N.F.L. Rookie Quarterbacks Have Been Bad. Can That Change?


Rookie quarterbacks are typically mediocre to dreadful. Fans tend to remember exceptional cases, like Justin Herbert’s offensive-rookie-of-the-year-winning performance in 2020, while the struggles of top prospects like Dwayne Haskins, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, Jared Goff and many others are either forgotten or politely retconned when they later achieve success.

It is rare, however, for so many rookies to be so punishingly awful in so many early appearances. Sam Darnold had a tragicomic rookie season for the 2018 Jets (a bout of mononucleosis, “seeing ghosts” against the Patriots’ defense), but he threw two touchdowns and led the Jets to victory in his very first start. Joe Burrow, Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and many others also enjoyed early success before tailing off or getting injured, or both. A rookie season is usually a roller-coaster ride. So far in 2021, they have all been haunted houses.

Reasons for the miserable starts vary from team to team. Wilson’s Jets are embarking on their second foundation-to-rafters rebuilding project of the last three years. Their roster looks like it was assembled using a newsstand draft guide with the first 50 pages torn out. Injuries have sidelined a handful of the team’s remaining recognizable veterans, including left tackle Mekhi Becton, who was Wilson’s top pass protector, and wide receiver Jamison Crowder, who was Wilson’s short-pass safety valve. Nearly every Jets rookie quarterback of the past half-century has been in for an ordeal, but Wilson faces an especially dire situation.

Lawrence is coached by Urban Meyer, the latest in a long line of collegiate potentates (Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino and Chip Kelly among them) who learned the hard way that they could not operate as deities in the N.F.L. Meyer’s tenure thus far has been marred by fines from the N.F.L. Players Association for violating practice protocols, a vainglorious comeback attempt by Tim Tebow and a public denial that he is interested in the University of Southern California coaching vacancy. (Like Julius Caesar, Meyer is obligated to reject the crown three times before seizing it.) The Jaguars perform each Sunday as if they are the third or fourth thing on their coach’s mind.

Meyer also forced Lawrence to split first-string practice reps with a lame-duck incumbent, Gardner Minshew, for much of training camp, before Minshew was traded to the Eagles, perhaps still believing that he could redshirt his prized freshmen. Lawrence’s relative lack of practice time with the starters may be contributing to his woes.

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