As hyped as the 2021 NFL Draft quarterback class was, not many of the first-round rookies enjoyed immediate success on the field. In 2022, some of those quarterbacks will almost certainly have more successful seasons, while others might take a step back.
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence finished his first pro season with a 3-14 record and tied for the league lead with 17 interceptions. The New York Jets’ Zach Wilson missed four games with injuries and finished with just three wins of his own. Trey Lance sat on the bench almost all year for the San Francisco 49ers, starting only two games. Chicago Bears’ quarterback Justin Fields battled injuries and finished with two wins as a starter. And Mac Jones, the New England Patriots quarterback drafted last of this bunch in the first round, finished with 10 wins, and was the only rookie signal-caller to secure a playoff berth.
There was also Davis Mills, the Houston Texans’ quarterback drafted in the third round and thrust into the starting role after the first two weeks of the 2021 season. Given the minimal expectations for Mills, his 2-11 record was a huge success, and Houston plans on moving forward with him as their starter for now.
Of the rookie quarterbacks who started most of their team’s games in 2021, it’s easy to point to Jones as the most successful. However, not all offseasons are created equal, and some of the quarterbacks entering their second year have gotten much more personnel help than others.
Second-year QBs whose situations got worse
On the one hand, there are the Bears, who lost wide receivers Allen Robinson and offensive guard James Daniels in free agency. They added free-agent receivers Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown, among others, but the former was arrested for reckless driving a month after signing with his new team. The latter likely won’t be a significant contributor for Chicago given his lack of production with Green Bay.
Without a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Chicago couldn’t add any top-tier talent to their offensive line or receiving corps to help Fields. As a result, Fields could have the roughest second season of any 2021 rookie quarterback.
Given the offseason New England had, it appears Jones is another second-year quarterback that could struggle to take a step forward in 2022.
Interior offensive linemen Ted Karras and Shaq Mason are gone, and the Patriots’ first two draft picks—guard Cole Strange and receiver Tyquan Thornton—were reaches. Incoming receiver DeVante Parker’s production has declined in recent years as well.
The Patriots will also have a weaker defensive unit in 2022. Second-team All-Pro cornerback J.C. Jackson joined the Chargers in free agency, and linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy remain unsigned free agents. That could put more pressure on Jones and the offense to carry the team.
That’s especially rough news considering Jones and the Patriots also lost offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels when he became the Raiders’ new head coach. His play-calling deserved a lot of the credit for Jones’ rookie-year success. With the loss of McDaniels and a couple of O-line starters, Jones probably won’t see another double-digit win total and playoff berth in 2022.
Second-year QBs whose situations got better
The Jets bolstered their offensive line in front of Wilson, adding Laken Tomlinson to the interior in free agency and versatile tackle Max Mitchell in the draft. They also added pass-catching help in tight ends C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin in free agency, along with receiver Garrett Wilson and tight end Jeremy Ruckert in the draft. The running game got stronger, too, with the selection of running back Breece Hall in the second round.
This offseason, some big changes to both the roster and staff came to Jacksonville. Doug Pederson, who led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl victory in 2017, replaced Urban Meyer as head coach. It’s a massive and immediate upgrade to the coaching staff after Meyer did more to make the Jaguars look like a circus than a professional football organization. Lawrence will finally have a head coach that he can look to as a mentor rather than one that only provides distractions.
On the field, last year’s first overall pick should enjoy more protection up front with the additions of top free-agent guard Brandon Scherff and third-round center Luke Fortner. Lawrence will also have more targets to throw to this year with wide receivers Zay Jones and Christian Kirk and tight end Evan Engram joining the fold in free agency.
Given their roster and staff improvements, Lawrence might take the most significant leap forward of any second-year quarterback and pull the Jaguars out of the bottom of the NFL for the first time in three years.
The Texans had a stellar draft class that brought Mills more pass-catchers—wide receiver John Metchie III and tight end Teagan Quitoriano—and some additional protection—guard Kenyon Green and tackles Thomas Booker and Austin Deculus. Even running back Dameon Pierce gives Houston upside as a pass-blocker to pair with his discipline as a runner.
Considering Mills was able to pull out two wins—and almost four, with three-point losses to New England and Tennessee—with a significantly worse team around him, the upgraded offense should equate to more success in 2022.
We still don’t know…
Lance is the biggest wild card of last year’s rookie gunslingers after seeing limited action in 2021. With fellow quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo still on the roster, winning that starting job for the 2022 season would represent a decisive step forward for the second-year quarterback. If Garoppolo remains the starter in San Francisco, it would be a major indictment of Lance’s abilities.