It's time to stop looking at the 2021 quarterback class through rose-colored glasses. There have been flashes of good -- even great -- play at times, but it's been tough sledding overall for this group.
Seven of the 10 quarterbacks drafted last year started at least one game in 2021, posting a collective rookie record of 21-50. On Sunday, Indianapolis Colts QB Sam Ehlinger became the latest member of that class to make his starting debut, in a loss to Washington, giving the group a combined mark of 13-21-1 heading into Week 9 of the 2022 season.
Teams were certainly high on this class, hoovering up five QBs in Round 1 -- Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones. -- and a record eight within the first three rounds. This stands in stark contrast to last year, when the Class of 2022 produced just one first-round QB (Kenny Pickett).
With the 2021 quarterback class already midway through its second NFL season, I figured it was the perfect time for a re-draft.
I will resume ranking the top 15 offensive players in the league next week; for now, here is the order in which the members of that class should have come off the board, based on how things have gone until now.
- Actually drafted: Round 1, No. 11 overall
- Where he should've been selected: within the top 10 picks
The fourth quarterback selected in 2021, Fields was overshadowed by the Bears' listless offensive performance in Matt Nagy's final season as head coach. But Fields is undoubtedly the class' most athletic player at the position, and he's only going to play better football, with Chicago finally implementing an offense that fits him. New offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has gotten Fields out on the perimeter in the run game and built in options in the pass game, letting the second-year pro decide if he wants to throw or run it. Compare his numbers from early this season to Chicago's four most recent games:
- Weeks 1-4: 50.7 comp. percentage, 7.0 yards/att., two TDs, four INTs, 58.7 passer rating
- Weeks 5-8: 64.1 comp. percentage, 7.9 yards/att., five TDs, two INT, 97.6 passer rating
Bears brass should feel good about Fields' improvement over the last month. He's thrown a touchdown in four straight weeks (the longest streak of his career), and he's rushed for at least 60 yards in three straight games. Fields' 424 rush yards this season rank second among quarterbacks, behind only Lamar Jackson.
Tuesday's acquisition of receiver Chase Claypool from the Steelers should be just a taste of what's to come in the near future. Looking ahead to 2023, imagine the strides Fields could take if the Bears decide to use some of the massive amounts of cap space they are projected to have to really stock up on offensive weapons -- an area that has lacked talent since Fields arrived.
- Actually drafted: Round 3, No. 67 overall
- Where he should've been selected: within the top 10 picks
You might think I'm crazy for saying Mills is a top-10 pick, especially in light of his 3-14-1 record as a starter for Houston. But stay with me on this. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Mills is a good athlete with a big arm. He's an accurate passer (65.4 career completion percentage) who has a lot of the same qualities of Andrew Luck, another former Stanford Cardinal. Mills unfortunately is on a talent-poor team and will struggle early in his career without above-average weapons around him at the pro level. But he's a good processor who is actually better at protecting himself from contact than Luck was.
Based on what I've seen from Mills so far, I would have no problem using a top-10 pick on him -- and if he had stayed in school one more year, I'm confident he would have been a top-10 choice in 2022.
UPDATE: In Thursday's loss to the Eagles, Mills played extremely well in the first half, completing eight of nine pass attempts for 90 yards and two touchdowns, to help the Texans head into the half tied with the undefeated Eagles. However, Mills' play fell off in the second half with just 64 pass yards and a pair of interceptions. His record as a starter fell to 3-15-1.
- Actually drafted: Round 1, No. 1 overall
- Where he should've been selected: middle-to-late first round
Lawrence was the No. 1 overall pick in 2021 after dominating opponents at the high school and college levels, posting an 86-4 record as a starter combined in that span. But he was no Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck. Even when he was at Clemson, there were times when it seemed to me that Lawrence struggled with processing of information and missed easy throws. I'm seeing those same struggles midway through his second season. In Jacksonville's first three games of the season, Lawrence completed 69.4 percent of his pass attempts, had six TDs to one INT and compiled a 103.1 passer rating, while the Jags went 2-1. Since Week 4, the Jags have gone 0-5 with Lawrence throwing just four TDs and accounting for nine giveaways.
Lawrence hasn't improved on the issues I saw on his college film. His inconsistency throwing the ball is catching up to him at this level, and his poor decisions are costing his team games. Just look at the bad placement on the throw to Christian Kirk that resulted in a pick by Denver's K'Waun Williams and ended the Jags' comeback effort in London. He has too many plays like this.
