The quarterback carousel has become a yearly occurrence in the NFL. Every year we see rookies coming into the league and taking over for their respective teams while contenders and division bottom feeders alike look through trade options and the free agent market for the guy that could potentially be the answer to their prayers at the quarterback position. 2021 was no different, many rookie quarterbacks were taken with the intent of being a franchise guy, and many veterans found new homes or gained the starting spot on their teams as well. The league will look wildly different at the quarterback position in 2021, and here’s how I believe each new starter could perform in their first chance on their new teams.
New England Patriots – Mac Jones
We may not see Mac Jones in Week 1, but the combination of the Patriots very rare choice to select a quarterback early and the incompetence of Cam Newton means we’ll probably see him at some point in 2021. Mac Jones reminds a lot of scouts of Tom Brady, who did alright it New England for a while. Their offense includes two great tight ends and some solid receivers added during free agency this year. The offensive line is also good, which means Jones should have time to get the ball to the newly acquired targets. Everything is in place for Mac Jones to succeed, and poor QB play is not the norm in New England. Jones should end up being the franchise quarterback that the Patriots hoped he would end up being when they took him at the 15th overall pick. He’ll look to get a Patriots team that is on the fringe of being a playoff team back into the playoffs after a year in which they didn’t make it. The Alabama prospect goes from one legendary coach to another, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be among the best QBs in this class when they finally call on him to be the guy under center.
New York Jets – Zach Wilson
The second rookie in the AFC East is about as boom or bust as it gets. He flew up draft board prior to the draft and the Jets had enough confidence to ship Sam Darnold to Carolina and use their 2nd overall pick to snag Wilson. The BYU product acquired the very creative nickname of “Mormon Mahomes” during the pre-draft process because of his otherworldly arm talent and deep ball accuracy. As we know, arm strength isn’t everything and he was labeled as a guy who could be a superstar or a bust pretty early on. Moving on from Adam Gase is a godsend for Wilson, who now gets to work with more competent coaches. Still though, it is the Jets we are talking about. However, I believe that Wilson will find great success in the NFL, just don’t be surprised if he struggles a little bit in his rookie year. Many of the great QBs often struggled in their rookie seasons too so I wouldn’t stress too early. I see Wilson being the franchise guy in New York, but growing pains will be there early on, and his rookie season may not end up being what Jets fans hope for. I promise you Jets fans, be patient. Zach Wilson is the real deal, and he’ll eventually end up getting your beloved team of lovable losers back into playoff contention, just maybe not in his rookie season.
Cincinnati Bengals – Joe Burrow
Is it fair to put Joe Burrow on this article? After all, he did make 10 starts in 2020 before going down with injury. Well it’s my list and I want Joe Burrow on it so here we go. Burrow showed signs of greatness in his rookie season at times, even behind the putrid offensive line of the Bengals. Many say that the Bengals did nothing to fix their line heading into 2021, and while they probably didn’t do quite enough, they have some returning players that should improve their line from it’s very poor play in 2020. The main name that comes to mind is Jonah Williams, the Alabama left tackle who hasn’t played much since he was drafted due to injuries. If he stays healthy, he should be a solid left tackle at the NFL level. They also added some middle tier offensive linemen during free agency. This line will most likely end up being mediocre in 2021, but that’ll be enough for Joe Burrow. The LSU superstar will make a huge leap with his former college teammate, Ja’Marr Chase, now on the team. Don’t be surprised if Burrow throws for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in his sophomore season. While it probably won’t be enough to get the Bengals into the playoffs in a loaded AFC North, it’ll be great to see after he went down with a gruesome injury in 2020. It’ll be up to the Bengals to add plenty of talent around their franchise QB next off-season and avoid a “Matt Stafford in Detroit” type of career for the ultra-talented Burrow. 2021 will prove that the Bengals found their guy, and that would be a successful season regardless of the playoffs or not.
