NFL Draft

2021 NFL Draft: Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields highlight quarterback class

2021 NFL Draft: Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields highlight quarterback class

The last thing on most football fans' minds is the 2021 NFL Draft, and for good reason. It's nearly one year away. But for a team like the Chicago Bears, it's critically important to keep an eye on the likely class of prospects in order to make informed roster decisions.

This is especially true at quarterback, where the decision to re-sign Mitch Trubisky or keep Nick Foles around for another season or two could depend on the strength and depth of the 2021 quarterback class. Fortunately for Chicago, the 2021 draft is already considered deep at the position, assuming underclassmen declare.

Here's a look at some of the names to keep tabs on during the college football season (assuming there is one):

Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
6-6, 220 pounds

Lawrence is the big fish in the 2021 draft and is expected to go first overall, assuming he stays healthy and plays the way he has over his first two seasons at Clemson. The 6-6 gunslinger has thrown for 66 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions as a Tiger and proved in 2019 that he's a playmaker with his legs, too. He ran for 535 yards and nine scores.

Lawrence is the most talented quarterback prospect in many years, and that includes this year's darling, Joe Burrow.

Justin Fields, Ohio State
6-3, 223 pounds

The quarterback who may have the most upside in next year's class is Fields, who in his first season as the starter at Ohio State threw for 41 touchdowns and ran for 10 more. His arm talent isn't on par with Lawrence but it's not far off. With another year of starting experience, Fields will be viewed as bigger and stronger version of Russell Wilson. High praise indeed.

Trey Lance, North Dakota State
6-3, 221 pounds

Lance is a popular fan-favorite in draft circles right now after a redshirt freshman season that was near-flawless for the Bison. Literally. He threw for 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions and ran for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. 

It's too soon to say Lance is a can't-miss prospect, but he's trending in the right direction. If he posts another big season in 2020, Lance will almost certainly be a top-15 pick next April.

Brock Purdy, Iowa State
6-1, 210 pounds

Purdy will be a true junior at the start of the 2020 season, so much like the other quarterbacks on this list, he should get better with another year of experience under his belt. He's a strong-armed passer who can make all the throws but he has to become more consistent from the pocket to challenge for top-32 consideration. At this point in his development, he's more of a Day 2 prospect.

Purdy threw for 3,982 yards with 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season.

Jamie Newman, Georgia
6-4, 230 pounds

Newman is going to be one of the most fun players to watch in 2020. The Wake Forest transfer has a big-league arm on par with the more well-known names in the class and has the rushing ability that modern NFL offenses covet.

Newman will have a strong supporting cast this season, unlike last year when his stats suffered after wide receiver Sage Surratt was lost due to injury. Georgia's offense isn't as dependent on one pass-catcher and as a result, Newman should have the best season of his collegiate career.

Newman threw for 2,868 yards, 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2019.

Tanner Morgan, Minnesota
6-2, 215 pounds

Morgan will be a riser during the 2020 season. He's a gamer with a strong arm and high football IQ. He's an accurate passer, too, and profiles as the kind of prospect who can step in and start for an NFL offense early in his career.

Morgan doesn't offer much as a runner, but he has more than enough athleticism to extend plays in the pocket and scramble for a few yards from time to time. It's what he does above the shoulders, however, that will have NFL teams grading him as a potential top-50 pick.

Will the Bears' long-term answer at quarterback come via the 2021 NFL draft?

Will the Bears' long-term answer at quarterback come via the 2021 NFL draft?

The Chicago Bears have kicked off their virtual 2020 NFL offseason with a position battle that no team wants as the biggest question entering training camp. Matt Nagy doesn't know who will line up as his starting quarterback in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions. The candidates -- Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky -- both have as many appealing traits as they have concerning flaws.

Regardless of who ends up the starter in 2020, there's a chance that neither will be the long-term answer for the Bears at the game's most important position. In fact, there's already a trending narrative that Chicago will be in the quarterback market in the 2021 NFL draft. They're an early favorite to draft a passer in the first round.

According to the latest mock draft from the Draft Wire, the Bears (who pick 14th overall based on Super Bowl odds), land North Dakota State's Trey Lance in Round 1.

Lance has already become a darling of Draft Twitter as he embarks on his redshirt sophomore season. There's good reason for the fanfare, too. He threw for 28 touchdowns, ran for 14, and didn't throw a single interception in 2019. It was his first as a full-time starter for the Bison.

At 6-3 and 224 pounds, he has the prototypical physical makeup while offering the kind of running threat that's often reserved for much smaller quarterbacks.

It may be a bit too early to crown Lance as a first-round pick, however. One good season isn't enough to have unwavering confidence in a prospect's ability to succeed in the NFL. The Bears know this first-hand after selecting Trubisky with the second overall pick of the 2017 draft despite having just one season as a starter at North Carolina. 

Unlike Trubisky, Lance has plenty of eligibility remaining to build off of 2019's arrival year. And if he enjoys another big season in 2020, Chicago may not have a shot at him in Round 1 if they aren't picking in the top 10.

Bears land offensive tackle in way-too-early 2021 NFL mock draft

Bears land offensive tackle in way-too-early 2021 NFL mock draft

The 2020 NFL Draft is barely three weeks old and this year's crop of Bears rookies has yet to visit Halas Hall, but we're already onto the 2021 NFL Draft and the potential first-round landscape. At least, some of football media is.

CBS Sports recently ran a 2021 first-round mock draft that had the Bears picking 14th overall. It's a projection that suggests they won't make the playoffs in 2020 and if that's the case, it's probably because they had another sub-par season behind center. Naturally, the pick has to be a quarterback, right? Not exactly.

Instead, CBS Sports sends Texas offensive tackle Samuel Cosmi to Chicago.

"Quarterback is the easy decision here," CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso wrote, "but instead, the Bears ride out either Mitchell Trubisky (after a new deal) or Nick Foles for one more season and grab an athletic, fundamentally sound tackle in Cosmi, who represents better value than any quarterback available."

The odds Trubisky ends up with a new contract after a season in which the Bears failed to make the playoffs are low. Very low. And while there's a chance Foles is in Chicago beyond 2020, the opportunity to draft a player like Ohio State's Justin Fields or dare I say Clemson's Trevor Lawrence will be too once-in-a-lifetime to pass up.

Fields, for example, is the fifth-overall pick to the Panthers in this mock draft. If Ryan Pace is within 10 selections of landing a franchise quarterback like Fields, it's safe to assume he'll make an aggressive move up the board. 

There's also the potential for North Dakota State's Trey Lance to make a meteoric rise up the board this season and become a top-10 prospect in his own right. That would make three legitimate early first-round passers within reach for the Beras, assuming the wheels fall off in 2020.

Here's the thing: with the defense Chicago has in place and a steady veteran like Foles at quarterback, it's almost impossible to imagine a scenario where they finish any worse than 8-8 or even 9-7. And that's a worst-case scenario. The more likely outcome is a 10-win season and a Wild Card berth, which will make any "draft a quarterback" conversation moot.

If the Bears are picking high enough in 2021 to have a realistic shot at Lawrence or Fields, there will be wholesale changes at Halas Hall that extend way beyond quarterback.