Analysis

2021 NFL Draft: Best team fits for top quarterbacks? Five analytics-based pairings

With the 2021 NFL Draft just around the corner, I'm putting my context-based data models to work in search of identifying the best team fit for some of the top players in this year's class.

Leading up to Round 1, I'm looking to find ideal NFL homes for my top five wide receivers, running backs and quarterbacks. The goal for each pairing: maximizing the draftee's 2021 win share, factoring in what we know about each team's personnel, coaches and strategy right now. And of course, I'm aiming to present realistic matches, ones that could actually come to fruition on draft day.

Without further ado, let's dig into my quarterback fits ...

Trevor Lawrence
Clemson · Age 21
Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected 2021 win share: 4.39


Part of why Lawrence has such a high win-share value is because his résumé presents numerous indicators for a shorter learning curve upon entrance into the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, Lawrence is the only quarterback in this class who has logged 200 snaps against the blitz over the last three seasons -- and he boasts a sparkling PFF grade north of 90.0 on those snaps. He compiled a 34:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio against the blitz at Clemson. Furthermore, in that same span of time, he piled up the second-most touchdown passes of 20-plus yards (33) and second-most TD strikes into tight windows (21, against seven picks), per PFF. That's a pretty complete picture of quarterbacking dominance. And we haven't even touched on my favorite advanced stat that drives Lawrence's valuation in my model: how he performed on quick passes.


Lawrence's résumé includes being asked to throw a lot of quick passes (like screens). When it comes to getting his feet and hips set quickly in order to execute these passes, Lawrence ranks in the top two percent among college quarterbacks in my eight-season computer vision sample (percentage of quick passes where a QB's base was set in 1.5 seconds or less). This is important because quarterbacks who demonstrated stable bases in the sample translated to the NFL on quick passes at a faster rate than those who were not able to get set quickly. This suggests Lawrence should be able to execute quick passes with a shorter learning curve (i.e., be more productive early on as a pro).


Meanwhile, the Jags made sure to keep Cam Robinson at left tackle to smooth Lawrence's transition to the pros, and also added Marvin Jones to their promising young receiving corps. Urban Meyer is going to do everything he can to put his rookie quarterback in a position to succeed.

Justin Fields
Ohio State · Age 22
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers

Projected 2021 win share: 3.91


Over the past three seasons, Fields was PFF's top-performing FBS quarterback from a clean pocket, recording a 54:4 TD-to-INT ratio in that scenario. I like to measure clean-pocket performance because it helps approximate a ceiling. (When a QB isn't facing pressure, his body mechanics -- hips, legs, shoulders, arm alignment -- should be optimal, thus presenting a quarterback's theoretical best.) The clean-pocket performance also provides a baseline from which to compare throws that are made under pressure, on the run and in other circumstances that aren't ideal. Fields' ability to hit deep passes (50 percent completions on throws of 20-plus yards since 2019, per PFF, ranking sixth-best in the FBS), produce off play-action (146.4 passer rating in 2020, per PFF, third-best in the FBS) and connect on attempts of 10-plus air yards when his base is not set (55.5 percent since 2019, per my computer vision) is extremely promising for his NFL projection, particularly if he goes to a team like San Francisco with a strong offensive line.


Also, the Ohio State product's 630 rushing yards on scrambles since 2019 (with five TDs) create even more upside when paired with the playbook and personnel potential of the Niners. With Kyle Shanahan's disguised rushing concepts, pre-snap motions and consistent fullback usage, San Francisco feels like a perfect landing spot for Fields.

Zach Wilson
BYU · Age 21
New York Jets
New York Jets

Projected 2021 win share: 3.99


In 2020, no college QB had a better touchdown-to-interception ratio on play-action passes than Wilson's 20:0. His 12.6 yards per attempt on such passes (third-highest in the FBS, according to Pro Football Focus) pairs really well with new Jets OC Mike LaFleur's offensive goals.


Should the Jets improve their offensive line, Wilson's win share will go even higher. (Win share reflects an individual contribution, but when you supply any quarterback -- and especially a rookie quarterback -- with at least an average O-line, he's able to access more of the playbook and enjoy more time to read the defense.) The good news: According to PFF, Wilson ranked fourth in the FBS last season with a 79.5 completion percentage on quick passes (fewer than 2.5 seconds) and fifth with 9.1 yards per attempt on such throws. Also, he had the third-most touchdown passes (16) and fourth-highest completion percentage (69.7) against the blitz. All of that definitely underscores Wilson's upside.