Houston Texans – Tyrod Taylor/Davis Mills
The Texans are a weird team. There are so many questions about what they’ll do in 2021, and many of those questions pertain to the quarterback position. We have no clue if we’ll see Deshaun Watson in 2021, or ever again. If he doesn’t play in 2021, it looks like it’ll be up to either Tyrod Taylor or Davis Mills to take over under center. There has been some speculation over who would start in Week 1 if it wasn’t Watson, and I believe it would be Taylor. He is a veteran journeyman who similarly played a similar role for the 2020 Chargers before a team doctor punctured his lung and Justin Herbert took over. While I don’t think he’ll get his lung punctured again, I do believe we’ll see a little Davis Mills in 2021. Mills is a project, but is a former 5 star recruit out of high school with plenty of talent. I think Taylor will be below league average and not help this team win many games. I think we will then see Davis Mills later in this lost season for the Texans. I think Mills will show some promising signs but will also struggle mightily at times. He’ll earn the ability to compete for the 2022 starting job with a rookie or free agent most likely. The Texans are not going to a fun sight, but the quarterback position will be something to atleast monitor in 2021, and it’ll be vital to their future to either develop Mills or get Watson back at some point.
Indianapolis Colts – Carson Wentz
After a solid season in Indy, Phillip Rivers finally decided to retire after an outstanding career. That left a sizable hole at the quarterback position. After Jacoby Brissett elected to join the Dolphins in free agency, there was virtually no one on the roster to take over. That led the Colts to reunite head coach Frank Reich with the quarterback that he won a Super Bowl with in Philadelphia. Wentz would’ve won MVP that season, but an injury sidelined him toward the end of the regular season and saw Nick Foles lead them on a trek through the playoffs and to the Lombardi Trophy. After that season and the departure of Reich, Wentz was never really the same. The Colts are hoping that reuniting him and Reich will bring back the best version of Carson Wentz. I think it will bring back that exactly. The Colts will make a deep playoff run and Wentz will be among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL in 2021. Their stout defense, numerous weapons, and solid offensive line will make Carson Wentz’ job easier, and he’ll take advantage of his golden opportunity in 2021. I truly believe that the Colts are the team best suited to challenge the Chiefs and win the AFC next year. Do not be surprised at all if the Colts and Carson Wentz take that leap and be a team that no one looks forward to playing.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevor Lawrence
The Jaguars won the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes by forgetting how to win. After starting 1-0, they rattled off 16 straight losses, and they couldn’t be happier now. Lawrence is a Jaguar and poised for a big season under newly hired head coach Urban Meyer. His offensive line and offensive skill positions will be average, and his defense will be bad. That means there are bound to be some shoot-outs. Lawrence could end up having a monster rookie season, though it will probably not come with many wins. The Jaguars are following a path that we saw the Dolphins take a few years ago. The Dolphins are now a good bet to be a playoff team, and I expect the Jaguars to be in playoff contention in 3 years. Until then, I expect Trevor Lawrence to start strong, and get better and better. He’s got a great chance to go for outstanding numbers and atleast make the Jags fun to watch while they go through a painful rebuild to start the Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence era.
While no teams have new projected starters in the AFC West going into the 2021 season, it’s worth noting that the Broncos and Raiders are both front runners if Aaron Rodgers were to get traded this off-season. Be on the lookout for both of those teams to make a move for Rodgers and challenge the Chiefs atop the AFC West division.
Philadelphia Eagles – Jalen Hurts
Yes I know we saw Jalen Hurts last year, but this is first full season as the starter and it’s his team to lead in 2021. Hurts took over for Carson Wentz after poor play plagued Wentz throughout 2020, and Hurts took advantage of the opportunity. He played an outstanding game against the Saints and led them to a surprise victory, and then followed that up with another great game against the Cardinals that ended in a loss. After that though, he struggled a little bit. The success of Hurts is dependent on which Hurts shows up in 2021 and how new head coach Nick Sirianni uses him. Hurts could end up with a very similar stat line to Lamar Jackson at his best, but there is also a fair chance that teams figure him out and he struggles mightily as a result. He has to play the outstanding defenses of the Washington Football Team and New York Giants twice each in 2021, which won’t help. I see Hurts having a very up and down season, mixing in great games with some absolute clunkers. I don’t see him leading the Eagles to the playoffs in 2021, and it’s very possible that they bring in someone to compete with Hurts for the starting job ahead of the 2022 season. Hurts will showcase talent at times in 2021, but his inconsistency will plague him and be enough to keep the Eagles from the playoffs.
