Despite the disappointment of the Steelers’ season ending in the Wild Card round, there was one small silver lining: draft season started a few weeks early.
The NFL Draft has often been described as “Christmas in April” for NFL fans, as their favorite teams get to add an exciting class of new prospects to their roster each year. However, with 32 teams picking players over 7 rounds, as well as through compensatory picks and undrafted free agency, the sheer number of college prospects entering the NFL in a single draft can be overwhelming.
So here at BTSC, we're proud to present the first edition of our new collaborative big board. This year, we’ve taken on the task of ranking and analyzing most of the prospects in the 2021 draft class in an attempt to create a helpful and informative resource that will hopefully bring some more interest to the draft process.
We’ll be releasing the board in segments, focusing on one position at a time, with this edition being on the quarterbacks.
The main rankings and grades are steelerfan11’s, with the “Average Draft Rankings” being an average of where the players were ranked on big boards by other popular draft sites (ESPN, CBS Sports, Draftek, NFL Mock Draft Database, Pro Football Network, The Draft Network, and Fanspeak), compiled by Pittsblitz56. The overall analysis is a collaborative effort.
1. Trevor Lawrence — Clemson
Top graded QB in class
#16, Junior, 6’ 6”, 220 lbs
2020 season stats: 3,153 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 203 rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns
Average Draft Ranking - 1
steelerfan11: Lawrence is going to be the number one overall pick, so there is not much need to dive into him as a potential fit with the Steelers. He has the size, arm, and athleticism that coaches dream about, and he seems to be respected in the locker room. If there is one flaw to his game, it is his accuracy and decision making under pressure, but he is one of the cleanest quarterback prospects to come out in a while.
Ryland B: Ever since his brilliant freshman campaign at Clemson in 2018, Lawrence has been seen as a top-tier NFL prospect, with it being all but a guarantee he’ll be selected first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence is an accurate passer with a NFL-caliber arm, and has always been a solid decision-maker with the football. He also has great size and is a surprisingly good runner. Lawrence only lost two games in his college career, always playing well and showing good leadership skills. There’s some minor concerns here and there with Lawrence, but overall he’s the most NFL-ready quarterback to enter the draft in years. The Steelers won’t be landing him, but whichever team does will be getting a good one.
2. Justin Fields — Ohio State
Early 1st round grade
#1, Junior, 6’ 3”, 228 lbs
2020 season stats: 2,100 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 383 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns
Average Draft Ranking - 3.42
steelerfan11: Fields did not have the year many expected, but his performance in the College Football Playoff semifinals was nothing short of spectacular. Fields displays tremendous deep ball accuracy and is a huge threat as a runner. He isn’t ready to start on day one though. He holds on to the ball too long and sometimes struggles to read opposing defenses. His best option may have been to return to school and be the favorite to be the top pick in the 2022 draft, but I expect him to be selected within the top three or four picks in this draft nonetheless.
Ryland B.: Justin Fields spent his freshman year of college backing up Jake Fromm at Georgia before transferring to Ohio State for his sophomore and junior years, where his career would blossom. Following a breakout 2019 season, Fields played rather inconsistently in a COVID-19 shortened 2020, often struggling when facing a rush and making some questionable decisions. However, a near flawless showing against Trevor Lawrence’s Clemson Tigers in the College Football Semifinal restored the faith in Fields as a draft prospect. He has decent size, is very athletic and a good runner, and has an absolute cannon for an arm. Despite having some pocket awareness problems, Fields is very mobile and can throw well on the run. He’s a very accurate passer overall, rarely turning the ball over, although there is some room to grow regarding his decision making. Fields isn’t a perfect prospect, but he’s a solid #2 quarterback in this draft class behind Trevor Lawrence and will doubtlessly be picked in the top 5.
