Normally around this time of year, the NFL scouting combine would be in full swing with all of its usual fanfare. That means every drill would be picked apart, every metric double-checked, every interview analyzed and every social media rumor thoroughly scrutinized.
With this year’s combine canceled because of the pandemic, the buzz around the draft — still two months away — isn’t as intense as usual. But for those desperate for information on this year’s class, there’s no shortage of sources. That’s especially true when it comes to the five quarterbacks expected to go within the first 20 or so picks.
The Washington Football Team holds the 19th pick, putting the club in the mix for a first-round signal-caller. It’s no secret, after all, that the team is in the market for another quarterback — preferably an upgrade over current roster options.
But is this the right class to find a savior?
Analysts are leaning toward yes, with a caveat — the “saviors” may be gone by the time Washington picks.
“It’s incredibly top-heavy,” said Dane Brugler, the lead draft analyst for The Athletic. “You look at the quarterbacks this class has to offer and it’s easy to get excited about the talent at the top. You have different types of talents, guys that are more proven than others. Guys that still need some seasoning, but the potential and the upside are off the charts.
“A lot of it is going to come down what you’re comfortable with.”
The consensus is there’s not a better prize than Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence — an obvious bet to go No. 1 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Tyler Roman, a former scout with the Cleveland Browns, called Lawrence the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, with all the tools needed to thrive at the NFL level. A 6-foot-6, strong-armed passer, Lawrence’s NFL prospects prompted last year’s “Tank for Trevor” campaign among fan bases.
After that, Brugler said, there will likely be a split among teams when ranking the prospects.
BYU’s Zach Wilson is the popular choice to go second overall to the New York Jets, leaping ahead of Ohio State’s Justin Fields in recent months. The 21-year-old thrilled at BYU with an ability to extend plays outside the pocket and throw on the run — playing with a style that was reminiscent of Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, Roman said.
Fields, a two-year starter with the Buckeyes, is also projected to go within the top 10, with most mock drafts estimating he’ll land with the Atlanta Falcons (fourth), the Philadelphia Eagles (sixth) or the Carolina Panthers (eighth). Brugler said Fields’ physical talent is “outstanding,” praising his arm strength and ability to drive the football down the field. He said Fields is the type of talent worth trading up for, given the traits.
Of course, Washington fans will likely shudder at the thought of drafting another Ohio State quarterback. Dwayne Haskins’ flameout with Washington was that bad. But multiple analysts cautioned against comparing Fields to Haskins.
“Justin Fields is a much greater athlete than what Dwayne Haskins was,” said Jordan Reid, a former college quarterback who is now a draft analyst for The Draft Network. “If you think about all these young quarterbacks coming out who have had success, mobility is something that you have to have at the position.”
That mobility factor is why North Dakota State’s Trey Lance has also rocketed up draft boards in recent months. With the Bison, Lance executed a number of zone-read runs — rushing for 1,100 yards on 169 carries in 2019. Lance’s threat on the ground pairs well with his rocket arm — dominating opposing defenses at the FCS-level.
The fact that Lance, who went to the same school as Carson Wentz, didn’t compete in Division I could give some teams pause. Reid, Brugler and Roman all agreed that Lance might need to sit for a year to adjust to the NFL.
Lance, too, only started in 17 collegiate games, 16 of which occurred in 2019. The Bison played in only one game last fall due to the pandemic and Lance opted out of the Bison’s planned spring season.
With Lance’s inexperience, Reid likes the idea of veteran Alex Smith mentoring the rookie for a stretch until the youngster is up to speed. If Smith is released and Lance is drafted, Washington could rely on Kyle Allen or Taylor Heinicke in the short-term. Brugler and Reid see Lance’s overall talent as worth the potential cost of trading up.
The fifth possible first-rounder could be Alabama’s Mac Jones. A conventional pro-style quarterback, Jones lit up the SEC with a tremendous supporting cast of playmakers and linemen. Roman suggested Jones might not be a fit for offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s scheme given his lack of mobility, but liked his decision-making and ball placement.
If Washington wants to trade up, the team would likely have the assets to pull the trigger. The team already showed a willingness to part with draft picks when it offered a first and a third to the Lions in exchange for Matthew Stafford, an offer that was ultimately rejected. Washington has eight picks this year, including two third-rounders.
For Washington to do pull the trigger on a draft deal, the team’s brass will have to be sold on the player. Stafford’s veteran experience carried a much higher floor than likely any rookie.
“If they get a guy that’s able to move the chains and move this offense, I wouldn’t care what he looks like,” Roman said.
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