Washington Football Team – Ryan Fitzpatrick/Taylor Heinicke
The Washington Football Team has arguably the best defense in the entire league, but the offense was inconsistent and often couldn’t get enough points on the board to win games in 2020. They still made the playoffs and gave the eventual champion Buccaneers a great game despite being huge underdogs. Taylor Heinicke started that playoff game, and did well enough to earn a contract extension ahead of this season. The Football Team then signed free agent journeyman, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The former Harvard quarterback considered retirement before signing with Washington, and now he’ll compete for the starting gig. I expect Fitzpatrick to win the job and start Week 1. I also expect to say Heinicke at some point, whether it’s due to injury or the inconsistent play that’s plagued Fitzpatrick for his entire career. Their quarterback situation is better heading into this season than it was last season, and they’ll always have a competent starter with two guys on the roster than know how to play hard and provide for their team. I expect the play of Fitzpatrick and Heinicke to be good enough to help Washington win the division and make a deep playoff run. Both players should see time under center, but I think Fitzpatrick sees the majority of time this season. Heinicke will do enough to prove that he can be the guy in Washington, and will have a great chance to be the Week 1 starter in 2022. The Football Team didn’t go flashy at QB for this season, but their guys will do enough to help this team find success and a more clear picture at the position will be available after this season. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if Fitzpatrick and Heinicke lead this team to a deep playoff run in 2021.
Chicago Bears – Andy Dalton/Justin Fields
The Bears saw an opportunity to snag a top QB in the 2021 draft and took it. They traded up and selected Fields to be the franchise guy for them. Fields will definitely need time to develop, but the Bears are reportedly very happy with how he looks so far in training camp and in workouts. That means Andy Dalton will have a short leash. He signed with the Bears as the starter, and he’ll get a chance to start this coming season. How long he lasts in that role has yet to be seen. I predict he makes about 5 starts and plays at about league average, and the Bears decide that they need to get more at the position. That’s when Fields steps in and takes over at the position. The NFC North division hierarchy completely revolves around the looming decision of Aaron Rodgers, and if he leaves, don’t be shocked if the Bears sneak back into the playoffs again. Fields will showcase elite talent but experience many growing pains. In the end, he’ll have an up and down season while doing enough to convince the front office that he’s the franchise quarterback that they’ve been looking for. If Rodgers stays, I don’t think the Bears will be in the playoffs. If he leaves though, the Bears could do just enough to get into the playoffs and Fields could get his first taste of playoff football sooner than he expected with the Bears.
Detroit Lions – Jared Goff
The Lions traded Matthew Stafford to the Rams this off-season and got an absolute haul in return. The haul was loaded with early round draft picks and Jared Goff. The California University product played poorly in 2020, but led the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2018. He’ll look for a fresh start in a bad situation in Detroit. He really has nothing to lose, expect for a lot of football games I’m guessing. The Lions will be awful, but Goff may end up playing pretty well. His weapons are limited, but his line should be great. Newly hired head coach Dan Campbell seems to be the type of guy that can maximize the talent of his players after a stint as a member of the Saints coaching staff, and hopefully he’ll maximize the talent of Jared Goff. It’ll be tough sledding in Detroit with a weak defense and a huge lack of capable receivers, but I believe we could still see a season in which Goff throws for about 4,000 yards and a fair amount of touchdowns. Like what Matthew Stafford endured in Detroit for a long time, those numbers will probably not translate to many wins and the Lions are poised to pick early in the 2022 draft. Maybe Goff can do enough to keep that early pick from being a quarterback though, and lead this Lions team through another rebuild with another new head coach.
Carolina Panthers – Sam Darnold
The Panthers were not satisfied with the play of Teddy Bridgewater in 2020, and traded him to Denver this off-season. They brought in San Darnold to replace him after getting him from the Jets. Darnold was seen as a prospect with immense talent when the Jets drafted him in 2018 with the 3rd overall pick. He never panned out in New York, but showed signs of greatness at times. Many blame former head coach Adam Gase for preventing Darnold from flourishing, and the Panthers were willing to take a chance on Darnold and see if they will be better than the Jets at maximizing his talent. He’ll have plenty of weapons, with D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Terrace Marshall slated to make up the top of his receiving corps. He has one of the best running backs in the league in Christian McCaffrey, and a solid O-Line that’ll block for both him and McCaffrey. The defense is getting better, but still has many issues that need worked out before the Panthers can focus on making a playoff run. The success of the 2021 Panthers will be very dependent on the success of Sam Darnold. If he plays well enough, they could be a dark horse playoff team. I believe that Darnold will show the talent that made him the 3rd overall pick a few years ago, playing much better than he ever did in New York. I don’t think it’ll be enough to get the Panthers into the playoffs in 2021, but it will set them up to make a run in 2022 and beyond with Darnold under center. There aren’t many players who have more to prove in 2021 than Darnold, and the Panthers are hoping to see a version of Darnold that is able to help them become a competitive team for the foreseeable future.
