By Nikki Adams
As the dust settles of the final week of the NFL preseason we recap what we learned from this year’s rookie quarterback class. Who impressed and who fell short of the mark?
The 2021 NFL season promises to see a slew of young swashbuckling rookie quarterbacks take centre stage for their chosen teams. Some are known to be established Week 1 starters for their sides while others are more likely to start the first week on the bench, but with the potential of starting a game somewhere down the line.
- Trevor Lawrence
Trevor Lawrence, the No.1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft, was named by the Jacksonville Jaguars as the starter last week, confirming in name what was expected all along. The Jaguars are starting a new era under new head coach Urban Meyer, so moving on from last season’s on and off starter Gardiner Minshew was inevitable. Meyer, a former college football head coach who met with extraordinary success during his time at the NCAA football level, has followed Lawrence’s career keenly. He’s familiar with Lawrence’s exploits at Clemson – his exceptional body of work, which earned him recognition as one of the best college football quarterbacks in recent memory, and underscored the Clemson Tigers college football odds during his reign as the team’s starter.
Meyer, arguably, took his first-ever NFL job with the Jacksonville Jaguars precisely for this opportunity to draft Lawrence into the NFL. To work with the promising quarterback that is widely considered to be a once-in-a-lifetime player, a generational talent that’s the envy of every single coach. And so far, Lawrence appears to be living up to expectations after a solid showing in NFL preseason action. He was most impressive in the Jaguars’ 34-14 win over the Cowboys in week 3 of the preseason, wrapping up his preparations for his NFL debut with 2 touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 154.5.
Sizing up Lawrence’s performance, it’s no wonder he’s the favourite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year award (OROY) by season end. His deft touches, perfect throws, mobility are all hallmarks of a legitimate contender, but how he performs in true competitive games though will decide whether he makes the cut when all is said and done.
- Zach Wilson
The New York Jets drafted BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at No.2 overall in the 2021 NFL draft, after sending Sam Darnold packing to the Carolina Panthers a month prior. Wilson has no competition for the starting job and the Jets have high expectations for the rookie. In Wilson, the hope is that the Jets have found a true franchise quarterback.
Wilson’s preseason was encouraging in more ways than one. He kept it clean on the stats sheet in the two games he played for the Jets before sitting out week 3 in anticipation of the Jets first game of the season. In many cases, Wilson was one of the most impressive of the rookies that played this preseason and that has many NFL insiders re-evaluating the Jets in the broad spectrum of the season. The impression is that the Jets might be better than most had the initially. Of course, this isn’t merely a function of Wilson and his play. New head coach Robert Salah has a lot to do with the Jets rising value. Salah is one of the most respected NFL coaches in the league, and while he’s in his first-ever head coaching post, what he’s accomplished with his previous teams in the various positions that he’s held hasn’t gone unnoticed. Many praise Salah as an exceptional motivator and an inspiring human being who works hard on and off the field. He’s an alpha-dog head coach that knows how to bring the best out of players and he’s already brought about a culture change in New York that’s plain to see.
Wilson registers as the third-best bet to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, which is somewhat surprising because it sees him fall behind both Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields in the betting. Coming up second to Lawrence would have been understandable because it falls in line with the way the 2021 NFL draft unfolded. But to fall behind both Lawrence and Fields is a bit surprising given the latter is not even expected to start in week 1 of the NFL season. According to Matt Nagy, Andy Dalton is the chose starter for the Chicago Bears in week 1.
Why bookies have set the market the way the have isn’t totally clear, but it certainly makes Wilson a value bet nevertheless. On balance, Wilson may be set up better to win the award by virtue of a sounder foundation in New York and stronger Jets supporting cast that is spearheaded by a coach that may well be a shoe-in for Coach of the Year.
- Mac Jones
The third rookie quarterback to have impressed in the preseason was Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones, who landed in Bill Belichick’s lap as the No.15 pick without the Patriots having to lift a finger to get him. By all accounts, both sides were thrilled with the selection. That Jones, who’s flush of a National Championship with Alabama last season and a statistically impressive college football season, would fall out of the Top 10 in the 2021 NFL draft is surprising. More importantly, he may prove to be the steal of the lot if the glimmer of potential he showed in the preseason is any indication. Jones has just been named the starter for the Patriots after the team released Cam Newton. The problem with Newton is his unpredictability and questionable commitment. He says the right things in his press conferences but his actions don’t measure up consistently enough. As a starter, Jones may turn out to be a sleeper pick in the race to Offensive Rookie of the Year award betting.