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NFL rookie QB grades: Mac Jones outperforms Zach Wilson, Trevor Lawrence; Trey Lance makes a cameo

Welcome to the NFL, rooks.

The 2021 NFL Draft quarterback class is going to be one that will be talked about for years to come: Just two other times in NFL history have five quarterbacks been taken in the first round, and this next crop could be the best. “Could” is the operative term here.

In Week 1, Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence, New York’s Zach Wilson and New England’s Mac Jones all made their first career starts with varying degrees of success, and San Francisco’s Trey Lance got into the mix with a little action, as well.

While the three starters couldn’t earn their first win just yet, there’s enough there to say the Ws will be coming in future weeks. With four of the five first-rounders getting action after Sunday’s Week 1 games, here’s how they graded out in their debuts:

MORE: A history of rookie QBs starting in Week 1

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Trey Lance: Incomplete

Stats: 1/1 passing (100 percent), five yards, one touchdown, no interceptions

It’s pretty fitting that Trey Lance’s San Francisco debut was just a cup of coffee. 

Drafted third behind Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, Lance has a little bit harder path to NFL starter-dom, sitting behind Jimmy Garoppolo as the 49ers look to bounce back from an injury-riddled 2020 season and become a force in the NFC again.

Head coach Khanahan likely won’t give the keys to Lance unless something goes very wrong with Jimmy Garoppolo this year, but he’ll work in with the team creatively, as needed. 

If Sunday’s game was any indicator, Lance will have different situational packages in 2021, using both his legs and his arm to caffeinated the offense and add the dual-threat ability he’s known for to San Fran’s attack: That was indicative with Lance’s red-zone score today, a touchdown to receiver Trent Sherfield.

Expect to see more Lance as the season goes on, but for now, he gets an “incomplete” for a small, small bit of action on Sunday. 

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Zach Wilson: C

Stats: 20/37 (62.1 percent), 258 yards, two touchdowns, one interception

Zach Wilson went through two preseason games playing against backups and impressed. The problem with that analysis: Wilson played in two preseason games and he was playing against backups. That’s worth about as much as an arcade token in a vending machine.

Wilson’s first NFL real action was largely OK-to-good, and the tape will tell you it was a tale of two halves: Wilson’s first half was all sorts of nightmares, bad throws and just rookie mistakes that made the Week 1 overreactions look like reasonable assertions.

The second half was much, much more representative of the kind of player he could be long-term: He finished 14/21 passing in the second half for 174 yards and two touchdowns. He also showcased some of his signature escape-ability and improvisation that made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft:

The tape will also tell you that the Jets, the youngest team in the NFL, have a long way to go, and The Jets still have a long, long way to go as a team to do well on supporting him. The offensive line was putrid and his skill-position group, however much improved it was from the Darnold era, will need some time to jell as the season goes on.

Still, it was Game 1 of Week 1 of Year 1 of the Robert Saleh-Zach Wilson era in New York. There’s enough there to make you happy heading into Week 2 and beyond.

MORE: Why isn’t Justin Fields starting for the Bears?

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Trevor Lawrence: C+

Stats: 28/51 passing (54.9 percent), 332 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions

Training wheels? What training wheels?

It’s going to be a real baptism by fire for Trevor Lawrence, but hopefully it doesn’t get too hot for him in 2021. That didn’t look to be the case in Week 1, as he lost his first regular season football game in his life. Really.

While the rookie got fooled into some typical rookie mistake stuff, the Jaguars franchise passer is going to have to wade rough waters as Jacksonville goes through Year 2 of a total rebuild.

Expect more of the same that you saw in Week 1 all season as the Jags’ defense is gashed and Lawrence and the offense will have to play from behind a lot, putting Lawrence and the offense in key passing situations.

Sunday’s game vs. the Texans showed a lot of the pro-readiness that scouts and analysts love about Lawrence’s game: He was decisive, he was accurate, he moved in the pocket well and he wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger. He’s going to have to continue to build on that as the Jaguars try and figure out the Urban Meyer way of things in Jacksonville.

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Mac Jones: B+

Stats: 29/39 (74.3 percent), 281 yards, 1 touchdown, no interceptions

After a confusing first pass attempt…

…Jones settled down and showcased the best start of any of the rookies who made their debuts on Sunday.

The Alabama product let it loose in his debut vs. Miami, faring better than his former Crimson Tide teammate in the Patriots (win/loss) on Sunday. Jones showed fearlessness in the pocket and made a wide array of throws that made him the Patriots’ first rookie QB starter since Drew Bledsoe in 1993.

A key trait that Jones showcased: Take what the defense gives you. While there were times when Jones looked checkdown-heavy, Jones kept the Pats in the game and did what he could to keep New England there. It’s going to be a learning year for him, but the early returns are fairly positive.




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