When the 2020 NFL Draft aired in its virtual format late last April, sports fans around the world took a collective sigh of relief. After nearly five weeks of quarantine, some serious questions started circulating in life and sports. Not only were people wondering if there would be sports again, they were occupied with serious concerns surrounding access to family, childcare, and their ability to work. Needless to say, the return of the NFL Draft was the first step towards normalcy for many.
This year, the NFL will be welcoming 3,000 vaccinated fans and 20 NFL prospects to the lakeside of Cleveland, Ohio. From Thursday, April 29 to Saturday, May 1, the spectacle will be simultaneously broadcasted by three channels—ABC, ESPN, and the NFL Network. On Thursday, the first round will air for about 3½ hours starting at 5 p.m.. On Friday, rounds two and three will air at 4 p.m., with the final four rounds starting at 9 a.m., CST, on Saturday.
Every year, the NFL seemingly becomes more quarterback-centric, and the upcoming draft class does not disappoint. This season, five highly-touted quarterback prospects are expected to go in the first round—and possibly within the first 15 picks.
- Trevor Lawrence — QB, Clemson
If there’s one thing we know for certain, it’s the inevitability of the Trevor Lawrence era in Jacksonville. The Clemson product is among the most exceptional QB talents to ever enter the Draft. As an 18-year-old true freshman, Lawrence took the NCAA by storm when he led the Tigers to a 44-16 National Championship title over Alabama—handing the Crimson Tide their worst loss in the Nick Saban era.
Lawrence’s rare blend of speed, size (6’6”), exceptional football IQ, intangibles, and leadership traits all but guarantee the Jaguars select him with the first overall pick.
- Zac Wilson — QB, BYU
Following Lawrence, the QB rankings become uncertain. However, there’s still several with franchise QB upside—including standout BYU Junior Zac Wilson, whose draft stock has been soaring in recent months.
After the New York Jets traded Sam Darnold to Carolina a few weeks ago, it became apparent they were targeting a QB with the number two overall pick. Ever since the trade, Wilson has been linked to the Jets for obvious reasons. He’s smart, poised, athletic, and does a tremendous job commanding an offense. Several analysts also believe Wilson to be the best pure passer in the class.
- Justin Fields — QB, Ohio State
Big Ten fans are aware of Justin Fields’ upside. The number one overall recruit of the 2018 class possesses all the tools of a high-caliber franchise QB, including elite speed and elusiveness, good size, and the most powerful arm among the top prospects. He also has a great ability to throw on the run and buy time for himself and receivers. Fields will flourish in the right NFL system.
- Mac Jones — QB, Alabama
Many believe the most pro-ready QB is reigning National Champion Mac Jones, the 2021 Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award winner for the nation’s best QB. Aided by a fantastic supporting cast and NFL-style offense, Jones was able to complete 77 percent of his passes, earn a 203.03 quarterback rating, and become the first Alabama QB to pass for over 4,000 yards in a season.
While he lacks elite athleticism, Jones is highly accurate, intelligent, and a natural leader.
- Trey Lance — QB, NDSU
Although he didn’t get national attention playing for North Dakota State in the FCS, Lance is worth your attention now. The athletic prospect is the complete physical package, with next-level skills that give him tremendous upside. The biggest thing Lance needs to find success at the next level is experience, as he’s started just one full season at the FCS level.
Other exciting prospects
There are several other offensive players to pay attention to on draft night. While tight end isn’t a premium NFL position, its value is on the rise. At 6’6”, 240 pounds with game-breaking speed and hands, Kyle Pitts of Florida is perhaps the best tight end prospect we’ve ever seen. Other pass catchers include Devanta Smith of Alabama—the first wide receiver to win the Heisman since 1991—and his teammate, Jaylen Waddle. Projected to go before either of the Bama receivers is Ja’Marr Chase of LSU, a dominant wideout who took the NCAA by storm with QB Joe Borrow in 2019.
By Garrett Seymour, Communication Intern