May 17, 2021
BY Lance Cartelli

Ranking the 5 Rookie Quarterbacks Under the Most Pressure in 2021

No position in sports faces more pressure than an NFL starting quarterback. 

With an entire franchise’s hopes and dreams on their shoulders, rookie quarterbacks are expected to be the savior for NFL teams for the next decade-plus. It’s why stars such as Patrick Mahomes and Dak Prescott make more than $40 million per year

And while pressure does make diamonds, sometimes that kind of responsibility can ruin a young prospect full of potential

That could easily happen with this incoming crop of first-round signal-callers. But with all five passers landing in positions to succeed, it got us thinking: who is under the most pressure in 2021? 

5. Mac Jones, New England Patriots

Through no fault of his own, Mac Jones — if he was selected No. 3 by the 49ers like many “experts” predicted — might be No. 1 on this list. That’s how much backlash the selection would have received if the Niners actually did the unthinkable. 

Alas, they didn’t. And they saved the Alabama passer from a lot of pressure. Instead, he’ll just have to replace the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady. Sounds easy, right? 

Thankfully for Jones, he’s a year removed from Brady leaving and not his immediate replacement. But it doesn’t help that he was compared to the seven-time Super Bowl champion in the lead-up to the 2021 NFL Draft

While he’ll certainly face pressure in Foxboro, Jones isn’t expected to be a savior after falling to the No. 15 pick. Expectations for him will be a lot more realistic, which should help Jones early in his career.  

4. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

It’s pretty incredible how under the radar Trevor Lawrence went during draft season. 

The best QB prospect to enter the league since Andrew Luck didn’t have many blemishes on his resume and — thanks to the 49ers big move up the board — all the talking heads on ESPN and Fox Sports were blabbering about how San Francisco would select Mac Jones

That alleviated a lot of pressure on the no-brainer No. 1 pick. 

Usually, a top overall pick, no matter how perfect the prospect is, will at least be scrutinized a little bit. But Lawrence came away unscathed and almost as an afterthought in the draft process. 

That’ll change, of course, when the season kicks off and Lawrence will have to live up to the massive hype. But, as of now, more pressure is on first-year coach Urban Meyer than Lawrence. 

3. Zach Wilson, New York Jets

It might be a surprise to see a presumed Week 1 starting quarterback in the pressure-packed market of New York this low on the list, but that just speaks to what the other two QBs on this list are facing. 

Zach Wilson, who might look like he’s more ready for a college internship than being under center, faces considerable pressure in 2021. He was somewhat of a one-year wonder at BYU and he was selected over Trey Lance and Justin Fields. He’ll have high expectations — especially if those two passers (or Jones) live up to the hype. 

Wilson does have a few things working for him, though. As long as things aren’t a complete disaster in the Big Apple, Wilson will have at least one year to live in the afterglow of the Adam Gase era, a period of total darkness in Jets history that should make even a mediocre year look like a deep playoff run. The Jets have also invested in building around Wilson by adding Corey Davis and Elijah Moore this offseason while bulking up the offensive line. 

Wilson will also play in the QB-friendly Kyle Shanahan-style offense under new coach Robert Saleh. 

Mormon Mahomes will be under the spotlight in his first season, but it’s nothing compared to the next two QBs on the list. 

2. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers 

Normally, a quarterback who was drafted third overall and expected to sit for potentially an entire season isn’t under a ton of pressure in Year One, but this isn’t a normal year. 

The 49ers weren’t like most teams picking in the top five. They were in the Super Bowl just two years ago and have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. Even with Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance under center, San Francisco has an expected win total of 10.5, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, tied with the Rams atop the NFC West. 

Having a Super Bowl-worthy roster with a rookie QB puts a great deal of pressure on the former North Dakota State QB, who has played only one game in more than 18 months. Not to mention, the Niners paid a hefty price to move up for Lance, including two future first-rounders and a 2022 third-round selection. 

Luckily for Lance, he’ll have Kyle Shanahan as his head coach which should help ease the burden and allow him to thrive. 

If Lance starts Week 1, like we predicted, then there’s an argument for the rookie to be facing the most pressure in his first season. But there’s one more signal-caller who might be facing insurmountable odds. 

1. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

The fourth QB drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft enters the season under the most pressure. 

Not only does Justin Fields have the pressure of being drafted by the Chicago Bears, whose fans are desperate for a homegrown quarterback to emerge as just a decent passer, but he also has to immediately perform well to save his coach and general manager’s job. 

Coach Matt Nagy and former executive of the year Ryan Pace surprisingly weren’t fired this past offseason, and after trading future assets to move up for the Ohio State product, they’re all-in on Fields. But if Fields struggles early, Nagy and Pace might not be able to save their jobs. 

If Chicago cleans house, then Fields could be in trouble as early as Year Two if the new regime wants to bring in their own guys, similar to how the Cardinals traded away former first-rounder Josh Rosen to make room for No. 1 pick Kyler Murray

While it’s unlikely that scenario happens — unless we’re in the Bears’ Darkest Timeline — it’s certainly possible, which puts Fields under the most pressure in his rookie season despite being drafted after Lawrence, Wilson and Lance. 

Photo: Getty Images/Lines Illustration