Joe Burrow looked worthy of the No. 1 overall pick he was during his season season, a true breakout campaign for the division-winning quarterback. His classmate, Justin Herbert, put on another season-long show for the Chargers, and Jalen Hurts developed nicely with the Eagles.
As for the rookies, Mac Jones calmly operated New England's offense early in the season but enters the playoffs on somewhat of a low note, and the rest of the first-year passers really struggled for the vast majority of the debut years in the NFL.
There were 13 quarterbacks selected in the past two NFL Draft classes who qualified to be evaluated in this series during the 2021 regular season.
Let's dive deep into the individual efforts of each quarterback and assign a grade on a per-snap basis, taking every individual aspect of their performance into account.
Final season summary: Burrow didn't start tremendously but did a mostly fine job in what was initially a rather conservative game plan from Zac Taylor. As the season progressed, the perfect connections down the field became more frequent, occurring in just about every game. While his weapons are high-end, Burrow showed up big in big games for the Bengals en route to winning the AFC North.
Final season Grade: B+
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- In the first, Herbert fired a missile to Jared Cook on a corner route between defenders for a nice chunk play.
- Midway through the second, Herbert back juked a defender while rolling right before throwing a strike to a wideout for 10 yards with a defensive back converging on the throw.
- Midway through the fourth, Herbert connected on a perfect back-shoulder to Mike Williams for 18 yards.
- Herbert's touchdown on 4th and 21 to Josh Palmer late in the fourth was the finest throw I watched from any first or second year quarterback this season, especially given the situation. The Raiders had the majority of their secondary aligned near or at the goal line. Herbert looked left before beaming a laser to the rookie wideout for the score.
- While dropped as the receiver hit the ground, Herbert lofted a gorgeous go ball to Williams late in the fourth.
- With under 30 seconds to go, Herbert made a ridiculously long toss across the field that hit Palmer in the chest.
- On the second-to-last play in regulation, there was another deep out route from the far hash. Incredible.
- The game-tying touchdown to Williams was a rocket.
- In overtime, Herbert made a nearly impossible throw deep over the middle through a load of traffic that ultimately went to 47 yards.
- In the third, he rolled left into pressure and hung onto the ball for a sack.
- Herbert's interception in the fourth quarter was while under pressure and the pass was forced and underthrown.
- In the fourth, he slightly overthrew a deep ball down the left sideline.
- A few plays later he threw behind Palmer on a super-long throw toward the sideline.
- Herbert threw a tick inside on an out route to Palmer on a sideline toss.
- He missed on a throw into the flat in overtime.
Summary: This was a game in which I needed to fan myself while watching Herbert. There were a few misses, but they were well outweighed by an abundance of flat-out ridiculous throws, especially in crunch time. Awe-inspiring stuff from Herbert in the defeat.
Final season summary: Herbert was a blast to watch in his second NFL season. The high-caliber throws appeared in just about every single game, and he did it with a shaky right side of the offensive line. Sure there were mistakes here and there, which we see from all young quarterbacks, but the Chargers have a real one in Herbert. He is in the elite category of throw-making abilities in the NFL, and he's a great athlete.
Season Grade: B
Final season summary: Hurts took a step in 2021. Not to elite status, not even to borderline elite status. But a step nonetheless for a quarterback who entered the league with raw passing skills and above-average athleticism. As the season progressed, Hurts took better care of the football and sprinkled in a few "wow" throws in the process. The Eagles offense featured a litany of schemed-up tosses for the young quarterback, but I was impressed with his game management skills, particularly in the final two months of the regular season.
Final season grade: C+
- In the second, from the far hash, Jones made a long throw to Nelson Agholor near the sideline for 23 yards with a defender converging on the throw.
- On a third down in the third quarter, Jones dropped one in the bucket to a decently open Jakobi Meyers down the right sideline.
- Jones got one up and over the defense on a corner route to Hunter Henry in the fourth.
- On his first throw of the game, Jones didn't see Xavien Howard sneaking behind a short out-breaking route and it was intercepted.
- Late in the second, he threw behind N'Keal Harry on a deep route down the numbers.
- While rolling out to his left, he threw behind a throw into the flat that was nearly picked.
Summary: Jones did put some quality downfield throws on film in the season finale. There were the misfires that have become common of late and, as usual, a variety of screens, quick throws and check downs.
Final season summary: Jones won 10 games in the regular season of his rookie year, and did a fine job orchestrating Josh McDaniels' offense. There wasn't much on his plate though, and his athletic and arm-talent limitations appeared later in the season. He looks to be mentally there but the high-degree-of-difficulty throws were few and far between, and he made more mistakes than you'd want from a classic game manager in an ideal situation.
Final season Grade: C+
- On his second drop back of the game, Lawrence threw a strike to Marvin Jones right past an underneath linebacker for 17 yards.
- While the ball was dropped, Lawrence dropped a dime deep down the field to Laquon Treadwell.
- On the next play, he sent a rifle shot to Laviska Shenault through traffic for a first down.
- With under six minutes to go in the second, Lawrence made an incredibly long throw down the seam for 29 yards.
- Just before reaching the sideline while scrambling, Lawrence squeezed one into Shenault for 10 yards.
- After retrieving a high snap, Lawrence rolled right and lofted a gorgeous ball to Jones for a touchdown in the back portion of the end zone.
Summary: Ironically, after a season that featured a collection of "bad throws" in every contest, Lawrence legitimately did not have one against the Colts in the regular-season finale.
Final season summary: Lawrence did not play up to the immense hype as a rookie. Not even close. From taking unnecessary risks to holding the ball far too long to missing easy, wide-open targets. There were intermittent flashes of his supreme arm talent, and he ended the season on a clear high note.
