September 14, 2021

Grading the 5 First-Round Rookie Quarterbacks' Week 1 Performances

Welcome to the NFL, rookies.

Coming into the season, the 2021 NFL Draft quarterback class has been one of the most talked-about groups in recent memory. With three of the five first-round quarterbacks starting in Week 1, we did not get a full look into the future of the NFL. To be fair, even if they all did start, one week is not big enough of a sample size to judge how their careers will play out.

But, screw that. Small sample size aside, we're ready to make some declarations. We've graded all five of the first-round passers based on their Week 1 performances. Did anybody ace their first test? 

5. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

Stats: 1/1 passing, five yards, one touchdown; three rushes, two yards

Statistically, Trey Lance is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. He threw only one pass and it was a five-yard touchdown to Trent Sherfield. Lance also added two yards on the ground on three rushes.

Even though the 49ers played pretty well with Jimmy Garoppolo, it is pretty clear that they are just getting Lance more and more ready to take the starting job. If the 49ers keep winning, Lance may be limited to a situational role in 2021 as the 49ers have a "win-now" team. If the team starts losing, Lance will take over very soon.

For now, he gets an incomplete. 

Grade: Incomplete

4. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

Stats: 2/2 passing, 10 yards; one rush, three yards

Like Lance, Justin Fields is also extremely efficient after his first game.

And just like Lance, Fields was limited to a situational role even though Andy Dalton was dreadful in the Bears' loss. Late in the third quarter, Fields scored a rushing touchdown that was nearly identical to the one Lance scored on in the 49ers' preseason game against the Raiders

Fields' physical ability will make it hard for Matt Nagy to not get him more snaps. But as long as Nagy decides to be stubborn and watch his team lose by double-digits every game with Dalton under center, then Chicago — and the rest of the NFL-loving public — will never know happiness. 

Grade: Incomplete

3. Zach Wilson, New York Jets

Stats: 20/37 passing, 258 yards, two touchdowns, one interception

Things weren't quite as easy as the preseason for the Jets' first-year starter. 

Zach Wilson struggled in his first career start, but he did show flashes of why he has so much potential. 

Although he settled down in the second half and unfurled two touchdowns, he clearly was overwhelmed by the speed of the NFL and made rookie mistakes. The offensive line did him no favors as Wilson was constantly scrambling for his life. In a weird way, him having to run for his life showcased his best ability, which is throwing on the run.

Wilson flashed the potential that made him the second-overall pick. He did some good, but he did more bad. Whether it was not recognizing linebackers or simple rookie mistakes, Wilson's first career start was less than desirable.

Grade: C-

2. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

Stats: 28/51 passing, 332 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions

Trevor Lawrence is a special player, we know, but it's not ideal to have your franchise quarterback throwing 51 times in his debut. The Jaguars were clearly outmatched and outcoached against the Texans and Lawrence is not good enough yet to fix that.

Rookie mistakes are going to happen. In this game, Lawrence made too many bad passes into coverage and honestly, just played like a rookie, which is fine.

If we have learned anything from the career of Peyton Manning, it is to have patience with young quarterbacks. Manning threw 28 interceptions his rookie season. Like Lawrence, Manning also threw three interceptions in his debut. (Coincidentally, so did Andrew Luck.)

On the flip side, there was a lot of good from Lawrence as well. He was accurate when given a proper chance to read the defense, he moved in the pocket well, and he made some big-boy throws.

Overall, not a bad debut from Lawrence. Like every quarterback, the tape will tell a better story. However, there are always some things to clean up.

Grade: B-

1. Mac Jones, New England Patriots

Stats: 29/39, 281 yards, one touchdown

Mac Jones settled down pretty quickly in his NFL debut with New England. He did not play like Lawrence or Wilson. He was much more conservative and had a "take what they give" mentality. This is very similar to how the Patriots operated under Tom Brady.

One thing was clear about Jones' debut, the Alabama product is poised and ready for the moment. Although the Patriots fell to the Dolphins 17-16, it was not because of Jones. The Dolphins are just flat-out a better team. This game was the perfect example of talent beats hard work.

As the weeks go on, Jones will start trusting himself to fit the ball into tight windows and continue his evolution as a passer. When that happens, Jones and the Patriots will take off.

For now, Jones will just keep getting used to the speed of the NFL, and keep improving every week. 

Grade: B+

Photo: Getty Images