Five Rookie Quarterbacks That We Meet Every Year
Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Trey Lance, Trevor Lawrence, and Zach Wilson are all likely to play a lot this season. And, by and large, they're gonna stink.
That's not pessimism. It's realism. Aaron Schatz says it all the time on the Twitch FO Radio Hour: rookie quarterbacks are generally bad. We remember Justin Herbert, Russell Wilson, and Ben Roethlisberger. We forget dozens and dozens of other guys who endured miserable to mediocre rookie years, from Ryan Leaf to Peyton Manning, Sam Darnold to Josh Allen.
Just 13 rookie quarterbacks have thrown for 20-plus touchdowns since 2000. Just 19 have thrown for over 3,000 yards. Those are not benchmarks of excellence, merely adequacy. Seventeen rookie quarterbacks have thrown 15-plus interceptions since 2000, including seven first overall picks (the most likely ones to get the chance to shoot through a slump). Wins are not a quarterback stat, but just seven rookies have led their teams to 10 of them in this century.
All of this brake-pumping feels necessary after an August where the engagement-thirsty Internet couldn't stop cheerleading for the first-round rookies as if they were destined to throw 40 touchdowns each in 2021. Lawrence may be a prospect of Andrew Luck's caliber, but Luck threw 18 interceptions and finished 19th in DYAR in his first year—and that was a relatively strong rookie season. Lance may be Russell Wilson once Kyle Shanahan tires of the two-quarterback rotation he teased on Sunday, or he may be a Josh Allen in need of an extra-long onramp to success. Fields will prove that he is better than Andy Dalton when the Bears finally give him his chance, but "better than Andy Dalton" is not a very lofty standard.
If any of these rookies leads a team to the playoffs, it will probably be as a one-and-done seventh seed. If they help your fantasy team, it's because they are racking up rushing yards. Only one or two of the five are likely to even contribute that much. One or two could also end up in three years where Dwayne Haskins is right now, and GIFs of their preseason highlights won't help determine who turns up where. It's natural to be excited about these youngsters, to chuckle at the Dalton and Jimmy Garoppolo types strewn in their paths, and to wish for the best, but it's important to recognize what you are getting excited about and wishing for, at least in the short term.
While most rookie quarterback seasons aren't spectacular, few are Leaf-level disasters. Most rookie seasons feature enough ups and downs to fall into one of five categories of below-averageness:
The Roller Coaster
The rookie has one or two big games early in his tenure, then glides back to earth as defenses figure out how much of the playbook he really knows. Examples include Carson Wentz (a 300-yard, two-touchdown game against the Steelers in Week 3 of 2016), Marcus Mariota (four touchdowns in his 2015 debut), Drew Lock (three touchdowns against the Texans in his second start), and Sam Darnold (two touchdowns in his 2018 debut). The early success forestalls criticism and buoys the rookie statistically through weeks of decline. Mariota, Darnold, and others also had "booster shot" big games later in their rookie seasons, just as some roller coasters have a second climb near the end of the ride. But most of the season becomes a dreary slog of 50% completion rates and multi-turnover afternoons.
Darnold's presence on the list above makes me think Zach Wilson is the top candidate to ride the 2021 roller coaster: there's no journeyman to take over when things go sideways, and Wilson will have the New York tabloids working for/against him the moment when things go right/wrong. Hyping that three-touchdown game (one screen-and-go for 60 yards, one broken coverage, one genuinely impressive throw) like it's a guaranteed ticket to Canton and then ripping the kid a month later is a huge part of the roller coaster experience.
The Driving Lesson
The rookie "finds a way to win"—which means, of course, that the defense or supporting cast is doing all the heavy lifting. Joe Flacco was a student driver in 2008, Mark Sanchez in 2009, Tua Tagovailoa last year. Mitchell Trubisky may have been the ultimate student driver in 2017: the Bears won a pair of starts in which he completed eight and four passes while John Fox, like a nervous gym teacher, kept his foot on the alternate brake. The student driver's wins, of course, fool a segment of the audience into assuming the rookie has special leadership skills or other mystical powers.
Mac Jones is 2021's prime candidate to take a driving lesson. Rest assured that the Boston media will appraise Jones' skills with cool detachment and not succumb to magical thinking or (heaven forbid) implicit bias in any way if the Patriots win by scores like 13-7 once Jones inevitably replaces Cam Newton.
The Meme Generator
Occasional splash highlights fool casual observers into thinking that the rookie quarterback is having a tremendous year, when in fact he's inconsistent, highly limited, and getting by on some combination of sheer talent and luck. Josh Allen was a meme generator in 2018, Gardner Minshew in 2019.
