The quarterback is the most important position in football, which is why we see them drafted with the No. 1 overall pick so often. This offseason, three quarterbacks were taken with the first three picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, and five were taken in the first round. In the last five years, four quarterbacks have been taken with the No. 1 overall pick, and it's fair to say those who have played at least one NFL season have proven they are the future of their franchises.
This season, there could be eight teams led by quarterbacks taken No. 1 overall in their respective drafts. That's one-fourth of the league! In gauging both their talent and their situations, how many of these players are set up for success this season? Below, we will rank the outlook for all eight signal-callers entering 2021.
8. Jared Goff - Detroit Lions
It wasn't long ago when Goff was just one quarter away from claiming a Super Bowl victory. One has to wonder how things could be different if the New England Patriots didn't score 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to down Goff and the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Fast forward to today, and the Rams have dumped Goff for Matthew Stafford. Sean McVay and L.A. were indeed looking to upgrade from Goff this offseason, and they paid the price. They gave up a first-round pick for Stafford, and another first-round pick for Detroit to take on Goff's contract.
Goff gets a chance for a new start with the Lions, but it's not exactly a favorable situation. Detroit is entering a rebuild with a new head coach and the Lions also lost their top two pass-catchers in free agency. The Lions haven't had a winning season since 2017, and they downgraded at many positions. I think Goff is a legitimate starting quarterback, but I'm not sure he can turn this franchise around by himself in 2021.
7. Cam Newton - New England Patriots
Newton did not look like a former NFL MVP in his first season with the Patriots, as he passed for 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 games played. New England is going to be improved in 2021 with the additions they made in free agency and the opt-outs they are returning on the defensive side of the ball, but the clock is ticking on Newton. You have to imagine Bill Belichick is motivated to improve on last year's 7-9 record after Tom Brady won a Super Bowl in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Patriots spent the No. 15 overall pick in the draft on quarterback Mac Jones. It doesn't seem likely that Jones will sit the entire season, and that certainly won't happen if he can impress in training camp. Newton already hurt his hand in OTAs, and while it's not a major issue, it does give Jones an opportunity to step up and take some important reps before the official start of camp.
It's not even a sure thing Winston will start the 2021 season for the Saints, as he will battle with Taysom Hill for the right to replace Drew Brees under center. There are a couple of reasons why I believe Winston will end up the winner of this competition, however. For one, he has more experience as a starting quarterback while Hill has spent the majority of his career as a gadget player, and two, head coach Sean Payton will have more flexibility to continue to use Hill as a gadget player if Winston is the full-time starter.
Winston said playing the role of backup last year just made him hungrier to be a starting quarterback again. He's a gunslinger who can rack up yards and touchdowns with the best of them, but does struggle to take care of the ball. In his last season as a starter with the Bucs in 2019, he threw a league-leading 30 interceptions and also fumbled 12 times. After a year under Payton and Brees, however, there's reason to expect he could be a bit better with ball security. Additionally, this Saints team has won the NFC South four years in a row now, and Winston has the benefit of a top 10 offensive line and elite weapons in Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. I'm not sure the Saints will be able to win the division in 2021, but Winston could surprise some people.
Lawrence hasn't taken a snap in the NFL, but he's expected to turn the Jaguars franchise around. He passed for 10,098 yards, 90 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in three seasons at Clemson, and became the first quarterback ever to win three ACC Championship games, according to Clemson's official website. He likely won't be competing for a Super Bowl in his first season and may not even have a winning record. Still, Lawrence has some good pieces around him with left tackle Cam Robinson, running backs James Robinson and Travis Etienne and a very good wide receiving corps. Lawrence may deserve a better spot on this list, but it's hard to predict his success as he's a rookie and also working with a first-year head coach.
Burrow went just 2-7-1 as the starter in his first season, but he did enough to prove he has the potential to be the franchise quarterback. He completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 2,688 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions, but had his season ended early by a nasty knee injury. Burrow is still working to get back to 100 percent health after that injury, but he is expected to be ready to go for the season opener.
There's reason to be excited about the Bengals in 2021, as the front office reunited Burrow with his dynamic pass-catcher from LSU in Ja'Marr Chase, and acquired some offensive line help in Riley Reiff and Jackson Carman. Additionally, the defense should be improved. It surrendered 389.2 yards per game last year, which ranked seventh-worst in the NFL, but added Trey Hendrickson and Larry Ogunjobi on the defensive front and Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton in the secondary. Things seem to be trending upwards for the Bengals.
3. Kyler Murray - Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray went 8-8 in his second season with the Cardinals, but is expected to take another jump in 2021. He's a true dual-threat weapon, as last year he became the only player in NFL history to record 3,500 passing yards and 800 rushing yards. Murray didn't take long to find chemistry with DeAndre Hopkins, and the Cardinals also added another veteran wideout in A.J. Green this offseason. Drafting Rondale Moore should immediately help too. It's true that the Cardinals do reside in the toughest division in football, but they improved their win total by three wins last season, and there's no doubt that they have found their franchise quarterback in Murray.
The Browns' 2020 campaign was certainly one for the books. Cleveland's 11-5 record was its best season since 1994, and the Browns also won their first playoff game since 1994. It was a year full of ups and downs, but Mayfield rebounded from his disappointing 2019 season to throw for 3,563 yards, 26 touchdowns and a career-low eight interceptions. Many expect the Browns to be a Super Bowl sleeper in 2021, and with heightened expectations comes more pressure. Cleveland bolstered its defense and returns all of its top weapons for 2021. It really does seem like the Browns' ceiling hinges on the play of Mayfield. Whether he succeeds or fails, this is a favorable situation for an up-and-coming signal-caller.
1. Matthew Stafford - Los Angeles Rams
I am very high on the Rams in 2021. If you're a gambler, I recommend taking a flier on them to win the Super Bowl and to bet the Over on their win total of 10.5. The Rams went 10-6 last year despite very inconsistent play at the quarterback position. This defense carried them to the playoffs, and they even defeated the Seattle Seahawks on the road despite not having a healthy signal-caller. Stafford is an underrated starting quarterback, and at 33-years-old, he wants to win now. Not only is Los Angeles a favorable situation, but I believe Stafford will also find great success with this talented roster in 2021.