Regardless of how the 2021 NFL Draft class pans out, people will always remember the exact order the five first-round quarterbacks were selected. As history has shown us, landing spots, not draft order, will matter in the long term.
Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones will try to replicate the successes of their 2018 predecessors. But even the 2018 class have had their mixed bag of results. Josh Rosen has bounced around more than Josh McCown, and Sam Darnold is already on his second team after failing to produce with the Jets.
Instead, the race is on to become the next Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, or even Baker Mayfield. These three have solidified their roles with their organization and are fantasy-relevant. Allen and Jackson are potentially the two top-scorers in fantasy in any given season.
We're looking at this rookie class through the lens of fantasy projection. Lance, Fields, and Jones may not play right away — or at all in 2021 — but what happens if they do? That's what we'll project and see if there's fantasy viability.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence landed in the best overall situation for any of the rookie passers. Much like Cleveland in 2018, the Jaguars' offense have a number of solid options for their rookie to rely upon to find success. Jacksonville has four quality receivers, two impact running backs, and an experienced offensive coordinator.
Lawrence's penchant for big plays and ability to extend outside of the pocket will bring some risk but massive rewards. He's a smart player who avoids repeated mistakes and will self-correct over time. It's completely fair to expect him to fall in the Mayfield and Justin Herbert category of viable fantasy football contributor despite being a rookie.
Of course, there will be growing pains and adjustment periods with all of the moving pieces in place. The injection of talent and new coaches means Lawrence may take time to find his groove. Urban Meyer and Darrell Bevell must also filter through their options for playing time and roles.
Lawrence has the right blend of talent, opportunity, and surrounding pieces to be a legitimate QB2 in your league.
Projected stats: 62% completion rate, 4,100 yards, 28 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
Zach Wilson, New York Jets
The Jets have built one of the better surrounding casts in the AFC in terms of depth and young talent. Signing Corey Davis and Morgan Moses was wise. Drafting Elijah Moore and Michael Carter to pair with Davis and Denzel Mims gives them a deep group of playmakers.
And yet, despite the social media enthusiasm and sudden rise of Zach Wilson, it's hard to see the BYU product becoming a legitimate fantasy starter in Year 1. This is for good reason. The rookie will endure a learning curve more severe than most.
Some of this is out of his control. The leap from BYU's easy schedule to the NFL is severe. Wilson didn't play well in big games in college or against his best competition, which has to be a concern.
He's also dealing with a lot of new pieces around him. Mike LaFleur is a rookie play-caller and must integrate a ton of moving parts into the offense. LaFleur can't be just a knockoff of his brother Matt LaFleur or former boss Kyle Shanahan.
Wilson should be efficient numbers-wise but there won't be any eye-popping numbers. He reminds me of Daniel Jones but with more talent. He'll be more successful but the numbers will look better than the effectiveness of the unit early on.
Projected stats: 64% completion rate, 3,700 yards, 22 touchdowns, 11 interceptions
Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
The most encouraging development of Trey Lance's early tenure in San Francisco was Shanahan's public doomsday quote about Jimmy Garoppolo. Next was Shanahan's 49ers-in-week-1-admits-san-francisco-considered-aaron-rodgers/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">quote about Lance having a realistic and fair shot to win the starting job.
That's all nice and dandy but Lance still needs to win it from Garoppolo. And the last time we saw Lance he was barely proficient in an easy collegiate offense. Major improvements are needed for Lance to overtake the job.
He will eventually, though. His playmaking with his legs is fantastic, and he'll make safe throws he's comfortable with. There's an upside this team can reach in time with Lance that's much higher than what Garoppolo can achieve, even if there's more inconsistency.
Lance will be similar to early Josh Allen. A threat with his legs and power arm, Lance will a legitimate fantasy presence when he wins the job.
Projected stats: 58% completion rate, 2,700 yards, 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; 900 rushing yards, nine touchdowns
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
The biggest question mark for the Bears is Fields' surrounding cast. Their offensive line took a step back after releasing Charles Leno for cap reasons, and the receiver depth is weak. A young receiver must step up, or else this team may be forced to trade for someone such as Tim Patrick or Jakeem Grant.
Fields projects as a hyper-efficient passer who can hit the big play, similar to Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott. The Bears can quickly become contenders if that's the case, and he has QB2 talent in fantasy even as a rookie.
Projected stats: 65% completion rate, 3,800 yards, 25 touchdowns, seven interceptions
Mac Jones, New England Patriots
There's good and bad with every player. Mac Jones is smart with the ball and very accurate. But his adjustment from an absolutely loaded Alabama team to an unimpressive Patriots' roster will be large.
There's also the issue of the schematics of this offense. New England will have to run a completely different offense between Cam Newton and Jones. I can't imagine they'd cater to the rookie over a veteran who is one of the most beloved players in the league by his peers.
Newton offers much more upside each week. Jones must prove he can function in an offense with two good tight ends, something Alabama never had. My expectations are low due to all of the change.
New England will likely try to sit Jones as much as possible in 2021 and then proceed with him as the starter next year. He has no fantasy upside this year even if he does play.
Projected stats: 60% completion rate, 3,300 yards, 20 touchdowns, 13 interceptions
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