The 2021 NFL Draft saw five quarterbacks taken in the first round. This discourse surrounding this quarterback class leading up to the draft was like nothing I had witnessed before. Fast-forward to today and it is laughable to think about the hope that people had for most of those players. That quarterback class reminds us all once again just how unpredictable the draft is, and how most first-round quarterbacks don’t pan out.
Welcome to a redraft of the first three picks. This is how I believe the draft should have gone in hindsight for the benefit of both the players and teams.
Pick 1: Jacksonville Jaguars: Quarterback Trevor Lawrence
This was a no-brainer. Just like how it went in real life, the Jaguars should draft Trevor Lawrence. This is a generational talent that we’re talking about here. From the moment that Clemson dismantled Alabama in the 2019 National Championship game 44-16, and Lawrence threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman, I think everyone realized the kind of talent that was potentially about to grace the NFL. Despite the obvious talent that he has, his rookie year was mostly a forgettable one. It turns out that even a talent like Lawrence couldn’t overcome the incompetence of Urban Meyer, who was fired after just 13 games. Year two went much more like most people expected when Lawrence was drafted. The Jags got him a good head coach in Doug Pederson and some offensive weapons and we saw what Lawrence is capable of. The highlight of his young career thus far being the 27-point comeback against the Chargers in the 2022 Wild Card Round.
Pick 2: New York Jets: Quarterback Justin Fields
Writing this now seems utterly insane. However, coming into the draft this was not crazy at all. In fact, Justin Fields was viewed by many as the second best quarterback in that class. Fields’ talent was recognized for being special even before his college days. In 2018, he was ranked second in the top 247 high school recruiting class. The only guy ranked ahead of him was, you guessed it, Trevor Lawrence. Since joining the league, Fields has had a rough time and it looks like his time in Chicago as the starting quarterback is waning.
While he must take a lot of the blame for that, I’m not sure he could have gone to a worse location for a young quarterback to succeed. He went to a team with Matt Nagy on the hot seat as a head coach. After he was fired, the Bears hired Matt Eberflus. He hasn’t been much better. Eberflus’ specialty is defense and the Bears’ defense has been atrocious since he’s been there. On offense, Fields was handed a terrible offensive line and receiving group. Even when the Bears try to make good decisions like trading for D.J. Moore during the off-season, they still make eye-raising decisions like trading a second-round pick for Chase Claypool.
Had Fields been drafted by the Jets, I believe he would have had a much better chance to succeed. By no means have the Jets been looked at as a well-run franchise for years. However, seeing the way that general manager Joe Douglas has drafted since he got there, and the way head coach Robert Saleh has changed the culture and turned that young defense into one of the league’s best, makes me wonder how Fields would have fared in New York. He even would have had a Kyle Shanahan disciple as his offensive coordinator at the time in Mike LaFleur. I believe that the former Buckeye could have looked much more like the guy we saw throw for 385 yards and six touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson mere months before the draft had he been taken by the Jets.
Pick 3: San Francisco 49ers: Mac Jones
It became apparent long before the draft that the third pick was where the draft was really starting. Everyone knew that the Jags were taking Lawrence and it was heavily reported that the Jets made up their mind on drafting Zach Wilson. The 49ers threw a wrench into things when they traded up from the 12th pick with the Miami Dolphins to the third pick by trading three first-round picks and a third-round pick.
When the initial trade happened, people were salivating at the idea of Kyle Shanahan getting his hands on a prospect like Fields or Trey Lance. The conversation then shifted to Mac Jones when guys like longtime friend of Shanahan, Chris Simms were saying they believed that they would pick Jones. Since then, there has been a lot of speculation that Shanahan wanted Jones and that he was talked out of it. In June 2023, Adam Shefter said on ‘The Pat McAfee Show’ that “the 49ers traded up with the idea that they were going to draft Mac Jones. While they looked at other prospects, they fell in love with Trey Lance.”
With the success that Brock Purdy is having, are you telling me that couldn’t have been Jones? The 49ers have the best skill position players in the league and they have a wizard calling the plays with Shanahan. Their quarterback just needs to be a true point guard and get the ball to their playmakers and let them make things happen. We saw Jones do that at Alabama, and he would’ve for the 49ers had they drafted him.
Header Photo: Justin Fields has to be one of the greatest what-ifs in recent memory. With the amount of potential and ability he had at Ohio State, it is not hard to see why so many people still believe in him and so sad to see what he has become. (Jay LaPrete/The Associated Press)
Write to Mohamed Warsame at email@example.com