NFL QB Rookie Rankings Week 10: Five throws from Fields, and hunting the good stuff with Jones and Lawrence

The rookie QB play in the NFL hasn't been great in 2021, but one has risen from the ashes to take the top spot in the rankings.

The NFL saw some atrocious quarterback play from most of the league in Week 9. The rookies playing QB in the NFL were no exception, as two of them in the rookie rankings struggled. Meanwhile, the other once again played his best football and now seems to be stacking performances together.

NFL QB Rookie Rankings Week 9 | Still with the crown

Justin Fields played what was easily his best game as a pro against a fantastic Pittsburgh Steelers defense. Let’s dive into some of his tape.

1) Justin Fields

When I wrote the matchup prediction for Fields against the Steelers’ defense, I said I believed this game could mimic the Buccaneers game for Chicago’s offense. The Steelers’ pass rush is even more formidable, and against the Bucs, the rookie QB never stood a chance. Instead, he averaged over 15 air yards per attempt, and his average completed air yards was 14.1, which trails only Lamar Jackson and Carson Wentz this season for a week.

I consistently bring up his ability to attack the intermediate area of the field, particularly to the sideline. He showed that early on with an absolute seed to Allen Robinson, and then the theatrics escalated. Let’s look at five throws that show Fields can already make the plays elite QBs do, and it’s the little things he must improve before he elevates to new heights.

Throw 1: Deep out

When we hear about “pro-ready quarterbacking,” this is the traditional definition. Can a QB take a five or seven-step drop, drive off that final drop step, and deliver a ball to the intermediate?

We ding guys because we haven’t seen them do it before, but there aren’t many under-center straight dropbacks around anymore. Here, Fields gets to five steps, drives off that back foot, and delivers a strike with anticipation at 15 yards on the dot to a spot.

This is from the far hash. And the throws get sillier from here.

Throw 2: Rolling left

Fields could become a bit more of a magician with the ball. Mac Jones is great with play-action, and Fields could become a bit shadier in his handling of things.

However, while rolling left with Alex Highsmith bearing down, he spins and delivers a fadeaway rolling left into the bucket for Cole Kmet. The throw while rolling left was outstanding, but it’s his soothing demeanor under pressure that’s most exciting.

Fields never hurries. He doesn’t unnecessarily speed up his process. He gathers, sequences his eyes, shoulders, and feet, and delivers a fadeaway toss to the chest on the corner route.

Throw 3: 20-yard curl

You’re not seeing 20-yard curls in the NFL often. Teams can’t protect for that long, and the Bears certainly can’t on most occasions. The fact Fields’ inner clock isn’t screaming so loud that his head explodes is insane enough.

Also, credit where it’s due — there have been way more six-and-seven-man protections in the past two weeks. Fields does a great job with his high-low read here, seeing the CB’s shoulders facing downfield with the flat defender trying to midpoint the flat and curl but failing because of the depth of the curl.

But for me, his comfortability in the pocket despite all the time passing impresses me the most because I know he can make all the throws.

Throw 4: Slot fade

We broke the timeline. This throw actually comes after the last one I’ll show you, but that one is so disgusting I had to save it for last. There isn’t much to this. On third-and-short on the drive that gave Chicago the lead, the Steelers show what looks like it’ll be Cover 1, with five defenders on the line and only one safety at 10 yards.

Fields looks to the middle to see what the safety does, then immediately looks to his “man-beater” route, which in this case is a particularly deadly slot fade.

For the uninitiated, the slot fade is undefeated. When you have a quarterback that can sling the pill like Fields, this low-percentage throw isn’t so low percentage. Robinson runs a great route, stepping on the toes of the cornerback and creates separation toward the sideline.

Throw 5: Seam-buster

Words evade me. The margins are razor-thin between being a hero and a goat as a quarterback, and I’m not talking “greatest of all time.”

The fact Fields possesses the gumption to make this throw is evidence enough of his “big-game hunter” mentality. In golf, there are two kinds of players. Some dogs are always in contention but rarely will go out and take a tournament. Killers go out and dramatically claim tournaments.

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Fields is a killer. Sometimes, he’ll go down for murder. He’ll crash and burn, and this improbable pass will be an interception. But I’d rather live with a quarterback willing to make the throw than one who doesn’t try.

