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5 rookie quarterbacks take center stage in NFL preseason debuts

The five first-round rookie quarterbacks from the 2021 NFL Draft will make their preseason debuts this week. For the league, it’s rather clear that they are focusing on these young signal callers during otherwise meaningless exhibition action.

Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars), Justin Fields (Chicago Bears) and Mac Jones (New England Patriots) will all make their debuts in nationally-televised NFL Network broadcasts.

As for No. 2 pick Zach Wilson and his New York Jets, they’ll be taking on the New York Giants on Saturday. Meanwhile, impressive San Francisco 49ers rookie Trey Lance will have a chance to go up against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs later in the day. Let’s look at these five rookie quarterbacks and the top storylines for each one heading into their NFL debuts.

Trevor Lawrence has a chance to shine against the Cleveland Browns

trevor lawrence, nfl debut
Bob Self/Florida Times-Union via Imagn Content Services, LLC

At this point in training camp, it’s being noted that Gardner Minshew is “giving” Lawrence a run for his money. Despite this, it’s hard to imagine first-year head coach Urban Meyer not starting the top pick Week 1 against the Houston Texans. Lawrence has been seen as a generational talent since he took his first snap as a member of the Clemson Tigers what seems to be eons ago. That has not changed during camp.

Click here for Jacksonville Jaguars 2021 preview and predictions

“The rookie put on a dazzling performance throughout the simulated game Sunday in TIAA Bank Field that showcased all his talents as a premier playmaker at the position,” NFL Media’s Bucky Brooks noted recently. “From his exceptional arm talent and unflappable poise to his command of the offense, Lawrence plays like a veteran.”

We’re highly intrigued to see how Lawrence looks when going up against a deep Cleveland Browns defense Saturday afternoon in Duval. He can show his worth while making the Jaguars’ decision as easy as it seems to be on the surface.

Zach Wilson must show something in NFL debut

Zach Wilson NFL debut
John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Unlike other rookie quarterbacks, Wilson has struggled throughout training camp this summer. While it’s nothing to freak out over, the No. 2 pick must find a way to show something in the Jets’ NFL preseason opener against the Giants. The BYU product just recently touched on his struggles, and he knows things must get better.

Click here to see where the New York Jets sit in our most-recent NFL power rankings

“Not great,” Wilson said after the Jets’ scrimmage last week. “I have high expectations for myself and this offense. I have to lead the guys and I have to make better decisions. That’s why this isn’t Game 1; that’s why we’re doing this. I understand that. Of course I’m going to be frustrated with myself, but I’m going back to the film room and find out what I can learn.”

Trey Lance prepping for NFL debut as talk of Santa Clara

49ers-QB-Trey-Lance-during-training-camp
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan noted recently that Lance will see the field as a rookie after they exhausted a ton of draft capital on the small-school product. There’s now an open question whether Lance will actually start some games over Jimmy Garoppolo during the regular year.

Related: San Francisco 49ers 2021 preview and predictions

Going up against Patrick Mahomes and the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs Saturday evening, this will be Lance’s first opportunity to prove his worth as a legit starting-caliber NFL quarterback out of the gate. Thus far, the reviews have been great from Northern California.

Justin Fields has an opportunity to prove the Chicago Bears wrong

justin fields nfl debut
Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago’s decision to trade up to the 11th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft for Fields was not too surprising. The former Ohio State standout was getting pre-draft play as a potential top-five pick. With the Mitchell Trubisky experiment having failed big time, Chicago’s embattled brass had to find a quarterback of the future.

With that said, head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace continue to indicate that veteran journeyman Andy Dalton will be Chicago’s Week 1 starter against the Los Angeles Rams. Fields has an opportunity to make them rethink this in his NFL debut at home against the Miami Dolphins Saturday afternoon. As for Nagy, the head coach loves what he’s seeing from Fields thus far.

Click here for Bears vs Dolphins preseason preview

“He’s getting close,” Nagy told reporters when asked about Fields recently. “I know there’s a lot of praise in regards to where he’s at right now with the mental side of it. But there (are) still times we all got to be real in this thing, and I think the learning curve of where he’s at, he’s at a great place, but are there still mistakes? Yeah, of course. There are still times where Andy Dalton and Nick Foles are making mistakes.”

Can Mac Jones unseat Cam Newton in New England?

mac jones nfl preseason debut
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Seen as the most pro-ready quarterback of the 2021 NFL Draft class outside of Lawrence, Jones has performed well for the Patriots during training camp. The question becomes whether the Alabama product can earn the trust of head coach Bill Belichick and beat out Cam Newton for the starting job. Based on the reps we’ve seen this summer, there might be a decent chance of this.

“In training camp, we’re not seeing a solid diet of Cam Newton ineptitude,” Patriots insider Tom E. Curran noted recently. “That, to me, is very important to note because when we talk about this competition, while Mac Jones is far above where you expected him to have been — far above — and would challenge for the starting position if all things were equal which I don’t think they are, Cam Newton has been competent enough where he has not come back to Mac Jones significantly.”

Check out our Patriots vs Washington Football Team preseason preview

This becomes the million-dollar question. New England’s surprising foray into NFL free agency seemed to suggest that the team is still in win-now mode. Based on Belichick’s advanced age and Newton’s experience with the Patriots last season, it’s reasonable to conclude he’ll be the Week 1 starter. Jones has a chance to change this narrative Thursday against the Washington Football Team.