With just one more week of the 2021 NFL regular season to go, the report cards are close to finalized for our 32 first-round rookies. Quarterback Zach Wilson has finally started to show some progress for the New York Jets, while the same can’t be said for Trevor Lawrence. Jimmy Garoppolo‘s injury gave Trey Lance the chance to see action for the first time since Week 8, and his performance was enticing.
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PICK NO. 1: QB Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Overall Rookie Grade: 56.5 (Rank: 5/9)
Week 17 Grade: 41.9
All Jaguars fans are looking for from Lawrence at this point in the season is flashes of improvement and proof that the generational talent he was declared to be mere months ago is still a reality. There weren’t many signs against the Patriots. Lawrence did make a big-time throw, and threw for his first touchdown since Week 12, but they came on the other side of the balance sheet from three turnover-worthy plays and a 41.9 overall PFF grade.
It’s been a tough year for Lawrence, who has had little in the way of help, but his season is still underwhelming given expectations.
PICK NO. 2: QB Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Overall Rookie Grade: 62.0 (Rank: 3/9)
Week 17 Grade: 68.1
For the second game in a row, Wilson showed some real flashes of the ability that made him such an exciting prospect. But this time, he did so against a real defense. Wilson made one fantastic throw to Keelan Cole and was a lot more comfortable within the offense, averaging 2.65 seconds per pass — the fastest mark of his rookie season thus far.
It wasn’t all good, but for a player who hadn’t shown much reason for optimism for a good part of his season, this is a potentially encouraging finish to his first NFL season.
PICK NO. 3: QB Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
Overall Rookie Grade: 59.7 (Rank: 4/9)
Week 17 Grade: 59.3
Lance was handed the start against Houston this week as Jimmy Garoppolo dealt with a thumb injury. His arm talent was on full display, but rookie errors diluted his performance. Lance’s two turnover-worthy plays involved an optimistic attempt at hitting George Kittle against tight coverage and a simple misread of a route concept that fortuitously bounced into the hands of Brandon Aiyuk for a completion. Lance provides a higher ceiling than Garoppolo but may make enough mistakes to also bring a lower floor.
PICK NO. 4: TE Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
Overall Rookie Grade: 82.2 (Rank: 1/14)
Week 17 Grade: 78.2
Pitts left the game against Buffalo early after pulling up with an apparent hamstring injury as he ran his route. On 27 snaps, Pitts still led the team in receiving yards (69) and was only one target behind Russell Gage. Pitts averaged 4.93 yards per route run and broke two tackles after the catch.
He has had a special rookie season if viewed strictly as a tight end, but as a mismatch, all-purpose receiver, he has been productive while showing just a hint of his future potential.
PICK NO. 5: WR Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals
Overall Rookie Grade: 82.8 (Rank: 1/28)
Week 17 Grade: 91.3
Chase went off against the Kansas City Chiefs this week and likely locked up Offensive Rookie of the Year in the process. He caught 11 of the 12 passes thrown his way for an all-time rookie record 266 yards and three touchdowns. Chase averaged 6.05 yards per route run and displayed a full spectrum of ways to win. He racked up 151 yards after the catch and snagged four contested catches.
Chase is already an elite receiver. The only thing stopping him from being the best in the game is doing it consistently over a full season, rather than the relatively cool stretch he had in the middle of his rookie year.
PICK NO. 6: WR Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins
Overall Rookie Grade: 79.3 (Rank: 2/28)
Week 17 Grade: 50.8
Miami’s first encounter with more formidable opponents had a major impact across the board. Waddle had been running wild in recent weeks but managed just three receptions for 47 yards against Tennessee. He saw seven targets, but that was just over half of the 13 that went toward DeVante Parker, and the rookie gained 1.18 yards per route run. For the season, that figure is 1.78.
PICK NO. 7: OT Penei Sewell, Detroit Lions
Overall Rookie Grade: 77.3 (Rank: 2/19)
Week 17 Grade: 60.6
Sewell didn’t allow any pressure across 41 pass-blocking snaps against the Seattle Seahawks. He was called for a pair of penalties, holding calls on a run play and a pass play. His PFF run-blocking grade was one of his lowest of the season despite that generally being his best facet of play thus far. For the year, Sewell's PFF run-blocking grade sits at 84.9, 15 grading points higher than his pass-blocking grade.
PICK NO. 8: CB Jaycee Horn, Carolina Panthers
Overall Rookie Grade: 67.8 (Rank: 8/39)
Week 17 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.