Midterm grades are in for four rookie pupils.
With a 17th game on the docket, we’re just about halfway through the 2021 NFL season (yes, already), and we’ve seen what many sane, rational and reasonable people expected to see: Rookie play from rookie QBs.
That said, attendance — rather, availability — is a crucial aspect to any quarterback’s grades, rookie or veteran. In Week 8, Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was absent as he deals with a knee injury; the Jets moved on without Wilson, though, winning a 34-31 stunner over the Bengals with Mike White at the helm.
On the West Coast, Trey Lance took a bench back-seat to Jimmy Garoppolo as the 49ers worked out a win of their own over the Bears, in what could have been a battle of first-round QBs. Instead, it was Jimmy GQ once again keeping Lance at bay in the Bay, though his time as 49ers starter could come to an end sooner rather than later, if reports are to be believed.
With the rest of the rookie QBs getting their run on Sunday, here’s how they graded out:
MORE: Bears’ Justin Fields describes his improbable TD run on fourth down
Justin Fields: B
Stats: 19/27, 175 yards, one touchdown, one interception; 103 rushing yards, one touchdown, two fumbles (none lost)
It was a solid day overall for Fields, which is especially telling considering Matt Nagy was out with COVID-19 and wasn’t patrolling the sidelines in the Bears’ 33-22 loss to San Francisco.
What’s more telling is some (just some) of the creativity on offense: Fields was especially good on the move outside the pocket, going 4/4 passing for 40 yards on designed rollouts, per ESPN’s Next Gen Stats.
A single question remains: Where has that been this year? It would seem pretty obvious for a team to utilize Fields’ physical gifts to open up the offense and make it less system-dependent, but this is what the Bears are at this point in the Nagy era.
Anyway, back to Fields: Fields threw an interception that probably shouldn’t have been intercepted, slipping through Darnell Mooney’s hands. The fumble issues are still present for the rookie, but that’s nothing that can’t be ironed out.
Davis Mills: C
Stats: 29/38, 310 yards, two touchdowns, one interception
Another day, another bad interception for Davis Mills to remind you why he was a third-round project, and more than likely not the passer of the future for the Texans.
His final statline isn’t indicative of how meh he played for most of the game vs. the Rams on Sunday, with the Houston offense once again showing how utterly devoid of talent, flash or mojo as a unit.
Mills has been the most mercurial of any of the rookie QBs, trading good performance for bad performance throughout the year. That said, a good chunk of Mills’ production has been in garbage time throughout the season, meaning inflated statlines like the the one from Sunday.
The Texans have their issues as a whole, and the QB situation is at the top; It’s difficult to evaluate a passer when you’re down big and often, even if Mills is in control of the offense.
Mills’ day was what it usually is: Some good, some bad. He took a few bad sacks, threw a bad interception, made some highlight-reel throws but issued a general reminder that he’s likely not the going to be The Guy in the future. WIth a very questionable quarterback class in 2022, Mills can play well enough the rest of the season to make the Texans question selecting a passer in the 2022 draft, but Mills is going to have to play a lot better over the remainder of the season to put those doubts to rest.
Mac Jones: C+
Stats: 18/35, 217 yards, no touchdowns
He’s becoming self-aware.
Jones had a fairly uneven day but finished strong, marching into SoFi Stadium and taking a signature win from the Chargers on the West Coast.
Jones has seemingly mastered the “easy” stuff — not turning the ball over, not doing too much, not making the rookie mistake. Jones’ first-half was forgettable: 8-of-22 passing, 135 yards. His second half was a bit better, going 10-of-13 for 82 yards to finish it off and take a surprising win over Los Angeles.
Jones threw a very nice deep pass to Nelson Agholor in the second quarter, a reminder that he can (probably) throw the ball a bit deeper than just the intermediate and short stuff he’s mastered. Still, Jones is not all the way yet, but the mid-term returns should be pretty encouraging for the Patriots and Bill Belichick.
Trevor Lawrence: D
Stats: 32/54, 238 yards, one touchdown, one interception; 11 rush yards
The Jaguars couldn’t get anything going offensively in their first week back from from a bye in their loss to the Seahawks, and Trevor Lawrence was at the top of it.
Lawrence threw a really bad interception to Quandre Diggs midway through the game, a reminder that he doesn’t have much chemistry with anyone on the offensive side of the ball this season.
Sure, you can point to a decent amount of Lawrence’s issues as a lack of help, whether it’s up front (bad offensive line) out wide (poor receiving corps) or behind him (James Robinson injured in this game), but he’s still making rookie mistakes — and that’s OK.
No matter how hyped up he was before entering the NFL, he’s still a rookie, and he’s going to have games like he did on Sunday. At least one thing’s for sure: Lawrence still has elite salad.