The extent to which we have a 2020 college football season remains unclear. It is with much certainty, however, that we can state that, whatever happens, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is the favorite to be the first player selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Of course, a year ago we were saying the same thing about Tua Tagovailoa while Joe Burrow was so far off the first-round radar that he wasn't even in the conversation for our preseason mock drafts. Put another way: A lot can change between now and next April -- hell, given how 2020 has unfolded to date a lot can change between now and August. Put another way: Here are the quarterbacks who need to have strong seasons to either solidify their first-round pedigree or make a Burrow-like leap from Day 3 afterthought to Round 1 prospect.
Below are the names of some of the top quarterback prospects ahead of whatever the 2020 season looks like. This isn't a definitive list, but instead a list of players we've watched over the summer.
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson (junior)
The clearcut No. 1 quarterback based on his two-year body of work at Clemson, where he won the national championship as a freshman and led the Tigers back to the title game as a sophomore. If you were going to try to pick holes in his game you might note that he wasn't quite as consistent in Year 2 -- he doubled his interception total with eight -- but he was still better than just about everyone else in college football. Lawrence improved his completion percentage (from 65.2 to 65.8), his yards per attempt (from 9.3. to 9.9) and his touchdowns (36, up from 30 as a freshman). Lawrence is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in college football, has a rocket right arm and can make every throw. There are few holes in his game and NFL teams will be jockeying for the right to draft him in the spring.
Justin Fields, Ohio State (junior)
If Lawrence is as close to a sure thing as there is in the '21 class, the rest of the names on this list have, to varying degrees, something to prove. Fields transferred from Georgia and immediately stepped in for Dwayne Haskins at Ohio State where in his first season he threw for 3,273 yards, completed 67 percent of his throws, including 41 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Fields ran for another 484 yards and 10 scores. And while he's a first-round talent, another year in the Buckeyes system would only enhance his draft stock; he has off-the-charts athleticism, plus-arm strength but Fields needs to improve his accuracy on downfield throws and his ball security. There's a lot to love about his game and the expectation is that he'll only get better with more reps.
Trey Lance, North Dakota State (redshirt sophomore)
There is some Jordan Love in Trey Lance's game but Lance, who also has a huge arm, is a bigger threat to run. Athletically, he's in the same conversation as Lawrence and Fields, but Lance plays for FCS North Dakota State and the level of competition will need to be considered when evaluating his game. The counterargument, of course, is Carson Wentz and Easton Stick also played for NDSU and the former was the No. 2 overall pick in 2016 and a legit MVP candidate in 2017, and Stick was a 2019 fifth-round pick. Lance completed 66.9 percent of his throws last season and tossed 28 touchdowns and precisely zero interceptions. That said, the redshirt sophomore is raw; he does so many things at a high level but he was occasionally late delivering the ball downfield and struggled at times with accuracy. He also played in a run-heavy offense that didn't lean on his arm for much of last season. But if Love was a first-round pick this spring, Lance, who had 17 fewer interceptions than Love in '19, is arguably a better prospect, despite not playing an FBS schedule.
Kyle Trask, Florida (senior)
"Steady as she goes" might be the best way to describe Trask's game. He's not flashy but he's efficient, and in the NFL the ability to do the right thing from one play to the next is more important than flashing once a series while drives stall out. Before taking over for Feleipe Franks last season, Trask had played in just three games. He played in 12 games in 2019 and completed 66.9 percent of his throws with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Trask's nickname should be 'Textbook' because his footwork in the pocket is consistently on point, and more importantly, he gets the ball out on time, accurately, and he rarely looks confused by what he sees pre-snap. While we're not expecting him to make a Burrow-like leap in '20 we wouldn't be surprised if he continues to improve and Trask finds his way into Round 1 conversations in the spring.
Jamie Newman, Georgia (grad transfer)
Newman transferred from Wake Forest to Georgia in the spring and perhaps no other player will have an opportunity to prove their worth in 2020. The Bulldogs lost Jake Fromm to the NFL where he was taken in the fifth round by the Bills. Newman, meanwhile, comes from an offense that featured slow mesh RPO concepts. It will be interesting to see how much he's asked to do at Georgia. Newman, like many names on this list, is an athletic marvel who is also short on reps. He's always a threat to run but how many hits do you want your franchise quarterback taking? And while Newman has a big arm, accuracy was an issue at times at Wake Forest. And perhaps more than any of the quarterbacks above him, he needs to get better at going through his progressions, improving his touch on downfield throws and avoiding forcing balls into nonexistent windows that at times led to interceptions last season.
Newman has drawn comparisons to Cam Newton but right now, for us, Jalen Hurts, who came into the 2019 campaign with plenty of questions, is a better quarterback comparison. Also: with USC transfer JT Daniels eligible to play for the Bulldogs this season, there's no guarantee Newman earns the job outright.
Other names to watch
Brock Purdy, Iowa State (junior). We get Baker Mayfield vibes from Purdy, who is listed at 6-foot-2. A tough competitor with plus-athleticism who's not afraid to rip throws into tight windows. He can sometimes get impatient, which leads to avoidable mistakes.
Tanner Morgan, Minnesota (junior). He's a gamer. That's a cliche, sure, but it fits Morgan. He throws with anticipation -- as well as anyone on this list -- and regularly makes the right read. Arm strength is an issue, as is the number of passes he has batted at the line of scrimmage.
Sam Ehlinger, Texas (senior). He reminds us of Tim Tebow if Tebow was a more polished passer. But Ehlinger's just as tough. He also throws with anticipation and is accurate to all three levels. He needs to do a better job of processing what the defense is giving him, which is why another college season would serve him well.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA (junior). This is an insanely athletic QB class and DTR is another example of that. There are flashes of just how good he can be but he also needs to improve his decision making and do a better job of letting routes develop before coming off them, usually to run.
Kellen Mond, Texas A&M (senior). Mond's completion percentage has improved in all three years he's been under center for the Aggies (it was 61.6 last season) but he'll need to play with more consistency in 2020 to be considered one of the best passers in this class. He has the arm to make every throw but he'll need to show he can do it play in and play out.
K.J. Costello, Mississippi State (senior). Costello is hoping a move from Stanford to Mississippi State will do for him what playing for Mike Leach did for Gardner Minshew and Anthony Gordon at Washington State (Minshew threw for 4,779 yards in '18; Gordon totaled 5,579 yards in '19). Leach is now at Mississippi State and Costello, who played in just five games last season for the Cardinal because of injury, is looking to jump-start a once-promising college career.
D'Eriq King, Miami (senior). King played in just four games last season for Houston before announcing he would redshirt; several months later he left for the University of Miami and he hopes to have one last chance to show evaluators that he can play quarterback at the next level. He's listed at just 5-foot-11, which would have been a bigger issue before the likes of Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa came along, but he'll need to show he can harness that big-time arm into a reliable weapon; he managed to complete just 52.7 percent of his throws in those four games in 2019, though he averaged 64 percent in his first three years at Houston.