NFL QB Rookie Rankings Week 9: Fields has best game, Jones plays beyond the stats, and the Jags are awful

    The rookie QB class from last year's NFL Draft is struggling mightily so far in 2021. Here are our latest NFL QB rookie rankings.

    I changed the rookie QB rankings for the NFL season to reflect week-to-week performances instead of the cumulative picture. The whole picture is too depressing to discuss. However, we’re seeing each QB start to become more comfortable in their own skin. In Week 9, we saw the most impressive rookie performance of the season thus far.

    NFL QB Rookie Rankings Week 9 | The top dog

    The Chicago Bears’ young franchise quarterback had his best week as a pro without head coach Matt Nagy. Is that just a coincidence?

    1) Justin Fields

    We could quibble about the definitional differences between “best” and “most impressive.” Still, I believe Justin Fields’ performance against the 49ers was the most impressive rookie QB performance of the NFL season thus far.

    He certainly wasn’t perfect, as I’ll get into — but he looked far more comfortable operating the quick game than he had in prior weeks. The 49ers had a clear game plan that looked to force the rookie QB to make prompt and accurate decisions underneath. I’ve talked about Fields’ intermediate passing strength, and San Francisco played soft coverage to thwart those intermediate efforts.

    But it was his third- and fourth-down performances that wowed me the most.

    Money-down playmaking

    Everything about this conversion made me stand up from my seat. The 49ers spin late from single high to two high. They show an overload blitz from the right side of the offensive line to get Chicago to slide protection in that direction.

    Then, they bring the APEX — or slot — defender to the field side down from his spot across from the slot receiver and blitz him off the left. And they still bring one extra on the right side, which gives them a six vs. five advantage on the rush, but Nick Bosa peels to cover Khalil Herbert.

    Fields was hilariously and erroneously knocked for being a “one-read” quarterback while at Ohio State. It took only the equivalent of a high school football education to understand the OSU offense operated off a ton of isolation option routes to free up their supreme talents, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.

    Related | Week 9 NFL Power Rankings: Rams climb to top spot, Browns tumble, and the Saints win with Siemian

    Here, the rookie QB looks left off the snap but doesn’t appear to like the leverage he sees from Chicago’s defense. He quickly scans from left to right and finds that the safety has vacated the area where he wants to throw the ball. The cornerback has outside leverage on the receiver, and Fields stands strong with pressure coming and only retreats as he’s throwing the football.

    He also used his legs twice in read-option situations on 3rd-and-1, and he picked up a ridiculous fourth-down conversion that looked like it was going to be a 10-yard loss after tripping in the direction of the initial defender.

    Using his legs more

    Fields is usually the most athletic player on the football field. There aren’t many that can match his 230-pound frame while running in the 4.4 range. Against the 49ers, he decided it was time to use his speed a bit more.

    If you can, do.

    The Bears’ offensive line is a dumpster fire in the middle of a hurricane. They look like a group of 37-year-old dads playing Call of Duty on a 65-inch TV. They’re going to get slaughtered. Fields deciding to see green and take green is him simply isolating an advantage and taking it. If you have the juice, use the juice.

    One missed opportunity

    I don’t hide the fact I liked Fields coming out of Ohio State. I had him as my QB2, and he was closer to QB1 than QB3. But let’s look at a missed opportunity from the past game. Fields didn’t have any egregious errors on Sunday, but we will critique him on this play.

    Here, we get a play-action rep with max protection. Only two Bears end up out on a route. San Francisco appears to play it well initially, with the outside cornerback’s shoulders toward the sideline, clearly in a Cover 3 look.

    With the deep out heading to that side, it’s unlikely Fields has a throwing window. However, as Fields drives forward in the pocket, he moves inside with his eyes. The cornerback has flipped to the inside, giving Fields the perfect leverage to hit the deep out.

    At this point in the play, Fields hasn’t done anything wrong. But with the horrific line play he’s endured as a rookie QB in the NFL, his internal clock appears a bit sped up here. With the APEX defender overtop and outside of Allen Robinson, and both Fred Warner and the safety inside, Fields could have eliminated Robinson as an option immediately.

