Which Rookie Quarterback Will Have the Best 2021 Season?
After a bit of a hiatus, I’m back on the blogging grind, and what better way to return than to write about the event that started my Bench Life career four years ago: The NFL Draft. The 2021 NFL Draft was all about quarterbacks, with 5 of them projected to go in the early stages of the first round. Trevor Lawrence was the surefire first pick, as has been projected for the last few years, but it felt like a toss up after that. Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Mac Jones and Trey Lance all had some analysts falling in love with them, and others thinking that maybe they don’t have what it takes to make it at the next level.
The first round is done, and the rookies all know where they’ll be playing in the fall. Lawrence in Jacksonville, Wilson with the Jets, Lance in San Fran, Fields in Chicago and Jones with my Patriots. While the talent level among this QB class is undeniable, odds are that one person in this group is going to fall short of their expectations, both this season and long-term. So, which quarterback is set up in the best situation to succeed? Let’s take a look.
Lawrence has been the unanimous first overall pick for what feels like 3 years now. The Tank for Trevor was being discussed basically since Week 1 of the NFL season, and in the end the Jaguars sucked slightly more than the Jets and were rewarded with the chance to pick first overall. As much fun as Minshew Mania has been, Lawrence is pretty much guaranteed to be the starting quarterback when the NFL season kicks off in September.
I’ll be honest, since the infamous BOAT vs. GOAT game, I haven’t paid much attention to Jacksonville and clearly I haven’t missed much. But taking a quick look at the depth chart, it seems like the Jaguars have some potential honestly. They also drafted Clemson running back Travis Etienne who will form a young and dangerous duo with second-year back James Robinson, who finished tied for 5th with 1070 rushing yards last season. When it comes to targets for Lawrence, Jacksonville has DJ Chark Jr, Marvin Jones Jr, and Phillip Dorsett. Sure, the offensive line could use some work, but it seems like Lawrence will have some options when it comes to the passing game.
Jacksonville definitely won’t be going from worst to first, but there is no way they have a worse season than what Houston is going to have. Lawrence is definitely set up for the best rookie season among the group, but best career? Guess you’ll have to keep reading and find out.
Wilson really seemed to make a name for himself with BYU this season, rocketing him up the draft rankings. I guess 3692 yards and 33 TDs can do that for you. While there were some tweets citing “unnamed NFL executive” saying that they’d be debating Wilson over Lawrence in the draft, that’s an extremely hot take, and probably from someone within the Jets organizing trying to punk the Jaguars out of a sure thing. Like Lawrence, Wilson is also looking like he’ll be the starter come Week 1 with the Jets. The biggest difference here is that Wilson won’t have as many options for passing the ball around. The Jets signed Corey Davis in the offseason, drafted Elijah Moore from Ole Miss, and still have Jamison Crowder, but those there’s not much help otherwise.
Luckily, the bar isn’t set very high in New York. The Jets were a dumpster fire last season, but hopefully a new QB and a new head coach can turn things around. So it looks like the only way to go is up, meaning most people in New York are going to be happy with Wilson, even if it means enduring some of the learning curve that comes with being a rookie starter in the NFL.
I don’t want to come across as a Trey Lance hater here, but does anyone know what the Missouri Valley Football Conference really is? Whatever the case is, Lance will have some time to get up to speed with the NFL, as Jimmy G is still the guy in San Francisco until further notice. Or at least for as long as everyone is alive.
The most likely scenario for Lance to get some playing time is if Jimmy G gets hurt, which seems to happen pretty often. The 49ers won’t be rushing to get Lance into the lineup, especially since he sat out most of last season. But if Jimmy G doesn’t get hurt or traded, Lance is going to spend the majority of his rookie season learning the league. If Lance does see the field this year, he’ll have a fun time standing behind an offensive line featuring Trent Williams and Alex Mack, and getting the ball into the hands of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, or George Kittle.
The issue with trying to project Lance’s rookie season is that there’s so much seemingly up in the air. What happens with Garoppolo? Do the 49ers revisit a potential Aaron Rodgers trade the longer the situation in Green Bay goes on? I think if Lance does get some playing time, it’ll be seen as a glimpse into the future for the franchise, but I can’t imagine that anybody is expecting him to make a big impact right now.
It seemed like analysts were going out of their way to talk shit about Fields in the days leading up to the draft. Whether it was about his throwing mechanics or his ability to read a play, everyone had something to say. But when Chicago traded up to draft Fields, it seemed like a good fit. The Mitch Trubisky experiment failed and now he’s off to be a backup in Buffalo, leaving the Bears with Nick Foles, and recently signed Andy Dalton as the only other starting quarterbacks on the roster.
Dalton is still set to be the starting in Week 1, meaning Fields will have to wait for his time to take over the offense. How long he’ll have to wait for remains to be seen. Bears fans are going to be quick to call for Fields to be the starter after a couple bad games from the Red Riffle, so likely by Week 6. On the other hand, Matt Nagy is probably a little more hesitant to throw Fields into action, likely because it puts him on the hot seat. If Andy Dalton struggles, it’s at least kind of expected. If their QB of the future struggles, it could lead to some changes on the sideline and in the front office in Chicago.
Despite that, I really do think Fields gets named the starting at some point this season, unless Chicago is really running away with the division and getting ready for a playoff run. While I don’t see it happening, the situation in Green Bay is one to keep an eye on. The Vikings could be better this year, which means they’ll probably disappoint yet again, and the Lions still aren’t a real threat in the division. On the other hand, if the Browns are fighting for a playoff spot, or are just absolute garbage by Week 13, it’ll be time to hand the reins to Fields.
The last time the Patriots drafted a quarterback with a 3-letter first name and 5-letter last name, that quarterback went on to become the GOAT. Coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge of that. But on a serious note, this pick makes sense for the Patriots and it also seems to be a good fit for Jones. From the outside looking in, it seems like New England and Alabama are both run pretty much the same way. It might not be a lot of fun, but it gets results.
Jones also won’t be rushed into action. Cam Newton is still the starter, and while last year had some ups but also plenty of downs, I’m excited to see what Super Cam can do after a full offseason, a real pre-season, and some receivers actually capable of getting open down the field. If Newton struggles again, then it comes down to whether Mac Jones or Jarrett Stidham gets the call. There’s really no need to rush Jones, and it’s not like Belichick is worried about trying to save his job. If getting Jones ready to be the starter means a season of him sitting on the bench and studying the playbook, then I’m all for it.
When it comes to looking at who is going to have the best rookie season, it’s really between Lawrence and Wilson, and Lawrence has to be the heavy favourite in that case. Lance, Fields and Jones are all facing some roadblocks on their road to becoming a starter, meaning they won’t be putting up huge numbers this season, if any.