Allow me to go out on a limb and proclaim that there will be no rookie campaigns by a quarterback this season to rival anything we witnessed a year ago. Nothing historically significant (at least in terms of positive results) and nothing that will stand out over time.
Sure, we are only three games in, but some things are evident. And no one in this much-hyped 2021 rookie QB class is going to get anywhere close to achieving what Justin Herbert or Joe Burrow accomplished a year ago. Not happening. No way. We aren't even going to get something along the lines of what Baker Mayfield or Josh Allen displayed as a rookie, let alone Kyler Murray. Forgetaboutit.
No one in this group is taking the league by storm. We aren't getting a sniff of what Lamar Jackson did in 2018 to save his team's season or what RG3 did well before that. There is no immediate sure thing like Andrew Luck was as a rookie. Who knows what the future holds for these youngsters, and a rookie season by no means defines a career at this position (ask John Elway or Peyton Manning). But this isn't a one-man sport, this position is so reliant on what is around the QB, from coaching and schematics to in-game adjustments to the ability of their teammates, and, well, some of these QBs were simply "born" in the wrong villages; villages in no way, shape or form ready to raise them (or even keep them upright in many cases).
The early returns have been bleak, the way many of them have been indoctrinated and coaches has been dubious and expecting any sort of immediate positive impact was always largely fool's gold. Of all of them, Trey Lance remains the one I believe could do something special in 2021, given the coaching staff and roster around him, but he is being brought along very slowly by Kyle Shanahan and that will clearly be a process in San Francisco.
By and large, this has been an incredibly tough watch, and I am not sure there is much short-term hope in sight that could make it much better. Most of these teams can't run the ball, lack quality offensive linemen, suffer in protection. And all the while even the most developed of the bunch – a lifelong winner like Trevor Lawrence – looks woefully overmatched thus far, holding the ball too long, unsure of what's going on around him, forcing things, seeming visibly frustrated on a football field in a manner that he's frankly never experienced before.
There is no shame in any of this. It happens to almost all of them.
I just don't see one of those rare anomalies in this group, let alone a historic outlier. Too much already working against them.
Lawrence and Wilson: Taking way too many hits
Let's start with Lawrence. He has a head coach who is dealing with a steep learning curve, making the jump to the NFL and seeming way over his head. From roster decisions to how they handled the preseason to wasting all those valuable first-team reps to Gardner Minshew (who they were always going to trade), to putting together a Frankenstein staff, to putting this kid behind the sticks too much with a suspect outfit that tends to get penalized.
Only Zach Wilson has a lower rating among qualified passers to Lawrence's 60.3. Neither one is averaging over 55% completions. Neither is averaging more than six yards per attempt. Neither has nearly enough at the all important tight end position (the Jags just traded for one nominal TE after trading one away this summer). Neither has a dependable offensive line and while the Jaguars are averaging over five yards per carry, the Jets are below league average.
You have to worry about the kind of shots these two will take this season, under these circumstances, with so much football still to play. And you have to worry about all of the mistakes snowballing and seeping into their psyche. Wilson is worst in the NFL for interceptions, throwing a pick on 6.7% of his attempts, while Lawrence is just behind at 5.9%. The league average is 2.1%.
With Wilson, in particular, the accumulation of pressure and hits are already a concern. His awareness is shaky and he is taking a sack on an NFL-worst 12.5% of all drop-backs, more than twice the league average. And, again, the injuries on the offensive line give me even greater pause. This is going to take some time. Sorry Jets fans. And Lawrence is clearly more advanced, but, again, the circumstances around him have to temper any expectations that he was going to have a breakout rookie season.
Jones: In a good spot, but ...
For all of the chatter about how pro-ready and advanced Mac Jones was, and about his decision-making and processing … well, he looks every bit the green rookie to me. Yes, there is a lot to like about him, but they are operating a very conservative, constricted offense for him and it's not amounting to much. Even with all the high-percentage throws, there have been turnovers, he doesn't get the ball out quickly enough, and while the completion percentage is high, most of these Patriots drives have gone nowhere.
Even against Wilson in Week 2, when the Jets rookie turned it over four times, Jones and the Patriots offense couldn't do much at all. All the money spent on new tight ends and receivers has been for naught, and as the pressure has increased on him, and the offensive line has suffered some, problems have mounted. He's been fine, and he isn't an issue, per se, but the idea that he could take over for Cam Newton and get this offense to a new level and maybe lead this team to the playoffs just doesn't seem realistic to me.
Jones is in tremendous hands with Josh McDaniels as his coordinator and quarterback guru, and they will bring him along as the season goes along and surely open things up more. But he also has limitations that come with youth at this position and has yet to even face a daunting road environment and he is going to take his lumps.
Fields: No chance with Bears' game plan
The QB in this group I was highest on, Justin Fields, happened to land in a village that has been the absolutely worst when it comes to evaluating and incubating this position, and that was never more apparent than Sunday, in his first start. The way Matt Nagy and his staff treated the spring and summer, from their blind allegiance to Andy Dalton to their bizarre game plan in Week 3, have to leave you shaking your head.
It was as if Nagy took a Dalton game plan – stationary pockets, no option stuff, no boots or waggles or QB misdirection – and just threw it at Fields. The lack of adjustments or vision was staggering. And it has to make you wonder about whether the stuff around Fields will give him any shot at thriving there right now. The best thing that could happen to him might be Dalton getting back from his knee injury ASAP.
Lance: The best shot at Year 1 success
And, yeah, Lance is far and away in the best spot. He's already scored a few touchdowns and is getting his feet under him, although it has been few and far between with the reps. I can't help but wonder, however, with all the injuries to running backs and the uncharacteristic issues the 49ers are having running the ball, if we don't see more Lance very soon. I heard it was quite possibly in Week 3, though the Packers jumping to an early three-score lead may have impacted that.
Lance isn't there just to hold a clipboard. And his potential is limitless. Just one passing attempt thus far, but I can't imagine that by the time October closes he isn't on the field with greater regularity. And even then, barring an injury to Jimmy G, I don't think we'll see enough of him to live up to what some recent rookie quarterbacks have made us believe is possible.
Lance would be the only QB in this group with any sort of realistic chance to getting in a postseason game, the only one with the pieces around him to perhaps go on a real run. But this is going to be a tough watch for this bunch from week to week. As it tends to be.