Ranking the Best First-Round Rookie Quarterback Situations Part 2
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, that will help maximize their talent, and a front office that will surround them with quality players is arguably more important than which rookie has the most talent. So, let’s take a look at the situations each rookie has found themselves in, and see who lucked out for where they have ended up at. This is the second part of two and will take a look at rankings 1-2 for these quarterbacks.
#2. Zach Wilson and the New York Jets
The New York Jets are doing everything right when it comes to surrounding Zach Wilson with talent. General Manager Joe Douglas has now spent first-round picks on the offensive line in back-to-back years, and also picked up receivers Denzel Mims and Elijah Moore in the second round of the last two drafts. With the free-agent signing of receiver Corey Davis, the Jets offense has more talent now than it ever did with Sam Darnold. And more importantly, former head coach Adam Gase has been replaced.
The Jets made an excellent hire in signing 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as their head coach. Saleh brought along with him another 49ers assistant as well, with passing game coordinator Mike Lefleur now the offensive coordinator for the Jets. Saleh and Lefleur should be able to maximize the talent on the Jets, on both sides of the ball. This would be a drastic change from the previous coaching staff, where Gase and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams looked unprepared, and repeatedly had bad game plans, leading the team to a 2-14 record. No longer should we see the Jets give the ball to an aging Frank Gore, or call a cover zero blitz with 15 seconds left, and many other malpractices the Gase-Williams regime gave us.
This is a front office and coaching staff that saw how its predecessors didn’t help former third overall pick, Sam Darnold, out at all, and have already shown signs of not repeating those mistakes. In 2018 and 19, the Jets only drafted one offensive player in the first three rounds, OT Chuma Edoga with the 92nd pick in 2019. No other offensive lineman or receivers were drafted at all, causing Darnold to have an abysmal supporting cast around him. This trend is in stark contrast to Joe Douglas in his first two drafts as general manager. With five first and second-round picks in the last two seasons, Douglas has drafted LT Mekhi Becton, WR Denzel Mims, LG Alijah Vera-Tucker, WR Elijah Moore. The fifth pick was the second overall pick that the Jets spent on Zach Wilson this season.
With an improved coaching staff and a more competent front office, this is a vastly different situation than Sam Darnold was drafted into in 2018. There is young talent on both the offense and defense, with players such as defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and safety Marcus Maye, along with the players mentioned above. This is a Jets team that should be a playoff contender in just a couple of seasons with Wilson under helm now.
#1. Trey Lance and the San Francisco 49ers
This should be no surprise. The 49ers were in a Super Bowl in 2019 before injuries across the board derailed their 2020 campaign. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have shown to be a good general manager-head coach duo, and there is already a ton of talent all across the roster. Lance also isn’t under pressure to start immediately, with Jimmy Garappolo coming back from injury, and being a solid starting quarterback.
When Lance does get the starting nod, however, expect an immediate impact. Under Shanahan, the run game has been one of the best in the league, no matter the running back. And the receiving talent on this team is one of the best in the league. Tight-end George Kittle is arguably the best tight end in the league, and receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are young players who have shown immense talent early. The offensive line ranked 9th last season per PFF as well, with LT Trent Williams leading the way as the highest-graded left tackle in the league. This offense has the capabilities of being explosive, and Lance brings a new dynamic with his dual-threat abilities.
However, while the offense is good, it was the defense that led them to a Super Bowl berth in 2019. The defensive line, led by Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, should go back to terrorizing opposing quarterbacks in 2021. Fred Warner is one of the best coverage linebackers in the league. He graded out as the best linebacker last season per PFF, along with an All-Pro nod. While the team has not re-signed cornerback Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett was healthy last season and was a good replacement. Injuries cost him from 2016-19, but Verrett played a full season in 2020 and graded out as the 8th best cornerback per PFF. While they probably won’t return to 2019 heights, this is still a very good defense and should be among the best in the league.
The 49ers were the best landing spot for any quarterback this year, and this is the ideal situation for Lance. He has an offensive-minded head coach who will call plays that will maximize his talents in an offense that has talent all over the roster. And while they lost defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to the Jets, there is still a ton of high-end talent on the defensive side of the ball that will keep this team competitive. If the 49ers can stay healthy this season, don’t be surprised if Lance leads them to the playoffs, and holding their own in the gauntlet that is the NFC West.