3. Zach Wilson — BYU
Early 1st round grade
#1, Junior, 6’ 3”, 210 lbs
2020 season stats: 3,692 passing yards, 33 passing touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 254 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns
Average Draft Ranking - 7.5
steelerfan11: Strength of schedule is something that will be an issue for some, but Wilson balled out this season for BYU. His arm is not on the same level as a Lawrence or Fields, but it is definitely above average, and his accuracy is as good as anyone’s. He can deliver it from a slew of different arm angles, but his best attribute may be his mobility in the pocket and decisiveness as a runner. Wilson is a gamer who has everything you want in a franchise quarterback, which is why he will be a top five pick come April.
Ryland B.: For most (including myself), the 2021 quarterback draft class is Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and then everyone else. However, BYU quarterback Zach Wilson has managed to put himself in that top-tier conversation with a fantastic 2020 season. Wilson has an incredible arm, with above-average strength and accuracy. He can throw from different arm angles and has great anticipation. In short, he can make any NFL pass. Wilson is athletic and can be a dangerous runner, however, he might want to bulk up a bit in the NFL to take hits a little better. Wilson has few weaknesses, but could still improve regarding throwing under pressure and his overall decision making. Wilson reminds me of Justin Fields in some ways, with a similar frame, play style, and general strengths and weaknesses. However, while Fields has been playing against college football’s premier teams most of his career, Wilson’s level of competition at BYU has been nowhere as close. Both will likely go in the top 10 of the upcoming draft, and it’s anyone’s guess on who will have the better NFL career.
4. Trey Lance — North Dakota State
Mid 1st round grade
#5, Sophomore, 6’ 4”, 226 lbs
2020 season stats (1 game): 149 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 1 interception, 143 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
Average Draft Ranking - 14.7
steelerfan11: Lance played one game in 2020, and it did not go as well as many expected. Overthrowing receivers and making the wrong reads were a common thing, but he did enough in the second half to lead his team to victory. My biggest issues with him are touch and delivery speed. His delivery looked very slow to me on the tape I have seen of him, and his eyes stay on his intended receiver too long, allowing the defender to break on the ball for an interception. Footwork was inconsistent as well. That said, his size, arm, and athleticism make him an intriguing option in the middle of the first round. He is boom or bust at this point.
Ryland B.: Trey Lance may be the most intriguing player in all of the 2021 NFL Draft. He had an incredible redshirt freshman season in 2019, throwing for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 0(!) interceptions in 16 games. He also rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns en route to a FCS championship. Lance was perhaps the fastest riser out of all of the 2021 draft prospects, but would need another successful year in 2020 to show that his previous season wasn’t a fluke at a low level of competition. Sadly, NDSU’s season was reduced to one game that season due to the coronavirus, and Lance didn’t exactly help his draft stock in an up and down performance against Central Arkansas. Lance looked really shaky, and missed his receivers for much of the game, usually throwing high. Lance missed some really wide open receivers as well, opportunities he needed to capitalize on. He settled in later on, showing off his impressive arm strength and some better accuracy, completing some NFL-level passes. It’s worth noting that Lance wasn’t helped much by his offensive line and wide receivers in that game, as Lance suffered from some poor pass protection, as well as some drops by his receivers. He threw some nice balls into tight windows, but those passes were rarely held onto, while his best deep ball of the night was dropped in the end zone. As a runner, however, Lance looked really good. He’s fast, strong, and powerful on the ground, rarely going down on first contact and showing some great vision. Lance did manage to lead his team to a victory, and I think that if he would have been able to play a full season he would have greatly improved as the year went on. Overall, Lance is a raw prospect with high athleticism, a big arm, and enough flashes of brilliance to put him in the top 10 conversation in the upcoming draft. His low level of competition and lack of experience may be an issue, though, especially if you consider his lone game in 2020. He’s a high risk, high reward prospect who will need to sit on the bench his first year or two in the NFL to develop into a starting-caliber quarterback. In essence, Trey Lance is the quarterback you want to pick in the second round, but will have to select in the first if you want him on your team.
