Every year during the draft process, players get labeled. Whether you’re a defensive end that isn’t athletic enough to bend the edge around an offensive tackle or one of the seven wide receivers who didn’t run a sub 4.4 40-yard dash this cycle, you’re going under a category.
The part about these labels that gets me is the lack of critical thinking. Someone hears one pundit say something about a player and, without hesitation, repeats it as fact. Fast forward a couple of months later, and that’s how you end up with a cesspool of regurgitated takes that are on an endless loop around the internet.
Let’s talk about the labels from the three quarterbacks in the running for the No. 3 overall pick.
“Mac Jones is the most pro-ready QB”
Serious question. What is this based on? Yes, Jones received rave reviews, and, to paraphrase, one GM said he’s a borderline football savant. When you watch Jones play, it’s evident that he’s obnoxiously accurate and knows where to go with the football.
Nobody is taking that away from him. Jones is going to be a valuable starter in the NFL, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up as a guy who wins playoff games in the league.
We’re talking about now, though. Arguments for Jones center around him being the most accurate thanks to his completion percentage or that Jones is pro-ready since he started at Alabama. A quick google search will show you that Jones started as many games as the “raw” quarterback prospect in this draft, Trey Lance.
Ignore what other team would take Jones in the top-10 if not for San Francisco and focus on the redshirt junior at a school known for playing true freshman who lost a QB competition in three out of his four seasons as a member of Alabama. Do you think Nick Saban ever planned on having Jones as a starter? Does that not mean anything as we project?
Once we get past the surface level of the box score, we have the data that shows us 22.5% of Jones passing yards in 2020 came on RPO’s and screens, which is 11% higher than Trey Lance and 14% higher than Justin Fields.
The same criticisms we’re used to seeing other quarterbacks get, Jones is absolved from them. There is plenty to like about Jones’s game, including the coaching he received and the level of competition. But when you compare Jones to the other two on this list and factor in his offense compared to theirs, I’m not sure how you conclude that Jones is the most pro-ready of the bunch.
Narrative-buster: Trey Lance is the most pro-ready of the group
When you watch what Lance was asked to do in college — from changing the protections upfront to knowing where to go with the football to getting through his progressions — it should be easy to come away thinking he’s the most “pro-ready” quarterback between the three being discussed today.
That’s before we get into Lance’s physical tools. If you haven’t seen some of the clips from Lance’s pro day, he was throwing missiles the entire session. His deep throws may not have traveled as far as Fields’ throws did at his pro day, but the trajectory of Lance’s passes were flatter, which is why I think outside of Trevor Lawrence Lance has the best arm in the class.
Oh, and the 225-pound QB who runs a sub 4.6 40-yard dash and ran for over 1,100 yards as a redshirt freshman just might use those legs as a rookie. His age shouldn’t be held against him. Lance excels in the quick-game, which is why he’d start right away for the 49ers.
“Trey Lance has the highest upside of any QB in the draft”
Because analysts believe Lance needs to sit a year, they tie that into Lance having the highest upside of any QB. The assumption is that if Lance sits a year, he won’t go through the same growing pains as Josh Allen did early in his career.
The growing pains come by playing in a game. Where the defense can hit you, and you don’t know what looks are coming.
Once Lance plays more and gets more reps, concerns about his game should be put to rest. To me, Lance will be in the upper echelon of quarterbacks a few years from now. He’s that talented and gifted. We’re ignoring another quarterback in this draft, though.
When you use the word “upside,” it generally means the most talented player. You can improve your accuracy, but that’s not Lance’s biggest concern.
There’s a reason Lance didn’t throw an interception in 2019. It wasn’t due to interception luck because every quarterback has the benefit of defenders dropping passes. To me, he didn’t pull the trigger on certain throws that were available to him. That was consistent. Could this be due to inexperience? That’s fair.
Narrative-buster: The quarterback with the highest upside in this class is Justin Fields, and I’m not sure that it’s close.
If you watched Fields play in 2019, he looked like a player still figuring out how the play the position. By the time the end of the year rolled around, Fields was a completely different quarterback as far as knowing where to go with the football, reading the field, and playing on time.
Fields improved in 2020. In an offense that’s anything but QB-friendly, Fields continually bought time in the pocket, was aggressively throwing into tight windows, and stretched the field both horizontally and vertically.
Fields needs to reel it in at times and understand that he doesn’t have to be Superman on every dropback. He’s already (arguably) the most accurate QB in the class at each level. With full-time coaching, Fields can work out some of the kinks in his game.
We saw Fields outperform Trevor Lawrence at the highest stage and do so after missing a couple of plays when he took a big shot to the midsection. Fields threw Russell Wilson-esque moon balls in that playoff game, but that’s been the case dating back to Week 1 in 2019.
You can see Fields’ baseball background when he goes to uncork a deep throw. Sometimes, he has a crow hop. Other times, it looks like a thing of beauty. We still have yet to see the best version of Fields when you factor in Ohio State’s offense. With improved decision-making and consistency on throws down the field, the sky is the floor for the former Buckeye.