NFL’s 2021 QB Class Is a Cautionary Tale for the Class of ’24

Aside from Trevor Lawrence, the '21 class is filled with backups and busts

Mac Jones and Zach Wilson are two of the NFL's worst quarterbacks.
Mac Jones and Zach Wilson talk after a game at MetLife Stadium.
Mike Stobe/Getty I

With six weeks remaining in the NFL’s 2023-24 regular season, many teams are already looking forward to next year and evaluating the talent that will be available in April’s draft. Being the NFL, the most significant potential talent in the upcoming draft are quarterbacks, the most important position in all of pro sports.

The Bears, who won against the Vikings last night on Monday Night Football to stop a 12-game NFC North losing streak and raise their record to 4-8 on the season, are one of the teams who will be considering drafting a quarterback. They will have their pick of the litter, as they own the first-round pick of the league’s worst team, the Carolina Panthers (1-10). Chicago, who also has their own first-round pick (currently No. 5), traded up to take Justin Fields at No. 11 overall in the 2021 draft, but he has been a disappointment and has just seven wins in three seasons.

One of those wins came last night when the 24-year-old was able to make a completion to D.J. Moore for 36 yards that set up a game-winning kick by Cairo Santos with 10 seconds left to knock off Minnesota 12-10. But Fields was largely ineffective in the game (27-of-37 for 217 yards), as he failed to throw a touchdown and had a pair of fumbles in the fourth quarter that should have handed the Vikings the game.

The Bears will have six more weeks to evaluate Fields and then have until May (at which point they could have drafted another quarterback) to pick up his fifth-year option at an estimated cost of around $23 million. Given all of the other needs the Bears have, that decision could come down to economics. “Justin Fields is going to have to play out of his mind, because if it’s close, the economics are so compelling to take another quarterback to reset the clock,” said ESPN front office insider Mike Tannenbaum.

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Other NFL teams that drafted QBs from the 2021 class are tasked with making that same decision, and it certainly seems like the only QB who is guaranteed to have his contract extended is No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars). Zach Wilson (No. 2, Jets), Trey Lance (No. 3, 49ers) and Mac Jones (No. 15, Patriots) have done nothing to prove they can be franchise quarterbacks in the NFL, and all three are likely headed for backup roles following next season, if they are still in the league at all.

That’s something all teams who are evaluating the 2024 draft class should keep in mind. Scouts have projected Caleb Williams (USC), Bo Nix (Oregon), Drake Maye (North Carolina), Jayden Daniels (LSU), Michael Penix (Washington) and J.J. McCarthy (Michigan) as potential first-round picks, with Williams and Maye typically mocked to go at No. 1 and 2 overall at times. Six first-round NFL quarterbacks (or even four or five) would make the ’24 crop an incredibly deep class, just like the QB class of 2021 was supposed to be. Aside from Lawrence, it’s proved to be shallow.

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