The main differences between a meme generator and a roller coaster are timing, results, and expectations. Meme generators sprinkle their big plays/games randomly through the year. Their teams aren't necessarily winning; otherwise they could slide into driving lesson territory. And they tend to be polarizing prospects when entering the league. Daniel Jones was a meme generator in 2019 because he entered the league as a DraftTwitter punching bag and his four-touchdown games were midseason losses to the lowly Lions and Jets. A roller coaster rookie inspires tabloid headlines. The meme generator inspires "bUt hE wAs a wAsTeD pIcK" Tweets.
With his knack for scattering dazzling highlights among long stretches of obvious unreadiness, Trey Lance is well on his way to becoming a meme generator, especially if he starts the season running the Wildcrap package. The argument that Lance and Jones should switch categories is left to the message board as an exercise.
The Charity Case
How's the poor lad supposed to succeed with that coaching staff, supporting cast, and organization? Baker Mayfield started the 2018 season as a charity case before the Hue Jackson/Todd Haley coup, then became more of a meme generator. Jared Goff may have been the best recent example of a charity case, though he almost tumbled into the final category. This is also the home of quarterbacks who endured far too many early sacks behind dreadful offensive lines, from David Carr through Joe Burrow.
Justin Fields is the frontrunner to generate lots of get the kid some help storylines once he takes over for Andy Dalton and embarks on a 2021 season full of two-touchdown, two-turnover, six-sack afternoons.
The rookie stays just above the Ryan Leaf/JaMarcus Russell Mendoza line: Josh Rosen, Dwayne Haskins, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller, and so on. Alex Smith, Eli Manning, and Matthew Stafford all fell into this category, as did Peyton Manning for most of his rookie year, so it's by no means a death sentence.
Poor Trevor Lawrence is poised on the brink of a near-catastrophe. He could throw 25 interceptions or take 50 sacks in Meyer's ready-for-the-B1G-time offense. Or he could end up wondering what's next when Meyer returns to the Big Ten in December. Lawrence is gifted enough to survive such an experience unscathed, and he finally looked sharp against the Cowboys on Sunday, but it's hard to look at the Jaguars offseason as a whole and not brace for a bumpy ride.
None of this is meant as an indictment of any of the five 2021 first-round rookie quarterbacks. And yes, one of them could turn out to be this year's Wilson, Herbert, Roethlisberger or Robert Griffin. But I'm not staking a fantasy roster, prop bet or my reputation on guessing which one. The smart money is on the overall field not being very good, because an August of fulsome praise and breathless anticipation almost always cools into an autumn of mild to moderate disappointment.
Around the League
News and notes from the final week of the preseason.
Boffo Dress Rehearsals
Tom Brady, Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and their first-string teammates reminded us what NFL football is supposed to look like this weekend by demolishing their opposition in dress rehearsals. If Super Bowl-caliber starters look bad in the preseason, it's probably nothing to worry about. If they look like the Buccaneers, Bills, and Chiefs looked like on Friday and Saturday, it's DEFINITELY nothing to worry about.
To return to the theme of Thursday's Walkthrough: polybagging the entire starting lineup until September is popular right now and makes some degree of sense. I was eager to see Brady get the hell off the field after he looked like Doctor Manhattan in the first quarter against the Texans. But after watching teams such as the Titans, Chargers, Seahawks, and Rams noodle around with their backups for a month, it's hard to argue that they have done everything they could do to overtake the frontrunners who just tore through their soundchecks.
Dress rehearsals come with a dangerous downside, of course: Ravens running back J.K. Dobbins suffered a season-ending knee injury during the starters' brief cameo against the Washington Football Team.
Running back is among the easiest positions to replace. The Ravens have experienced backups Gus Edwards and Justice Hill behind Dobbins, plus a run-friendly scheme and a front office that knows all about the running backs Walkthrough features in Who's That Guy? each week. Also, Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, and Le'Veon Bell are currently unemployed, and any of them would probably look pretty spry when running into a defense that has one eye on Lamar Jackson. But Dobbins could still be a huge marginal loss for the Ravens as they try to keep up with the Chiefs and Bills. Edwards, Hill and (let's say) Gurley or Scottie Phillips could be 90% as effective as Dobbins, but that 10% could be enough to force the Ravens onto the road in the postseason.
Minshew Mania is Incurable
Gardner Minshew belongs on a contender that needs a low-cost backup who can hocus-pocus a win or two in a pinch. The Eagles need to stop wasting resources on their 2021 quarterback room and start thinking about who will populate their 2022 quarterback room. The Jaguars should have waited 48 hours before trading Minshew; the Titans might have offered more than just a sixth-round pick after Matt Barkley and Logan Woodside looked like dueling doofuses against the Bears, for example.
The Minshew-to-Eagles trade doesn't reflect well on any of the parties involved, in other words.
