By: Pierre Wilson
During this time of year, we see a lot of NFL rankings circulating. The draft is over and a majority of free agency and trades have happened. Now it’s time for folks to look at rosters and depth charts to try to predict outcomes on the season. Power rankings for the teams themselves, fantasy football rankings for dynasty, redraft, and superflex type leagues. Positional rankings, standard and PPR, you name it.
With this piece we’re going to tackle the newcomers under center – the rookie quarterbacks – and how I see “Offensive Rookie of The Year” falling for these gunslingers. Here we go…
6) Davis Mills (Houston Texans) – Starting off the beaten path a bit with Davis Mills out of Stanford. This award is often about opportunity and Mills could be provided just that, given the Deshaun Watson situation.
The Texans selected Mills with their first pick in the NFL draft. A pick that didn’t come until the 3rd round but seemed to speak volumes for that quarterback room. With only journeyman Tyrod Taylor in front of him, it’s possible Mills could impress the Texans brass and get an early opportunity. His selection got a boost from Texans QB Coach, Pep Hamilton, who has ties to Stanford and their head coach David Shaw.
5) Mac Jones (New England Patriots) – Mac Jones comes in at number five due to a few question marks surrounding the Patriots and their offense. For starters, it’s likely he’ll begin the season behind Cam Newton. The recent signing of Brian Hoyer has some wondering if that could be a sign of Newton being released. My guess would be “No”, as Brian Hoyer has been bad in recent years.
I expect Cam Newton to still get the first crack at the starting job. With that, I believe the offense will be more focused on the run game and quick passing attack. The Patriots really focused on adding weapons in the offseason with the addition of tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, as well as wide receiver Nelson Agholor. Agholor brings some deep threat abilities, but many of the targets in New England appear to be bigger bodies across the middle and blocking, when looking at the tight ends and wide receivers like N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers.
It’s possible we see Mac Jones later in the season, because clearly the former Alabama quarterback has some talent, given his college resume. It’s also quite possible that Alabama head coach Nick Saban convinced his friend Bill Belichick of this talent, but I’m not confident we see him enough in year one or with the right team offensive mindset to be offensive rookie of the year.
4) Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers) – Similar to Mac Jones, I’m just not sure when Trey Lance will actually take the field. Some analysts are saying a year or two and I think that makes sense. The 49ers haven’t traded incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo and he’s still only a year removed from leading San Fran to the Super Bowl. The Niners dealt with a plethora of injuries last season to big time starters like DE Nick Bosa, TE George Kittle, CB Richard Sherman, RB Raheem Mostert, and even Jimmy G himself who had a bum ankle most of the year.
Allowing Trey Lance (who just turned 21 this month) some time to learn the offense behind a veteran like Garoppolo makes a ton of sense. The likely lack of snaps is what brings him in at number four. The 49ers have a good offensive line and some nice weapons on the roster like Kittle, and wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. If it was a known fact that Lance would be the day one starter, he’d be higher on this list.
3) Zach Wilson (New York Jets) – Zach Wilson comes in at number three and it’s not for lack of opportunity, as has been the case leading up to this point. Wilson should have every opportunity, from the start, to be the franchise quarterback for the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets. The number two overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft will be thrown right into the spotlight.
Wilson threw for over 3,600 yards, 33 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions during his junior year at BYU. The level of competition is put into question, due to the Cougars biggest win coming at Boise State back on November 6th of 2020. Their only other ranked opponent was a late season loss at Coastal Carolina, which stopped their run at an undefeated season.
One big question is how we feel about the talent and coaching staff surrounding Zach Wilson. One likely bright spot is new head coach Robert Saleh, who was hired after his stint as 49ers defensive coordinator. I say “likely”, as it will be extremely hard to come in and underperform based on the expectations that were set by previous head coach Adam Gase. What we should find out is how much of the Jets issue was, in fact, Gase.
The team shipped off, who many assumed would be the franchise quarterback of the future, in Sam Darnold. Darnold was traded to the Carolina Panthers to make way for Wilson. The attention will turn to Wilson now to determine if Darnold was the issue. Many believe Wilson is surrounded by good young talent with a receiving corps that includes Denzel Mims, newly acquired free agent Corey Davis, highly touted rookie Elijah Moore, and solid veterans in Jamison Crowder and Keelan Cole. How much better this group is, when compared to a younger Crowder, healthy Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, and aging vets Demaryius Thomas and Le’veon Bell, will likely be the telling sign of how successful Zach Wilson will be in New York.
2) Justin Fields (Chicago Bears) – Now before you jump on me about lack of opportunity in comparison to Trey Lance and Mac Jones, I think Fields is in a different situation. Andy Dalton was signed by the Bears this offseason as QB1, but those plans quickly changed when the Bears had the opportunity to trade up in the draft for Fields.
Cam Newton showed some signs early in the season last year for the Patriots before his case with COVID. Jimmy G led the 49ers to the Super Bowl and was five minutes or so away from winning it. Dalton doesn’t have that in Chicago and was merely serviceable in Dallas, once Dak Prescott went down.
This situation paves the way, in my opinion, for Justin Fields to make his starting debut early In the season. If he does, Fields is in prime position to make a run at OROY. Of the potential candidates, he has the most talented wide receiver in Allen Robinson who had 1,250 yards, 6 touchdowns and 102 receptions with Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky under center last year.
Fields also has some up-and-coming weapons that many are excited about in WR Darnell Mooney and TE Cole Kmet. The Bears also have some talent in the backfield that’s capable of catching the ball in David Montgomery, a healthy Tarik Cohen, and the addition of Damien Williams who sat out for the Kansas City Chiefs last year (due to COVID) after helping them win the Super Bowl the year prior.
Toss in, whom many believe to be a good offensive coach in Matt Nagy, and Justin Fields (who I felt was the second-best quarterback in the draft) has a lot of good parts around him for an OROY run.
1) Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars) – Surprise, Surprise! The number one overall pick in the NFL Draft comes in at number one. In the eyes of many, the Clemson product comes in as the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck. Lawrence threw for over 10,000 yards, 90 touchdowns and only 17 interceptions during his three seasons at Clemson…only losing 2 games in his career.
Lawrence will likely get used to losing in Jacksonville, joining a team that went 1-15 last season to earn the opportunity of selecting him as their franchise quarterback. He’s joined by new head coach Urban Meyer, who had a lot of success in his college coaching career, mostly in the spotlight at Florida and Ohio State.
The Jaguars and Lawrence are in a similar situation as the Jets and Wilson are. Both guys drafted one and two as franchise quarterbacks, new head coaches, young offensive weapons – as the Jags run out DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault, James Robinson, and Clemson teammate Travis Etienne. They also added veteran wideout Marvin Jones Jr which gives Lawrence solid talent around him.
The hype around Trevor Lawrence also gives him a leg up on the competition. Like it or not, if it’s a close race, Lawrence will likely be given the nod because of who he is. Unlike Zach Wilson he’s well known to even the casual fans, due to the big stage in college football. He played in the college football playoffs all three of his seasons at Clemson, going up against the best of the ACC, Big Ten, and SEC. The marketability is already there, and he will be given every chance to be the “Offensive Rookie of the Year”.
Add in the fact that he’ll get to play the Houston Texans twice a year, and I believe Trevor Lawrence is the odds-on favorite quarterback to win the Offensive Rookie of The Year award.