Five rookie quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. In this day and age, most expect the rookies to take over as the immediate unquestioned starter from the first coin toss. Now, we all know that is not always exactly the case. Some do start right away, but some end up starting midway through the year, at the start of the next season, or they bust altogether. So, we sat down and took a look at this year’s crop of passers and determined when each 2021 first-round rookie quarterbacks make their NFL debuts. Enjoy!
2021 NFL Rookie Quarterbacks: Day One’s
Trevor Lawrence – Jacksonville Jaguars: Week One
The Jacksonville Jaguars will start Trevor Lawrence in Week 1. There is no competition. There is no need to believe in any other quarterback. Lawrence is the golden goose of the 2021 NFL draft class, and he will be treated as such, getting thrown into the fire immediately. In camp, he will have the majority of reps with little competition from other quarterbacks on the roster. Congratulations, Jacksonville.
Zach Wilson – New York Jets: Week One
Similar to the Jaguar situation, there is no quarterback on the New York Jets roster that will compete with Zach Wilson. Joe Flacco is now in a Philadelphia Eagle, and James Morgan is a camp body, not a real quarterback. While the Jets may bring in a backup quarterback for the sake of having a backup quarterback, Wilson will start all 17 games barring injury. Congratulations, New York.
Rookie Quarterbacks: Quarter Way Through
Trey Lance – San Francisco 49ers: Week Five
Trey Lance should start Week 1, but the San Francisco 49ers are highly unlikely to have him start the season over Jimmy Garoppolo. At this point in Lance’s development, extra reps can only help him. Unlike other quarterbacks that may need adjustments, Lance only had a few hundred dropbacks at North Dakota State. He is as raw as it gets, and the best way for him to learn is to be firing NFL passes to NFL wide receivers.
The 49ers can win the Super Bowl if Lance is under center, so they will need to do the right thing and start him as early as possible. While many quarterbacks might need a few weeks to wait, Lance is the unique quarterback that is both the raw option and the must-start option in the Trey Area (pardon the play on words).
However, Kyle Shanahan and the coaching staff in San Francisco will likely lean on Garoppolo early in the season. While this is the vastly inferior option because Lance is a higher floor and higher ceiling quarterback than Garoppolo, the 49ers know they can win games with Garoppolo so Garoppolo will start. Expect Lance to take over sometime in October.
At the very least, Lance may come in for designed run-heavy sequences early in the season. With Lance at the helm, San Francisco will challenge the Baltimore Ravens for the best rushing offense in the NFL.
Justin Fields – Chicago Bears: Week Three
Similar to the San Francisco situation, the Chicago Bears will not open the season with Justin Fields as the starter. They should, but they won’t. In the past, most Week one rookie quarterbacks are either forced to start due to injury or are top two picks such as the Lawrence or Wilson selections. Andy Dalton will likely be the week one starter for the Bears, and as soon as the Bears lose their first few games, expect Fields to take the reins. Even compared to Lance, Fields is a must-start now quarterback, but Chicago won’t start him because the NFL likes consistency at the quarterback position.
One thing that works in Fields’ favor is that Dalton is new to the Bears as well. In most circumstances, such as the San Francisco case, the incumbent quarterback has advanced knowledge of the playbook under the current head coach and/or offensive coordinator. Dalton has no such luck in Chicago, and he will only have a brief headstart over Fields. Again, Dalton is likely to start Week 1, but expect Fields to make his way onto the field by the end of September.
Rookie Quarterbacks: Wait One Year
Mac Jones – New England Patriots: Week 1, 2022
If you caught anything that the New England Patriots did over the off-season, it was strengthening the offense. They added weapons such as Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Kendrick Bourne to accompany quarterback Cam Newton. To some degree, the Patriots must have a little bit of faith in Newton to succeed with new weapons, and he is likely to have a fairly long leash this season.
As passers, Newton and Mac Jones are surprisingly similar, but Newton offers rushing upside that can be used immediately. Newton will likely start until Jones is an undeniably better quarterback in terms of knowledge of the offense. With Newton being one of the smartest quarterbacks in the NFL, it may take a while for Jones to usurp him. Jones might not need as much time to learn a system as the other guys, but he is certainly going to be behind the other rookie quarterbacks when it comes to his rookie year playing time. Newton does have a lengthy injury history, but the Patriots are likely to try as hard as they can to lean on a healthy Newton for the entire season.
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