Checking in on NFL Rookie Quarterbacks
This offseason featured an unusually large amount of turnover at the quarterback position league-wide. In an offseason where we saw teams such as the Rams and Panthers make win-now moves for their quarterbacks, we also saw teams such as the 49ers and Bears make massive deals to move up in the draft to select their signal-caller of the future.
In a draft that was supposedly loaded with talent especially at the quarterback position, the early results have been lackluster. Rookie quarterbacks currently hold a combined starting record 3-11, with Mac Jones, Justin Fields, and Zach Wilson being the only rookie quarterbacks to record wins. This was a draft that saw 5 quarterbacks taken in the first round of the draft, with multiple others selected in the later rounds. Let’s take a deeper dive into how the rookies drafted in the first round have performed.
Jacksonville Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence
Trevor Lawrence was the consensus number one overall pick even before the 2020 season started. He was often referred to as the best prospect in the draft since Andrew Luck. We saw Lawrence lead the Tigers to a college football National Championship in his freshman year, followed by 2 other College Football Playoff Appearances. Lawrence went 38-2 as a starter in Clemson with his only 2 losses being against Joe Burrow’s LSU Tigers in the 2020 College Football Championship and fellow rookie Justin Fields’ Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2021 College Football Semifinals. His history at Clemson prompted the Jacksonville Jaguars to make him the number one overall pick in the draft.
As an NFL quarterback, Lawrence has gone 0-5 throwing for 1146 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Lawrence has also rushed the ball 24 times for 110 yards and two rushing touchdowns. To be fair to Lawrence, he is working with a first-year NFL head coach in Urban Meyer, who could likely be gone after this season and doesn’t have a tremendous amount of star power around him. Lawrence has shown the skills and traits he possesses that justify his hype before the draft at times. An example of this came in the Jaguars Thursday Night Football matchup against the Bengals, when Lawrence kept calm in the pocket with pressure coming off his left and delivered a 26-yard strike to Jamal Agnew in a place where only the receiver could get it. Lawrence has the ability to be a star in the NFL, however it will take some time before he can fully develop. While his current performance has been poor, he does have the ability to be the savior that Jacksonville has been seeking for quite some time and justify the hype surrounding him even before the draft started.
New York Jets QB Zach Wilson
The New York Jets used their second overall pick in the draft to select Zach Wilson, replacing Sam Darnold as the Jets Franchise Quarterback. Wilson was a star at BYU, impressing spectators with his viral highlights and throws. Wilson also started a trend at the combine of performing off-platform and cross-body throws. The Jets are all in on the Wilson train and made moves to build an offense around him. However, 5 weeks into the season the Jets are 1-4.
Wilson has struggled to adjust at the NFL level, throwing for 1117 yards, 9 interceptions, and 4 touchdowns, with 4 of the interceptions coming in the same game. Wilson has also been sacked 18 times. General Manager Joe Douglas seemingly made the right moves this offseason, adding pieces to the offensive line, while also adding Corey Davis as a number one receiver for Wilson and drafting him another offensive weapon in Elijah Moore. Wilson was able to bounce back from his rough start with a solid outing against the Titans Week 4. He flashed his ability to make big plays, such as his 54-yard toss to Keelan Cole in which he had to move outside of the pocket. Wilson can be a star in this league, and it’s up to Head Coach Robert Saleh to find ways to aid his development and that starts with him igniting the run game. It’s also up to General Manager Joe Douglas to build a better team around Wilson and that starts with the offensive line.
San Francisco 49ers QB Trey Lance
Trey Lance is the only rookie in the first-round quarterback class that hasn’t started yet. Lance was a highly touted prospect out of North Dakota State University. Lance was widely regarded as the quarterback with the highest ceiling in the draft, however, many analysts said that he would need to sit for at least a year. The San Francisco 49ers selected Lance with 3rd overall pick in the draft.
The 49ers are currently 2-3 and serious contenders for the playoffs when Jimmy Garoppolo plays. The 49ers showed that their plan was to start Garoppolo and slowly integrate Lance into the offense in specific packages and situations. However, Lance has been thrust into the starting role sooner than anticipated due to a calf injury sustained by Garoppolo during the 49ers’ week 4 matchup with the Seahawks. Prior to this game, Trey Lance had replaced Jimmy Garoppolo on just 5 plays, scoring a touchdown through the air and on the ground. As his performance against the Seahawks showed, Lance has a lot of room for development. Lance struggled with his accuracy missing some critical throws, however, he has shown glimpses of his future ability to be a star. He threw 2 touchdowns to Deebo Samuel, one of them being a 76-yard play in which Samuel was able to find a lapse in coverage. Lance also showed his ability to manage the pocket, evading defenders and sacks while also making incredible rushing plays. Time will only tell how he develops, but it’s reasonable to say that San Francisco has a star in the making.
Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields
Justin Fields always seemed to find himself competing against Trevor Lawrence. The two attended the Elite 11 camp for quarterbacks in high school, where Fields edged out Lawrence. They then battled for the top spot of their recruiting class, with Lawrence edging out Fields for the top spot in the nation. The pair would square off twice in the College Football Playoff, which they split 1-1. The most recent matchup between Fields and Lawrence took place in the media, where they were constantly examined and compared as prospects. There was a moment during the offseason where it looked like Fields might go number 1 overall, above Lawrence. At Ohio State, Fields was incredible, throwing for 5373 yards, 63 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, while also racking in 876 yards and 15 touchdowns through rushing over two seasons. Despite the frequent comparisons to Trevor Lawrence, Fields slid to the 11th pick in the draft, where the Chicago Bears traded up to, selecting Justin Fields to be their quarterback of the future.
Fields’ first NFL start against the Cleveland Browns didn’t go too well, he threw for 1 net yard, as he threw for 68 yards while also getting sacked 9 times for a total loss of 67 yards. This performance should not fall squarely on Fields’ shoulders, as head coach Matt Nagy clearly did not properly adapt his game plan to highlight Fields’ strong suits. Fields did recover, however, rattling off two consecutive wins against the Lions and Raiders. He showed off his great deep ball, connecting with multiple receivers down the field. Fields will likely continue to start as starting QB Andy Dalton recovers from his injury. Fields does have the tools to be a star in this league, as long as Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace, and the Bears do right by him. The first priority for the Bears this offseason should be to build Fields an offensive line.
New England Patriots QB Mac Jones
Bill Belichick chose Mac Jones as the New England Patriots franchise quarterback when he was selected in the first round of the draft. Jones was highly touted coming out of Alabama, but some scouts considered him to be nothing more than a game manager. Despite these concerns, Belichick saw enough to name Jones the starter, and surprisingly decided to release last year’s starter and former MVP, Cam Newton, prior to the start of the regular season.
As an NFL Quarterback, Jones has looked decent, throwing for 1243 yards, 5 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Jones is probably the best out of the bunch so far, but he’s also had probably the best situation. Jones has a wonderful defense, a great offensive line, and decent offensive weapons, not to mention one of the greatest coaches in the history of the NFL. Jones has the capabilities to be a great player in the NFL, and I’m sure Bill Belichick will ensure it. But if I was a Patriots fan I’d remember that Jones wears the number 10, not 12.