Final season Grade: C
- In the second, Wilson rifled a ball into Keelan Cole on a slant between two defenders. Cole did the rest and scored from 54 yards out.
- Early in the fourth, deep in his own end, he connected with Tarik Black on a long throw near the sideline against tight overage for a first down.
- Early in the second, Wilson held the ball for an eternity then reversed his field in the pocket and took a 14-yard sack.
- Wilson threw behind Cole open on a slant that was completed but could've been a larger gain had the throw hit the receiver in stride.
- In the third, Wilson retreated deep into the pocket and took another bad sack.
- In the fourth, he skipped a comeback route to its intended target.
Summary: It was a discouraging end to Wilson's rookie season, especially after he was starting to show signs of life of late. However, the quality of the defense he faced has to be factored in.
Final season summary: Wilson was hampered by what was mostly a porous offensive line all season, yet he started by missing layups and not taking good care of the football, often holding it too long or trying to force it into precarious situations. In December and in the first game of January, Wilson flashed a bit with his arm talent and athleticism but ended with a stinker on the road.
Final season Grade: C-
- While not a throw through a tight window, Tagovailoa did place his first touchdown to Jaylen Waddle perfectly in the back corner of the end zone.
- On his last drop back of the game, Tagovailoa eluded pressured and scrambled out to the right for 11 yards.
- In the fourth, he threw behind an out route that fell incomplete.
Summary: As usual, Tagovailoa wasn't asked to make too many difficult throws -- the game plan was littered with screens and RPO slants -- but he did a good job taking care of the football against the Patriots defense.
Final season summary: Tagovailoa took a step forward in 2021 albeit a tiny one, and in a full season as a starter, his limitations were evident in every game. He does not have a big arm and is only average athletically. When the Dolphins operated a quick-strike attack, Tagovailoa was decent and at times pretty good. But in nearly every situation when they needed a big throw -- particularly down the field -- their quarterback was not able to make the connection due to arm-talent and accuracy concerns. His offensive line didn't help him much, but Tagovailoa's second NFL season was not very encouraging for the future.
Final season Grade: C+
- In the second, Mills ripped a fastball over the middle to Brandin Cooks for 25 yards.
- Mills made an off-structure throw down the field that hit Danny Amendola in the hands.
- In the third, he dropped a nicely lofted pass to Rex Burkhead down the sideline for a big gain.
- While fading away from pressure in the pocket, Mills ripped a seam throw to Amendola through traffic.
- On the first play of the fourth quarter, there was a strike on a deep dig.
- On a deep over to Amendola against tight coverage for 21 yards, Mills threw a strike.
- Mills last throw of the game was a gorgeous connection to Amendola for 26 yards.
- In the first, he overthrew a deep corner to Nico Collins.
- The next throw was another overthrow on a deep crosser.
- Late in the third, he overthrew a deep ball.
Summary: Mills really flashed against the Titans. It was a valiant comeback effort, littered with big-time throws and minimal misfires. Good outing to finish the season for the rookie.
Final season summary: Mills began the season shaky. Not many flashes. Looked overwhelmed. Once he was given the starting job outright, something clicked. The difficult throws appeared in almost every outing. Mills was good enough that the Texans should not feel compelled to draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Final season Grade: C+
Final season summary: Fields had flash moments during his debut season with the Bears. He also had many instances in which he was late locating open receivers and took hits in the pocket that should've been throwaways. He ran well, and his athleticism shined. Injuries hampered his development that he looked to initially be making midway through the season.
Final season grade: C+
Final season summary: Lance's showed progression in his spaced-out limited action as a rookie. In his first start, he was clearly overwhelmed. His second time getting more than 10 drop backs in a game... better. He flashed with a bunch of really nice throws in Week 17.
Final season grade: C
- In the fourth, Fromm threw with perfect placement and timing on an out to Kenny Golladay.
- Fromm scrambled for 28 yards in garbage time.
- In the second, he missed low and outside to an open running back in the flat.
- On the next play, he was late on a longer throw while rolling out and it didn't have enough velocity behind it. Fell incomplete.
- His interception was late and was thrown hard enough, allowing the cornerback to fly downhill and take it to the house.
- In the fourth, Fromm missed on a dig. Inaccurate toss.
- His last throw of the season was an overthrow on a slant that was intercepted.
Summary: Fromm was pretty darn bad against the Football Team. It was difficult to find plays for the "best throws" section, and his accuracy and timing were well below average.
Season Summary: Fromm was thrust into the starting role late in the season and did not flash in his limited opportunities. He was not yet acclimated to the speed of NFL defenses and his lack of a big arm kept him from connecting on difficult throws.
Final season Grade: D+
- Late in the third, while rolling right, Love lofted a pass over an underneath defender that should've been caught for a touchdown.
- On one of his early throws, Love was pressured and looked for a safety valve but threw it in the dirt.
- His last throw of the game was an interception slightly behind his intended target.
Summary: Not many opportunities for big-time throws in this one, and he only made a few bad tosses in this one.
Season Summary: Love got two chances to show his stuff for the Packers this season, and mostly disappointed. In the outing against the Chiefs earlier in the season, there were a few impressive arm-talent displays once Green Bay got down. As probably expected, Love was a tick delayed making correct decisions against pressure.
Final season Grade: D+
Final season summary: In his lone start of the season, Book didn't have a bunch of bad tosses against the Dolphins on Monday. He was just clearly was not ready to read and react and make quick, accurate throws against NFL coverages. He took a ton of sacks and hits inside the pocket and severely hindered the New Orleans offense.
Final season grade: F
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