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NFL QB Rookie Rankings Week 13: Does Mac Jones stay on top or can Trevor Lawrence make a push?

The NFL QB Rookie Rankings can be a struggle to write because this rookie crop can be tough to watch. Let's "hunt the good stuff" this week!

The NFL QB Rookie Rankings haven’t looked the same all season in presentation, but the general week-to-week rankings when Mac Jones, Trevor Lawrence, and Zach Wilson all play have largely not changed. It’s easy to find critiques in each of their games. However, when I was in the Army, we had a guest speaker come to us one day. He talked about “hunting the good stuff.” When things feel stacked against us, sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and work to find the positives in life. So let’s get to it.

NFL QB Rookie Rankings | The “clean” performer

Jones doesn’t have it as hard as the other two, but he’s made things look easy now for most of his rookie season.

Let’s break down some examples.

1) Mac Jones

Jones easily has the best situation of any rookie quarterback playing, and he’s also the best fit for what the Patriots want to do offensively. He has athletic shortcomings that had many questioning his ceiling in the NFL. Some of those shortcomings were on display against Tennessee.

But this piece is about “hunting the good stuff” with the three rookie QBs because so much is going wrong in Jacksonville and New York. It would be unfair to talk about the plays Jones left on the field while trying to prop up the others.

There’s also no question that Jones has been the best of the three. But if you want to see what I’m talking about, you may visit my Twitter account, where I compiled some stuff from Tennessee vs. New England.

Hunting the good stuff

Jones does an outstanding job layering this throw between the linebacker and cornerback and putting it in a place where his receiver can go up and get it. What Jones lacks in arm strength, he makes up for with his rapid release.

His processing ability is obviously his calling card, and he shows why here. He’s targeting a triangle of death between the linebacker, apex defender (slot cornerback), and outside cornerback. He has to process three things and decide whether or not to throw this ball in a flash.

  1. The apex crossing the face of the receiver to the flat
  2. The linebacker flattening out on the 40-yard line
  3. The cornerback dropping hard into his Cover 3 deep third

Jones must ensure the first two are happening while also reading the cornerback’s leverage to make sure he can’t click and close on the pass. All of that occurs in less than two seconds.

Playing quarterback in the NFL is unbelievably complex, and this is against a basic Cover 3 look. It gets way more complicated than this!

One thing the young quarterbacks from the 2021 NFL Draft class are struggling with most is finding the hot route when faced with quick pressure. Jones has not shown those same issues. It’s one of the things he flourished doing at Alabama, too.

Here, the concept takes his eyes left, but he sees the Titans have numbers to that side, and he feels the pressure coming from his right side (which is blind in this instance).

Jones does an excellent job of not waiting too long to come off his initial read, and he knows precisely where Hunter Henry will be. But his release is what makes this play work.

NFL QB Rookie Rankings | The good in an awful situation

Lawrence is struggling, but the Jaguars passing attack is schematically archaic and his receivers do him few favors. Let’s hunt for the good stuff!

2) Trevor Lawrence

There’s no question that Lawrence isn’t having the best rookie season. However, as we’ve all cautioned before, situation matters so much for a young quarterback. That’s not meant to absolve Lawrence of any wrongdoing. He’s responsible for some of his struggles. He’s holding the ball a bit long in adverse situations from time to time, and he’s not been as accurate on the hoof as expected.

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But there is still a lot of good there, too!

Hunting the good stuff

This is about as open as a Jaguars receiver got against man coverage in this game. This play is either a spectacular catch or an interception, with really no middle ground. It ends up being the free play because of a hold against Marvin Jones, but that’s unimportant.

The placement on this pass and the velocity somehow generated without being able to hitch and step into this throw is mesmerizing. These are the throws that keep Lawrence from the bottom of the NFL QB Rookie Rankings each week.

The Falcons didn’t allow much space for the Jaguars passing attack all day. Not much changed here, except for Lawrence throwing to a spot and allowing his receiver to work back to the ball.

On a day where nothing came easy for the first overall pick, he showed a bit of creativity to work the ball to guys, whether open or covered.

The one positive we can take from Lawrence is his ability to use his legs as a weapon. Jacksonville has consistently used designed runs but only tends to do so in high-leverage situations where the risk of injury comes closer to the reward that is a first down or a touchdown.

He’ll also take off to scramble, but he’s not one to drop his eyes, and he always tries to be a passer first. For a young player, Lawrence has also done a good job avoiding unnecessary shots as a ball carrier.

NFL QB Rookie Rankings | Patience is a virtue

Wilson was bound to struggle as a rookie. He was by far the biggest ball of clay between the three quarterbacks playing currently, and only Trey Lance has more questions as a prospect.

3) Zach Wilson

Ranking these quarterbacks brings me no joy. Everybody is in a different situation and at a different point in their progression as professionals. Wilson started behind the eight ball because of the style he plays and the offense he came from.

I would have been far more surprised if he looked good as a rookie than what I’m currently seeing. Ideally, he wouldn’t have to play so early. However, “trial by fire” might not be the worst decision at this point. If anything, we’ll see what Wilson’s makeup is.

To this point, it seems he’s taken the struggles in stride. He’s been refreshing and honest at the podium, and he understands the work he has to do. That is more than enough for now, but I fear the New York media will take its toll on most any young man eventually. It’s something to monitor going into next season. Consistently being at the bottom of the NFL QB Rookie Rankings is not a complete condemnation, as we should have expected struggles from Wilson.

Hunting the good stuff

Quite honestly, it would be too easy to come in here and talk about the negatives. There is no shortage throughout the course of a Wilson game.

Another issue for the young quarterback has been the protection. Losing Mekhi Becton was a killer for an already weak offensive line. What better way to protect your quarterback than to go super heavy and allow him to layer a throw? Easy enough, given the linebacker depth.

Wilson’s given time to deliver, and he shows excellent anticipation here, delivering the ball before Elijah Moore has taken his gather step on the deep curl. Arm talent, as we know, has never been in question for Wilson.

This throw may have been bred from necessity, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. This is a great leverage key read from Wilson, who’s struggled in this area early in his career.

The inside receiver does his job here, and the Jets get a great look defensively for the route concept. The linebacker carries the No. 3 vertically as one does in Tampa 2. As the receiver plants on the in-breaking route, Wilson anticipates the linebacker carrying the vertical downfield as he sees his back.

This is a tremendous anticipatory throw to pick up a crucial late-game fourth down. Wilson may never crack the top spot in the NFL QB Rookie Rankings, but we shouldn’t discard him for his performance as a rookie on a bare-bones roster with a first-time head coach and play-caller.

Dalton Miller is the Lead NFL Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can read more of his work here and follow him @daltonbmiller on Twitter and Twitch

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