Going into the 2021 NFL Draft, the central storyline was Quarterbacks. Five rookie quarterbacks were projected to go in the first round: Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Trey Lance, and Zach Wilson.
The draft started with Trevor Lawrence, of course, and he went to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Next, surprisingly was Zach Wilson, and he went to the New York Jets.
The fun started at pick three, which initially belonged to the Texans but became the Dolphins due to the Laremy Tunsil trade. The 49ers then traded up to acquire the pick from the Dolphins, clearly looking to take a QB. People narrowed down who the 49ers would take to two players, Trey Lance and Mac Jones. The 49ers ended up taking Trey Lance, leaving Mac Jones for another team.
The Bears took the next QB, Justin Fields, at No. 11 after trading up with the New York Giants. A surprising move, but one that made sense considering the Bears starting QB was Andy Dalton.
That left Mac Jones last but never the least, who the New England Patriots selected with the No. 15 pick. As soon as Mac Jones was the last QB available, it made sense that New England would take him; he is essentially Tom Brady 2.0.
That was all in April, but we are now in September with Week 1 on the books. So I want to look at all rookie QBs, see who started on the right foot, and see who has the best chance of being the best in the draft class.
I think that Trevor Lawrence will likely be the hardest QB to grade in this class (apart from Zach Wilson). No QB is asked to do more with less again, apart from Zach Wilson.
Lawrence had the most TDs of the rookie bunch with three but also had the highest INT total at three. Lawrence also had a low completion percentage-completing 28 of his 51 attempts-of about 55%.
From a statistical perspective, what surprised me about Lawrence was his sack total, or rather the lack thereof. I had thought we could see Lawrence being sacked at a clip similar to Russell Wilson at least 30 times this season. Lawrence was only sacked once for a 13-yard loss.
I still am sticking with my projection of 30+ sacks, though. I think Lawrence had a low sack total because the Texans simply don’t have a good pass rush, even with Jacksonville having a poor offensive line (ranked 23rd by PFF).
Looking at the game, I did like what I saw from Lawrence. Of the three interceptions, he threw only one of them in the fourth quarter was an egregious one; the rest of them look easy enough to correct.
While his completion percentage (55%) looks poor on paper, I think it is slightly misleading. Lawrence was on target 66% of the time (Pro-Football-Reference); his receivers simply had five drops. I am somewhat worried about his bad throw % (24%), which seems slightly high, but I’ll chalk it up to a rookie making his first start.
I think Lawrence will struggle a fair amount this year and probably won’t lead the Jaguars to the playoffs anytime soon. But he had flashes that showed exactly why he was the #1 overall pick. The biggest problem I had with his performance was the turnovers.
- Grade: B-
I’ll come right out and say it: I never got why Zach Wilson was taken second overall in the draft. I have said and maintained that Justin Fields is second only to Trevor Lawrence.
After watching the first half, I certainly felt like my instincts had been correct; Wilson played quite terribly. He went 6 for 16, netting only 84 yards while throwing an INT and falling behind 0-16.
If he had played like that for the rest of the game, I would have said he played the worst of the five quarterbacks.
However, in the second half, he did end up settling down, significantly ending the game going 20 for 37 (54% completion), two touchdowns, and one interception. It doesn’t justify the take at second, but that second half certainly had some plays defending the pick. Or, at the very least, plays that made up for the first half.
Now, I would typically give my grade and move on to the next QB, but I have to add that Wilson will get a higher grade than that initial review would indicate. The reason for grading on a curve? The Jets.
Coming into this season, I would have said this roster was the second-worst in football, the worst being the Texans.
However, after this weekend, I would argue that Wilson has the worst supporting cast around him. Wilson was pressured on 46.5% of his passes, which will make his life harder. I anticipate that number will go down as the season goes on, but not by much considering his offensive line. So for right now, I’m going to be a little more generous with my evaluation of Wilson.
- Grade: B
Unlike the three QBs who got to start, any solid evaluation of Lance will have to wait until, you know, he plays. Currently, Lance only has four offensive snaps to his name: one passing attempt that went for five yards and a TD, as well as a handful of rushing attempts that didn’t yield yardage.
His preseason stats showed he had a 46% completion percentage on 41 attempts that got 276 yards and three touchdowns. Not stellar.
Lance also had seven rushing attempts that earned him 16 yards and one touchdown. Again, not stellar.
Don’t get me wrong, he had some good passing plays, but it was also the preseason, so I’m a little skeptical of it carrying over to the regular season.
What gets me excited is Lance as a rusher, particularly in a Kyle Shannahan offense that schemes the run so well. Lance splits the difference almost perfectly between Lamar Jackson and Cam Newton: he is big and robust like Cam, but I think he is more agile like Lamar.
I think he can be one of the best dual-threat QBs in the NFL.
But as of right now,
- Grade: NA.
Justin Fields has pretty much the same problem as Lance. He only had one rush attempt for three yards (and a TD) and two pass attempts for ten yards. That’s not a whole lot to go off of. So like with Lance, I’m going to dig into some preseason stats.
Across his preseason performances, Fields went 30-49, racked up 276 passing yards and two touchdowns. He also added 92 yards and a rushing touchdown on eleven carries. Not too shabby.
And yes, I know it’s the preseason and in the grand scheme of the NFL 50 passing attempts is a minuscule sample size. With Fields, I have footage from his college season to go off of, most notably his performance against Clemson in the CFP.
Hence why I feel a lot more confident in Fields’ passing ability than I do in Lances: I just have more film of it. It’s why in my opinion, Fields has the second-highest ceiling. I have seen him do some truly incredible things.
I also think that Fields is going to be a great running QB, behind only Lance.
So while I haven’t seen a lot of Fields, I have a lot of confidence that he will be a franchise QB for da Bears.
That being said, I still can’t give him a grade.
- Grade: NA.
Looking purely at a box score, Mac Jones had a great outing. He completed 29 of 39 attempts (74% completion %), had almost 300 passing yards, and his first passing TD went to Nelson Agholor. That doesn’t feel like a first rookie outing.
Mac looked poised, precise, and professional and, most importantly, didn’t turn the ball over. According to Pro-Football-Reference, Mac was on target 90% of the time, and he only had two bad throws.
And Mac didn’t have this performance against a bad defense (Atlanta or Tennessee, for example).
This was against the Dolphins, who forced 29 turnovers and 18 interceptions. The Dolphins last year had 41 sacks and only moved Mac into one for thirteen yards (though, in my opinion, you can count the roughing the passer as a sack).
The Dolphins were the best in the league last year at preventing a third-down conversion, just 31.2%. The Pats converted on third down 68.8% of the time, the third-best previous weekend.
Again, this is not against a bad defense; this is the Dolphins, who were arguably one of the best defenses in the league! I expected to see Mac have at least a turnover or look bad under pressure, but he didn’t.
After going back and looking over the game, I genuinely don’t see a problem with Mac’s performance. At best, you can nitpick him for a poorly placed ball here or there.
- Grade: A