Of the five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, three will be starters, one will be a backup and we’re still searching for the way to describe the 49ers’ plan for Trey Lance.
With the 49ers setting the stage on some level for a two-quarterback system that has the league as well as media analysts buzzing, Lance offers the most intrigue. But barring a major surprise, he won’t be the Week 1 starter like Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence, the New York Jets’ Zach Wilson, and New England’s Mac Jones.
He also won’t be a conventional backup, as Justin Fields will be for the Chicago Bears when the season kicks off in a week and a half.
A look at how the quarterback draft class of 2021 ranks as teams pare their rosters to 53 players:
1. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville
Drafted: 1st round, 1st overall College: Clemson
Coach Urban Meyer almost didn’t play Lawence in the Jaguars’ third preseason game because of injuries on the offensive line. He did, however, and Lawrence directed two touchdown drives, was 11 of 12 for 139 yards and looked the part of the No. 1 overall pick. He gets a soft landing for his debut against the Houston Texans on Sept. 12. Completed 70.5 percent of his passes (31 of 44) in the exhibition season.
2. Zach Wilson, N.Y. Jets
Drafted: 1st round, 2nd overall College: Brigham Young
A couple of rough early practices were forgotten when Wilson showed the sort of playmaking skills that instantly won him the starting job. Coach Robert Saleh didn’t even play him in bad weather in the exhibition finale. Wilson will get his first taste of the New York microscope when his first game is against the man he replaced — Carolina’s Sam Darnold.
3. Mac Jones, New England
Drafted: 1st round, 15th overall College: Alabama
Bill Belichick reversed field on his original stance that Cam Newton would be the starter when he released the former MVP in order to start Jones. Mac Jones No. 10 jerseys instantly sold out at the Patriots’ pro shop. In three exhibition games, Jones showed command of the offense, completing 69.2 percent of his passes and compiling a 97.4 passer rating. Let the patently unfair Tom Brady comparisons begin.
4. TREY LANCE, 49ERS
Drafted: 1st round, 3rd overall College: North Dakota State
Coach Kyle Shanahan was headed in the direction of a two-quarterback system anyway, although there was always the mystery of whether Lance could possibly start from the outset. A chipped bone in Lance’s finger and a week’s lost practice time makes that highly unlikely. But Lance, who could be ready for the opener, is expected to have a role from the outset.
5. Justin Fields, Chicago
Drafted: 1st round, 14th overall College: Ohio State
Fields flashed on the coaching staff early on and will be the people’s choice of the fan base. He completed 30 of 49 passes for 276 yards and had a passer rating of 90.2 But the Bears will play it safe at the outset and go with Andy Dalton as the starter. Don’t be surprised if the job belongs to Fields before midseason.
6. Davis Mills, Houston
Drafted: 3rd round, 67th overall College: Stanford
Considering the Deshaun Watson situation, the job was up for grabs with a new coaching staff in Houston and Stanford’s Mills did not make a serious run at being the starter. That will be Tyrod Taylor. Mills (47.7 completion percentage, 47.8 passer rating) was in a close battle with Jeff Driskel to be the backup, with Mills getting the nod because he’s a draft pick more so than on-field performance for an admittedly poor team.
7. Kyle Trask, Tampa Bay
Drafted: 2nd round, 64th overall College: Florida
Bucs coach Bruce Arians said in June that Trask was on par mentally with Andrew Luck at the same stage. (Arians was Luck’s first offensive coordinator in Indianapolis). Alas, Trask couldn’t challenge Blaine Gabbert as the backup for Tom Brady and Arians’ view is that “it’s a learning experience. Kyle has a long time to grow.” Trask had a 60.6 passer rating and completed 52.7 percent of his exhibition season passes.
8. Kellen Mond, Minnesota
Drafted: 3rd round, 66th overall College: Texas A&M
Mond wasn’t great in preseason, but as time went on, he outperformed Jake Browning and it’s tough to waive a third-round draft pick and get him on practice squad without someone else claiming him. It’s a risky proposition either way, because Kirk Cousins will be subject to enhanced COVID-19 protocols because he is unvaccinated. Mond made the initial 53-man roster, but it’s conceivable the actual backup could be Jake Browning who was waived but could return to the practice squad.
9. Ian Book, New Orleans
Drafted: 4th round, 133rd overall College: Notre Dame
No room for a shot at any playing time considering the Jameis Winston-Taysom Hill combo at quarterback, but could ascend to a backup role if one or the other is hurt. It would do Book well to learn in Sean Payton’s system as a developmental player for at least a year even if he doesn’t ever end up being the Saints’ starter. Played in just one preseason game, completing 9 of 16 passes.
10. Sam Ehlinger, Indianapolis
Drafted: 6th round, 218th overall College: Texas
A few interceptions killed his quarterback rating, but the Colts liked what they saw of Ehlinger as a developmental quarterback. Has the look of someone who could ascend to a backup role and stick around for a long time. With Carson Wentz and Jacob Eason around, the time is not now, though he initially stuck on the roster as the No. 3 quarterback.
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