Joe Burrow may be the presumptive first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft after capping off a truly remarkable season. It was a season which saw Burrow break numerous records and lead the LSU Tigers to a national championship. Burrow, a player very few scouts took seriously before the season started, follows a recent trend of quarterbacks coming out of left field to become a top prospect. Who could see that sort of meteoric rise in the 2021 NFL Draft? Enter Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy.

The 2020 NFL Draft hasn’t even started yet, and a great deal of talk continues to swirl around the 2021 quarterback class. The top of the class is dominated by the likes of Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields. All of the hype is for good reason, too, as each has led their team to great success.

Lawrence has already won a national championship and led his team to another championship appearance. Fields has led his team to a College Football Playoff appearance. It’s going to be a tall task to challenge these two for QB class supremacy.

But if there’s anyone from the 2021 NFL Draft class who can, it might just be Purdy. He is going to have a tough time garnering national attention, but if he can elevate his level of play like he has the past two seasons, Purdy will be talked about in the same breath as these two QB Goliaths come next April.

What Makes Brock Purdy a top 2021 NFL Draft Prospect?

Athleticism

With the way the quarterback position has evolved in today’s game, you need a quarterback who can do it all. Your quarterback has to be able to stand back in the pocket, read a defense, and pick them apart. He also has to have enough athletic ability to make things happen when the play breaks down. Additionally, he needs to have the speed to break the pocket, and the pocket awareness to know when he needs to tuck and run. Brock Purdy has that type of awareness and athleticism.

Purdy is only a true junior heading into the 2021 season, but he has already shown to have the awareness he needs. He’s arguably at his best when he’s on the move, and like most young dual-threat quarterbacks, Purdy has a tendency to rely on his athletic ability maybe more than he should. It’s something he will need to work on this season, but the athleticism is clearly there. It’s easier to teach a quarterback to reign it in than it is to somehow make them more athletic.

Mental Processing

Mental processing is an aspect of quarterback play that can have a tendency to be overlooked by some scouts, as it’s hard to quantify. However, it is integral to the success of a quarterback. Being able to quickly diagnose what you’re seeing and know how to react to each situation presented is at the core of a quarterback’s responsibility. It’s a trait that is hard for young quarterbacks to develop, and in that respect, Brock Purdy is already ahead of the game.

Purdy has consistently shown his high football-IQ for a quarterback with his level of experience. He still has a ways to go with his processing and knowing when it’s best to take off and run versus when he can hang in the pocket and make a play. But it’s a skill that develops with playing time, and it’s a skill where Purdy is already very adept. Another year on his current trajectory and he’ll be one of the best of his class in this area.

What’s Holding Purdy Back?

Consistency

Purdy will come into the 2021 NFL Draft — should he choose to declare — as a true junior, so it’s hard to criticize him on consistency to this point. Young quarterbacks struggle and have many ups-and-downs. It is to be expected, even of the most seasoned quarterbacks. But if he wants to contend with the likes of Lawrence and Fields, he has much to improve in this department.

Purdy has a very nice completion percentage for a quarterback of his age, which is a good start. But where he needs improvement is in two main areas: down field accuracy and showing up in the spotlight. Purdy has a very good short and intermediate game, but can struggle at times to push the ball consistently down the field. Some of that has to do with a less-than-stellar offensive line in front of him. Some if it is the limited weaponry of the Cyclones offense. But some of it is also squarely on Purdy’s shoulders. He has to control what he can control and work on this aspect.

The other more pressing area of Purdy’s consistency is shrinking in the “big time moments”. When the Cyclones needed Purdy to be at his best last season, Purdy put up eggs. In the final two games of the season — the regular season finale and the Cyclones’ bowl game against Notre Dame — Purdy combined for just over 50% completion percentage, slightly over 400 yards passing, and just 1 touchdown. That’s not good enough for the top of the class, plain and simple.

Arm Strength

Arm strength is one of the most talked about traits when evaluating a quarterback. It’s also one of the most overrated traits when it comes to this industry. Sure, it’s impressive when you can throw the ball out of the stadium, but how often is that really relevant in a game situation? Arm strength is important, but it’s really only important as a baseline. As long as a quarterback meets a certain threshold, the rest is just decoration.

Purdy is one of the quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft class who I question if they meet that baseline threshold. Arm strength is something that can be developed as a quarterback ages and progresses, so one should not close the book on this one just yet. However, it is definitely something to watch for as the season moves along. I want to see Purdy consistently put zip on the ball, especially on throws outside the numbers. I don’t think scouts have seen that yet, but they need to in order to feel confident in Purdy.

Situation

The biggest thing holding Purdy back from being a top 2021 NFL Draft quarterback might just be the situation he is in at Iowa State. If he was the starter at Clemson instead of Lawrence, or replaced Tua Tagovailoa with the Crimson Tide, we might already have the answers to the questions that remain for Purdy.

Unfortunately for Purdy, he toils away in obscurity in Ames. Iowa State isn’t the type of school that can recruit the kind of high-level athletes that the likes of Lawrence and Fields get to play with on a consistent basis. He is behind the eight-ball when it comes to the talent around him, and that might be his downfall. However, it may not be as much of a hurdle as it’s cracked up to be, if recent NFL drafts are any indication.

Carson Wentz came from the FCS ranks to vault up to the second overall selection just a few years ago. Daniel Jones came from an unheralded Duke program last season to be the second quarterback off the board. Many quarterbacks have been able to rise above the perceived lack of talent around them to vault themselves to the top.

If Purdy can develop his consistency and show out against the top teams in the Big-12, he can do the same with his draft stock next year. With a strong showing this year, Purdy has the potential be a top-3 quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft.