We're two weeks into the 2021 NFL season, which is far too soon to start labeling rookie players as busts. However, the fact remains that some high draft picks have not lived up to expectations early in their inaugural campaigns.
Here, we'll examine the biggest rookie disappointments so far, why these rookies have disappointed and what needs to be done to get them on the right track. Again, careers are not defined by two games alone. Something, though, appears to be holding these potential future stars back.
We'll be looking specifically at first- and second-round picks who have been put into positions to contribute immediately, so players like quarterback Justin Fields—who hasn't yet claimed the starting role, to the chagrin of some Chicago Bears fans—doesn't qualify.
Players are listed in the order they were drafted.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Selected: Round 1, 1st Overall
During the preseason, I wrote that the Jacksonville Jaguars would be wise to lower expectations for No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence. The former Clemson star has all the physical upside a team could want, but he joined a team that won just one game in 2020 and is helmed by a coach with no NFL experience.
Even though few expected Lawrence to be an elite quarterback right out of the proverbial gate, his performances in the first two weeks have been disappointing. There has been some good—he's thrown four touchdown passes and is on pace to break the rookie touchdown record—but the flashes of brilliance haven't come as often as one might expect.
The rookie struggles have come early and often.
Lawrence tossed three interceptions in his NFL debut and another two picks last week against the Denver Broncos. He's completed only 50 percent of his passes and has an underwhelming passer rating of 57.1. Only 39.8 percent of his passes have been deemed on-target.
Again, though, Lawrence is not surrounded by an All-Star cast. Even if he continues to struggle throughout his rookie campaign, improved results will come as long as Jacksonville continues to improve its roster. Lawrence is also still adjusting to the speed of the NFL game.
The challenge for the Jaguars is keeping Lawrence healthy and his confidence intact—and the foreign feel of losing has not yet taken its toll on him.
"I feel like I'm in a good spot. I'm the same person, the same mindset. Nothing's changed," Lawrence told reporters after the Broncos loss. "Making sure I keep my confidence every week is big, and I think I have that so we're going to get better."
Lawrence hasn't been the instant star that past No. 1 picks like Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow were, but given time, he should still be great.
Zach Wilson, QB, New York Jets
Selected: Round 1, 2nd Overall
Trevor Lawrence hasn't fared much better than New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson. However, given Wilson's presence in a big market, fans are likely to find a lot more coverage on his early struggles than those of Lawrence. And to be fair, that coverage is warranted.
The Brigham Young product has been borderline unwatchable through two games. He tossed four interceptions against the New England Patriots in Week 2, has five picks overall and has thrown only a pair of touchdown passes. He has completed 55.7 percent of his throws but has averaged a modest 6.7 yards per attempt.
That average was tied for 25th in the NFL among qualifying quarterbacks heading into Monday night.
The reality is that Wilson hasn't appeared ready to be a starter in the NFL. Of course, unlike Lawrence, he was never viewed as a "sure thing."
"The good with Zach Wilson is really good, but the bad can be really, really bad. And when he goes to a bad team like the Jets and he's trying to win games, those are big concerns," one unnamed quarterbacks coach told Bruce Feldman of The Athletic in April.
Wilson is in a similar situation to that of Lawrence. He is on a bad team with a rookie head coach and with no opportunity to learn from the sideline—backup quarterback Mike White has no regular-season experience.
Blaming Wilson for his struggles is like blaming a server for a salmon that isn't fully cooked. The Jets were responsible for ensuring that Wilson was fully prepared before placing him on the field. They didn't, and so the ups and downs are likely to continue.
However, the physical upside that made Wilson worth a gamble at No. 2 overall remains. As long as the Jets learn from the Sam Darnold experiment and do a better job of developing and protecting Wilson in the future, there's no reason to believe that he won't become their long-sought franchise quarterback.