On April 29, the 2021 NFL Draft is set to take place in Cleveland, Ohio with a limited group of fans in attendance. As with most drafts, the first two picks are pretty much set in stone. Even before the College Football season concluded, it has long been known that the first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, now owned by the Jacksonville Jaguars, will be quarterback Trevor Lawrence out of Clemson. The second pick of the NFL draft is inevitable as well, with the New York Jets selecting Zach Wilson out of BYU.
Most analysts and fans have no issue with Trevor Lawrence being the number one pick. Lawrence is listed at 6-foot-6, with elite arm strength and excellent speed for his position and size. He was one of the most hyped players coming out of high school in the last few years and went on to become a three-year starter at one of the top football programs in the country in Clemson, including winning the national championship as a freshman. Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer all but assured that Lawrence would be the number one pick when appearing on “Football Morning in America,” saying, “I’d have to say that’s the direction we’re going”.
Zach Wilson going to the Jets with the second pick is also assumed across the league and in the media. However, it does not make nearly as much sense as the Lawrence pick. While Wilson has the intangibles, being 6-foot-3 with decent quickness for a quarterback, he hasn’t shown enough to be the number 2 pick. After two unspectacular seasons, he put up 33 touchdowns against just three interceptions this year, but that was against FBS independent competition, which is not nearly as challenging as the competition in conferences like the SEC (where Trevor Lawrence played).
With such limited experience against the best programs, it’s surprising that Wilson is projected to be the second quarterback off the board. After all, over in the Big Ten, a certain Ohio State quarterback has built an impressive resume that should justify getting selected before Wilson. His name is Justin Fields.
Coming out of high school, Fields was a five-star quarterback prospect and was ranked the number two quarterback overall nationally, only behind Trevor Lawrence in the 2018 recruiting class. Fields spent a year at the University of Georgia before transferring to Ohio State University, where he had an outstanding sophomore campaign, compiling 41 touchdown passes to only three interceptions along with 10 rushing touchdowns. He led Ohio State to the semifinal game, only to lose to Trevor Lawrence and Clemson after throwing a critical interception late in the fourth quarter. Fields responded to the adversity of losing, leading his team to a 7-1 record while compiling 22 touchdown passes and six interceptions.
The College Football Playoff semifinal was where Fields showed why he should be the number two pick behind Lawrence. Facing Lawrence again in the semifinals, Fields was spectacular, despite dealing with what appeared to be broken ribs after suffering an illegal hit by a Clemson player. The pain did not distract Fields, as he finished the game with 385 yards and a remarkable six touchdown passes, which is now a Sugar Bowl record. Leading up to the draft, ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky heard that some teams questioned Fields “work ethic and desire to be great.”
“Laughable” is what Ohio State Head Coach Ryan Day said in response. What exactly does Fields need to do to demonstrate his love for the game? Is breaking his ribs and still leading his team to a National Championship appearance not enough?
What’s even more ridiculous is the notion that the San Francisco 49ers, who hold the third overall pick, may be looking to pick quarterback Mac Jones out of Alabama, who is not nearly as talented or as highly-rated by most scouts as Fields is. If the 49ers were to make the Jones choice with the third pick, it could end up costing them just as severely as it did the Bears, who in the 2017 draft decided to draft Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick over the likes of Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes.
If the 49ers or the Jets are paying attention, they will draft the guy who lit up his pro day and ran a 4.44 40-yard sprint, which would be the fastest ever for a quarterback participating at the combine. Fields also has a height of 6-foot-3 and tremendous arm strength. Where does it make sense to pass on him? It doesn’t.