Contrary to what a dictionary might tell you, “rookie” is actually spelled P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E.
Through three weeks, the 2021 NFL rookie quarterback class looked extremely average at times. The kids took a big step forward in Week 4, with Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields and Mac Jones putting forth their best efforts. Elsewhere, Trey Lance and Davis Mills played about how well as you’d expect, given their situations.
Fields had the biggest mountain to climb coming off a poor starting debut in Week 3. He and the Bears would pick up a much-needed win over the Lions, pushing their record to 2-2 and giving the Chicago faithful a small peek into the future
The rookie QB class course-corrected some in Week 4. Here’s how it shook out:
Week 4 rookie QB grades
Davis Mills: F
Stats: 11/21, 87 yards, no touchdowns, four interceptions
Next: vs. Patriots
Mills had a decent debut vs. the Panthers in Week 3, but his Week 4 start was, uh, not great.
The Stanford product had a horrible day against one of the league’s best defenses, which isn’t surprising. What is slightly surprising is just how bad it was from beginning to end: Mills had just about the worst QB performance this side of Nathan Peterman that we’ve seen in years.
Mills’ first half was abysmal: He was 1-for-7 passing with two interceptions. It didn’t get much better in the second half as he finished with four interceptions overall.
Davis Mills recorded a Total QBR of 0.8 today. That’s the worst QBR game of the last three seasons.
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) October 3, 2021
Whether Mills becomes the Texans’ franchise QB depends solely on how good he is moving forward. The deck is stacked against him, though, with hapless Houston circling the drain. Expect more of these performances from Mills and the team.
Trey Lance: C
Stats: 9/18, 157 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions
Next: at Cardinals
One thing is clear: Lance certainly has tools. The question that he and the 49ers have to answer is: How can they refine those tools and put them into action?
Whether he was geeked up or just uncomfortable, Lance came out looking pretty average Sunday in relief of Jimmy Garoppolo (calf) . Lance finished with 9-of-18 passing, 157 yards and two touchdowns. If you take out his blown-coverage TD pass to Deebo Samuel, Lance was just 8 of 17 for 81 yards.
Lance was all over the place early: He threw at receivers’ feet, above their heads and generally around rather than at. He did, though, use his legs quite often, picking up 41 yards on the ground through scrambles and designed runs.
Lance seemed unsettled in the pocket all afternoon. With a full week of preparation as the team’s QB1, that could change, but it won’t be easy: Lance’s next opportunity will come vs. the surprising 4-0 Cardinals next Sunday.
Justin Fields: B
Stats: 11/17, 209 yards, one interception
Next: at Raiders
Second time’s the charm for Fields.
After being buried on the depth chart behind Andy Dalton, he made his second consecutive start Sunday, and he looked markedly better than he did in his first start.
In fact, Fields looked very good. The Bears kept his throwing opportunities to a minimum in their 24-14 win over the Lions, with just 17 attempts on the day, but those attempts looked great. Fields was accurate and showcased a strong arm, evaded the rush when needed and quickly put any thoughts of Dalton starting again in the rearview mirror. Maybe.
While Fields did have a fumble (it was recovered by the Bears) and an interception (the ball was deflected) and didn’t notch a passing touchdown (Matt Nagy), the arrow is pointing up for him. The most impressive part was Fields’ propensity to look downfield for the big play; he connected with Darnell Mooney five times for 126 yards. That’ll play.
Trevor Lawrence: B
Stats: 17/24, 204 yards, rushing touchdown
Next: vs. Titans
Lawrence and the Jags lost Thursday night, but Lawrence looks as if he’s getting more and more comfortable as the weeks wear on and the team wears its fans out.
The Jaguars lost on a buzzer-beating field goal to 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow and the Bengals, but Lawrence had his most controlled game of his rookie season, with 17-for-24 passing, 204 yards and a rushing touchdown. It was also his first turnover-free game.
Lawrence looks and acts the part with a maturity that’s above that of the other rookie QBs. Sooner rather than later, that will result in Ws.
Zach Wilson: B+
Stats: 21/34, 297 yards, two touchdowns, one interception
Next: vs. Falcons (in London)
Wilson threw a league-leading eighth interception on Sunday. Not all turnovers are created equal, though: the ball was intended for Corey Davis, who fell on the route.
After that second-quarter pick, however, Wilson put together the best football of his young career. Not only did he play the “boring” game that head coach Robert Saleh urged just a few weeks ago, he also made a few “Wow” plays that reminded people why he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Among them was a bomb to Davis after he redirected the wideout while outside the pocket, completing Davis’ redemption arc.
Wilson is going to have highs and lows this season — like every QB on this list — but Sunday felt like the highs the Jets were expecting when they drafted him.
Mac Jones: B
Stats: 31/40, 275 yards, two touchdowns, one interception
Next: at Texans
Jones once again looked like the most pro-ready QB this week. Some of that is due to the Patriots’ system, but some of that is also because Jones looked pretty good.
While many — those at SN included — pegged the Patriots and Jones to be on the business end of a shotgun blowout Sunday night, Jones was poised and in control for most of the game, save for an interception. He also completed 19 consecutive passes at one point. That, by the way, matched Tom Brady’s career high.
The rookie (and the Patriots) may have to come to terms with the fact that Jones’ game is going to be underneath and intermediate routes right now, and that’s fine, considering New England’s offense is predicated on underneath and intermediate routes.
There will come a time when Jones may have to throw deep to win a game, but you don’t fix what ain’t broke. Not yet, at least. The next step in Jones’ evolution will be stretching the field more, but even if he’s not being asked to do much at the moment, he’s still executing at a high level — not many other rookies can say that.