Typically, the NFL draft is the furthest thing from New England Patriots fans’ minds in early November.
But with the playoffs likely out of reach for the 2-5 Patriots and no clear answer at quarterback for the 2021 season, it’s not too early to take a look at some of this year’s top QB prospects.
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
Lawrence has been viewed as the top prize in this draft class for years now, and barring a truly catastrophic second half of the season for New England, he’ll probably be out of the Patriots’ reach on draft night.
The Clemson star currently is sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19 — he missed last week’s near-upset against Boston College and won’t play Saturday against fourth-ranked Notre Dame — so the earliest he could be on the field is Nov. 21 against Florida State, after a Tigers bye week.
Justin Fields, Ohio State
Widely considered this year’s second-best quarterback prospect behind Lawrence, Fields has been nothing short of phenomenal since the Big Ten kicked off its COVID-delayed season. Through two games, he’s completed 87.3 percent of his passes and thrown six touchdowns with no interceptions.
Next up for Fields and the No. 3 Buckeyes is a matchup with Rutgers this Saturday night. That game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network.
Trey Lance, North Dakota State
As a one-year starter at an FCS school, Lance will require more projection than the rest of the QBs on this list. He was wildly productive in that one season, though, throwing 28 touchdown passes with zero interceptions (!) and adding 1,100 rushing yards and 14 scores en route to an undefeated season and a national title.
Fans hoping to watch Lance this season are out of luck, unfortunately. Only a handful of FCS programs are playing football this fall, and NDSU isn’t one of them. Lance’s only 2020 action came in a one-game showcase against Central Arkansas last month. He posted modest passing stats in that game (15-for-30, 149 yards, one interception) but did account for four total touchdowns (two passing, two rushing).
Zach Wilson, BYU
There’s a considerable drop-off after the consensus top three of Lawrence, Fields and Lance, but Wilson might be the best of the rest. He’s been brilliant for BYU this season, completing 74.6 percent of his throws for 2,152 yards and 19 touchdowns with just two picks. Wilson also has been one of the nation’s best deep-ball passers. His 73.3 percent completion rate of passes of 30-plus yards ranks second behind Alabama’s Mac Jones (more on him below), according to ESPN.
With Wilson at the controls, BYU is 7-0 this season and enters this week ranked ninth in the country. The Cougars will face their toughest remaining test Friday night against No. 21 Boise State (9:45 p.m. ET, FS1).
Kyle Trask, Florida
A big boy at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Trask has been on a tear for the No. 8 Gators, throwing four-plus touchdown passes in each of his first four games (18 total, with just two interceptions). Florida’s offense also features arguably this year’s top tight end prospect in Kyle Pitts, who’s been on the receiving end of seven of those scores and should be on the Patriots’ radar. Trask and Pitts will take on No. 5 Georgia this Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) in one of the marquee games of this weekend’s collegiate slate.
Mac Jones, Alabama
Tua Tagovailoa’s successor wasn’t viewed as a premier draft prospect entering the season, but he’s been excellent thus far. Jones leads the nation in yards per attempt (12.4), ranks third in completion percentage (78.5 percent) and is Pro Football Focus’s highest-graded college QB. With Alabama — which is averaging 47.2 points per game — off this weekend, Jones’ next game will be next Saturday against a struggling LSU squad.
Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
Albert Breer mentioned Ridder as a potential draft sleeper in his latest MMQB column. A three-year starter, he’s powered the sixth-ranked Bearcats into the College Football Playoff conversation, flashing talent as both a passer (21-for-26, 271 yards, three touchdowns last week in a rout of Memphis) and a rusher (eight carries, 179 yards, three scores two weeks ago versus SMU). Cincinnati hosts Houston this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.