Should George Paton take a quarterback in the NFL Draft? It’s the debate that’s split Broncos Country in two or even three camps and one that feels as if it’s never ending. I’ve shared my own thoughts on the quarterback options here.
In an effort to best inform you, dear reader, I also thought it best to reach out to a subject matter expert to pick his brain. Fortunately Mark Schofield agreed to speak with me for Cover2Broncos. Schofield is a former quarterback who’s spent years studying and writing about the position as well as the NFL at large.
What follows are notes from our conversation about who I see as the three realistic possibilities.
This time last year there were corners of the NFL universe that believed Fields could pass Trevor Lawrence as the best quarterback in the 2021 class. Now he’s been a lightning rod for controversy. Since the 49ers traded up to the third overall pick, there has been a ton of reports and rumors about the former five star recruit.
I’m not going to pretend I’m plugged into the information trading game, but I did reach out to gather Schofield’s thoughts on all the smoke. He thought the majority of it was little more than misinformation.
“Everybody who has reached out to me about Justin Fields has nothing but rave reviews about this kid,” Schofield said. There’s essentially three parts to the Fields rumor mill. The first part centers on Fields’ mental processing and reliance on his first read. Schofield brought up the charting work done by The Draft Network’s Benjamin Solak and Football Outsiders’ Derrik Klassen as proof that this narrative had no basis in reality.
The second wave calls his work ethic and character into question. Schofield said this doesn’t show up on the film.
“I see a quarterback running 60-yards downfield to throw a block at the goalline,” Schofield said before discussing Fields’ role in the #WeWanttoPlay campaign. “He could have said yeah, you know what? Let’s not play. My stock is fine.”
Schofield had no questions about Fields’ love of the game and didn’t believe his mechanics were the reason he’s been late on throws. This has been a subject of discussion in recent days as Fields’ baseball background and throwing motion were picked to death.
“Having a baseball background is helpful because you can change the arm angle, you can change the arm slot, you can throw from any platform, you can fit throws around defenders.”
Multiple times during our discussion, Schofield stressed to me that he’s come around on Fields after last summer when he had both Lawrence and Trey Lance ranked above him. This left me curious about his thoughts on Fields’ two bad games in 2020.
Anytime you bring up Justin Fields, the discussion will eventually turn to Indiana and Northwestern. The fact that Schofield spoke so glowingly of the Buckeye’s passer even after those games when he was down on him following his 2020 spoke volumes to me.
“Even the game where he’s supposedly at his worst, he’s doing the things people say he can’t,” Schofield said.
The last big question I had about Fields was his fit with Pat Shurmur. While it isn’t something that’s worried me personally, when Jeff Essary and I spoke with Tim Jenkins on Cover2Broncos, he definitely had concerns.
Pat Shurmur did a great job scheming that first read open. This idea of a Justin Fields in a Pat Shurmur offense shouldn’t cause people concern, heartbreak, agita, however you want to phrase it,” Schofield said before explaining how Shurmur’s offense is miscast as a pure West Coast system. Shurmur and Shula both want to attack downfield, an area where Fields is at his best. “His fit in this offense would be close to ideal.”
Leaving my conversation with Schofield, my big concern about Fields is that there’s no reason to believe he’ll be available, if anything.
“I think any team that passes on him is going to regret it.”
After talking about it with Schofield, I believe there’s plenty of reasons to believe Lance is more pro-ready than he gets credit for. The fact his coaches gave him so much control at the line of scrimmage speaks volumes about his mental aptitude and approach. Keep in mind that more than any other position, quarterback is defined by what happens from Tuesday up until the snap. That a redshirt freshman could make audibles at the line hints that his age and inexperience may not be as big a hurdle as the conventional wisdom suggests.
One question I had to ask Schofield about regarding Lance was his aggressiveness. There are plays during North Dakota State’s run through the playoffs in 2019 where he pulled the ball down, which led me to wondering if he was going to be too conservative with his trigger. Schofield wasn’t worried.
