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The Brandt Report

2021 NFL Draft: Prospect-pro comparisons for top quarterbacks

My series comparing top prospects to established pros continues this week with a look at the game's most important position. Below, you'll find comparisons for six quarterback prospects.

As with the receivers and pass rushers, I'm relying on testing numbers pulled from pro days; as for historical combine numbers for pros, those are drawn from or cross-checked against or Pro Football Reference.

Trevor Lawrence
Clemson · QB

Pro comparison: Andrew Luck (7 NFL seasons, 3,945.2 passing yards per year, 28.5 TDs per year, 13.8 INTs per year, 89.5 passer rating)

Lawrence hasn't done any pre-draft testing, but he did put up jaw-dropping numbers (10,098 passing yards, 90 passing TDs) and a ton of impressive tape while winning a national title and reaching the College Football Playoff three times in three years at Clemson. In doing so, he inspired a lofty range of potential comparisons, showing off the athleticism of John Elway and the accuracy of Peyton Manning. But for a helpful comparison who was drafted within the past 10 years, I'll look to Luck. 

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Luck's testing numbers (4.59-second 40-yard dash, 36-inch vertical jump, 10-foot-4 broad jump, 4.28 short shuttle and 6.8 three-cone) present the picture-perfect image of a modern NFL quarterback, showing everything you want for success. And Luck lived up to that promise. From 2012 through '14, Luck ranked sixth in the NFL in passing yards (12,957), tied for seventh in passing TDs (86) and ranked fourth in QB wins (33), taking the Colts to the playoffs in all three seasons. If injuries hadn't gotten in the way, and if Luck hadn't retired in 2019, he'd likely be dominating the game right now. 

Lawrence might never get quite to the level of peak Luck. But watching Lawrence drop dimes all over the field AND dominate with his legs when needed -- like Luck, who proved to be a potent threat to run in the NFL, Lawrence topped 900 rushing yards in three college seasons, with 18 rushing TDs compared to Luck's seven -- it's hard to imagine a better match in this exercise than these two.

Zach Wilson

Pro comparison: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs (3 NFL seasons as a starter, with 4,662.7 passing yards per year, 38 passing TDs per year, 7.7 INTs per year and a 109.3 passer rating in that span)

I'm not the first person to make this exceedingly optimistic comparison, and it's perhaps even a little unfair to Wilson to pair him with one of the most electrifying young quarterbacks in recent memory. This is merely meant to illustrate Wilson's ceiling, the absolute best-case scenario if he is able to make his penchant for executing off-platform throws pay off in the pros at even a fraction of the level of Mahomes, who has already claimed an MVP award and Super Bowl ring in his short career.

Wilson has better running ability than Mahomes, and he's very accurate, throwing an easy-to-catch ball whether he's going long or short. Like Mahomes, he appears to have great confidence in his ability to convert from anywhere to anywhere on the field; it's no coincidence both players ranked in the top five in FBS in big-time throws, as defined by Pro Football Focus, during their final college seasons (Mahomes was second in 2016 with 42 and Wilson was fifth in 2020 with 31).

Justin Fields
Ohio State · QB

Pro comparison: Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (5 NFL seasons, 3,526.8 passing yards per year, 21.2 passing TDs per year, 8 INTs per year, 97.3 passer rating)

Prescott's NFL career began inauspiciously, in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but it brightened quickly, beginning with a debut season in which he won Offensive Rookie of the Year. He's tracked steadily upward since, nearly throwing for 5,000 yards in 2019, and while he was sidelined by a devastating ankle injury early in 2020, he averaged a whopping 422.5 passing yards per game in the four contests he finished. When healthy, Prescott is a strong-armed quarterback who can move the pocket and scramble for yards when needed, a top-10 QB who plays like a top-five talent for stretches.

I'm not sure what people seem to be afraid of with Fields, but to me, the Ohio State product looks like he possesses a similarly safe floor and potentially high ceiling. In fact, based on Fields' superior 40 time (4.46 to Prescott's 4.79), I like Fields' potential to actually be a better player at the NFL level. Like Prescott, Fields can run, but running ability hasn't been the primary component of his game so far -- Fields averaged 433.5 rushing yards in his two seasons playing for Ohio State, while Prescott has averaged 262.8 in the NFL after putting up 2,521 rushing yards in four years at Mississippi State. They're both aerial artists who are athletic enough to thrive in today's game.