Trey Lance
North Dakota State · Age 20
Washington Football Team
Washington Football Team

Projected 2021 win share: 2.79


Don't let the low win share fool you -- this reflects the fact that Ryan Fitzpatrick will at least open the season as the starter. I also do not think Lance will last until Pick No. 19 (2.3 percent chance, per my model), but maybe this means the Football Team should at least consider moving up the board to get him.


Lance's low number of college starts (17) means there's a lot of volatility in his projections. But sitting behind a guy like Fitzpatrick creates a better chance for long-term success than starting right away. In those 17 starts, Lance managed a 131.5 passer rating on play-action attempts, according to PFF, with 19 touchdowns and just one interception. He also posted a 113.8 passer rating on non-play-action passes, with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions. Studying my computer vision intel, Lance boasts the lowest percentage of throws that were either picked off, batted down or thrown closer to a defender than the intended pass-catching target (to approximate passes in danger of being picked off) in this QB class. He also provides formation diversity, with plenty of experience under center and in the shotgun. And he's able to alternate arm angles and deliver off-platform throws with accuracy. Not to mention, he's a bona fide running threat, having forced 49 missed tackles on 182 rushing attempts and gained 913 of his 1,311 rushing yards after contact, per PFF.


Placing Lance in an offense with Antonio Gibson, Terry McLaurin and the multi-talented Curtis Samuel would be an ideal fit.

Mac Jones
Alabama · Age 22
Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos

Projected 2021 win share: 2.89


Against man coverage last season, Jones averaged 12.6 yards per attempt and recorded a 71.8 completion percentage -- both tops in FBS, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF also charted him with the most touchdown passes (15) and best completion percentage (79.3) against zone defenses. Oh, and Jones posted the most touchdown passes on attempts of 10-plus air yards (29), with the second-highest completion percentage on such throws (66.9). Last one: His 84.9 completion percentage on quick passes ranked ... you guessed it: No. 1 in FBS. (His 9.4 yards per attempt on quick passes? Well that was only second-best.) I'm rolling out the PFF arsenal because I want to double and triple down on what my computer vision tells me about Jones: That he executed what was asked of him in Alabama's offense exceptionally well. The system that he operated within obviously featured a lot of high-caliber players. Jones was asked to value execution over improvisation, especially since he wasn't in many unfavorable game-script situations. This isn't a knock -- it's a strong foundation for learning, at least in most prospects. This also helps many QBs learn how to recognize defenses. However, we can't always get an accurate picture of the player's ultimate upside.


The Broncos' strong run game and solid pass-catching corps -- along with a defense that forecasts to be in the top 10 in win share as a unit -- would give Jones the opportunity to rely on the strong execution of what he's already faced, with Denver slowly adding in the rest of the playbook. This is how Dallas brought along Dak Prescott, and it's paid off quite well.

BONUS FIT

The five quarterbacks listed above are widely projected to come off the board in the first round. But I wanted to look at a prospect from the next tier of signal-callers, someone who could be available later in draft weekend. So here you go!

Kellen Mond
Texas A&M · Age 21
Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears

Projected 2021 win share: 1.78


I'm not sure Bears fans will feel satisfied with this pairing, but think of the potential ROI if Mond can last until Day 3, which is what this win-share number suggests.


Mond's résumé shows that he has taken the most reps in this class and experienced the most NFL-style plays and situations. (At Texas A&M, Mond played for Jimbo Fisher, whose system is more similar to pro playbooks than those of most other college coaches.) When Mond's body is set -- think: clean pocket -- my computer vision shows his accuracy to be fourth-best since 2019 among QBs in this class. Another area where he sticks out among his Class of 2020 brethren: His on-the-run and alternate-arm-angle throws improved the most year over year from 2019 to 2020. This is reflected in his interception number dropping from nine (in 258 attempts) in 2019 to three (in 188) last year.


My model shows that Mond has some areas to address in order to maximize his skill set at the next level. (For one, he has inconsistent accuracy when plays break down, especially in the middle third of the field.) But his pain points mostly overlap with areas that happen to be strengths of Matt Nagy's playbook, areas where the coach has a strong track record of teaching and inducing improvement. Throw in veteran Andy Dalton's influence, and this situation could be the catalyst to drive Mond's trajectory very high.

Follow Cynthia Frelund on Twitter.

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