- Actually drafted: Round 1, No. 2 overall
- Where he should've been selected: late in Round 1
I'm a big Wilson fan and have been since his days at BYU, but it's getting harder to look past his poor decision-making (SEE: three INTs vs. New England). When the Jets win, it has been in spite of the big-armed QB's play this season, as he's thrown three TDs and five picks in five games. He doesn't have a big presence in the pocket, and it appears to be affecting him, as he's trying to create throwing lanes and often chucking the ball downfield. Ten years ago, if Wilson attempted to just heave the ball down the field with reckless abandon, he'd be benched after two games. Twenty years ago, he wouldn't even be a starter. There used to be a much bigger emphasis on protecting the ball in the pass game than we're seeing with some of these players today.
Wilson has the support of his head coach and must get back to protecting the ball. His upside is what still makes him a first-round pick in this exercise, but he must prove he's not going to be the kind of quarterback who will lose his team games, which, in this league, is sometimes more important than going out and winning.
- Actually drafted: Round 1, No. 3 overall
- Where he should've been selected: in the second or third round
Lance is tough to assess. As a rookie, he made just two starts. He was supposed to take over the QB1 job in 2022, but an ankle injury ended his season in Week 2. In his eight career NFL appearances, Lance has completed 54.9 percent of his passes, averaged just shy of 200 pass yards per game and had five TDs to three INTs.
I know San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan seems very high on Lance, but I'm not the only one who was surprised to see him go before Fields on draft day. Coming out of North Dakota State, Lance was the ultimate project as an extremely raw quarterback with tremendous upside. To me, he should have been a Day 2 selection, even if he possessed tantalizing franchise QB potential. He's the type teams draft to sit and learn. Lance did that in 2021 behind Jimmy Garoppolo. Because we unfortunately won't get to see what Shanahan envisioned his offense being with Lance until next fall, my draft slot for Lance here has to match what I know of him thus far: His ability to win at this level remains a giant question mark.
- Actually drafted: Round 6, No. 218 overall
- Where he should've been selected: third round
I'm making this assessment based on Ehlinger's lone NFL start, a 17-16 loss to Washington on Sunday. He had a promising debut, in which he showed good command of the offense and the ability to extend plays with his legs, that was ultimately spoiled by a game-winning Commanders drive highlighted by an unreal catch by Terry McLaurin. Ehlinger showed more accuracy than I expected and provided the Colts' dormant offense with something of a spark, finishing his debut by completing 73.9 percent of his passes for 201 yards for a 100.1 passer rating. Despite a second-quarter fumble in the red zone, I'm going to agree with Colts head coach Frank Reich.
"I thought he threw the ball well, I thought he looked poised, made good decisions, gave us a chance," Reich said of Ehlinger after the game. "We'll look at the film more closely, but my first impression was that he played well."
The Colts may have more improvements to make on offense, but Ehlinger gives them something to work with.
- Actually drafted: Round 1, No. 15 overall
- Where he should've been selected: Rounds 2-4
Jones is a solid quarterback with poise in the pocket who throws with good anticipation, but he's the product of what's around him. Look at his rookie season, when Jones was very average but helped take the Patriots to playoffs. With Jones playing through an ankle injury, the Patriots' passing attack hasn't been quite as good when he's been under center. Jones, who missed three games with a high ankle sprain and appeared to be at risk at one point of falling into a QB controversy with third-stringer Bailey Zappe, has yet to throw more pass TDs than INTs in any of his five appearances this season. That pretty much sums up how the season's gone for New England's 23rd-ranked passing offense. Jones doesn't boast the physical tools that others in this class have to win games on his own or regularly perform outside the Xs and Os. We know what Jones was at Alabama and he'll be that quarterback for the next 10-15 years. It's not a bad thing, but his relatively low ceiling compared to others in the 2021 class is why he's in this spot.
- Actually drafted: Round 4, No. 133 overall
- Where he should've been selected: Rounds 5-6
Book made one start for the Saints in 2021, and it was dreadful: 60.0 completion percentage, 135 pass yards, zero pass TDs and two picks. He was also sacked eight times. He was cut by New Orleans back in August before being claimed off waivers by Philadelphia.
- Drafted: Round 2, No. 64 overall
Trask has yet to play a single snap in the NFL as he sits third on the Buccaneers' depth chart behind Tom Brady and Blaine Gabbert.
- Drafted: Round 3, No. 66 overall
Drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, Mond played in one game in 2021, completing two of three pass attempts for 5 yards in a blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers in Week 17. His year in Minnesota was marred by a positive test for COVID-19 during training camp. Mond did play in the preseason for the Vikings but was ultimately waived. He's now in Cleveland, where he backs up Jacoby Brissett and Joshua Dobbs.