There’s nothing more puzzling, maddening, time-consuming, and yet highly entertaining than predicting the success of NFL quarterback draft classes. The classes in which Justin Fields and Kenny Pickett were taken were very different.

The 2020 quarterback class was an absolute home run. Yet the supposedly star-studded 2021 class—consisting of five first-round quarterback selections—has petered out into irrelevance, with expected franchise quarterbacks quickly becoming career backups.

Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports ranked the top quarterbacks from the 2020-2024 classes based on what we’ve seen from the 2020-2023 QB classes and what he projects for this year’s slew of top quarterback prospects. He ranked Justin Fields 15th out of 22 quarterbacks listed, while Kenny Pickett was four spots below him at 19.

Trapasso began his justification for Fields’ placement by saying, “Fields is one of the most enigmatic quarterbacks in the NFL today. There’s a contingent that believes, in the right situation, he can be a Top 10 quarterback in football, a dynamic dual-threat monster. Then there’s a recently growing group that believes he simply doesn’t see ‘it’ well enough or fast enough to ever be effective enough as a passer to lead a team deep into the playoffs.”

It’s hard to argue with this assessment of Fields. He’s shown flashes of brilliancy despite playing in a less-than-ideal quarterback situation for the Chicago Bears. His sensational running ability and his ability to extend plays are an offensive coordinator’s dream and a defense’s nightmare. But he struggles with accuracy—his career completion percentage is just 60.3%—and he’s been criticized for his lack of “feel” in the pocket and his often-slow processing as a passer.

That said, Trapasso ranked four quarterbacks from the 2024 class ahead of Fields, which feels ridiculous considering none of them have played a single NFL snap. Caleb Williams makes sense, especially because the Bears were faced with that very dilemma, choosing between Fields and (likely) Williams they’re opting for the rookie. But ranking JJ McCarthy over Fields feels a little extreme. McCarthy is a proven winner, but Michigan was a dream situation, and Trapasso himself even claimed that “McCarthy’s [NFL] success is very situation dependent.”

Evidently, Fields has a lot of doubters to prove wrong in Pittsburgh. He should back up Russell Wilson for most of the 2024 season, which should give him time to learn the Steelers’ new offensive system under Arthur Smith. If all goes well, then Fields may be the guy calling the shots for Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future, and he’d surely climb much higher than 15th on this list of quarterbacks from the 2020-2024 classes.

While Fields didn’t earn too much respect on this list, former Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett was ranked 19th out of 22 total.

“His play vs. pressure and tentative style don’t mix well with what’s asked of the top quarterbacks in the game today,” said Trapasso. Omar Khan, Mike Tomlin, and the Steelers organization certainly felt the same way, dealing out their 2022 first-round pick after just 24 games as a starter.

At this point, it’s hard to see Pickett reaching even top-15 quarterback status in the NFL. However, most NFL analysts still have optimism about Fields’ upside, and he could become the face of the 2021 quarterback class, saving them from total failure. As Steelers fans, let’s hope he does just that.


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