Week 1 of the 2021 season was a throwback to an NFL truism: Rookie quarterbacks are supposed to struggle.
Enough gifted passers have blazed defenses early in their careers that the reality is easy to forget. But as the NFL featured three rookie quarterbacks -- the Jaguars' Trevor Lawrence, the Jets' Zach Wilson and the Patriots' Mac Jones -- starting in Week 1 for just the second time since 1970, the result was a mostly up-and-down 0-for-3 performance.
For context, that trio just lost more games in one day than they did in their entire 2020 collegiate seasons combined (two). And to think Lawrence and Jones combined for just three losses in 53 career collegiate starts.
NFL defenses close passing windows quickly and fluster inexperienced quarterbacks with creative blitzes and confusing post-snap movement. These three rookie starters felt that heat all day Sunday, and the only first-round quarterback from 2021 who won a game, Trey Lance, threw exactly one pass for the 49ers in a 41-33 victory against the Lions.
Jones was the only rookie starter to play in a close game, with the Patriots failing to stop the Dolphins' offense in the final minutes of a 17-16 defeat. Wilson and the Jets looked more inspired in the second half but never made a 19-14 loss to Carolina truly compelling. And Houston's defense jumped all over Lawrence and the Jaguars' offense in a 37-21 Texans win.
One game is hardly a baseline for career-arc projections. But it does leave clues for the challenges these players will face and areas that need improvement in a hurry. We spoke to NFL execs and personnel evaluators around the league to make sense of the rookie QB debuts and what they mean going forward -- and handed out final grades for all three starts. Plus, execs helped us predict when Lance and Chicago's Justin Fields might win their respective starting jobs.