Maybe he could have held Fitzpatrick to the right more with his eyes, but that’s getting into some deep nitpicking.

Fields’ overall performance

I think there is a distinction between the “best” performances and the “most impressive.” Jones’ game against Tampa Bay was probably the cleanest quarterback performance of the season.

Justin Fields has easily had the most impressive weeks, and they come consecutively in Weeks 8 and 9. If he can continue this trend, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him slowly elevate his status into OROY contention because quarterbacks win awards, even if others are more deserving.

But producing with this staff and this offensive line is quite impressive.

NFL QB Rookie Rankings Week 9 | An underwhelming week

Jones wasn’t asked to do much against the Carolina Panthers. He didn’t play poorly per se, there just wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about from a game-plan perspective.

2) Mac Jones

Jones threw the ball 18 times against Carolina, and it didn’t even feel like that many passing attempts. Only 7 of his 12 completions came beyond the line of scrimmage, and only a pair traveled beyond 10 yards.

It was a dull outing where New England looked like they just wanted the game to end, so they ran the ball (and the clock) as often as possible. It was the game plan of a coach that fully expected Sam Darnold to hand them opportunities — and he did.

Jones wasn’t good or bad in this one. He was a bit off on a few throws, and he misread leverage on a few others, but there wasn’t a large enough sample size to have a strong opinion on his performance.

For example, I don’t believe this pick is as bad as it may look. If the receiver isn’t forced to swim over the top of Jeremy Chinn, Jakobi Meyers can shield himself from Stephon Gilmore, preventing the interception.

However, this is a slant/flat combo. It’s the first read you learn as a quarterback. The issue here is leverage. Pre-snap, Gilmore has inside leverage on Meyers, as does Chinn on Jonnu Smith.

So, you may think this ball should go to Smith, but he’s floating downfield. And if Jones throws this and Meyers doesn’t contact Chinn, that pass could go for six the other way.

The margins are razor-thin in this league, which is why his touchdown pass was impressive.

The touchdown pass

The red zone can be a more difficult area to operate for quarterbacks who deploy a smaller-caliber round from their barrels. They must win with their ability to anticipate and leverage passes away from defenders.

Jones does that here.

Here, he recognizes Gilmore is in man, cutting underneath Hunter Henry and keeping his eyes on Meyers as he does. Sean Chandler is over top of Henry, and Jones knows Henry’s frame will shield Chandler. He anticipates the hallway and throws it practically off Gilmore’s back, placing the ball low to make sure there’s almost no chance Chandler fights through Henry or the ball is tipped up.

The anticipation of Jones and the ball placement made what looked like a pitch-and-catch touchdown possible.

NFL QB Rookie Rankings Week 9 | Struggles against a good defense

The Jaguars shocked the NFL world by upsetting the Bills. Still, the accuracy issues for Trevor Lawrence rear their ugly head. Nonetheless, there are things to be impressed about with his play.

3) Trevor Lawrence

Everyone in the NFL decided to be just a hair off on Sunday — rookie QB Trevor Lawrence was no exception. He left a lot of meat on his hot wings, and in this house, that is one of the great sins.

But first, let’s talk about the good.

The good

Lawrence is already advanced in his ability to maneuver amongst the pocket to create throwing windows out of thin air. Many young QBs, especially when as athletic as him, default to the 180 spin left or the sprint out right to escape pressure.

Lawrence’s first thought is to step up. With his long lower half, he can create a lot of separation through just a few simple strides.

Lawrence also makes a lot of plays that go to waste because his pass catchers are unserious about their profession. This is far from the most egregious play not made by a Jaguars receiver/tight end/running back in this game. Not many quarterbacks are able to high-step Tremaine Edmunds.

The bad

He almost gave this game away late. Lawrence has struggled at times this season with his accuracy, an issue that didn’t arise while at Clemson.

Usually, it’s slight misses horizontally or a ball nosediving to the turf. This miss was awfully dangerous, as Tre’Davious White almost picked it off late in the fourth quarter with the Jaguars attempting to run out the clock up by a field goal.

There’s no excuse to allow this ball to float behind his receiver, and it almost cost them dearly. Low and away is where this pass should go, as far away from harm’s way as possible.

Lawrence completed 1 pass farther than 10 yards downfield against the Bills.

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