Predicting When Each Rookie NFL QB Will Start 1st Game in 2021

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMay 15, 2021

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) during the NFL football team's rookie minicamp Friday, May, 14, 2021, in Lake Forest Ill. (AP Photo/David Banks, Pool)
David Banks/Associated Press

In each of the last 13 NFL seasons, at least one rookie quarterback has started in Week 1.

In fact, at least one first-year signal-caller has started in each of the NFL's past 228 regular-season weeks—a streak that dates back to Week 11 of the 2007 season (John Beck for the Miami Dolphins). 

It certainly looks as though both of those trends will continue with five first-round picks part of this year's rookie quarterback class, but nothing's guaranteed to any of those guys or the five quarterbacks selected beyond Round 1. 

Let's make some calculated guesses at when we might see each of those 10 in 2021. 


Trevor Lawrence: Week 1

The Jacksonville Jaguars' No. 1 overall pick appears to be a shoo-in to start the Jags' season opener against the Houston Texans in the Lone Star State, although the former Clemson superstar is coming off surgery on his non-throwing shoulder and will be limited this offseason, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

He's apparently still on track to be 100 percent for training camp, but that's a legitimate factor when Gardner Minshew II is also on the roster and the Jags haven't formally declared Lawrence the Week 1 starter yet.

Still, the team has little reason to wait, and Lawrence looks ready. 


Zach Wilson: Week 1

DraftKings doesn't offer odds for whom the Jaguars or New York Jets will start in Week 1, but it does that for the three other teams that drafted quarterbacks in Round 1. That should be a pretty strong indication that Lawrence and Wilson are very much on track to earn starting roles this summer. 

Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

The Jets haven't made anything official with their second overall pick. But Sam Darnold is off the roster, and it's hard to imagine them starting anyone but Wilson when they face Darnold's Carolina Panthers in Week 1. 


Trey Lance: Week 18

Jimmy Garoppolo remains on the San Francisco 49ers roster, and Lance is raw coming off one season as a college starter at the FCS level. They also owe Garoppolo $26.4 million this year. On one hand, that likely means he can be had in a trade. On the other hand, the brass has made it pretty clear they're looking to use him to bridge the gap to their No. 3 overall pick. 

"Yeah, I mean Jimmy definitely is our starter right now, and right now there isn't a competition, because I don't believe Trey would be in a position to compete," head coach Kyle Shanahan said on The Rich Eisen Show earlier this month, according to Cam Inman of the Mercury News.

So Lance could redshirt, but Garoppolo has also lacked durability. So it might just be a matter of time before an injury paves the way for the North Dakota State product to debut. It would be silly and callous to predict when such a development might happen, so we're rolling with the idea that Lance will get a shot in a meaningless regular-season finale in the same way Patrick Mahomes launched his career in 2017. 


The Chicago Bears somewhat hilariously declared Andy Dalton their "QB1" in March, and they stuck to that even after trading up to draft Fields 11th overall in April. 

"Andy is our starter, and we're going to have a really good plan in place to develop Justin," general manager Ryan Pace told the media after the first round of the draft. 

This is also tricky because Nick Foles remains on the Chicago roster, which means it might not simply require a single injury for Fields to get the green light. And there's a precedent here. When Pace traded up to take Mitchell Trubisky second overall in 2017, the Bears didn't start him immediately either. The current regime did, however, have little patience with their quarterbacks last season. 

They might not throw Fields to the wolves with the Aaron Donald-led Los Angeles Rams on the schedule Week 1 (especially on the road in prime time), but it wouldn't be surprising if a poor performance from Dalton in that spot led to a Fields start at home against the less dangerous and intimidating Cincinnati Bengals the following Sunday.


Mac Jones: Week 1

Based on the odds, the peeps in Vegas are confident Cam Newton will hold off Jones to start the New England Patriots' season opener at home against the Miami Dolphins. And that's understandable because head coach Bill Belichick told the media on draft night that "Cam's our quarterback."

"Whatever time Jarrett or Mac are ready to challenge and compete," he added, "then we'll see how that goes."

That could theoretically be this summer, and Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports gives that an 80 percent chance of happening. The problem is we're not too familiar with Belichick in a situation like this. But Jones is a pro-ready quarterback, and the Pats must really believe he can run their system wonderfully if they were willing to use such a rare top-half-of-Round 1 draft pick on him. 

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Whoever starts Week 1 will likely get a lot of time because Belichick isn't knee-jerky. This feels like it's close to a tossup, but Newton has performed so poorly as a passer the last few years that I'm leaning toward Jones stealing the job in August. 


Kyle Trask: Week 18

Obviously, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made this second-round pick with the long-term future in mind, and Tom Brady will be the guy throughout 2021. And even if Brady were to get hurt, you'd have to imagine they'd go to Blaine Gabbert or Ryan Griffin as caretakers. 

That said, I could see them blowing away the competition in the NFC and giving the Florida product a shot if their Week 18 matchup with the Panthers doesn't matter. 


Kellen Mond: Won't happen

There's a lot to love about the strong and athletic Mond coming out of Round 3, but the Minnesota Vikings owe Kirk Cousins $76 million between now and the conclusion of the 2022 campaign, according to Spotrac. They're in too deep.

Besides, Cousins might lack consistency, but he's coming off the two highest-rated seasons of his career. And the Vikes aren't good enough or bad enough to find themselves playing meaningless games in December or January, which means Mond will likely have to wait at least a year. 


Davis Mills: Won't happen

Deshaun Watson's legal situation after 22 different women filed lawsuits against him alleging sexual assault or misconduct is naturally a huge factor here because the Houston Texans might not have even considered using a third-round pick on Mills under regular circumstances. Still, the team brought in veteran Tyrod Taylor as well this offseason, and he's a lock to start if Watson doesn't. 

Maybe Mills could get a shot or two late in the year if the Texans stink again, but with so much up in the air, I wouldn't count on anything beyond potential mop-up duty.


Ian Book: Won't happen

If the post-Drew Brees New Orleans Saints only had Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill, I'd think the fourth-round pick would have a serious shot at some action in 2021. But with both of those guys on the roster and New Orleans likely to be at least a fringe contender this season, it's probably not in the cards for Book.


Sam Ehlinger: Won't happen

The Indianapolis Colts are going all-in on Carson Wentz, which likely means he gets all 17 starts if healthy. And if the veteran gets hurt, you'd think sophomore fourth-round pick Jacob Eason would be higher in the pecking order than Ehlinger as a rookie sixth-rounder.


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Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Gagnon.