Harrison Smith agreed to a four-year contract extension with the Vikings on Sunday. Smith is 32-years old and was due to become a free agent at the end of this season. The Vikings had over $210 million committed to next year's salary cap before the Smith extension.
The year is 2265. Hyper-intelligent lanternflies have enslaved the human race. The Vikings are still eating dead money they incurred by trying to keep their mighty wild-card nucleus intact.
The Jets traded a conditional sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans for Shaq Lawson, the former Bills first-round pick who has never been much more than a complementary pass-rusher. Lawson fills the void left by Carl Lawson's season-ending injury. Heck, the Jets don't even have to sew up a new uniform.
Some Jets fans likely wanted the Jets to not replace Carl Lawson at all for tanking purposes. That's silly: the Jets need to invest a few resources in remaining competitive in 2021 so that young players can develop properly. If they make a dozen more moves for Lawson types, then they will become the Texans, and then it's time for an intervention.
Rams Punter Battle Update!
Corey Bojorquez, who led the NFL in gross punting average for the Bills in 2020, averaged 51.9 yards per punt for the Rams in the preseason and has also kicked well in camp. He may replace four-time All-Pro Johnny Hekker, who is currently on the COVID list.
Hekker eats up almost $5 million in cap space each year through 2023, while Bojorquez's cap number is just over $1 million this season. The Rams, of course, are paying Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey over $44 million to play for them in 2021 and Jared Goff and Todd Gurley over $33 million not to play for them in 2021.
The Rams are incredibly creative at finding exit strategies when they overpay their players. Imagine what a great team they could build if they came up with better strategies for not overpaying their players in the first place.
Colts Injury Update
T.Y. Hilton is out indefinitely with a neck injury. Reserve tackle Sam Tevi tore his ACL against the Lions. Left tackle Eric Fisher and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson went from rehabbing injuries straight to the COVID list this week. But hey, Carson Wentz is slated to return to full-team drills this week, or at least what's-left-of-team drills.
Trade for Wentz, instantly turn your organization into the 2018-2020 Eagles. You can't fight it, folks. It's science.
Nathan Peterman is the distilled essence of preseason football. The dude probably smells like preseason: a weird mix of desperation and unearned confidence, like the popular body spray in the freshman dorms. Peterman took every preseason snap for the Raiders, recording the emptiest 68.5% completion rate this side of Sam Bradford fanfic.
The Raiders, of course, could afford to noodle around this preseason because their stacked roster and glittering success over the last three years speaks for itself. And Peterman will still be completing 3-yard swing passes on third-and-10 in August of 2029 before finally retiring to become the color commentator for the Raiders Preseason Television Network.
The White Elephant
The Deshaun Watson trade rumors are basically schmuck bait: no one is trading three first-round picks and more for a quarterback who could be suspended indefinitely 24 hours after the trade is announced. NFL general managers are ridiculously risk-averse, while any Watson trade comes with one of the highest catastrophic failure risks in league history. The Dolphins and other teams may well be keeping the Texans on the phone, but they are doing so in anticipation of a deep, deep motivated-seller's discount which will only come after either the NFL or prosecutors make the first move.
Who's That Guy?
Walkthrough's final installment of Who's That Guy? has one eye on the looming final cutdowns. Few of the following players are likely to make their current team's roster or practice squad. But all of them are likely to make some team's roster or practice squad.
Scottie Phillips, RB, Houston Texans
eight carries for 73 yards and a touchdown vs. TB
Phillips displayed burst, a strong finish, cutback ability, and even some pass-protection chops throughout the preseason. But he's stuck behind Mark Ingram, David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, Rex Burkhead, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Domanick Williams, and Arian Foster's nephew on the Texans depth chart. I was kidding about the last three, and only the last three.
Let's give Nick Caserio some advice: offer Mark Ingram back to the Ravens for a conditional late-round pick right now, while they are vulnerable. Blast David Johnson into orbit, for heaven's sake. Keep Lindsay, because he's plucky and affordable. Keep Burkhead because you just know he's a Jack Easterby binkie. And keep Phillips, a former Ole Miss rusher who spent most of last season on the practice squad, because the Texans are going to be pathetic this year and have nothing better to do besides evaluate back-of-the-roster prospects in search of treasure.
Caserio will almost certainly take none of that advice, and Phillips will end up in a committee for the Rams while David Johnson gets 10 touches for 44 yards each week.
Jesper Horsted, TE, Chicago Bears
Horsted made the Bears roster as an undrafted free agent out of Princeton and caught six passes in 2019. He spent 2020 on the practice squad. Ryan Pace has spent ridiculous amounts of money at draft capital at tight end over the last four seasons—the Bears tight end depth chart in any given year looks like the Texans running back depth chart this year—and Horsted is currently trapped behind Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet, and Jesse James.
