Realistic Expectations for Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Other 2nd-Year NFL QBs
The 2022 NFL preseason kicked off Thursday night with the annual Hall of Fame Game. While second-year Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence didn't see the field, he will be a player to follow throughout preseason and regular-season action.
He isn't the only second-year quarterback fans will be monitoring in 2022. He was one of five signal-callers taken in the first round last April and, along with Houston Texans third-round pick Davis Mills, one of six projected starters entering their second seasons.
Year 2 is a big one for quarterbacks for a couple of reasons. As we've seen with Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, young signal-callers aren't guaranteed the long grace period they once were. This isn't necessarily a make-or-break season for Lawrence and Co., but they'll have a lot to prove.
The second campaign is also when some take a significant jump. We saw it last year with Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert. There's a reasonable chance that at least one second-year quarterback will become a breakout star this season. There's also a chance that one or more of them flop.
How do we see these six starters panning out in 2022? That's what we're here to examine. We'll dive into each signal-caller's situation and set realistic expectations based on factors like past performance, upside, supporting cast, coaching and any relevant recent buzz.
The players are listed in alphabetical order.
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
Justin Fields is the latest first-round pick to get a crack at solidifying the Chicago Bears' quarterback situation. Chicago moved on from Mitchell Trubisky last offseason and secured the Ohio State product at No. 11 overall.
Fields' rookie campaign didn't go so great. Saddled with an underwhelming supporting cast, a bad offensive line and some questionable coaching by Matt Nagy, he stumbled to a 2-8 record as a starter. He finished with 1,870 passing yards, seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 73.2 passer rating.
The good news for Bears fans is that Fields has a new head coach in Matt Eberflus and a new offensive coordinator in Luke Getsy. The latter comes from the Green Bay Packers, where he served as Aaron Rodgers' quarterbacks coach and passing-game coordinator.
The change in coaching and Fields' Year 2 progression should have the 23-year-old better prepared than a year ago.
"I think we're progressing every day," Fields said, per Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
But the Bears didn't do much to improve Fields' supporting cast. They added the likes of Velus Jones Jr., Byron Pringle and N'Keal Harry while losing former No. 1 receiver Allen Robinson.
They also did little to improve last year's disaster of an offensive line. Fields was sacked 36 times and was under pressure on 27.3 percent of his dropbacks. Hopefully, Chicago will continue to utilize Fields' scrambling ability (420 yards, two touchdowns last season) to keep defenses honest.
Fields has a ton of physical upside and should see the field better than he did as a rookie. However, the other pieces aren't in place for him to take a massive statistical jump. Wins will also be tough to come by.
Stat Projections: 204 completions, 347 attempts, 2,370 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 99 carries, 575 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns
Mac Jones, New England Patriots
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones was on the other end of the rookie spectrum. He had an impressive Pro Bowl campaign while helping lead the team to the postseason.
The 15th pick in the 2021 draft finished his inaugural campaign with 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns and a 92.5 quarterback rating.
On paper, his supporting cast will be just as good if not better than it was last season.
New England added wideout DeVante Parker and rookie Tyquan Thornton and used a first-round pick on Cole Strange to help replace traded guard Shaq Mason. Weapons like wideout Jakobi Meyers, tight end Hunter Henry and running back Damien Harris are back as well.
The one real question mark is the Patriots' approach to replacing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who left to become head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. McDaniels put together a terrific plan for the passer in 2021. Things haven't gone as smoothly under head coach Bill Belichick and senior offensive advisor Matt Patricia in training camp.
"We have a lot of room to grow here," Jones said, per AJ Nelson of Boston.com. "… Our offensive line is doing a good job, we just have to get on the same page."
Under Belichick, the Patriots have typically found ways to navigate personnel and coaching departures, and this year should be no different. However, Jones and the offense could still see a slow start.
Fans shouldn't expect elite passing numbers from the Alabama product in what should be a conservative and balanced offense like we saw under McDaniels. However, he should cut down on the mistakes (13 interceptions, seven fumbles) that cropped up late in his rookie campaign.
Jones should again perform near a Pro Bowl level. Whether that's enough to put New England in the playoff picture following the losses of key defenders like cornerback J.C. Jackson and linebacker Dont'a Hightower remains to be seen.
Stat Projections: 371 completions, 545 attempts, 3,915 yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 40 carries, 115 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers
In many ways, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance can be considered the wild card of the 2022 season.
Despite being taken third overall, Lance didn't see the field often as a rookie. This is because Jimmy Garoppolo was starting when healthy, and the team only used the North Dakota State product for the occasional change-of-pace play and as a two-game spot starter.
Lance finished his rookie season with 603 passing yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions and a 97.3 rating. He also rushed for 168 yards and a score and went 1-1 as a starter.
With Garoppolo expected to be on his way out via a trade, it's now Lance's show in San Francisco, and the 22-year-old has shown offseason growth.
"The way that he interacts with his team, the way he operates on the field, the way he responds when he makes a mistake, all of those things are very, very positive on top of his physical abilities, which are significant," quarterbacks coach Brian Griese told reporters.
While former offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel left in the offseason to become the Miami Dolphins head coach, the offense shouldn't change significantly as long as Kyle Shanahan is still in charge. We should see a lot of what made last year's seventh-ranked unit successful, with a few added wrinkles that capitalize on Lance's strong arm and athletic ability.
The supporting cast hasn't changed much either, with center Alex Mack (retirement) being the biggest departure. Lance will still have elite pass-catchers in wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle at his disposal.
