Ranking the Best First-Round Rookie Quarterback Situations Part 1
A few weeks ago, five quarterbacks were selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The situation rookie quarterbacks find themselves in is usually the most important thing for their development. Having a good coaching staff and a front office that will surround them with quality players is arguably more important than which rookie has the most talent and will help maximize their talent. In analyzing each rookie’s situation it is telling who lucked out for where they have ended up at. This is the first part of two and will take a look at rankings 3-5 for these quarterbacks.
#5. Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars
There was the reason the Jaguars had the number one overall pick. This was a team that went 1-15 in 2020 and has been completely torn down from the roster that went to an AFC Championship game four seasons ago. Last season, the defense ranked second to last, giving up 30.4 points per game. The offense wasn’t much better, being the 3rd worst in the league with only 19.6 points per game. The entire coaching staff was replaced, but there have been questionable choices about who is now in charge.
The biggest change to the Jaguars coaching staff is bringing Urban Meyer out of retirement to be their new head coach. Despite being an enormously successful college coach, Meyer has never had an NFL job until now. They’ve brought in Darrell Bevell from the Lions as their newest offensive coordinator and brought in former Ravens defensive line coach Joe Cullen as their new defensive coordinator. Trent Baalke, who was interim general manager last season, was officially announced as the new general manager in January. However, this is Meyer’s team, and he likely has a lot of say in the roster, as he would have at the college level.
The early returns on what the new era of the Jaguars has done, have not been great. While they did a good job of bringing in free agent talents, such as CB Shaquil Griffen, WR Marvin Jones Jr, and DT Roy Robertson-Harris, they arguably slightly overpaid for all three. The draft didn’t go much better either. After Lawrence, they drafted Clemson running back Travis Etienne, which was a surprising move given how much help their roster needed, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They also had just picked up James Robinson last season as an undrafted player, who proceeded to have the 2nd most rush yards of all rookies with 1070. Later with their second 2nd round pick, they drafted OT Walker Little, which was seen as a major reach by the consensus big board, picking up the 85th ranked player at pick 45.
Lawrence has ended up with arguably the worst roster out of the five quarterbacks, and a front office that still has to prove that they can successfully surround him with top-tier talent. With Lawrence considered a generational talent, it might not matter, as we saw Andrew Luck carry a not-great Colts team to the playoffs year after year, but where things stand right now, the situation is not ideal for Lawrence.
#4. Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears needed Justin Fields, and trading up to draft him was the best option they had. However, the situation for Fields is not as ideal. While the Bears did make the playoffs last season, there are many holes on the roster and limited salary cap space to address it. This offseason, already they had to cut two-time pro bowler and 2018 first-team All-Pro player cornerback Kyle Fuller. LT Charles Leno was a more recent cap casualty, opening up concerns along their offensive line. The Bears, according to Andrew Walters, are also on the older side for NFL teams.
Fields will have plenty of offensive weapons to work with, such as receivers Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney, and running back David Montgomery, but the offensive line and secondary for the Bears look to be points of concern. The Bears also paid a lot of money to edge rusher Robert Quinn last season, and he has been underwhelming for them thus far. However, the biggest concerns are about general manager Ryan Pace, and head coach Matt Nagy. We already saw this partnership try and build around former number two overall pick, Mitch Trubisky, and outside of the 2018 season, they failed to meet expectations.
The main issue is the lack of young talent that the team has. Pace has had a history of trading up in the draft to get his guys, but the downside of this is that the Bears end up not having many draft picks to work with. And when these trades result in players such as Anthony Miller or Mitch Trubisky, it can exacerbate the problem. The 2021 draft was another case of this as well. While the Bears got two great players in the first two rounds in Fields and OT Teven Jenkins, they traded up for both players and had to give up a third-round pick in 2021, a first-round pick in 2022, and other later round picks as well. However, if the Bears can hit on their selections, the Justin Fields era might just be what Bears fans have been hoping for a long time.
#3. Mac Jones and the New England Patriots
Going to a Bill Belichick-coached team was one of the better situations for Mac Jones to end up in. The Patriots may have gone 7-9 last season, but with their plethora of Covid-19 opt-outs returning, and an aggressive free agency period, it is clear that Belichick is expecting his team to return to the playoffs this season. Mac Jones also doesn’t have the pressure to start right away. Former MVP Cam Newton will be the starter for at least at the beginning of the season. This will give Jones time to sit and learn behind a player who has seen it all in his career. While Newton wasn’t great last season, a lot could be chalked up to getting Covid, and a not-great supporting cast. The Patriots also have a solid coaching staff, with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels being one of the most experienced coaches in the league.
The biggest concern about the Patriots is what their offense will look like. With Belichick in charge, the defense will hold its own. But over the last few seasons, the offensive core for the Patriots has been sub-par. The offensive skill players who have been taken in the first round, WR N’Keal Harry in 2019 and RB Sony Michel in 2018, have not lived up to their draft status. And players such as Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and Danny Amendola, who were key pieces of the Patriots dynasty, have all either retired or joined other teams.
However, Belichick did go out in free agency this season and aggressively added receiving options for the offense. The Patriots signed tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry early in free agency. They also added receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. 3rd-year receiver Jakobi Meyers is also coming off a solid second-year campaign, so the Patriots should have a much improved offensive core in 2021. The Patriots continue to have one of the best offensive lines in the league. They finished with the 4th ranked unit in 2020 according to PFF. Despite losing All-Pro guard Joe Thuney, they traded for RT Trent Brown, who was a pro bowler in 2019 before Covid limited him to just five games in 2021. This is an offense Mac Jones could thrive in, and all in all, is one of the better situations he could have landed in this year.