Quarterbacks in draft Lions might consider in a Matthew Stafford-less future

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
| The Detroit News

No one really knows what the future holds for Matthew Stafford.

Former teammate turned ESPN commentator Dan Orlovsky believes the Detroit Lions quarterback needs a fresh start, while owner Sheila Ford Hamp said any decision on Stafford’s future will be up to the next head coach. Those wait-and-see remarks also reflect Stafford’s thinking. 

“I’m not going to limit myself to anything,” Stafford said earlier this week. “…I’ll answer that probably better for you after the season. There’s too much work for me to be done at the moment and if I’m worried about all that other stuff, I’m not worried about trying to beat the Bears. And that’s unfair to my teammates, my coaches, ownership, our fans, everybody. So I’m going to put my best foot forward and try to beat the Bears this weekend. We’ll figure out that other stuff down the road.”

Regardless of what the to-be-named coach and general manager want to do with Stafford, what’s clear is they’ll need a transition plan if they settle on a breakup. That likely wouldn’t entail bringing in another veteran, but starting over at the position, via the draft. 

With that hypothetical a realistic possibility this year more than any other than past dozen, let’s take a look at the top prospects expected to be available in the upcoming draft. 

► Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

Lawrence is finally eligible to declare this draft and is the presumptive No. 1 pick. But even if the Lions lose their remaining five games, they won’t have a shot.

 At 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, Lawrence has good size, but is on the leaner side, so he’ll have to be smarter about the hits he takes than he has been at Clemson. As for the rest of the skill set, it checks all the boxes. He’s accurate, has a strong arm and is an above-average decision maker. Through seven games this season, he’s completing 70.6 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns to two interceptions. He also possesses plus mobility, which he uses both within the pocket and to scramble.

He’s drawn several lofty comparisons, but the dual-threat skill set combined with the accuracy point to a ceiling in line with another former Clemson quarterback, Deshaun Watson.

► Justin Fields, Ohio State

Ohio State has a legendary track record for producing top-tier NFL talent, but for whatever reason, the school’s QBs have never excelled at the professional level. Fields might be the one to break that trend. Here’s a guy who has completed better than 70 percent of his passes during his college career, including a ridiculous 79.6 percent through four games in 2020, while also having plus mobility as part of his toolset. His accuracy extends to off-platform throws and throwing on the move and he has one of the best-looking deep balls in the college ranks.

His 2019 numbers were ridiculous, including 41 touchdowns to three interceptions. Most impressive, in the red zone, where defenses have the benefit of confined space, Fields threw 24 scores and zero picks. He’s almost certainly going in the top 10 and probably the top five.

► Trey Lance, North Dakota State

There’s unquestionably an aura of unknown surrounding Lance, both because of the level of competition and because his 2020 season was canceled by the pandemic, save a single game against Central Arkansas in early October. His numbers from 2019, his only as a starter, are jaw-dropping. None stand out more to his 28 touchdown passes to zero interceptions. Oh, and did we mention he can run? He romped his way to 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.

It wouldn’t be unprecedented for a small-school quarterback to have success at the next level. That list includes Joe Flacco, Tony Romo, Steve McNair and Kurt Warner. But any team that drafts Lance will want to have coaches on staff with strong backgrounds as talent developers. There are elements of the pro game that just aren’t part of North Dakota State’s offense. Strictly in terms of physical gifts, he’s absolutely worth a roll of the dice in the first round.

► Zach Wilson, BYU

No one was really talking about Wilson as a prospect heading into this season, but like Joe Burrow a year earlier, the BYU passer has thrust himself into the conversation. Through nine games, he’s completing better than 74 percent of his throws with 26 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He doesn’t run as often as some of the others on this list – about five times per game – but he’s shown a nose for the end zone, crossing the goal line eight times on 51 carries. His mobility shows up just as much, in not more, with his ability to get outside the pocket and extend plays.

A soft 2020 schedule makes the evaluation a little tougher, but there’s no question he’s made improvements with his accuracy during his junior season. If you’re looking for a decent NFL comparison, there’s a lot of similarities to Baker Mayfield.

► Kyle Trask, Florida

In an era where dual-threat quarterbacks are slowly taking over the NFL, Trask is the counter to that trend, offering a more traditional pocket passer skill set. It’s remarkable to think he wasn’t a starter in high school, splitting time with University of Houston quarterback D’Eriq King, but now Trask is one of the top prospects in the country. After posting decent numbers as a sophomore in 2019, he’s taken his game to the next level this year, completing 71.4 percent of his throws with 34 touchdowns and three interceptions. One of those picks came against Georgia, but he also racked up a season-high 474 yards to go along with four scoring tosses in the victory.

Listed at 6-foot-5, 239 pounds, Trask has an ideal frame for the position. His fundamentals are a work in progress, but he’s ahead of the curve with his decision-making and quick reads while playing in Florida’s pro style offense.

► Mac Jones, Alabama

A year after passing on Tua Tagovailoa, the Lions could be in position to draft his replacement with the Crimson Tide. A former four-star recruit, the 6-foot-2, 214-pounder is completing 76.2 percent of his throws with 23 touchdowns to three interceptions for the No. 1 team in the nation.

Admittedly, it can be tough to separate out Jones’ true abilities from the wealth of talent Alabama has blocking, running the ball and catching passes. His passing success is predicated on timing and anticipation more than his arm strength, which is considered average. And he’s not a dual-threat, by an stretch of the imagination. Even his inner-pocket mobility is below-average.

► Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

With the Bearcats in the playoff conversation, Riddler has garnered some attention as a Day-2 selection. The dual-threat skill set is there with nearly 1,800 rushing yards and 21 scores over his three seasons as a starter. And he’s made notable improvements as a passer since 2019, when he completed just 55.1 percent of his throws. That’s jumped over 65 percent this year, with a far more respectable 16-6, touchdown-to-interception ratio. Arm strength isn’t an issue, but decision-making and patience will need to be cultivated if Riddler is going to reach his full potential.

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