New Orleans Saints – Jameis Winston
The quarterback position in New Orleans has been successfully locked down by Drew Brees since 2006, but the all time great announced his retirement after the 2020 season. That leaves Jameis Winston to be the expected starter in 2021. Winston has always had elite arm talent, enough to make him a former 1st overall pick. Turnovers have been a serious problem for him throughout his career though. In his last season as a starter in 2019, he led the league in passing yards while also leading the league in interceptions. He then signed with the Saints and spent last season learning from the brilliant minds of Sean Payton and Drew Brees. I personally believe that he’ll excel in 2021 as a result. His elite arm talent mixed with an offense based on not turning the ball over could set Winston up perfectly. It’s always been “Jameis Winston would be an elite starter if he could limit the interceptions” for him, and now is his chance. Winston could go for over 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns, while Sean Payton gets to blow the dust off of some plays that only a player with Winston’s level of arm talent could successfully complete. People sometimes forget that the Saints are 8-1 in games that their backup QBs have started in the last two seasons. All signs point to Jameis finding success in New Orleans in 2021, and I expect the Saints to make the playoffs for the fifth straight year, despite some people counting them out after the retirement of Drew Brees. Trust me, don’t count out Jameis Winston or this Saints team. I expect them to shock a lot of people and make a splash in the NFC this year.
Los Angeles Rams – Matthew Stafford
The Rams went all in this off-season, and they continued to trade away early teams to put together an elite roster. They are among the favorites to make it to the Super Bowl in the NFC with Stafford under center. After years of elite numbers going to waste in Detroit, Stafford is finally getting a chance to play on a likely playoff team and have his stat lines start contributing to key victories. Stafford should be an MVP contender next season, and propel the Rams to the top of the best division in the NFL. Every team in the NFC West has a chance to make the playoffs, which means that no team could end up being more battle tested than the Rams heading into the playoffs. They’ll be playing three great teams in their division twice apiece, and Stafford being under center should give them a greatly improved chance of coming out on top. Anything less than a Super Bowl would have to be considered a failure for the Rams. Their front office has been extremely aggressive in acquiring talent, and now they have one of the best and most complete teams in the league. With Sean McVau at head coach, Stafford under center, and the rest of this elite roster firing on all cylinders, I expect this Rams team to make a very deep playoff run and potentially a Super Bowl while Stafford puts up numbers that will have him in the MVP conversation. The Rams are going to make some noise in 2021, and Matthew Stafford will finally get a team that can put his skill to good use.
San Francisco 49ers – Trey Lance
It is widely expected that Jimmy Garappolo will be the Week 1 starter for the Niners, and will probably start for a while afterwards too. Trey Lance will need time to develop, and the 49ers can afford to give him as much time as he needs. However, if Garappolo goes down with injury or plays poorly again in 2021, it’ll be time for Trey Lance to shine. Personally, I love Trey Lance and think he fits perfectly in San Francisco. I see him taking advantage of his situation and playing very well in the games he starts in 2021, he may even end up starting some playoff games too. My reasonable prediction is that he takes over later in the season and pushes the 49ers towards the playoffs and they are eventually able to sneak in as a wild card. That would be amazing for Lance and the 49ers alike. I don’t think Lance will make enough starts to be in the Rookie of the Year race like a couple of his fellow rookie QBs, but I think he’ll prove himself as the franchise quarterback in San Francisco. I fully believe that there is a solid chance that Trey Lance ends up being the best quarterback in a class filled with plenty of talented QB prospects. He should show enough prowess in 2021 to prove that he’s the guy in San Fran, and may even help fuel a playoff run for the 49ers. Trey Lance is the real deal.