For the past week-plus the Eagles offseason and much of the larger NFL offseason had been held hostage by the Carson Wentz trade drama. With that now thankfully behind us we can start looking toward the future—both long-term, and the immediate future of these next few months.
First on the agenda: finding a new franchise quarterback.
There are those within the organization and fan base who believe that player is already on the roster, but it didn’t take long after the Wentz trade for ESPN’s Chris Mortensen to report that, “the starting job is not expected to automatically go to [Jalen] Hurts.”
This comes as no surprise to most, as Hurts didn’t play well enough through four starts to earn the job outright; but even the more ardent Hurts detractors will concede he deserves a crack at the job this summer. While there’ll be talk of signing stop-gap veterans to compete with him (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jacoby Brissett) the Eagles and Howie Roseman absolutely need to take advantage of their 6th overall pick to draft a QB from this year’s strong class.
The argument is two-fold, and simple: 1) the Eagles can’t just assume they’ll be picking this high in future drafts—no matter how bad the roster looks on paper—and 2) the 2021 draft class goes four deep in terms of top tier QB prospects.
Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance all possess the traits/skillset typical of high-end QB prospects. And while there‘s plenty of debate over what order to rank them in (outside of Lawerence, mostly) evaluators agree that this is an impressive class of signal callers.
The Eagles can cross Lawrence off their list for obvious reasons (he’ll be the first overall pick) and a few weeks back I pegged Zach Wilson as the clear QB2 in this class. Momentum is starting to build around that idea, and as we get closer to the draft he‘ll likely be considered the consensus second best prospect of the four. In other words, we can start to assume he also won’t be available 6th overall.
That leaves Fields and Lance. While the QB3 and QB4 in a given class aren’t always guaranteed to be top tier prospects, that isn’t the case with these two. In another year Fields would be the talk of the pre-Draft process given his elite physical gifts, and Lance—hailing from the same school as Wentz—has an overall scouting report that goes toe-to-toe with Carson’s 2016 profile.
Justin Fields, Ohio State
A 6’3” 225 lb athlete with a physical build and howitzer for an arm, Fields is a former five-star recruit who began his college career at Georgia (where he failed to beat out incumbent Jake Fromm) before transferring to the Buckeyes. He has an easy delivery and dynamic arm talent; he knows how to tap into an athletic base to make impressive throws all over the field and into different windows. While his accuracy is good not great, he’s a natural on the move and is a natural playmaker through and through.
Does that sound better than Hurts? Absolutely. He’s bigger, faster, quicker, and throws with more accuracy and velocity. The physical tools and overall talent is unquestionable. The knock on Fields comes with his processing ability—making complex reads, decision-making against tight coverage—but that’s natural coming from the spread offense he played in at Ohio State, and it’s not unlike similar problems that Hurts still has.
Overall Hurts is just the poor man’s version of Fields—to me that’s obvious. There‘ll be a small developmental curve, but he’s the sort of talent who could change a franchise over night. If he’s on the board and Howie decides to draft another position, it could be the sort of mistake that Eagles fans would cite for decades.
Trey Lance, North Dakota State
Lance is 14 months younger than Fields, for what that’s worth, but he’s almost every bit the physical specimen—a big, athletic playmaker with excellent arm talent. He’s a natural thrower of the ball with good mechanics and a quick release that reminds me less of Wentz/Fields and more of a Wilson/Brady (if I’m forcing comparisons for the sake of it).
What concerns evaluators are similar to the concerns many had around Wentz—a small sample size of games (15 starts), and lower levels of competition. Without going too far into the Wentz comp, we should understand that someone like Lance is a gamble. Toolsy? Yes. A sure thing? No. There are mechanical inconsistencies and processing questions that need to be further developed.
Nonetheless, this is the sort of talent that puts a player like Hurts to shame. Though the skillsets between Field/Lance/Hurts aren’t terribly different, these are two players who possess traits on a different level (arm atrength, size) than Hurts.
While I’ll dive deeper into the comparisons between Fields and Lance in future pieces, the comparisons between these players and someone like Hurts shouldn’t be up for debate. If the conclusion is made that through four games Hurts didn’t do enough to earn the job outright—he didn’t—then it’s not even a question as to whether or not the Eagles should draft a QB 6th overall.
In the case of Hurts, is four games enough to judge a QB? No. But second round draft picks don’t normally deserve that sort of leeway. At the end of the day, regardless of where you stand on last year’s second round pick, if one of Fields or Lance (or somehow Wilson) is available at 6 overall then the Eagles would be foolish to pass on them and roll with Hurts. Foolish.