac Jones, Alabama
Jones got an early start on the 2020 quarterback battle in Tuscaloosa after replacing Tua Tagovailoa following a season-ending injury against Mississippi State. He threw for 335 yards and four touchdowns in a loss at Auburn and torched Michigan for 327 yards and three scores in a 35-16 Citrus Bowl victory. Jones has to hold off five-star prospect Bryce Young to win the starting job in 2020.
Zac Thomas, Appalachian State
Thomas claimed Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year honors in his first year as the starter (2018) at Appalachian State and continued his development with another standout year in 2019. The Alabama native ran for 440 yards and seven touchdowns and completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,718 yards and 28 scores.