The Bears will likely be forced to release Horsted despite his Saturday heroics, but they will be left with one of the deepest tight end corps in the NFL, which should prove really helpful for a team with no offensive tackles.
Gerrid Doaks, RB, Miami Dolphins
16 carries for 56 yards and two touchdowns vs. CIN
Doaks is a 230-pound seventh-round battering ram out of the University of Cincinnati. I think he was only in the game because his name rhymes with "soaks" and Brian Flores wanted someone to soak up carries so Myles Garrett and Malcolm Brown wouldn't have to play. Doaks has power but is so one-dimensional that only a team that runs up the middle a ton, perhaps with lots of option concepts to widen the defense, would really have significant use for him.
Deon Jackson, RB, Indianapolis Colts
10 carries for 81 yards and one touchdown and a two-point conversion plus 1-3-1 receiving vs. DET
Jackson is an undrafted rookie out of Duke, where he shared carries with Mataeo Durant in 2020. Jackson and former Browns practice-squadder Benny LeMay are competing for a final roster spot that probably doesn't exist behind Jonathan Taylor, Jordan Wilkins, Nyheim Hines, and Marlon Mack—there already appears to be one name too many on that list. Jackson's 42-yard touchdown in silly time may have earned him a practice squad spot somewhere, but as is almost always the case, there are more replacement-level running backs on the job market than jobs.
Asim Rose, RB, Minnesota Vikings
six carries for 41 yards and two touchdowns vs. KC
Walkthrough checked in on Rose after his 100-yard effort in the preseason opener, when all of Minnesota's starters and top backups were in cryostasis. The undrafted rookie from Kentucky has done all that the Vikings asked him to do in the preseason, but it's hard to imagine him doing much more than landing on the practice squad; there are just too many veterans clamoring for roster spots behind Dalvin Cook.
It doesn't help that Rose's pass-protection technique involves lowering his shoulder and just leaning into the oncoming pass-rusher. That sort of thing could scare the running back-hungry Ravens or Rams away. But not the Jaguars.
Kenny Yeboah, TE, New York Jets
four catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns vs. PHI
Before Friday night, Yeboah was best known for a 7-181-2 afternoon for Ole Miss against Alabama last October. He's the type of player I love to root for, even though they rarely pan out in the NFL: versatile collegiate H-back types who don't block well enough to be in-line tight ends or run well enough for the slot.
Yeboah is competing for a fourth tight end spot, which is why he was on the field for a last-second Hail Mary touchdown in the final preseason game. The Jets may use a fullback at times this season, which could create a roster opportunity for Yeboah. If not, Ryan Pace also loves developmental H-backs (see above) and has not yet realized that they rarely pan out in the NFL.
Derrick Gore, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown plus 6-26-0 rushing vs. MIN
Gore has been bouncing on and off the Chargers roster since 2019, with a brief stop in Washington wedged in. Every time his name bubbles up, I search the web to make triple-sure he is not Frank Gore's son or nephew. Every time, it turns out that they are not related.
I cannot be the only one seeking constant verification about Gore, because Saturday's web search took me to a site I refuse to link to because it was built from blatant search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. Every sentence was little more than a list of highly searched keywords, every header repeated the phrase "Is Derrick Gore related to Frank Gore?" to ensure that the site was at the top of any search, and the content was padded for length with Wikipedia-type information to allow space for ad breaks. Such tactics are terrible for our industry; they force readers to sift through purposely bad content and choke out more reputable sources and informed discourse like an invasive species.
So is Derrick Gore related to Frank Gore?
No. I just said that.
Will Derrick Gore make the Kansas City Chiefs final 2021 roster?
Possibly. He has demonstrated the versatility to be a useful committee back. The cap-strapped Chiefs could move on from a veteran such as Darrel Williams or Jerick McKinnon.
Is Derrick Gore related to Tipper Gore?
No. That's silly. Wait, what's happening?
Is Derrick Gore a Kansas City Chiefs 2021 fantasy football sleeper?
No! What's with all the headers full of keywords and silly questions? Don't tell me we…
Derrick Gore Patrick Mahomes Tyreek Hill fantasy sleeper Super Bowl LVI Bitcoin COVID Marvel's What If…?
Shane Buechele, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
20-of-23 for 231 yards, two touchdowns, one interception vs. MIN
Buechele is an undrafted rookie out of SMU who started his college career at Texas but lost his starting job to Sam Ehlinger in 2018. Buechele appears to have locked up the Chiefs' No. 3 quarterback role behind Patrick Mahomes and Chad Henne. He led an impressive two-minute drill for a touchdown on Friday night and looks like the sort of heady/pesky type who hangs on as a third-stringer for years and, if he's lucky, eventually evolves into Chase Daniel.
Is Shane Buechele related to baseball's Steve Buechele?
Yes. Now CUT THAT OUT.