NFL News & Analysis

Re-ranking the top quarterbacks from the 2021 NFL Draft class at the midpoint of the 2022 season

Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of the game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 NFL quarterback class has been hotly debated ever since some of these guys were in high school. That’s what happens when you have two of the most decorated quarterback recruits of all time. Because of that, I see no reason to stop now. Here is how I stacked them up coming in the final pre-draft rankings prior to the draft:

  1. Trevor Lawrence (No. 1 overall)
  2. Zach Wilson (No. 2 overall)
  3. Justin Fields (No. 3 overall)
  4. Trey Lance (No. 10 overall)
  5. Mac Jones (No. 14 overall)

…and here is how I saw them after their rookie season:

  1. Trevor Lawrence
  2. Mac Jones
  3. Justin Fields
  4. Trey Lance
  5. Zach Wilson

Even more shuffling is necessary through 10 weeks of the 2022 NFL season, so let’s dive in. 

1. Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars

PFF Grade: 67.2
PFF Grade Past 5 Weeks: 70.5

This ranking boils down to: No one in this class has come close to showing the highs that Lawrence has displayed as a passer. He’s the only one of the second-year quarterbacks who’s had a positive expected points added (EPA) per dropback figure on the season (.084). Lawrence has shown marked improvement in his accuracy as well as his decision-making. Just look at his numbers from his rookie year to now:

Stat 2021 2022
Passing Grade 58.3 63.9
Adjusted Comp. % 72.4% 76.5%
Big-Time Throw % 3.4% 3.5%
Turnover-Worthy Play % 3.7% 3.0%

It may not be as drastic as many would have hoped, but it's an improvement nonetheless. Lawrence's past two games are clear evidence, as he’s earned his two highest grades of the season. 

Where you can really see Lawrence starting to catch fire is in his processing speed. His average time to throw as a rookie was 2.84 seconds. Through the first eight weeks this season, it was 2.53 seconds. Over the past two weeks, that number is down to 2.33 seconds. He’s feeling out those in-rhythm throws more and more. And he’s starting to look like the franchise quarterback that was promised in the draft.

2. Justin Fields, Chicago Bears

PFF Grade: 68.7
PFF Grade Past 5 Weeks: 74.9

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Fields has joined Lamar Jackson and Michael Vick on the Mount Rushmore of rushing-threat quarterbacks in recent weeks. It took a year and a half, but the Bears' coaching staff finally figured out that Fields can run. But saying that he “can run” is selling what he’s doing short.

Fields has run like a Ferrari the past five weeks of the season. He leads the entire NFL in rushing over that span, with 555 yards. That’s uncharted territory that not even Jackson in his 2019 MVP season could match. Speaking of, Fields is on pace to break Jackson’s single-season rushing record (1,206) by Week 16. He’s truly a special talent as a runner.

Now, I’m not sure we’ve seen much in the way of meaningful change from Fields as a passer. His 51.7 passing grade still ranks 36th out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks. Just this past week, he threw a dreadful pick-six to take his turnover-worthy play total to 16 (second-most in NFL). His rushing threat will make his life easier in how defenses are forced to play him, but he’s not been exploiting that to the degree you’d like to see. Even over the past month, with the Bears leading the NFL in scoring, Fields has earned just a 60.5 passing grade. That just speaks to how scary this offense could be once or if he does figure things out. 

3. Zach Wilson, New York Jets

PFF Grade: 54.9
PFF Grade Past 5 Weeks: 42.4

Wilson may very well be that quarterback who goes through his entire rookie contract without making the proverbial “leap,” yet I’m right there saying I’d take a chance on him figuring it out. It’s the high-end arm talent throws that keep you coming back. Just look at the mustard on this deep out:

Or this easy seed outside the pocket:

Or this modified arm-angle RPO:

Those are the proverbial “ceiling” plays that many in this league simply aren’t capable of. Wilson’s problem, however, has been the floor plays — more accurately, the frequency of said floor plays. He has the highest turnover-worthy play rate of any starter in the league this season (5.6%). The only franchise quarterback in the same ballpark as him is Josh Allen (4.7%), and most high-end starters are at less than half of Wilson’s rate. There’s still too much guessing on Wilson’s tape instead of actual reading of coverage. His stats when opposing defenses disguise their coverages are abysmal:

Wilson vs. Changed Pre-Post Snap Look
PFF Passing Grade 49.0
Attempts 61
Completions 33
Comp. % 54.1%
Yards 397
YPA 6.5
TD 1
INT 3

While there have been some signs of improvement since his rookie season, it’s not been quite enough to feel confident Wilson will figure it out.

4. Mac Jones, New England Patriots

PFF Grade: 51.5
PFF Grade Past 5 Weeks: 45.1

No player in the NFL has had a more disappointing second season than Jones. He’s looked more like a rookie than he ever did as a rookie. One usually expects the game to start slowing down and for decision-making to improve in Year 2, but the opposite has been the case. He already has 10 turnover-worthy plays in six games after tallying 15 all of last season.

One of the biggest worries when everything was going right for Jones as a rookie was volume. He wasn’t being asked to go out there and win games with his arm. In his three highest-graded games from a season ago, Jones dropped back to pass 23, 25 and 31 times. You better have a lights-out run game and defense to win like that consistently. Jones has averaged 37.8 dropbacks in his healthy games this season, and the results have spoken for themselves. 

His -.096 EPA per dropback is the second-lowest mark of any of the quarterbacks on this list (Zach Wilson at -.104 being the lowest). Without much in the way of physical tools to hang his hat on, that’s worrisome for Patriots faithful.

5. Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

PFF Grade: 53.1
PFF Grade Past 5 Weeks: N/A

There’s really not much positive one can say about Lance’s second season. The 49ers had to literally keep Jimmy Garoppolo away from training camp so as not to have a quarterback controversy before the season. After a game and a half of shaky accuracy, Lance fractured his ankle ending his season. He now has only 124 regular-season NFL dropbacks, 73 preseason dropbacks and 306 college dropbacks to his name. That comes to just 503 career dropbacks — a figure that 21 NFL quarterbacks surpassed last season alone. 

The timeline has stretched so far out for Lance to become a useful quarterback that he may not even get there before the 49ers have to make a fifth-year option decision. If there is a silver lining, it’s that Lance won’t turn 23 until next May. But at some point, he needs the reps. 

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