What a difference a year makes.
Just a year after the 2021 NFL draft quarterback class debuted in training camp, we asked sources in the NFL how Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, Mac Jones and Davis Mills thought their season was over will truncate in 2022.
While pre-draft scouting is still an important factor in setting expectations for the upcoming season, other elements also play key roles.
“The systems they’re used in, the coaching, and the supporting casts matter more in my stack than just each player’s individual skill,” said an AFC executive.
A quarterback is expected to improve from Year 1 to Year 2, but it is not guaranteed. Since 2006, 54 quarterbacks have played at least 150 snaps in both their rookie and sophomore seasons. Of those 54 quarterbacks, 34 saw their PFF scores increase in Year 2, while 20 passers saw their PFF scores decrease. The mean rate of improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 was a 5.04% increase in PFF grade.
Jones was the only rookie quarterback to have a PFF rating above 65.0 last season.
|Trevor Lawrence||Zach Wilson||Trey Lance||Justin Fields||MacJones||Davis Mills|
|Overall worked out||1||2||3||8th||15||67|
|big throw %||3.4%||2.5%||3.9%||6.1%||4.4%||3.8%|
|Revenueable Game %||3.7%||3.8%||4.3%||3.7%||2.5%||4.3%|
|Average target depth||8.2||8.0||10.3||10.1||8.3||7.8%|
It’s not out of the question that Lawrence, Wilson, Lance, Fields and Wilson will have good grades in 2022. Current Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford saw a 44.7% increase in his PFF score from his 2009-2010 rookie season. Derek Carr and Lamar Jackson’s PFF grades increased by over 30% from Year 1 to Year 2.
“I think all of these guys are solid and they’re going to improve,” an AFC quarterbacks coach said of the sophomore passers.
Here’s how league sources polled believe second-year quarterbacks will stack up after the 2022 season.
1. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Lawrence, the No. 1 pick overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, had a disappointing rookie campaign, but people in the league believe it’s explained by the lack of a supporting cast and the general turmoil surrounding Urban Meyer’s head coach experiment can.
While Lawrence has a new playbook to learn in 2022 under new head coach Doug Pederson, he’s at a loss for excuses if he struggles again this season. One can rant about how the Jaguars have spent their free-hand cash, but they’ve certainly added talent around Lawrence signing wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, tight end Evan Engram and guard Brandon Scherff. Lawrence is also rebounding for former college teammate Travis Etienne from a foot injury that cost the running back his entire rookie season.
“I think Lawrence and Wilson are going to be in a much better position with more guns,” said an NFC West scout, who ranked Lawrence #1.
Lawrence has not ranked lower than No. 2 in any poll. NFL sources expect him to have the biggest leap sophomore of this group of quarterbacks based on his skills and the improved environment around him.
2. Mac Jones, New England Patriots
Jones was the group’s top rookie quarterback in 2021, according to an AFC human resources director. But Jones “has a narrower range of results,” said an NFC analytics executive.
The Alabama product was the only rookie quarterback last season to lead his team to a winning record and a playoff berth. But he still carries the stigma that caused him to fail until midway through the first round of the draft. NFL scouts believe he has a high floor and relatively low ceiling compared to his peers based on his relative lack of athleticism and arm strength.
Jones ranked first in a handful of polls by sources, and came only fourth in one poll.
“Jones will play well and be better than last year,” said an NFL human resources director. “He will be the most consistent QB of the group but physical limitations and limitations will come up again.”
New England and Jones have lost offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and it’s unclear who between head coach Bill Belichick, quarterbacks coach Joe Judge, or offensive line coach Matt Patricia will call games for offense this offseason.
A source believed the uncertainty in the offensive coaching staff would slow Jones’ development as a quarterback.
The Patriots gained wide receiver DeVante Parker in the offseason, but overall, Jones in Parker has a below-average number of pass-catching playmakers, running backs Damien Harris, James White and Rhamondre Stevenson, wide receivers Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne and Nelson Agholor, and tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.
3. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
Lance came first in one source’s poll and last in another series of rankings. Another source wouldn’t even rank him due to the lack of tapes in the last two seasons. Lance played just one game at North Dakota State in 2020 before declaring for the draft and was limited to 179 snaps as a rookie while serving as a backup.
“Lance has the upper hand with (Kyle) Shanahan as head coach,” said an AFC scout while seeding the 49ers quarterback in third ahead of Mills, Fields and Wilson.
The AFC executive who put Lance first said she had the system, coaching staff and supporting cast in mind while doing so.
Another source said they believe Lance and Lawrence have the best chance of a breakout season in 2022.
Lance will hand the reins at quarterback after San Francisco allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to make a trade. He has perhaps the top two playmakers of any quarterback on this list in wide receivers Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, and the 49ers’ roster was good enough to make it into the NFC Championship Game with Garoppolo at the helm last season.
“Lance has the best playmakers around him and the best play caller, and he’ll be able to execute enough while showing high-end talent,” the NFC director of human resources said. “He’s just not going to be quite consistent from game to game.”
4. Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Based on our polls, there was a pretty clear split between Lawrence, Jones and Lance and a Tier 2 of Wilson, Mills and Fields, all of whom finished narrowly based on average poll position.
Wilson didn’t have to deal with his head coach being fired midseason, but his Jets were clearly going through a rebuild during his rookie season, in which he missed four games through injury. Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur, now entering Year 2, have settled into their roles as head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, and the Jets added running back Breece Hall, wide receiver Garrett Wilson, tight ends CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, and guard Laken Tomlinson added off-season.
Wilson ranked first on a league source’s list, but was otherwise no higher than third.
“I think Wilson, Fields and Mills are at a disadvantage with their supporting cast,” a source said.
“I’m still betting on the talent and ability of most of these guys,” said an NFC South scout.
5. Davis Mills, Houston Texans
An AFC human resources director believed Mills was the second-best rookie quarterback last season. The Stanford product completed 66.8% of his passes for 16 touchdowns with 10 interceptions, and up to that point it was enough for Houston not to improve the position through trade, free agency, or the draft. However, Garoppolo is still floating around as a potential trade candidate.
The NFC analytics executive believed that Mills, like Jones, has a narrow range of results, but that he also has a lower cap.
The Texans and Atlanta Falcons have the lowest overall NFL win odds for the 2022 season with an over/under of 4.5 wins. Houston is still not giving Mills much help, with his top playmakers wide receivers Brandin Cooks, Nico Collins and Chris Conley , who are running backs Rex Burkhead, Marlon Mack and Dameon Pierce, and tight ends Pharaoh Brown and Brevin Jordan.
“Mills just doesn’t have enough help around but I like him and his coaches and he knows how to play the position,” a source said.
The 2023 NFL draft quarterback class is expected to be significantly better than 2022, which was one of the worst in recent history. If Mills and the Texans struggle, Houston could pick next year’s class.
6. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Fields finds himself in a tight spot with a new head coach and offensive coordinator and little support from offensive playmakers or line play.
“If you have nothing around you and crappy coaching, you’re dead,” said an AFC executive.
The Bears fired head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace this offseason, replacing them with head coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles. Ex-Packers quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy was hired by Green Bay as Chicago’s offensive coordinator.
Fields’ top playmakers are wide receivers Darnell Mooney, N’Keal Harry, Velus Jones Jr., Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown, running backs David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert, and tight ends Cole Kmet and James O’Shaughnessy.
“I like Fields but I don’t think they’ve done enough to help him and I don’t think he’s good enough to get past it now,” said an AFC scout. “If they don’t do anything for him this year and next, I would trade for him if I manage a team.”
Fields’ sixth place finish has a lot more to do with his situation and supporting cast than his actual ability.
“There will be growing pains,” a source said.