Next year's group of quarterbacks is better than last year's crop. If feels as if we say that about every quarterback class, but many evaluators have patiently waited for the upcoming 2021 crop. This year's class includes many intriguing prospects that scouts are remaining patient to see if they can repeat the output from a breakout season or take a leap and show that they've taken the next step in their development.
It's not just through the FBS ranks, either. Trey Lance, a noteworthy signal caller at North Dakota State, has already generated plenty of buzz as there's lots of excitement surrounding his future.
Summer scouting is one of my favorite times of the pre-draft process, not only because it signals a brand new process, but you also get to see the growth of prospects throughout the year. This positional series includes my thoughts on prospects as well as the thoughts of scouts I've reached out to in order to get an early opinion on how they feel about potential 2021 targets.
1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson, Junior
Size: 6-foot-6, 235 pounds
What Stands Out: In the case of the Tigers' junior thrower, I've often used the term that he plays the game in a glass case. A scouting term learned through the years, it describes a quarterback that plays the game with an extreme amount of poise and no matter the chaos surrounding him, he always seems to deliver as if he's making warm-up tosses. Another great example, you often see players go through their warm up routine with noise cancelling headphones on. Lawrence plays the game as such and there aren't many moments that have a profound effect on him mentally.
Routinely standing tall and delivering amid the elements inside of the pocket, he's shown he can consistently keep his eyes down the field. Without ever looking at the pass rush in front of him, he can lock onto targets and anticipate where they are designed to be. Lawrence has routinely proven to have more than enough athleticism to navigate through the pocket and exit out of it when feeling in danger. He doesn’t make a living with creating extra opportunities by making defenders miss, but he has enough elusiveness in order to pick up the yardage that’s given in front of him. As he showed in the College Football Playoff against Ohio State, he has surprising speed that can be utilized to pick up chunks in a hurry if allowed.
What Must Improve: Lawrence had a high dependency on what is called "faith" throws, where he had the full trust of his perimeter targets to come down with the ball. That's because his most reliable targets, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, aren't consistent separators. Instead, they collect many of their wins vertically by stacking defenders and attacking the ball out the air at its highest point. Knowing this, Lawrence routinely lobbed the ball in their vicinity, which often resulted in completions against man-to-man coverage.
Lawrence didn't see the field well against zone coverage early on in the 2019 season and he experienced a period of trying times in the National Championship Game against LSU. He struggled a bit against Syracuse and they forced him to pick and choose his spots against zone. LSU also did a good job of getting him off platform and it made him try to play outside the box more. It resulted in him speeding his process up and he showed some chinks in his armor with how he was over-striding in his lower half, which he didn't show as a freshman.
Scouts Take: "What happened was that teams had a full year of tape on him and they were able to put together solid defensive plans early on. I thought he struggled early during last year, but he turned it on during the middle and back stretches. His ball placement was a bit off and they rely on lots of one-on-one victories with big balls down the field. The kid is extremely good and he'll be mentioned in the realm as one of the best QB prospects of the past decade, but he showed some weaknesses last year."
2. Justin Fields, Ohio State, Junior
Size: 6-foot-3, 228 pounds
What Stands Out: Fields possesses a thick and firm body type that enables him to play and win with many different playing styles. Early on as a freshman at Georgia, he was able to show off what he was able to do with his legs with his frequent involvement in the designed quarterback running game, but during his transition at Ohio State, he was afforded many opportunities to display what he could do as both a passer and as a runner.
In a wide open scheme that incorporates many 10 (four receivers) and 11 (three receivers and one tight end) personnel sets, Field was able to take advantage of multiple mismatch opportunities on the perimeter. He's also a signal caller that relies heavily on playing outside of the confines of the natural design of plays. His strong body structure enables him to withstand chaos and disruption within the pocket, but also outside of it.
Fields is like a point guard distributing it from multiple different launch points. A great quote shared, using it in a different sport context: the Buckeyes offense was the power forward or center delivering the screen to others on the perimeter for wide open layups. Fields' main job was to get the ball there cleanly and in a timely manner for the easy score.
What Must Improve: Pocket patience has been an overwhelmingly consensus comment and wart surrounding Fields. He's shown on numerous occasions that he can win from within it, but he's too often in a rush to exit outside of it if his first few options on his progression aren't there. Often having a quick expiration clock in his mind during throwing attempts, he's quick to rush to judgement of routes not being open instead of hanging for a few more moments and anticipating where they may end up.
While he's exceptional with improvising, there are moments where he can rely on doing it too much when he doesn't necessarily have to. Broken plays became a big part of his repertoire, but a stride that many want to see him make during his second season in the offense is to go from the first to second to third option cleanly in his progressions successfully and consistently more often throughout games.
Scouts Take: "I think he's really talented and he's a perfect match in the scheme because they simplify it for him. He plays well outside of structure, but I want to see him become more comfortable inside of it. There are lots of easy down the field throws in the offense too. They'll open it up more for him this year, but he still needs to develop more as a passer, but we also have to remember, he was a one-year starter in a brand new system. He has work to do, but the early signs are definitely promising and there are lots of things for him to clean up as well."
3. Trey Lance, North Dakota State, Redshirt Sophomore
Size: 6-foot-3, 224 pounds
What Stands Out: From Carson Wentz to Easton Stick and some of their predecessors, the Bison have quickly turned into a small school that churns out quarterbacks yearly. Lance is the next in line of what hopes to be another standout to come from the historic FCS program. Finishing his first season as a starter with 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions is a phenomenal feat. Also adding another 14 touchdowns on the ground, he's shown he can be a highly confident dual-threat player.
