Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season is officially in the books, and all five of this year’s first-round quarterbacks saw the field for the opening weekend of action, albeit in different capacities. That means it’s time to take stock of the top rookie signal-callers. Who improved their value after one game? Who looks a little shakier, with 16 more to go?
We’re glad you asked. Here’s how we’d categorize each of this year’s top first-year QBs:
This has more to do with the situation around him than his own flaws, but it’s not been a great transition to the NFL for the No. 1 overall pick. First Lawrence took a decent beating in the preseason while trying to wait for plays to develop, and then he was left to heave it 51 times in Jacksonville’s 37-21 drubbing at the hands of the Texans. The Clemson product obviously has arm talent, not to mention resiliency to put up with the O-line in front of him, but his debut stat line speaks to his mercurial standing: 28-of-51 (54.9%) for 332 yards, three touchdowns and three picks. Let’s hope Urban Meyer doesn’t ruin his confidence.
Like Lawrence, this is mostly due to the circumstances — namely, an O-line that was already shaky and is now without left tackle Mekhi Becton. Wilson offers a little more juice than his Jaguars counterpart in both his arm and legs, so he’s still got a decent chance of creating something out of nothing as the season wears on. But he took six sacks, completed under 55 percent of his throws and was picked off in Week 1, despite keeping things close with the Panthers. That can only be considered a moral victory.
You might scratch your head at this, considering his “competition,” Jimmy Garoppolo, posted a 124.2 QB rating in a high-scoring win as the Week 1 starter. But there’s a reason Kyle Shanahan inserted Lance during San Francisco’s first red-zone trip of the year, during which the NDSU product hit Trent Sherfield for a short score: Lance’s high-upside athleticism demands an immediate role that will almost assuredly increase as the weeks go on. Unlike another QB on this list who was deployed similarly, he also happens to play for a smart offensive coach with good complementary pieces, meaning he’ll be an even safer bet to produce if/when he finally gets more responsibility.
Of all the rookie QBs here, he’s easily looked the most comfortable — and, thus, the most ready — for full-time duties. It’s funny, because that was Jones’ sometimes-mocked reputation coming out of Alabama, but here we are. After a promising preseason that helped him beat out Cam Newton, Jones was sharp with both his reads and throws against a blitzing Dolphins defense in Week 1, thriving against pressure and on key downs to put New England in a position to win. Miami took the 17-16 decision, but the arrow is pointing nowhere but up at QB for Bill Belichick’s squad.
This one’s almost exclusively by virtue of Andy Dalton serving up a bland debut as the Bears‘ starter, a position he seemingly still holds only because Chicago staffers inexplicably promised him the job when he signed a one-year deal in free agency. To be clear, Dalton wasn’t egregiously bad in Week 1, but he also did little to lift the Bears, whereas Fields, in limited snaps as a Lance-esque red-zone option, showcased his superior traits with an athletic touchdown run. It’s a matter of when, not if, the Bears turn the keys over to Fields, and the former Ohio State star has the physical tools to raise both Chicago’s floor and ceiling for 2021 and beyond.
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