During the 2021 season, we tracked rookie QBs who were either drafted in the first round or started most of their team’s games. Mac Jones was the lone standout as his team qualified for the postseason. We’re about halfway through year two for these players, and it’s time to check in and see how life in the NFL is treating these guys. It hasn’t always been pleasant but let’s take a look.
Mac Jones, New England Patriots
Mac Jones was the best rookie on this list last season. He helped lead the New England Patriots to the playoffs with a 10-7 record while throwing 22 touchdowns to 13 interceptions.
But year two for Jones hasn’t been quite the same. Most expected the second-year QB to pick up where he left off, but McCorkle has struggled thus far in year two, prompting Bill Belichick to bench him. In five games, Jones has thrown just three TDs to seven INTs. The Patriots are 2-3 under Jones this season (4-4 overall) and in last place in a suddenly competitive AFC East.
Jones had folks raving about his maturity last year and how well he played at times, not necessarily because of what he did in the box score. All that goodwill vanished quickly, and Belichick even decided to try something different, sitting Jones for Bailey Zappe. Jones played decently enough for the Pats to pick up a victory over the Jets in Week 8, but it feels like there will be a short leash on Mac moving forward.
To say Justin Fields hasn’t quite lived up to expectations would be an understatement. While it isn’t entirely his fault, some accountability must be taken by the second-year QB. One stat will tell you everything you need to know about Fields’ progression as a passer in Chicago.
Eight games into the season, Fields still hasn’t completed 100 passes. In fact, through the first six games, he’d completed just 63 passes. Six completions per game isn’t cutting it on any level of football in 2022. You can see flashes of Fields’ potential once or twice a game, especially when he runs the ball. The addition of former Steelers wideout Chase Claypool should help Fields, but this offense still has plenty of room for improvement.
The defense has been the best unit for Chicago, and now it looks like they’ll be starting over again. Chicago seems to be in full-on rebuild mode (again) after trading away arguably their two best defensive players, Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith, within days of the NFL trade deadline. Hopefully, the front office will surround Fields and Claypool with more weaponry in the offseason to kick this offense into high gear. The Bears’ offense needs to be built around what Fields can do like the Ravens have done in Baltimore for Lamar Jackson. Create easier passing scenarios for Fields and continue to bring him along. Fields can throw the ball well enough; he just hasn’t been consistent.
While the Jets are a surprising 5-3 this season — 4-1 with Zach Wilson in the lineup — those wins haven’t been because of the QB’s star shining bright in big spots. He’s played well enough to not lose too many games. Head coach Robert Saleh and Gang Green have accomplished this by taking pressure off Wilson’s shoulders.
Wilson’s attempted more than 26 passes once in the four wins he’s been part of. Wilson made his season debut in a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 4, completing 18 of his 36 attempts.
Sunday against the Patriots, Wilson passed 41 times and completed less than 50 percent of his throws — and the Jets lost 22-17.
So, the jury is certainly still out on whether Wilson can be the long-term solution for this team. The formula for the Jets is defense and a solid running game. Wilson lacks what it takes to be the primary reason his team is winning. He may develop into that later, but he’s got a long way to go.
The No. 1 overall pick in the ‘21 draft has yet to live up to the hype that surrounded him coming out of Clemson. Lawrence still has plenty of time to turn things around, but it’s been tough sledding in the early stages. You wouldn’t know it by the Jaguars’ record (2-6), but there has been some progress for Trevor Lawrence in his first year under new head coach Doug Pederson.
Lawrence’s passer rating, QBR, completion percentage, yards per attempt, and yards per game are all up from his rookie campaign. Most of Lawrence’s individual stats are already better than last year, but it has yet to translate into many wins. Lawrence still has the potential to be a top-10 QB in this league, it’s just going to take him a little longer than some others to get there. Keep this in mind: Josh Allen didn’t break out until year three, and everyone was ready to slap the bust label on him. Now he’s a top-two QB in the league — at worst.
It’s been a rough start for Lawrence, but when you go to a lousy franchise, that’s typically how the story begins.
As a third-round pick last year, Davis Mills wasn’t supposed to be in this position this early in his career. As a rookie, Mills started 11 games for the Texans and didn’t look horrible. He wasn’t great by any means, but there were weeks when he looked more like a first-round pick than the other QBs taken off the board that early. Houston is likely to be in line for another top-three pick in the draft, so the Texans will probably be selecting a QB in the first round. That means Mills will be back on the bench soon if things don’t change quickly. Mills has potential, but it’s tough to envision him ever becoming a top 15 QB in this league.
Year 2 was supposed to be Trey Lance’s time to take over the spotlight from Jimmy Garoppolo and lead the San Francisco 49ers. Well, it actually happened for one week. Early in the Niners’ Week 2 loss to the Seahawks, Lance left the game after suffering a brutal ankle injury reminiscent of Dak Prescott’s in ‘20. Lance is out for the remainder of the year, and Jimmy G is right back where he ended last season, as the QB1 in SF.
After all the offseason drama surrounding the quarterbacks, the 49ers were forced to go back to Jimmy G. When forced to assess Lance after his one full game this year, most would conclude that he isn’t ready to be an NFL starter. That doesn’t mean he won’t ever become a good, reliable QB, but that opening loss to the Bears left a lot to be desired.