The very first trait that jumps out about Lance is how clean his mechanics and throwing motion are all tied in together. The ball jumps out of his hand violently no matter which level of the field he's throwing to. The second is how well he operates off of play-action passes. Because of how dominant the team's running game has been and the reputation that they have established, operating off of play-action has become his forte. Running many condensed sets/formations and demonstrating fakes off of it from under-center and shotgun has helped clean up defensive structures for him.
What Must Improve: Being that he was only a redshirt freshman last season, it's natural for the coaching staff to protect the psyche of a young quarterback, but there were times where Lance was ready to show off the next step in his development, but the staff stuck to the script of a ground-and-pound attack. As a result of this, Lance took way too many hits and in turn, his competitive juices were always flowing. Because of that, he had no clue of how to get out of harm's way by sliding or finding the sideline to run out of bounds. Surrendering some vicious hits, he must learn that they add up over time and simply find the ground to slide or the out of bounds line to preserve his structure from so many body blows.
When operating in true drop-back passing concepts where he has to swing from one side of the field to the other, he was efficient, but it was notable that his ball placement struggled in spurts when getting all the way to the backside of those plays. He also missed on some easy opportunities down the field with gimme plays that should've been cashed in for scores.
Scouts Take: "There's a lot of pre-season excitement out there from what I've seen about him because of his potential, but he's only had only had one game of where he's thrown the ball more than 25 times. He took tremendous care of the football last year, but they babied him a bit with that strong running game. They weren't shy about running him either. They do a great job there, but I want to see them let him cut it loose a bit more next year and they will with him being a year older and comfortable in the system. He also has to learn to protect himself. I cringed a couple times seeing the hits that he took and he welcomed it with dipping his shoulder and throwing his body into defenses. He'll be taught quickly to get down on the ground and put his pride to the side."
4. Jamie Newman, Georgia, Redshirt Senior
Size: 6-foot-4, 230 pounds
What Stands Out: Built like a tank, Newman possesses a unique body type for a prospect at the position. A chiseled and mature frame has allowed him to become a best of both worlds quarterback in multiple schemes. He has multiple layers that protect him as a runner and in the open field when creating outside of the pocket. He's fully comfortable with hanging tough in a collapsing pocket knowing that he has the body composition to cope with the surrounding elements. The former Wake Forest product has the power and downhill effect of a running back when deciding to take off as a rushing threat or on zone-read concepts. Newman has shown to be capable of winning with his arm through the air, but he also gashes defenses with a straight ahead power running game or as a pull-and-go threat during zone-reads.
What Must Improve: As is the current universal thought process for most spread offenses, he’s involved in a scheme that cuts off one side of the field. His first on-field experience came in spurts during the 2018 season, but it was sporadic as a run-pass option and short-yardage specialist. Playing this role stunted his growth in a sense, but becoming the full-time starter in 2019 has helped him overcome that boxed-in phase.
Newman is able to see things developing often, but he fails to pull the trigger within a moment's time after seeing it about to happen. Newman after has to confirm things being open prior to following through with his throwing motion instead of anticipating the action. This circumstance resulted in many of his interceptions and late throws to exterior areas. The Clemson game (2019) was a great litmus test to assess his major flaws as a prospect.
Scouts Take: "He's got a little bit of a different, three quarters type of release, but it comes out like a missile. The zone reads and ball exchanges he did at Wake were a bit strange, but it worked for them. I was happy to see him go to the SEC, but I want to see if he still looks as fast there as he did in the ACC. He's one of those guys that was overlooked, but this is the first year of his college career where he enters the season knowing that he has a chance to be THE guy. He has some work to do with seeing and throwing it, but he's on the right stage to show off that he actually can do it. Him and Monken (Georgia offensive coordinator) are a good match if things go well."
5. Brock Purdy, Iowa State, Junior
Size: 6-foot-1, 212 pounds
What Stands Out: Purdy is a natural thrower of the ball with a quick, snappy throwing motion. With a bulk of the Cyclones offense feeding through the middle of the field, Purdy is able to show off his unique feel of touch and consistency in those areas. Having a well developed understanding of ball speeds and knowing how much juice to put on throws, he’s routinely able to hit targets in stride in between the numbers.
Showing that he has a great feel of the offense, Purdy shows his maturity with understanding exactly where all targets are supposed to be as well as keeping himself protected with the right protection calls. He’s able to demonstrate this with proper eye discipline and he even shows off his eye manipulation with looking off defenders on high-low passing concepts. When his first, second, or third option isn’t there, he’s always aware of where his outlets are located in order to get the ball out of his hand in a timely manner.
What Must Improve: It's easy to tell when Purdy anticipates hits being delivered to his body with the way he falls away from his intended targets. As a result, he often falls off platform and his accuracy suffers because he doesn’t have the arm strength in order to still get the ball there amid the chaos.
Often leaving the pocket prematurely in order to create extra opportunities, he must learn to allow concepts to develop. There were many times where he had targets come open, but his impatience derailed the outcome of those possible plays. Still, he managed to light the Cyclones record books on fire and many eyes will be on him next season.
Scouts Take: "He shoots a fade away jump shot every time he throws the ball. It's a bad habit that he will need to fix, but it's definitely easy to see why the intrigue is there with him. He's in good hands with Campbell (Matt) over there, but he has to play better in big games. He was a little erratic when the environment ramped up some. He seemed to be sharp over the middle of the field, but he's gonna have to be more consistent outside of the hashes and numbers in the intermediate and deep parts in order to be considered an early round guy."