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Grading all 32 first-round picks after Week 12 of the 2021 NFL season

Quarterback Zach Wilson looked much the same in his return to action in Week 12 as he did pre-injury, even if the New York Jets managed a win over the Houston Texans. Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle demonstrated a ceiling to his play that he had only hinted at before now, further showing why the team drafted him with a premium pick. The New England Patriots enjoyed a dominant win, but it actually coincided with one of quarterback Mac Jones‘ worst games in the NFL.

On defense, there were solid performances almost across the board this week, with linebacker Micah Parsons accounting for 10 of the Dallas Cowboys‘ 22 total pressures back on Thanksgiving. Parsons is the best edge rusher from these first-round rookies, and he’s only a part-timer in that role as he fills in along the defensive front.

Here are grades for every first-round rookie ahead of Week 13 of the 2021 NFL season, all of which are available in PFF Premium Stats.

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PICK NO. 1: QB Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

Overall Rookie Grade: 59.8 (Rank: 4/7)
Week 11 Grade: 65.4

Arguably the most concerning thing from Jacksonville’s perspective is how consistent and predictable Lawrence's performances have become. He has earned mediocre PFF game grades in four of his past five outings, and this week was no different. Lawrence averaged just 5.3 yards per attempt against Atlanta, registering one big-time throw and one turnover-worthy play.

There is no arguing that the situation surrounding him in Jacksonville is bad, but for a player as hyped as Lawrence was as a prospect, it feels reasonable to expect just a little more in the way of encouraging signs despite those limitations. 

PICK NO. 2: QB Zach Wilson, New York Jets

Overall Rookie Grade: 56.3 (Rank: 6/7)
Week 11 Grade: 44.1

There was a line of thought that suggested some time on the sideline while recovering from injury may have done Wilson good — giving him an opportunity to reestablish his fundamentals and gain mental reps without having to actually expose himself to real NFL defenses. But if there was any positive impact from that, it was difficult to see evidence of it against the Texans' defense in Week 12.

Wilson made two turnover-worthy plays, and his actual interception was just a comedy of errors in which he tried to toss a quick shovel pass at his outlet option just as that player had turned his back on him to try and clear a path for Wilson to scramble into. The resulting pass hit its intended target in the back and bounced into the arms of a defender. Wilson is struggling badly in his rookie season, and it may be a grind until Year 2.

PICK NO. 3: QB Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

Overall Rookie Grade: 60.0 (Rank: 3/7)
Week 11 Grade: DNP

Lance did not play against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 12. The 49ers earned a big win against an NFC rival for playoff seeding and are slowly putting themselves in a good position for a playoff run. Lance has barely featured this season, aside from when Jimmy Garoppolo has dealt with injuries, and while Garoppolo’s early-season play was poor, he is on a run of above-average to good performances. Any signs of Lance taking over is being moved into the distance as a result.

PICK NO. 4: TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons

Overall Rookie Grade: 77.5 (Rank: 1/10)
Week 11 Grade: 63.0

Pitts was thrown at six times against the Jaguars, and while he caught only two of those passes, he wasn't the main culprit for the incompletions. Quarterback Matt Ryan was routinely inaccurate or simply too ambitious with the targets, and even one of the two catches required an impressive adjustment from Pitts to haul it in and hold on through contact.

The Falcons continue to move Pitts around the formation, giving him at least 11 snaps in the slot, out wide or as an in-line tight end in this game, but he needs his quarterback to be on point to maximize his full potential.

PICK NO. 5: WR Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals

Overall Rookie Grade: 76.7 (Rank: 4/25)
Week 11 Grade: 64.7

The Steelers did a good job of limiting Chase down the field — about the only thing they did a good job of this week — so the Bengals were forced to manufacture his targets. Two of his three targets were receiver screens, and Chase made something happen on each of them, spinning away from contact to gain yards after the catch on the first and busting through two tackles on the second.

Chase is an elite playmaker already, and a huge part of the Cincinnati attack, even when he isn’t the primary focus of targets.

PICK NO. 6: WR Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins

Overall Rookie Grade: 78.0 (Rank: 2/25)
Week 11 Grade: 87.5

Waddle put together the breakout game that was always coming. He was targeted 10 times against the Panthers, catching nine of them for 137 yards and a touchdown. The lone incompletion was an off-target pass thrown under pressure by Tua Tagovailoa, and as much as Waddle’s most dangerous trait is after-the-catch ability, his touchdown was a contested grab against two defenders that required impressive strength and hands to bring in.

Waddle is a valuable playmaker within the Dolphins' offense, but he's hinted at the capacity to be even more than that. This was the best evidence so far of that high ceiling.

PICK NO. 7: OT Penei Sewell, Detroit Lions

Overall Rookie Grade: 73.9 (Rank: 3/16)
Week 11 Grade: 78.6

The  Lions were back to losing games this week on Thanksgiving, but Sewell again provided a bright spot for the team at right tackle. He earned the highest overall PFF grade (78.6) on Detroit’s offense, allowing just two total pressures from 27 pass-blocking snaps while dominating on the ground with some key blocks to create significant rushing lanes.

Sewell has played well in his rookie season at both tackle spots, having looked like he might need to play on the left side after preseason struggles on the right. 

PICK NO. 8: CB Jaycee Horn, Carolina Panthers

Overall Rookie Grade: 67.8 (Rank: 6/36)
Week 11 Grade: DNP

Horn broke his foot on Thursday night in Week 3 of the 2021 NFL season after an encouraging start to the campaign. He is expected to miss the rest of his rookie year.

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