Trey Lance
North Dakota State · QB

Pro comparison: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills (3 NFL seasons, 3,235.7 passing yards per year, 22.3 passing TDs per year, 10.3 INTs per year, 90.4 passer rating)

Like Allen in 2018, Lance enters the NFL boasting plenty of potential but also surrounded by questions. Lightly recruited out of high school, Allen flashed big-time ability while performing reasonably well against lesser competition at Wyoming. And while he was good in Years 1 and 2, everything REALLY came together for Allen in Year 3 with the Bills, when he played like a top-10 QB and helped power Buffalo to the AFC title game. Lance also went relatively unnoticed by recruiters on his way to North Dakota State, and while it's hard to argue with his results in 2019 (16-0 record, 28:0 TD-to-INT ratio, 1,100 rushing yards, 14 rushing TDs), it's still tough to project him to the NFL level, thanks to the smaller sample size against less-robust competition. It's also hard to imagine that the school would produce not just one but TWO viable NFL starting QBs (including Carson Wentz) in the span of five years. Lance actually averaged more yards per throw (9.7 to 7.8) than Allen did in college, and he well outpaced the former Cowboy in yards per carry (6.7 to 3.2). Not to mention, he was more accurate than Allen (67 percent completion rate to 56.2 percent).

Lance is one of the most interesting players in this draft, and I can't wait to see where he's taken. Allen has an inch or so and about 10 pounds on Lance, but watching Lance pick up yards through the air and on the ground, it's easy enough to see echoes of what Allen has become at this point in his career. The key for Lance -- like it was for Allen -- is ending up with a team that understands how to formulate a plan to best accentuate his development over the next two-to-three years.

Mac Jones
Alabama · QB

Pro comparison: Andy Dalton, Chicago Bears (10 NFL seasons, 3,376.4 passing yards per year, 21.8 passing TDs per year, 12.6 INTs per year, 87.5 passer rating)

If the draft buzz around Jones bears out, the Alabama product will enter the NFL via a much higher draft slot than Dalton did (Round 2, No. 35 overall) 10 years ago. Jones tested slightly better than Dalton (Jones had a 4.82 40, 32-inch vertical, 9-8 broad jump, 4.39 short shuttle and 7.04 three-cone, compared to Dalton's 4.83 40, 29.5-inch vertical, 8-10 broad jump, 4.27 short shuttle and 6.93 three-cone) and had a higher-profile tenure at Alabama than Dalton did at TCU, posting nearly half as many passing yards (4,500) in his one full season as a starter as Dalton did in four years with the Horned Frogs (10,314), and more than half as many passing TDs (41 to 71). Jones also won a title and was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season. But I'm not sure how much more upside is left to uncover with him. Dalton isn't bad -- he's a steady player who tends not to cost his team losses, and he has earned three Pro Bowl nods over the years. But he doesn't reliably will his side to wins, either. Jones projects as a better quarterback than Dalton, but I'm not sure how much better he'll end up being.

Sam Ehlinger
Texas · QB

Pro comparison: Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles (1 NFL season, 1,061 passing yards, 6 passing TDs, 4 INTs, 77.6 passer rating)

Ehlinger isn't one of the buzziest prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft, but he might be one of the most driven players available. After losing his job with the Crimson Tide, Hurts moved on to Oklahoma, where he made himself into an eventual second-round draft pick who became the Eagles' starter late in his rookie year. As for Ehlinger, he wanted to be a Texas quarterback, and despite starting his collegiate career as a backup, he accomplished that. While he's likely to end up being drafted as a backup with good passing skills, who knows what might come next? Though he didn't rack up the yardage on the ground like Hurts did, Ehlinger can use his legs (1,903 rushing yards, 33 career rushing TDs).

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Want to create your own mock for the 2021 NFL Draft? Check out PFF’s draft simulator to play out countless scenarios for every team spanning all seven rounds.

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