2021 NFL draft QB projections: How good will Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson be?

As the NFL draft has evolved from a behind-closed-doors meeting at the Philadelphia Ritz-Carlton Hotel in 1936 to the made-for-TV, three-day extravaganza it is today, teams have consistently attempted to select the best player for their needs, accounting for both his talent and his positional value. Over time, the consensus of which position is most important has shifted heavily toward quarterbacks because modern statistical analysis has shown that quarterbacks have by far the largest impact on team wins and losses.

Before 2006, evaluating quarterback prospects was mainly limited to game film, combine performance and miscellaneous events such as pre-draft interviews. But by finding that college completion percentage and games started were predictors of NFL success, David Lewin changed that paradigm with the LCF (Lewin Career Forecast). In 2011, Aaron Schatz released the LCF v2.0, and in 2015, Andrew Healy took quarterback projections to the next level with QBASE (Quarterback-Adjusted Stats and Experience). QBASE established a new way to evaluate a quarterback's college statistics by adjusting them for the quality of his teammates and opponents. For instance, elite pass-catchers can artificially inflate his numbers, but facing SEC defenses can deflate them.

Jeremy Rosen and Alexandre Olbrecht built a separate model in 2018 that was the first to quantify the value of functionally mobile quarterbacks. Since then, Football Outsiders has run both models separately, but now in 2021, we are unveiling QBASE v2.0, which merges QBASE with the functional mobility model, combining the best ingredients of both.

Like QBASE, QBASE v2.0 generates projections for the 2021 class and runs 50,000 simulations to calculate a range of possible outcomes. Generally, "Bust" is a backup or out of the league, "Adequate Starter" is a starter but not a franchise quarterback, "Upper Tier" is a franchise quarterback and "Elite" is Hall of Fame-worthy. Also like QBASE, QBASE v2.0 shows that no projection is a certainty: Every quarterback has a chance to become elite, and even Trevor Lawrence has a 25.4% chance of becoming a bust.

The projections are of NFL total defense-adjusted yards above replacement per attempt (TDYAR/A); TDYAR/A is a rate statistic that measures both passing and rushing performance. Interpreting TDYAR/A is straightforward: 0 is replacement level, and anything over 1.5 is elite. Finally, to project each quarterback's draft position, which is part of the model, we use Scouts Inc.'s 2021 Player Rankings. For more on the methodology at work, click here to jump to the end of the article.