5. Mac Jones — Alabama
Early 2nd round grade
#10, Junior, 6’ 3”, 214 lbs
2020 season stats: 4,500 passing yards, 41 passing touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 14 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown
Average Draft Ranking - 40.85
steelerfan11: Jones put up gaudy numbers at Alabama this season, and he deserves credit for winning a job that everyone thought would go to Bryce Young, but let’s remember that he was playing with the best running back, receiver, and offensive line in college football. He has a high IQ and throws a nice deep ball, but he lacks mobility in the pocket and does not sense pressure well. I think his ceiling is that of a Jared Goff or Matt Ryan. Considering both went to a super bowl, that isn’t a terrible thing, but they both lost when they got there and needed a stellar supporting cast to get as far as they did. I know that there are fans who want the Steelers to take him in round one, but keep in mind the talent he had at Alabama and the poor offensive line that we currently have. Showing patience at the quarterback position pays off down the line, and drafting Mac Jones would seem to be a move of panic on the Steelers’ part.
Ryland B.: Mac Jones is a bit of a departure from his successors at Alabama, Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. While Hurts and Tagovailoa were athletic, high-upside prospects with some concerns regarding their overall accuracy and ability to go through progressions, Jones is more of the opposite. He’s a pocket passer with decent athleticism, while his greatest strength is his accuracy and ability to distribute the football. Jones has a strong arm and throws a pretty deep ball, while also going through his progressions well and delivering the ball on time. He’s not a good runner, or even very mobile for that matter, but he can recognize when to run and can gain a first down with his legs every now and then. One small concern is that Jones has one of the ugliest slides out of any passer in football, sometimes opting just to dive headfirst at the end of runs. This isn’t a huge problem that can be fixed with coaching in the NFL, but remains a potential injury issue for now. Surrounded by superior talent and excellent play-calling, Jones put up some great numbers at Alabama this season. He has a fairly high floor, but doesn’t have the highest ceiling, and will probably sneak into the last few picks of the first round.
6. Kyle Trask — Florida
Early 3rd round grade
#11, Senior, 6’ 5”, 240 lbs
2020 season stats: 4,283 passing yards, 43 passing touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 50 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns
Average Draft Ranking - 52.28
steelerfan11: Another player who lit up the scoreboard in 2020, Trask matured a lot as a passer this season. His accuracy on throws toward the sideline was something that impressed me. However, it is clear that his arm is average at best and that he has little to no mobility. With a great supporting cast and offensive line, he could become a solid starting quarterback in the NFL, but I believe he is a good college player who will most likely be a high-end backup or low-end starter in the NFL.
Ryland B.: Kyle Trask is a really interesting draft prospect. He was a Heisman finalist in 2020, throwing for 43 touchdowns and 4,283 yards in an impressive senior campaign. He has great size, a good football IQ, and excellent decision-making. So where’s the problem with Trask? He doesn’t have a strong arm, with nearly all of his success being on short and intermediate throws. He isn’t mobile, either, and can’t be relied on to scramble successfully when a play breaks down — he’ll probably end up getting sacked. At 6’5”, 240 lbs, Trask might have some success with quarterback sneaks, but some fumbling issues, along with his subpar athleticism, make it so he’s better off just passing from the pocket or handing it to a running back. Trask has had some inconsistency issues as well, such as having a poor game in Florida’s surprising loss to LSU this season, or a dismal 3-interception first quarter against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, a game in which the senior was benched for the second half. That being said, Trask’s 2020 season was filled with more ups than downs, and he’s a smart player with just enough talent to give him starter upside in the NFL. However, Trask projects best as a mid-round selection and top-tier backup in the NFL, although he’ll probably be drafted earlier with much higher hopes.
7. Jamie Newman — Georgia
4th round grade
#9, Senior 6’4”, 230 lbs.
2020 season: Opted out
2019 season stats (Wake Forest): 2,868 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 574 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns.
Average Draft Ranking - 149.28
steelerfan11: I was disappointed to see Newman opt out of the season, because it would have been interesting to see how he would perform in a pro-style offense. It will take him time to transition to the NFL game, but he has the arm talent and athleticism that will get you excited. He failed to show accuracy on a consistent basis at Wake Forest, which is why he is not ranked higher. He could still be a day two pick, but he really needs a good combine performance and pro day.
