We're one season and six games into the careers of those NFL players drafted in 2021. There's still plenty of time to develop. Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts are two examples of players who have been a lot better in year three. It's not time to panic yet.
Yet, a 2021 quarterback class that was compared to the famed class of 1983 has done practically nothing to this point. In the short term, that's holding their teams back and forcing them to think ahead to the 2023 NFL draft and another hyped crop of QBs.
In the long term, this could be a real problem for an NFL that is at its best when quarterback play is booming.
There's time for the class of 2021 to develop. But there hasn't been much production yet.
The state of the 2021 rookie QBs
Five quarterbacks went in the first 15 picks of the 2021 NFL draft, including each of the top three picks. It was an exciting class and got even better when Mac Jones, the 15th pick, and Davis Mills, a third-round pick, had good rookie seasons.
That excitement has dissipated, to say the least. Here's a report on the top five and Mills, who all were starters to begin the season:
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars: When the Jaguars were 2-1, it looked like Lawrence was starting to live up to his immense potential. All of his rookie season issues were excused due to playing for Urban Meyer.
Since then, Lawrence has looked more like he did as a rookie and the Jaguars have lost three in a row. Lawrence has shown flashes of brilliance but no consistency. Last week he completed 20-of-22 passes for just 165 yards in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The Jaguars didn't draft Lawrence to be a safe game manager.
There's plenty of time for Lawrence to be that player everyone expected him to be coming out of Clemson, but after plenty of mediocrity through 23 starts there are plenty of new questions about his ceiling.
Zach Wilson, New York Jets: Wilson is heading up a 4-2 Jets team, but it's hard to give him too much of the credit. In three games after returning from a knee injury, Wilson is throwing for 190.7 yards per game and has one touchdown with two interceptions. The Jets' cupboard on offense, at least at the skill positions, isn't empty. Wilson just hasn't done much yet, which is a lot like his rookie season. At least the Jets are winning around him.
Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers: Lance hasn't done much but that's not all his fault. He suffered a broken ankle in the 49ers' second game. He didn't look good in a Week 1 loss but that was in a rainstorm. The problem is we'll reach Lance's third season with him having played almost no high-level football (he was a starter for one full season at North Dakota State, then his final college season was limited to one game due to COVID-19 and he has three NFL starts) and is coming off a major injury. At least Lance has the element of the unknown. Maybe he'll be good down the road. How could we know either way?
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears: Fields doesn't exactly have the best supporting cast. But maybe there's a reason the Bears don't seem to trust him. A good quarterback in a bad situation probably still completes more than 15 passes or has more than 208 yards passing in at least one of his six games this season. Fields hasn't done either. Last week's loss to the Washington Commanders showed that Fields is capable of big plays, especially running the ball, but is still missing a lot in the passing game because he isn't seeing things well. Maybe things pick up if the Bears build a better supporting cast around him, but it would have been nice to see more from him to this point.
Mac Jones, New England Patriots: Jones was pretty good as a rookie, not great to start his second season and then he suffered a high ankle sprain. There's the excuse that the Patriots offensive situation including coaching this season isn't good, but it doesn't look great on Jones when rookie fourth-round pick Bailey Zappe has played pretty well in the same environment. And even if Jones is more like the QB we saw last season, he still doesn't project as the high-ceiling superstar that can carry this class. If Zappe continues to start and play well, there's even the lingering question over whether Jones gets his job right back.
Davis Mills, Houston Texans: Mills played pretty well last season and deserved a shot to show the Texans he can be the QB of the future. This season he has taken a step back in practically every single category, and his 80.6 passer rating isn't giving Houston any reason to stick with him beyond this season. Take a look at Yahoo Sports' Charles McDonald's 2023 mock draft and him giving the Texans a new QB at No. 6 overall:
Six second-year starters coming into the season, and not one success story. Not good
NFL needs young QB stars
Nobody else further down the list in the 2021 NFL draft class has emerged either. Not Kyle Trask or Kellen Mond or Ian Book. It's thin. The 2022 class had just one QB taken in the first two rounds, and that was Kenny Pickett with the 20th overall pick. He's not projected to be a superstar either, though we'll see.
It's at least possible we could have two lost QB classes, and you can see why this is bad for the NFL. We've seen veterans like Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees retire recently. Veterans like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Russell Wilson haven't played to their normal level. The NFL needs its younger quarterbacks to fill that void. If the 2021 QB class is a total washout, that leaves some massive holes around the league. And the league needs good quarterbacks. Scoring is down this season and one reason is poor quarterback play.
Maybe the 2021 QB class will turn things around. It's early in their careers. Or perhaps the 2023 draft class will all hit. But we're seeing the danger in trusting that an exciting quarterback class lives up to the hype.