NFL draft 2021: The biggest question marks for the top QBs, and how teams can solve them

Like plenty of others in the football nerd/analyst community, I was shocked by the rise of Wyoming's Josh Allen up the boards heading into the 2018 NFL draft.

Whereas Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield had been one of college football's most productive and efficient quarterbacks, and Louisville's Lamar Jackson had produced 7,000+ passing yards and 3,000+ rushing yards in two years, and Sam Darnold had supercharged a USC offense that was growing stale (and would again be stale after he left), Allen's stats were merely OK. In 2016-17, he had completed 56% of his passes with a Total QBR ranking of 45th, and Wyoming's offense averaged a No. 88 offensive SP+ ranking.

To see Allen in the same light as Mayfield or Darnold, or in a greater light than Jackson, was to see theoretical tools -- namely, an enormous arm and good athleticism -- over actual production and knowledge of the QB position. It was the Kyle Boller fiasco all over again only worse because Boller had gone 19th in the draft -- Allen would go in the top 10!

I was quite right, until the moment when I became quite wrong.

This year, there are five quarterbacks who appear to be locks for the first half of the first round: Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Mac Jones. History says all five won't succeed, but which ones do may be more correlated with where they land than anything else. Which teams will put the best infrastructure around their new quarterbacks and help mitigate the flaws that each signal-caller comes into the league with? (More on that later.)

Jump to a 2021 QB prospect: Trevor Lawrence | Justin Fields | Zach Wilson | Trey Lance | Mac Jones

And that brings us back to Allen.

Buffalo took Allen seventh overall, and for two years the skepticism proved warranted. Nathan Peterman beat Allen for the starting job but flamed out so quickly and famously that Allen was starting by Week 2 as a rookie. He averaged only 4.4 adjusted net yards per pass attempt* (ANY/A) that year and improved only to 5.7, still below average, in 2019. His Total QBR over the two years ranked 27th. He was using his athleticism to decent effect -- 1,141 rushing yards, second among QBs behind Jackson -- but outside the pocket, where this athleticism should shine, his QBR was an abysmal 12.1.