We’re now three weeks into the 2021 season, so why don’t we have a little check-in on how the rookie quarterbacks are doing. There was so much hype surrounding this rookie QB class pre-draft, surely they’ve been lighting up their opponents through three games, right?
*Checks Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones’ stats and records*
Oh, dear God.
It’s been three weeks, and the four rookie quarterbacks who have had the chance to start a game this season have a grand total of one win… combined. Not only do none of the rookie gunslingers have a win that isn’t against another rookie quarterback, but they also haven’t been producing. Lawrence and Wilson have seven interceptions apiece, putting them on pace to shatter Peyton Manning’s well-known rookie interception record of 28. Fields and the Chicago Bears had 19 fewer yards of total offense than Justin Tucker’s record-breaking, game-winning field goal in Detroit. Jones doesn’t get off the hook here for his one win, especially since he only beat fellow rookie Wilson. He was forced to throw the ball more downfield this week and the results were less than promising. Jones finished 3-of-19 with a touchdown and two interceptions on throws of 15 yards or more.
Let’s address the obvious: teams that have the draft capital to get the top-tier rookie quarterbacks are usually bad teams. For Wilson, the poor play of his offensive line deserves a solid chunk of the blame for his early-season struggles. Of any quarterback who has attempted more than six passes, Wilson far and away has felt the most pressure. So far this season, the Jets’ rookie has been pressured 38.5% of the time on his dropbacks. The next closest mark is the Saints’ Jameis Winston, with a mark of 33.8%. If you’ve watched any Jets games, that’s probably something you already know. Wilson looks like he’s running for his life on what feels like every pass play. On top of the leaky offensive line, there’s the issue of a total lack of experience in New York’s quarterback room. The Jets passed on signing a proven backup for the 2021 season, putting all the pressure on Wilson to figure it out without a mentor or even a fallback plan.
Lawrence has had a different issue. The offensive line has kept him a bit more protected than Wilson, yet he’s the only quarterback with more than 50 pass attempts that has a bad throw percentage over 30%. It seems clear that Lawrence, at least for now, is still trying to figure out the difference between throws he can make and throws he should make at the NFL level. For example, this flea-flicker throw that turned into a pick-six.
What… was that? The consolation for Lawrence is that at least Manning and Troy Aikman each threw multiple picks in their first three games, and look at where they are now. I have faith that Lawrence will figure it out as time goes on, especially if the Jaguars start to rely on their run game more and take some pressure off their young quarterback going forward.
The situation in Chicago for Fields is very similar to what’s going on with Wilson in New York. That Bears offensive line looked really, really bad on Sunday against the Browns, allowing nine sacks of their rookie. Maybe having a 39-year-old Jason Peters start at left tackle against a former first overall pick at defensive end was a bad idea? Maybe head coach Matt Nagy could’ve come up with a better game plan for his dynamic quarterback, like maybe helping the offensive line with more guys in on pass protection or more plays with a moving pocket? Whatever the reason for Nagy’s—or general manager Ryan Pace’s, as far as roster building—plan, it’s hard to blame Fields for his poor performance on Sunday.
Finally, Jones had a rough day on Sunday. His offensive line, which hadn’t been great in the first two weeks either, allowed him to get hit nine times in the pocket. One of those hits caused a floating pass that the Saints intercepted and returned inside the Patriots’ 10-yard line. Jones also got unlucky on his second interception of the day when a falling Jonnu Smith batted the ball straight in the air, allowing Malcolm Jenkins to snag it and take it to the house. The Patriots also had to lean on Jones and the pass game, likely more than they planned with their run game nonexistent and the late-game score deficit. The rookie aired out the ball more this week than he ever had in the NFL,m and the result was a poorer stat line: 30-of-50 for 270 yards, one touchdown, and three picks.
Some of these hyped rookie prospects have struggled with their decision-making, the team they have around them, or both. For now, it’s way too early to call any of these quarterbacks a bust. It isn’t too early, however, to worry about how a coach (*cough* Nagy *cough*) might be affecting their quarterback’s future play.