Rookie QB grades: Lance shows resilience while Wilson shines


When we first checked in on the five rookie quarterbacks who were selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, we were, to quote the great philosopher Allen Iverson, talking about practice.

But 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 reps in early August tell us very little. But the first two preseason games have shown us how talented this rookie class is, how far it still has to go and who might be the front-runner for OROY with three weeks to go until kick-off.

RELATED: What we learned about Lance in 49ers' preseason win vs. LA


Trevor Lawrence

Preseason stats: 20-for-32, 184 yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions

Lawrence looked shaky against the New Orleans Saints' first-team defense Monday night. The No. 1 overall pick was forced to throw late and over the middle of the field and should have been intercepted by Marcus Williams.

In fairness to Lawrence, the Jaguars' play-calling, bad offensive line and lack of speed at the skill position did him no favors. Lawrence was under pressure all night and took some unnecessary hits. The Jaguars called a lot of early swing passes that put Lawrence behind the chains and into third-and-long.

Lawrence played well over his final few drives, leading the Jaguars to points. But both drives stalled out in the red zone. However, one NFL's Next Gen Stat puts Lawrence's first two preseason performances into perspective. Lawrence leads all rookie QBs in Completion Percentage Over Expectation at plus-4.6 percent, which illustrates the difficulty of throws Lawrence has been asked to make with the Jaguars' offense being vanilla and not creative in the preseason.

Lawrence is followed by Zach Wilson (minus 0.7 percent), Justin Fields (minus-0.9 percent), Mac Jones (minus-1.9 percent) and Trey Lance (minus-18.2 percent).

Grade: B-minus

Trey Lance

Preseason stats: 13-for-28, 230 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and one rush for 8 yards

Lance burst onto the preseason scene with an 80-yard touchdown strike to Trent Sherfield against the Kansas City Chiefs.

While the dime had Twitter salivating at the mouth, Lance finished his first preseason game just 5-for-14 for 128 yards and the one touchdown. But the performance overall was uneven as Lance had a few off-target throws and took four sacks behind a spotty offensive line. But that 80-yard throw showed why Lance is the 49ers' future and, perhaps, their present.

Fast forward to Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers where Lance was the opposite of what he showed in first preseason action. The No. 3 overall pick started 1-of-6 for 9 yards and an interception. In his first three series against the Chargers, the 49ers' offense was stagnant.

-- Five plays, 16 yards, punt
-- Three plays, 6 yards, interception
-- Three plays, 3 yards, punt

But Lance finished strong, going 7-for-8 for 93 yards and two touchdowns, including this pretty throw to Travis Benjamin for his second touchdown.

Lance was impressive to open camp, but his up-and-down preseason performances likely will keep Jimmy Garoppolo entrenched as the starting quarterback. 

But Lance's wild upside has been clear through two preseason games. There will be variances in his performance early in his career, but his ceiling is evident.

Grade: B-minus

Justin Fields

Preseason stats: 23-for-39, 222 yards and one touchdown and nine rushes, 79 yards, one touchdown

Fields was electric in his preseason debut against the Miami Dolphins. The Ohio State product showcased the ability to make accurate throws across his body while under pressure and put his wheels on display with an 8-yard touchdown run. The Bears also schemed up what might be the easiest touchdown throw of Fields' career.

Fields' electric debut had everyone in Chicago ready to put Andy Dalton's house on Redfin for him. But as good as Fields was against the Dolphins, he struggled a bit in his second preseason game against the Buffalo Bills.

FIelds played the entire second half against the Bills, going 9-for-19 for 80 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Fields took too many hits and had some shaky throws. While Fields had some learning moments against the Bills, he once again showed why he's the unquestioned future in the Windy City.

The biggest problem is that the Bears' offensive line is a travesty and Fields, despite his elite athleticism, often barely has time to make a play. That porous line play has led many to suggest Fields shouldn't play Week 1 against Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams. While the Bears want to keep Fields healthy and upright, he also gives them the best chance to win games now, and his athleticism can mitigate some of Chicago's issues upfront.

Head coach Matt Nagy has said Andy Dalton remains his starter, but that Fields will get more work with the starting wide receivers.

I remain convinced Fields is destined for stardom, and his preseason has only further cemented that belief. That being said, he, like all rookies, has some learning to do.

Grade: B-plus

Zach Wilson

Preseason stats: 15-for-20, 191 yards and two touchdowns

Wilson's shaky start to training camp had many thinking the New York Jets might have gone and done it again. But the BYU product was candid in explaining how he views practice as a time to take chances and see what he can and can't get away with at the NFL level, and how that played a role in the perceived early struggles.

The preseason has, to this point, been a different story.

Wilson was solid in limited action against the New York Giants in his first preseason game, going 6-for-9 for 63 yards. But the rookie shined against the Green Bay Packers this past week, going 9-for-11 for 128 yards and two touchdowns. While the Packers did sit their defensive starters, Wilson showed the arm talent and vision that had the Jets excited to make him the face of the franchise.

A second-reaction throw to Corey Davis highlights Wilson's effortless arm strength.

Then, on his first touchown pass of the day, Wilson used his eyes to freeze the single-high safety to the right before picking up tight end Tyler Kroft to the left, clearing the underneath defenders and delivering a dime for six. 

Through two preseason games, Wilson's 85.7 PFF Grade trails only Mac Jones. The early concerns have subsided and Gotham is ready to be hurt again. Wilson is my preseason overreaction pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Grade: A

Mac Jones

Preseason stats: 26-for-38 for 233 yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions

Jones' poise, accuracy and touch, which were his calling cards at Alabama, have been on display through two preseason games as he tries to beat out Cam Newton for the starting job.

The Alabama product also has done a good job of moving in the pocket and recognizing coverages.

Backed up near his own end zone, Jones showed off his arm strength, footwork and accuracy on this rip to N'Keal Harry. 

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said they have been throwing a lot at Jones and putting him in challenging situations to see if his demeanor and poise remain the same. So far, it has. While it's only the preseason, Jones' strengths at Alabama have translated to the NFL. He has an adjusted completion rate of 80.6 and his average time to throw is just 2.67 seconds, per Pro Football Focus.

Jones will get a big opportunity this week as he works with the first-team offense with Cam Newton out due to COVID-19 protocols. Jones is the future in New England, and if he can take advantage of this opening, the future might be starting earlier than anticipated.

Grade: A

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