    He does that, but instead of peeking back outside, he drops his head and tries to pick up some yards on the ground. We’re nitpicking mistakes here, and this isn’t anything overtly bad, but it goes to show the day he had as a passer against San Francisco. His late-game heave was almost caught and could have been called as defensive pass interference.

    NFL QB Rookie Rankings Week 9 | The two other contenders

    There is a reason I don’t get into a deep analytical discussion about the rookie quarterbacks. Mac Jones didn’t have a good day by the numbers, but his issues weren’t all on him. Furthermore, he showed me things this week he hadn’t demonstrated often yet in his rookie season.

    2) Mac Jones

    Jones didn’t have his most efficient or productive day at the office, but he’s not entirely to blame for his misses. He showed quite a few impressive things on Sunday against a good Chargers pass defense.

    Feel for pressure

    At times during this game, it felt like the world was crumbling at Jones’ feet. Yet, he stayed composed throughout, to the point where his feet looked dead at times. Every once in a while, he almost looked like a Mike Leach QB.

    But it’s not just his feel for the pressure that impresses. Say that back five times fast!

    I brought up Jones’ ball-handling last week. It’s an underrated aspect of quarterback play, particularly in the play-action game. He gives strong fakes and does a great job snapping his head around to start scanning. On the above play, he needs to make an immediate decision, and he does, accurately.

    NFL sustainable throws

    High-tier NFL QBs regularly hold onto the ball in the face of pressure long enough to allow intermediate routes to develop. They take shots, but they can hang in and deliver timely passes with velocity and accuracy.

    Jones doesn’t possess a plus arm, but he’ll survive in the league if he can consistently attack intermediate areas of the field with timing and accuracy, as he does in the above play.

    His processing is seldom in question. Here, Jones never loses the backside safety, who drives into a robber role as the Chargers’ safeties swing to a single-high look pre-snap. Because of his lackluster arm, we probably won’t see Jones make far-hash intermediate throws often. Thus, he’ll need to regularly take advantage of the area inside the numbers.

    Downfield accuracy

    Jones is a work in progress throwing downfield sideline passes, and his truly deep shots probably won’t ever be a strong suit. Still, he is more than capable of attacking downfield when afforded the opportunity.

    But his ability to manipulate pressure and find throwing hallways in the face of defenders is impressive given that he’s a rookie QB in the NFL.

    Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels trust him

    Late in the fourth quarter, up by 7 points, New England’s coaches didn’t take the ball out of the hands of their young quarterback. Sure, they ran the ball more often than they threw it on the final offensive drive that ended in a field goal. But they didn’t handcuff their young signal-caller, displaying trust in Jones’ ability to not have a fatal mistake that could jeopardize the outcome.

    3) Trevor Lawrence

    At times, things aren’t necessarily as bad in Jacksonville as they are in Chicago. But the Jaguars sustained their awfulness far better on a week-to-week basis than the Bears. Jacksonville’s offensive line struggled mightily against the Seattle Seahawks, rendering our evaluation of Trevor Lawerence nearly useless.

    However, it’s also important to understand that Lawrence is also just not playing as sharp as he could be. Although it shouldn’t be a long-term worry yet, the Jaguars desperately need to address their organizational issues. I fear they’ll break Lawrence much like the Colts broke Andrew Luck if they don’t act quickly.

    Inaccuracy

    This has been a problem throughout Lawrence’s rookie season. I’m far from a mechanical expert when it comes to throwing a football. I played quarterback growing up, but I couldn’t describe mechanical intricacies.

    What I do know is that only fellow NFL rookie QB Zach Wilson completes fewer passes than expected. The miss below from Lawrence nose-dives at the intended target.

    You can tell he’s doing an excellent job of maneuvering himself about the pocket. He creates what little throwing hallways he can find. However, there are times where, because things are going poorly for the Jaguars, Lawrence plays hero ball.

    Receivers don’t help much

    There doesn’t seem to be anyone in the Jaguars’ offense willing to help Lawrence throughout a game. This is the worst of the bunch from Sunday. He often put players in position to make plays, and they were unable to capitalize.

    It’s difficult to quantify just how bad things are for the young quarterback. Between the unimaginative route combinations and high volume of passes, Jacksonville is mired in mismanagement.

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