Ryland B.: Jamie Newman transferred from Wake Forest to Georgia for his final season, but ended up opting-out the season. Drafting a player who hasn’t played in a game for a year is a big enough concern already, but Newman really needed that season at Georgia to show he could succeed in the SEC and prove that he’s a complete quarterback. Despite those concerns, there’s still a lot to like about Newman. He’s athletic, has a good arm and release, as well as great pocket awareness. He throws a good deep ball, and although he doesn’t have the strongest arm, it’s definitely a strength. As a rusher, Newman has drawn some Cam Newton comparisons due to his powerful running style. He still needs to improve his accuracy, and as steelerfan11 pointed out, needs to show he can play in an NFL-style offense. There’s a lot to like about Newman, but an equal number of questions.
8. Sam Ehlinger — Texas
4th round grade
#11, Senior, 6’ 3”, 225 lbs
2020 season stats: 2,566 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 377 rushing yards, 8 rushing touchdowns
Average Draft Ranking - 218.85
steelerfan11: Ehlinger is a great leader and plays with great toughness, but one has to question whether he has starter upside or not. His accuracy improved each year at Texas, and he showed decent zip on short and intermediate passes. He has the ability to take off and run it when the pocket breaks down, but he isn’t the tallest or the strongest, and he sometimes throws it into traffic when he should not. He will most likely be a backup in the NFL.
Ryland B.: I like Ehlinger a lot as a quarterback. I doubt he’ll ever be anything more than a good backup in the NFL, but he’s a tough player, a good leader, and gives his all every game. Talent-wise, he’s not as gifted as most of the other quarterbacks in this draft class, but still has a solid arm and is fairly mobile. Ehlinger is a smart player with good anticipation, but he still needs to improve on his accuracy. He’s a good runner, who finishes his rushes with some surprising power. When a play breaks down, Ehlinger keeps his wits about him and can gain some yardage, whether it’s through the air or with his legs. In the NFL, he’ll be a great backup and locker room guy who can start a game when needed and potentially turn some heads.
9. K.J. Costello — Mississippi State
Early 5th round grade
#3, Senior, 6’ 5”, 225 lbs
2020 season stats: 1,283 passing yards, 6 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions, -65 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns
Average Draft Ranking - 313.57
steelerfan11: I liked what Costello did at Stanford, but this season at Mississippi State was very up and down. He reads defenses well and can identify an oncoming blitzer pre-snap, and he shows great poise in the pocket. He has good arm strength and accuracy, but his decision making has led to a lot of costly turnovers at the college level. His inconsistent delivery could be an issue at the next level too.
Ryland B:. I watched a lot of K.J. Costello when he was at Stanford, and came away fairly impressed. He’s a pocket passer through-and-through, who goes through his reads well and has good throwing mechanics despite some awkward arm angles at times. Costello isn’t very mobile, but can navigate the pocket fairly well and scramble when needed. He’s definitely not a running quarterback, though. He has good arm strength and solid accuracy. At Mississippi State, Costello took a step backwards, letting some poor decision-making take over and passing for an ugly 6-11 touchdown to interception ratio. Still, Costello has a chance at a good future in the NFL, even though he doesn’t fit the mold of the modern quarterback.
10. Malik Cunningham — Louisville
Early 5th round grade
#3, Junior, 6’ 1”, 200 lbs
2020 season stats: 2,617 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 609 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns
Average Draft Ranking - 366.42
steelerfan11: Cunningham does not look natural throwing the football and rarely displays any sort of accuracy. He puts good velocity on short and intermediate passes, but his arm is only solid. He does show good patience in the pocket, and his agility and quickness as a runner makes him difficult to defend, but he seems to be best suited to play another position or be used specifically for special offensive packages.