“A lot of the fact that he was running so much in the playoffs, he was getting them out of pressure looks because teams were thinking “look we can try to blitz this kid,”” Schofield said.
The other big concern I have about Lance is his accuracy. Schofield and I agree that accuracy is something every quarterback has to have.
“There are two things you have to have as a quarterback that you just need as a young quarterback to set a foundation: accuracy and mobility,” Schofield said. “With accuracy it’s really not so much completion percentage but like, “can you put the football away from the leverage of the nearest defender.” Then mobility, can you survive, can you extend, can you break the pocket if you need to? You don’t have to be elite at these but you have to have some threshold, some baseline of that, otherwise you’re going to really struggle.”
While he does think there are mechanical flaws that will need to improve to succeed consistently at the next level, he’s confident it can happen. The fact Lance is working with Quincy Avery is very encouraging to me, but I do wonder about his fit in the Shurmur offense after we saw Drew Lock struggle so much. Talking with Schofield didn’t really ease those concerns for me, but did leave me more confident Lance is going to land with the 49ers.
“I think wherever you put Lance he’s going to be okay, whether it’s eventually or right away. I think Denver is a place where he could be okay. It’s not going to worry me, it’s not going to concern me. I think he can fit. I think it will be fine. I think San Francisco might be ideal for him,” Schofield said.
“I think in Denver too, that fit wouldn’t scare me at all.”
No quarterback has had a wilder pre-draft process than Alabama’s redshirt senior. After starting 17 games over the last two seasons, he’s drawn comparisons to Tom Brady and watched stock go from second rounder to perhaps the third pick in the draft. As this happened I’ve watched most fanbases around the league recoil at the idea of him. I can’t remember anything quite like it.
“I think what happened was, there were two artificial bumps to his draft stock,” Schofield said. “That Wednesday Senior Bowl practice, I wasn’t down there but I was watching the film. You could feel the switch, because he had a very good Wednesday.”
Schofield explained that Wednesdays are critical at the Senior Bowl because Tuesday is the baseline as players from around the country practice with each other for the first time in a new offense. Wednesday gives evaluators an idea to how quickly a prospect can acclimate and how he responds to coaching.
“He was clearly the best quarterback down there on Wednesday and almost overnight, he’s a first round pick.”
This happened even as concerns about Jones’ arm talent and athletic ability persisted. He rose despite them. After the 49ers secured the third overall pick from the Miami Dolphins, Mac Jones became a popular top ten pick in mock drafts across the NFL. Comparisons between Jones and quarterbacks like Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins made it easy to accept.
“I do think those are a bit of sugar highs on his draft stock,” Schofield said. “In a vacuum he’s a second round quarterback, but because of need at the position, he’s going to get bumped into the first round. I think the sweet spot for him in this draft is 15 and it just so happens the New England Patriots are picking at 15, so I may be buying a Mac Jones jersey and not a Justin Fields jersey or a Trey Lance jersey.”
When Schofield spoke with The Draft Network’s Jordan Reid, the former quarterbacks’ conversation about Jones centered around the “three Ps,” which are playbook, playmakers, and protection. Every quarterback relies on them to some degree, but Schofield believes Jones will depend on it more than the other first round QB prospects. Ultimately it may not be an issue for the Broncos as they could have the “three Ps” necessary for Jones to reach his ceiling.
I’ve long believed Jones fits into the Shurmur offense, but wonder about the upside to taking him over another year with Drew Lock. It’s one reason why I ranked Jones below the other rookie passers when I looked at the options in front of Paton. Talking to Schofield about it only confirmed my priors.
“Does Mac Jones give you the confidence that he can start day one and he’s an immediate improvement over Drew Lock? I think that’s probably the bigger question,” Schofield said. “I think you can make the case that the other four guys, yeah, they’re improvements over Drew Lock. Maybe Lance will need more time.”