While Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields will draw the headlines, keep an eye on these five quarterbacks fighting to be the Joe Burrow of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Each season we see drastic rises and falls of draft prospects, most notably at the quarterback position. Multi-year starters are slated as generational prospects and locks to be selected first overall, only to fall to a mid-round selection. Likewise, forgotten prospects finally earn a starting role or transfer to a school, completing a breakout season and skyrocketing draft hype.
No story fits the narrative better than Joe Burrow’s rise from Ohio State transfer to Heisman Trophy winner and National Champion. Burrow of course completed one of the greatest breakout seasons in college football history last fall, setting a single-season record in passing yards and quarterback rating, while finishing third all-time in single-season passing yards after completing a very average season his first year at LSU.
While preseason favorites Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert still went in the first round of the 2020 Draft, Burrow completed his storybook year by coming out of nowhere to go first overall. Burrow’s story followed a somewhat common trend of quarterbacks transferring, winning a Heisman and going first overall.
Undersized baseball prospect Kyler Murray was never considered an NFL quarterback prior to his breakout year in Oklahoma but followed the same script left by Baker Mayfield and became the envy of the NFL team with the first selection in that year’s draft.
Unlike Burrow or Murray, Baker Mayfield has already established himself as one of college football’s best quarterbacks but was considered to have a ceiling come draft day given his height. After throwing for over 4,500 yards and 40+ touchdowns, the highly accurate quarterback fit exactly what Jon Dorsey wanted as his centerpiece to turn around the Browns organization.
For each quarterback that rises out of nowhere to become a first-round selection, another quarterback must fail to meet expectations. Sure, Sam Darnold’s final season at USC was enough to stick in the early first round of the 2018 Draft, but turnover concerns knocked him out of the first overall position which was very much considered a lock entering the season. For a more drastic example, look no further than 2016 second-round selection, Christian Hackenberg.
After a great true freshman season at Penn State, Hackenberg was generating buzz as the prototypical future first overall selection at quarterback. After a disappointing sophomore season, Hackenberg was still considered by many as the favorite to go first overall, but he would eventually fall to the second round after declaring early.
Hackenberg would never play a down for the Jets and became the first quarterback to ever be selected in the first two rounds to never throw an NFL pass.
Neither Trevor Lawerence nor Justin Fields should be considered this year’s Christian Hackenberg, but a 2020 season could show there is more hype than substance behind them. While a canceled or postponed season could actually benefit the pair, keep an eye on these rising quarterbacks looking to follow a familiar script of forgotten to first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.