As we’ve progressed through the 2021 NFL Draft process, there has been a consensus that there is a four-person top tier in this quarterback class. However, following the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl, is there an added dimension to this quarterback battle? As draft stocks shift, is there a surprise Mac Jones vs. Trey Lance competition emerging that could dramatically shift the generally accepted dynamic of the 2021 NFL Draft quarterback class?
In the latest episode of the NFL Draft Insiders, Pro Football Network’s Lead NFL Draft Analyst and Insider Tony Pauline asserted:
“You could make the case that after Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones is the most NFL-ready quarterback in this draft. That doesn’t mean that he’s going to be the best quarterback after Trevor Lawrence. It means that he’s the guy that you could plug in and play the soonest. He doesn’t have the great upside compared to the Trey Lances/Justin Fieldses, but he doesn’t have as much downside risk.”
Mac Jones draft stock soars following the Senior Bowl
Prior to the 2020 college football season, Mac Jones vs. Trey Lance as a competition would have seemed to be a ludicrous concept. Despite playing well in relief of Tua Tagovailoa in 2019, Mac Jones wasn’t remotely on the 2021 NFL Draft first-round radar. Most NFL Draft analysts had a mid-to-late round grade for him as he prepared for his first full season as a starter.
The needle began to move for Mac Jones’ draft stock following a standout season where he led the Crimson Tide to a National Championship. He threw for 4,500 passing yards and 41 touchdowns, with a 77.4 percent completion percentage. Jones led the NCAA in pass completions, yards per attempt, and passing yards.
Awards rained down on him, with Jones landing the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and Davey O’Brien awards. He was voted first-team All-American and finished third in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
Despite an All-American season, Mac Jones vs. Trey Lance wasn’t a consideration
Despite the numbers, despite the achievements, Mac Jones’ draft stock remained short of the consensus top four quarterbacks. He had demonstrated efficiency, accuracy in short-to-intermediate passes, pocket awareness, and navigation during the season. However, question marks over arm strength and a lack of athleticism tempered his stock. Additionally, many wondered if Jones was just a product of the outstanding supporting cast at Alabama.
On his latest big board before the Senior Bowl, Pauline had Mac Jones graded as a second-round talent.
As is so often the case, the Senior Bowl would provide the opportunity for Mac Jones to enhance his draft stock greatly. The Alabama quarterback grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He was clearly the best quarterback all week in Mobile. Although he didn’t compete in the game, the week of Senior Bowl practice is the most important part, and Jones was clearly head and shoulders above the other quarterback prospects on show.
Tony Pauline hails “special week” from Mac Jones at the Senior Bowl
“I thought Mac Jones had a real special week,” Pauline enthused on Draft Insiders.
“Going into the week I was not a Mac Jones guy. There were a lot of people, like myself, that thought Mac Jones was a beneficiary of all that great talent at Alabama. But he proved that, basically, he was a major part of it. He was the guy that basically kept it together, that made that offensive engine at Alabama run. That’s what he did in three days of practice at the Senior Bowl. He did not miss a beat. I saw one bad pass the last day at practice, but he was a little hurt.”
His performance in Mobile gave the NFL scouting community something to think about. Pauline compared his Senior Bowl performance to that of Philip Rivers’ at the event in the respect that it exceeded expectation. There is no doubting that the event can dramatically elevate a draft prospect’s stock, especially at the quarterback position.
“The one thing I know about the Senior Bowl is it’s a kingmaker at several positions,” Pauline concluded. “The top position being quarterback. I think that’s what happened with Mac Jones, a significant bump in his draft stock.”
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Where does Trey Lance’s 2021 NFL Draft stock sit?
So what about the other protagonist in the Mac Jones vs. Trey Lance draft stock debate?
There is absolutely no denying the talent that Trey Lance brings to the table. He’s 6’3″, 221 pounds, with incredible athletic upside and a cannon of an arm to go with it.
Lance is almost the perfect modern-day NFL quarterback. Lance went from under-recruited to superstar status in the space of a year as his 2019 campaign for North Dakota State plunged him into the national conscience.
Trey Lance’s draft stock was at an all-time high following his redshirt freshman season. Even at a school famous for its explosive offense, Lance was something else. He threw for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns, while his 0 interceptions are well-documented and examined. Meanwhile, he also rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns with an impressive 61-yard longest run.
Despite the national acclaim, there are legitimate concerns
A true dual-threat whose 65 percent completion percentage on throws over 20 yards is a testament to his deep ball accuracy, Lance received a litany of awards for his 2019 performances. He received the FCS Walter Payton and Jerry Rice awards and was a second-team All-American in addition to being an FCS first-team All-American.
Despite his success, there were questions over Trey Lance’s draft stock. The biggest issue levied at him was the level of competition in the FCS. Although this isn’t Lance’s fault, his opportunity to prove himself against better opposition was lost with the 2020 season. Lance should have faced Oregon as part of a full schedule. Instead, NDSU played just one game against Central Arkansas.
A less than stellar performance in that game may also have impacted Trey Lance’s draft stock. Lance completed just 50 percent of his passes. Meanwhile, he threw his first career interception in that game. In a sport where recency bias is extremely potent — especially to those analysts not directly plugged into the NFL mindset — it raised significant questions.
Will a lack of experience hamper his NFL Draft stock?
One question that is most prominent regarding Trey Lance’s draft stock is his experience. Lance was just a one-year starter as a redshirt freshman at NDSU. The loss of the 2020 season may prove to be critical to his draft position, as Pauline explains:
“I think Trey Lance has tremendous upside, but Trey Lance also has a big downside risk. He only played one game this year for NDSU. He has only played one season at a small-school level and as we’ve seen, you look at Mark Sanchez, you look at Dwayne Haskins, a lot of these college quarterbacks that have only started one year at the college level and then turned pro, they don’t have the longevity, they don’t have a lot of success. That’s the situation with Trey Lance. That is the risk with Trey Lance. You may have to sit him for a year.”
Mac Jones vs. Trey Lance, whose draft stock is higher?
The Mac Jones vs. Trey Lance competition seems to be very real. Jones’ draft stock is ascending while Lance’s remains where it always has been.
They’re two entirely different quarterbacks with two incredibly different skill sets. Jones offers that college production at the highest level. A smart, accurate quarterback who is athletically limited. Lance is exciting, with the arm strength and dual-threat ability to make highlight plays but with a lack of top-level experience.
This year there will be more teams than ever that need to address their quarterback position. Many of them don’t have the luxury of time to allow someone to come in and sit for a year. They need a starting quarterback to be under center in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season.
If teams concur with Tony Pauline’s opinion that Jones is the most pro-ready quarterback behind Trevor Lawrence, then Mac Jones vs. Trey Lance is a realistic quarterback competition that no one expected to have ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.
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