Ryland B.: Malik Cunningham has some similarities to his predecessor at Louisville, Lamar Jackson. While not quite as dynamic, Cunningham is an athletic runner with good speed and a nice array of moves. As a passer he’s slightly less developed, with decent arm strength and below average accuracy. His pocket awareness isn’t great, either. I watched his tape at Pittsburgh and was rather disappointed, as Cunningham was missing throws the entire game and threw 3 interceptions. He looked like a passer who was very much a product of his supporting cast. Overall, Malik Cunningham is a good athlete with some passing ability, but I wouldn’t be surprised he makes a position switch at the next level.
11. Zac Thomas — Appalachian State
6th round grade
#12, Senior, 6’ 1”, 210 lbs
2020 season stats: 2,189 passing yards, 20 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 312 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
Average Draft Ranking - 377.85
steelerfan11: Mobile and accurate, but lacking in arm strength. Thomas is a competitor who I imagine will get a shot to make a roster somewhere, but he just does not have the arm of an NFL starting quarterback.
Ryland B.: One of the more underrated quarterbacks in college football, Zac Thomas is a dual-threat passer who has had quite the career at Appalachian State. He doesn’t have the strongest arm, but is accurate and mobile. He’s been a proven winner at Appalachian State, while also being fairly productive. He hit a career low in yardage and a career high in interceptions in 2020, but remains a quarterback with some NFL upside entering this year’s draft.
12. Brady White — Memphis
6th round grade
#3, Senior, 6’ 3”, 210 lbs
2020 season stats: 3,380 passing yards, 31 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 88 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
Average Draft Ranking - 318.85
steelerfan11: White does not possess a great arm, but he has a high IQ and shows tremendous accuracy in the short passing game. He is decisive with where he wants to go with the football, and he knows when to tuck it and run. In the right system, he could be a solid backup.
Ryland B.: Brady White has been the starting quarterback for an impressive Memphis team over the past three years, leading their program to some unexpected success thanks to his production and skill as a passer. Like many of the other late-round quarterback prospects in this class, White doesn’t have the strongest arm, but he’s been able to make up for it with his accuracy and decision-making. He has solid athleticism and still has some room to grow, and while he’ll likely be a backup at the NFL level, there’s a chance he has the upside to go beyond that.
13. Kellen Mond — Texas A&M
6th round grade
#11, Senior, 6’ 3”, 217 lbs
2020 season stats: 2,282 passing yards, 19 passing touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 294 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns
Average Draft Ranking - 168.57
steelerfan11: Inconsistency has been a theme throughout Mond’s career up to this point. He flashes arm strength and athleticism, but it never lasts for long periods of time. Accuracy is all over the place as well. While he brings more upside than most quarterbacks at this point, he is a big project and will need to improve his mechanics.
Ryland B.: Mood has been known to be aggressive to a fault when it comes to his decision-making as a quarterback, but he cut down on the mistakes in his 2020 season, hitting a career-low in interceptions with only 3. He led a successful Aggies squad that finished within reach of the College Football Playoff, finishing their season by dominating North Carolina in the Orange Bowl. Mond’s inconsistency is still an issue, as he has a strong arm and is a good athlete, but often fails to capitalize on his talents. He’s shown some good accuracy before and is a good scrambler, and overall is a high-upside late-round prospect.
14. Ian Book — Notre Dame
6th round grade
#12, Senior, 6’ 0”, 206 lbs
2020 season stats: 2,830 passing yards, 15 passing touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 485 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns
Average Draft Ranking - 303.57
steelerfan11: An experienced starter who was productive in college, Book projects as a backup at the next level. His arm is merely average, but he is a good decision maker and throws the ball with great accuracy. Playing behind a really good offensive line was likely a big part of the success Book had in college.
Ryland B.: Book has led Notre Dame to some impressive seasons during his time at South Bend. Nothing really stands out about him, as he is an average athlete, has average arm strength, and hasn’t made very many glaring mistakes or brilliant plays. However, his record and production are impressive, especially considering that he hasn’t had the weapons other quarterbacks as successful as him have enjoyed. Book has always had a good offensive line protecting him, but besides Chase Claypool, not much big-time NFL talent has passed through Notre Dame as a receiver or running back during Book’s stay there. He is fairly accurate and has above-average mobility. He also brings a wealth of experience to the table, although his play has often fallen off in big games. Book will likely be a solid backup in the NFL.
15. Tanner Morgan — Minnesota
7th round grade
#2, Junior, 6’ 2”, 215 lbs
2020 season stats: 1,374 passing yards, 7 passing touchdowns, 5 interceptions, -35 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns
Average Draft Ranking - 210.14
steelerfan11: Morgan came into the year as a potential 2nd round pick. He did not have his top two receivers from 2019 in Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman, which could have been part of the issue. Still, he seemed to take a step back in terms of decision making and accuracy. He will likely go no higher than round six.
Ryland B.: Morgan has a decent arm and is very aggressive, and over his career has been bailed out by star receivers Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman, both of whom excelled in contested catches. Without them, Morgan’s play understandably regressed. Overall, Morgan has decent accuracy and anticipation, and is always looking for the big play. He’s tough and plays well under pressure, although he isn’t athletic enough to do much after a play breaks down. He’s a solid prospect who might find a niche with an NFL team as a backup in the later rounds.
Notable prospects who decided to return to school for 2021:
Iowa State QB Brock Purdy
Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder
Miami QB D’Eriq King
Nevada QB Carson Strong
Georgia QB J.T. Daniels
Liberty QB Malik Willis
Florida State QB McKenzie Milton
Pitt QB Kenny Pickett
Should the Steelers draft a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft?
Ryland B.: With reports coming out that Ben Roethlisberger plans to play in 2021, the Steelers have no need to draft another quarterback and should instead focus on strengthening other parts of the team for a potential Super Bowl run. If Roethlisberger does retire, the team will likely take a good look at the quarterbacks available, but with a later pick in the first round it will be hard to select a passer with franchise-quarterback upside. The likely scenario is that the team sticks with Mason Rudolph as the starter after Roethlisberger retires. If Rudolph does well, the Steelers will stick with him in the future. If not, they will draft a quarterback in the future. There is simply no scenario right now that makes sense for the Steelers to draft a quarterback in 2021.
steelerfan11: In the early portions of the 2020 draft season, I was clamoring for Jordan Love in the second round. His stock obviously rose too high by April to be considered a legitimate target, but I do realize the value of grooming a young quarterback behind a veteran. However, the most important thing a team must do when looking to draft a franchise quarterback is to be patient. It is easy to watch Mac Jones and Kyle Trask light up the scoreboard in college and say, “The Steelers have to draft that guy.” It is more difficult to say that when you consider the talent that they were surrounded by in college and consider the many other needs that we have to fill. To me, there are three quarterbacks in this class who are almost certainly high-end starters, with Lance a bit more risky. None of the top four guys will likely be available when we pick, and none are worth giving up what it would take to move up for them. Jones could be an NFL starter, but I don’t see him as a guy who will take an offense to the next level on his own. He’s Jared Goff 2.0. Then we move to Kyle Trask, who looks like a good college quarterback and just doesn’t have an NFL arm. I see him as a backup in the league. After him, the position really dries up. I believe that we need to show patience at the position and wait until that “special” guy that we are sold on is available. If Ben were to retire, bring in an Alex Smith to hold down the fort for a couple years. Mitch Trubisky, who may be an ideal fit for Matt Canada’s system, is another intriguing option. The Browns have forced a quarterback in the draft and surpassed better players at other positions of need for the past two decades, and it hasn’t worked out. If we show patience at the quarterback position, it will pay off in the long run.
Should the Steelers draft a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft?
This poll is closed
This is a collaborative effort, and we are looking for more contributors to add to the board by helping with the rankings and/or analysis.
If you are interested in contributing, or just want to share your thoughts about the draft, please let us know in the comments below.
Stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for more content, including the rest of this big board, as we inch closer to the 2021 NFL Draft.