There were 10 quarterbacks selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. Of them, we will likely only see a handful receive NFL action in their first year. Thanks to Patrick Mahomes and various other young signal-callers dominating on their rookie contracts, franchises have shifted their team-building strategies. Having a star QB on a cheap deal allows the team to surround them with talent. In these NFL predictions, we tell when each rookie QB will, or won’t, start in 2021.
When will each rookie QB start in 2021?
Let’s kick off the predictions with one of the easiest on the list.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars: Week 1 at Houston Texans
There is no need for paragraphs of analysis here. Trevor Lawrence will start Week 1 against the Houston Texans. In fact, I believe this is where Lawrence and the Jags will pick up their first win of the season. Houston’s roster has solid second and third-string depth, but their starters are the worst group in the NFL. Expect Urban Meyer and Co. to start the season on the right foot.
Zach Wilson, New York Jets: Week 1 at Carolina Panthers
Much like Lawrence in Jacksonville, Zach Wilson will begin the 2021 season as the starter in New York. The Jets hope they found the second coming of Joe Namath with the second overall pick this April. Wilson opens his rookie campaign visiting a stout Carolina Panthers’ defense. It should be an exciting matchup as the Jets face their former QB, Sam Darnold.
Both passers will want to prove their worth to their franchises, but I anticipate Darnold and the Panthers to prevail. New York has a grueling schedule through the first three games. After the Panthers, the Jets host rookie-QB slayer Bill Belichick and the Patriots before flying to Mile High to challenge a smothering Broncos’ defense. Thus, Wilson likely won’t add to the win column until Week 4 against the vastly altered Tennessee Titans.
Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers: Week 9 vs. Arizona Cardinals
Finally, we have some disparity. After months of speculation and rumors, the San Francisco 49ers drafted Trey Lance with the No. 3 selection. Lance currently sits behind Jimmy Garoppolo on the depth chart. Regardless, he is more NFL-ready than many believe him to be despite starting just one year of college football — albeit an exceptional one.
The North Dakota State prospect can sit behind Garoppolo for an entire year honing his craft before starting. However, he might hear his number called much sooner. Garoppolo is still a competent starting QB, and for the right price, he can presumably be acquired. If a deal is made before the trade deadline, Lance will be thrust into the starting lineup. In that case, he may receive his first NFL start at home against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 9.
Thanks to the roster around him, it would not surprise me if the 49ers came out of the contest victorious. Either way, Lance and the 49ers will be exciting to watch in 2021.
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears: Week 4 vs. Detriot Lions
In a splash move, the Chicago Bears traded up from 20 to 11 to draft Ohio State’s Justin Fields. By all accounts, he has impressed during the Bears’ rookie minicamps. Still, it is May, and no one should be crowning him the starter. Moreover, head coach Matt Nagy reaffirmed his position that Andy Dalton is the team’s QB1.
Dalton is the odds-on favorite to start the season, and Nick Foles is quietly on the roster. Many analysts and fans believe that Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace are on the hot seat. Subsequently, they suspect the two to start Fields to save their jobs. Let’s think about this for a second. Is starting a rookie QB behind a suspect offensive line the best option?
How about convincing upper management Fields needs a year before he is ready? Therefore, allowing a combination of Dalton and Foles to lead you to an 8-9 record. It won’t be pretty, but that might be the option that buys Nagy and Pace some breathing room.
Now, if they go with the first option, I believe they let Dalton begin the season and find a soft spot on the schedule to drop Fields into. The softest is Week 4 against a Detriot Lions team that is the favorite to hold the No. 2 pick in 2022. That game is followed by a visit to Las Vegas, home to a Raiders’ roster with holes all over. That should be two relatively easy wins for the Bears, no matter who is under center.
Some rookie QBs may not get their shot in 2021
While we expect some rookie QBs to make the jump to starter early in the process, most are not expected to see much action, if any, in 2021. Will one of these players surprise us and make their debut earlier than expected?
Mac Jones, New England Patriots: Week 18 or won’t start
Yes, the Patriots drafted Mac Jones at 15th overall. Yet, New England didn’t trade up for him, and they designed their entire offseason toward building around Cam Newton. If Newton struggles in Year 2 with the Patriots, they may opt to bench him in favor of the rookie. However, Belichick does not take these decisions lightly and will give Newton a rather large leash.
I believe the Patriots will be competitive this season but may not be in a position to rest their starters by the final week of the season. If they are, then Jones may receive the nod to end the season against the Miami Dolphins. If not, then Jones likely won’t see the field as a rookie.
Kyle Trask, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Week 18
Kyle Trask does not possess elite athleticism or arm strength, but throwing a dart at the position with the final pick of Round 2 is never a bad idea. The Buccaneers did just that and hope Trask can learn a thing or two under one of the best to do it, Tom Brady. Trask was chosen with the future in mind, and unless Brady suffers a severe injury, Trask will see more of the sideline than the field.
Still, Tampa Bay should run the gamut in the NFC and allow themselves to rest their starters before the playoffs. Subsequently, Trask should see his first career start at home against the Panthers in Week 18.
Kellen Mond, Minnesota Vikings: Won’t start
Kellen Mond endured a tumultuous career at Texas A&M. Despite some subpar performances, the Vikings drafted him in the third round thanks to some stellar physical attributes. He slots in as QB2 on the roster behind Kirk Cousins and will be there as long as Cousins is in town. Hence, Mond won’t start in Year 1 as Cousins is durable, and the Vikings will presumably need their starters in Week 18.
Davis Mills, Houston Texans: Week 11 at Tennessee Titans
Due to off-field issues with their current starter, the Houston Texans used their first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to nab Davis Mills. Mills received some first-round hype prior to the draft, but he ultimately fell to Day 2.
The former Stanford QB is a quick decision-maker which NFL franchises love, but he owns limited athletic upside. Tyrod Taylor is slated to be the starter in 2021. Yet, the Texans are better off evaluating what they have in Mills while securing the first overall pick in 2022.
Houston has a difficult stretch of games leading up to their Week 10 bye week. The Texans would be wise to end Taylor’s season there and start Mills fresh off the bye at the Dolphins in Week 11.
Ian Book, New Orleans Saints: Won’t start
The winningest signal-caller in Notre Dame’s history, Ian Book finds himself in an ideal situation under Sean Payton. Book will be able to learn from one of the greatest football minds but as a third-stringer. Both Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill are above Book on the depth chart, which won’t change any time soon.
Sam Ehlinger, Indianapolis Colts: Won’t start
A highly celebrated quarterback at Texas, Sam Ehlinger was the final rookie QB selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. Even if new starter Carson Wentz went down with an injury, former fourth-round pick Jacob Eason would reasonably start before Ehlinger.
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