Lance is walking into an ideal situation with a ready-made Super Bowl contender. He's likely to make a few youthful miscues in his first season as a starter. However, he should also perform well enough to keep San Francisco in the thick of the NFC playoff chase.
Stat Projections: 260 completions, 425 attempts, 3,315 yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 102 carries, 526 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Lawrence's rookie campaign under Urban Meyer was a mess. Meyer was inexperienced and ill-equipped to handle an NFL team, and the results showed that. Jacksonville "earned" the first overall pick for a second straight year, and Lawrence failed to live up to the hype of being a generational prospect.
He finished his rookie season with 12 touchdowns, a league-lead-tying 17 interceptions and a 71.9 rating.
Fortunately for Lawrence, Jacksonville took significant steps to improve his situation. For starters, they hired a seasoned—and Super Bowl-winning—head coach in Doug Pederson. The coaching change alone has Lawrence better positioned than he was as a rookie.
"I think he's done a great job just planning out our offseason," Lawrence told Colin Cowherd on The Herd (h/t Pro Football Talk's Myles Simmons). "There were a lot of changes we needed to make, and I think he's made those. He's put together a great plan of progressing our team offensively and defensively."
Jacksonville also invested in Lawrence's supporting cast. While the Jaguars did lose a solid receiver in D.J. Chark, who missed most of last season with a fractured ankle, they added the likes of guard Brandon Scherff, wideout Christian Kirk, tight end Evan Engram and rookie center Luke Fortner.
Lawrence should also have former Clemson teammate and running back Travis Etienne Jr. in the lineup this season. Etienne missed all of 2021 with a Lisfranc injury.
Simply by having an experienced NFL coach, Lawrence should be poised for tangible Year 2 improvement. With a better supporting cast, he could have the sort of statistical leap we saw from Burrow last season.
It may not be enough to put the Jaguars in the playoff mix, but they shouldn't be headed toward a third consecutive first overall selection.
Stat Projections: 369 completions, 585 attempts, 3,967 yards, 24 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 75 carries, 365 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns
Davis Mills, Houston Texans
Though he wasn't selected until the third round, Texans quarterback Davis Mills had the second-best season among rookie starters in 2021. He didn't make the Pro Bowl like Jones, however.
The Texans weren't exactly loaded with offensive talent. Brandin Cooks was the lone standout receiver and the only pass-catcher to top 500 yards. Houston ranked dead last in both rushing yards per game and yards per carry.
Yet Mills was more than respectable in his 11 starts. He appeared in 13 games in total and finished with 2,664 yards, 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and an 88.8 passer rating. He had his fair share of rocky moments but settled in as the season progressed.
"He really got off to kind of a slow start, but then he really finished strong, and he showed he has a lot of potential with this team. And as they build pieces around him, I think he's only going to get better," NFL Hall of Famer Warren Moon told ESPN Houston's The Wheelhouse last month (h/t Anthony Wood of FanNation).
While Houston didn't significantly upgrade Mills' supporting cast, it did bring in running backs Marlon Mack and Dare Ogunbowale and use a first-round pick on interior lineman Kenyon Green.
The backfield of Mack, Ogunbowale, Rex Burkhead and rookie fourth-round pick Dameon Pierce should at least give Mills the running support he didn't enjoy as a rookie.
It's also worth noting that Mills appeared in only five games at Stanford in 2020 because of a pandemic-shortened season. He played in only 14 college games over his three years with the Cardinal.
As Mills gains more experience, he could continue to show improved play on the field. He'll have some continuity under offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton—the team's passing-game coordinator and quarterbacks coach last season—and defensive coordinator-turned-head coach Lovie Smith.
The Texans' supporting cast still isn't great, and this isn't a playoff team. However, if Mills builds on what he did late last season (2-2 in his final four starts), he may become an above-average starter.
Stat Projections: 370 completions, 529 attempts, 3,821 yards, 23 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 22 carries, 48 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
Zach Wilson, New York Jets
Zach Wilson was the second overall pick in the 2021 draft and perhaps the most disappointing after Lawrence. The New York Jets' signal-caller struggled with consistency and missed time with a knee injury.
Wilson finished with nine touchdown passes, 11 interceptions and a passer rating of only 69.7. He did have 185 rushing yards and four scores on the ground but went just 3-10 as a starter. To be fair, he was sacked 44 times and under pressure on 30.6 percent of his dropbacks.
The Jets, though, did an excellent job of improving Wilson's supporting cast this offseason.
They signed guard Laken Tomlinson in free agency while strengthening their tight end room by adding C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Conklin and rookie Jeremy Ruckert. New York also added first-round receiver Garrett Wilson and second-round running back Breece Hall.
The Jets now have three first-round picks—Tomlinson (2015), Mekhi Becton (2020) and Alijah Vera-Tucker (2021)—on their offensive line. They also have a tremendous skill-position group, one that has Elijah Moore, Braxton Berrios and Michael Carter returning.
The big question is whether the relatively raw 23-year-old can add some polish in his second season under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. He has the physical tools.
"I'm not saying he's Patrick Mahomes, but you watch his mechanics, his throwing motion, the way he moves, he's very Patrick Mahomes-ish," former NFL receiver Chad Johnson said, per Craig Ellenport of SI.com.
Jets fans should expect the sort of incremental improvement that Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen showed in his second year. Allen wasn't a star just yet, but he made enough of a jump—his passer rating went from 67.9 as a rookie to 85.3—for Buffalo to make the postseason.
Wilson will be better in 2022, and the Jets just might be a surprise playoff team because of it.
Stat Projections: 313 completions, 499 attempts, 3,134 yards, 22 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 50 carries, 326 rushing yards, 6 rushing touchdowns
*Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.