April’s NFL Draft was a big one for quarterbacks, as five QBs were drafted in the first round, tying the second-most all time. Despite first round picks normally signifying sure things, quarterback prospects are always a wild card. Some of these teams that hoped to hit a home run in this year’s draft will end up striking out in the long run, while others will lock in their new franchise signal-caller. While No. 3 pick Trey Lance (and new Texans QB1 Davis Mills) have yet to start, the other four have made appearances or started in both games, giving us a big enough sample size to have some bold takes. Which rookie quarterback will be the most successful? Our team of writers have their picks:
Mac Jones, New England Patriots
Am I a Patriots fan? Yes. Am I still riding the wave from this past Sunday, Mac Jones’ first NFL win? Also yes. However, the biggest question is, am I a fan of quality football and do I want the sport to continue to evolve? Absolutely, yes, and hence my faith in Mac. Not only a first round pick, but already outplaying every rookie quarterback in the league, including the other first-rounders. Out of everyone who played in Week 2, Jones was the only one to not turn over the ball. In further comparison to the other rookies, he leads them in pass completion at 74 percent and his passer rating is at 96.7. He’s already doing the most out here, but his attitude doesn’t reflect it at all. He’s modest, humble and quickly diverts positive media attention, instead of putting it on his teammates and keeping his focus not on what he did well but what he needs to improve. He’s always looking ahead, looking to the future of how he can be simply the best. This is not for his personal gain and isn’t limited to how he can serve the team best; he works for the entire league as they learn what a successful, if not the most successful, rookie quarterback looks like.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence was the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft for a reason. Playing in Jacksonville and for Urban Meyer has done him no favors with absurd play-calling and numerous dropped passes, but, in spite of that, he has had some impressive plays. Even without having the weapons that most of the other rookie QBs have, Trevor Lawrence has been able to show off the accurate gun that made him so great at Clemson, connecting with deep targets (of 20+ yards) at a 60.6 percent, second only to Mac Jones. Though Trevor Lawrence is middling in a lot of statistical categories now, expect his numbers to improve as the season progresses and offense in Jacksonville gels more. Because of how poorly this team is built, don’t be surprised if the Jaguars only manage to get four or five wins on the season. But in a couple years, once Lawrence has some experience and some extra help on the personnel side, he’ll be leading the Jaguars back to the postseason single-handedly.
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
There’s a reason the Chicago Bears traded their first round pick for next year away to get this guy. I know Fields has yet to get that many opportunities, but he will have plenty of chances starting on Sunday against the Browns as Andy Dalton is injured. Fields can show dominance at times, he led Ohio State to the CFP Finals by beating Trevor Lawrence in the semifinals. He has also shown flashes of his speed as he does have one rushing touchdown on 11 touches and 34 yards. With Dalton out of the picture, Fields has a great chance to prove why he should be QB1. In the rushing game, he could scramble or hand it off to David Montgomery, and he has at least Allen Robinson and Cole Kmet in the air. Even if he loses, a Justin Herbert-like debut may be enough for him to maintain the job for the rest of the season and help turn around the recent QB woes for Da Bears.
Associate Sports Editor
Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Who else did you expect? After heavily defending Zach Wilson’s future in my column this week, I’ve gotta stick with my guy to be the most successful out of the rookie bunch. Results haven’t been glowing for any first-year starter so far, and while Mac Jones looks decent, there’s a reason he wasn’t picked until 15th overall; his ceiling isn’t nearly as high as Wilson’s. Sure, the New York gunslinger had a horrific, four-interception performance at home last week, but a variety of factors were in play (and still are) that are preventing him from excellence in the short term. In GM Joe Douglas’ master plan for the coming years, there should be plenty of weapons and a formidable offensive line for Wilson to work with, helping him reach his full potential.
Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
Sure, I could take the easy route and say that Trevor Lawrence or Zach Wilson will be the quarterbacks that headline the 2021 Draft class, but why not propose a case for 49ers rookie Trey Lance? Granted, Lance has yet to start a game through two weeks of the NFL season, but we’ve seen it before where rookie quarterbacks are given time to familiarize themselves with their team’s playbook before being thrown into the fire (Patrick Mahomes sat behind Alex Smith for an entire season after being drafted, and he turned out okay). Lance may have the most raw talent of any rookie quarterback this year, having perhaps the best mobility and arm strength of all other rookies at his position, but he’ll need to work on his pocket awareness if he wants to become an elite NFL starter. San Francisco has a number of offensive weapons under contract for multiple years, and with offensive-minded HC Kyle Shanahan at the helm, 49ers fans have a lot to look forward to in their rookie QB.
Kyle Trask, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Being the sixth person to answer this question in a draft where there were five convincing QB’s will be a challenge, but I’ll go for Trask anyway. The rookie play-caller was impressive for Florida in college, leading the Gators with 43 touchdowns on only eight picks. Those numbers were good for fourth in Heisman voting, so Trask is the real deal. Mixing his talent with time to grow and develop, Trask could really be a force in a few years. Not to mention that he’s being mentored by the greatest to ever do it in seven-time Super Bowl champion, Tom Brady. All told, Trask is going to have some major benefit from taking time to mature and really get a feel for the NFL. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and when it’s all said and done, we could be looking at Trask as a second-day steal in the draft.