Yesterday, all five first-round rookie quarterbacks made their professional football debut. But only three recorded their first professional start at QB. Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Mac Jones all recorded losses while under center for the first time with their new teams. Potential was flashed in droves, though, so nobody is too up or down about the performances.
The other two quarterbacks appeared on the field in the red zone and scored touchdowns, but ultimately played a single-digit percentage of their team's offensive snaps. That's right-- Trey Lance and Justin Fields did, in fact, play for the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears in Week 1. But neither unseated the veteran slotted above them in the depth chart. Instead, Fields and Lance were inserted in gadget plays and played less than 10 percent of all possible snaps.
The Niners won their game against the Lions and thus Kyle Shanahan can defend his reasoning for not replacing Jimmy Garoppolo in favor of Lance. The 2021 third overall pick is obviously the future, but if Jimmy G can win as he did yesterday, then there's no reason to rush Lance. The Bears lost their game to the Rams, badly, and Matt Nagy will spend the foreseeable future defending Andy Dalton's place as starter.
Both teams are in very different places, but have the same overarching question that needs to be asked: Why on earth are Fields and Lance only playing part-time football?
It just makes no sense. Each team's reasoning for not starting their rookie is logical to an extent. But there's no justification for choosing not to start these guys and then throwing them in on the goal line for read-options or a mid-drive RPO. It accomplishes the remarkable double whammy of interrupting the starting QB's rhythm and exposing the rookies to an unnecessary injury risk with a small chance for a big payoff.
Everyone understands this is a temporary arrangement for both teams. That Lance and Fields will take over the starting gig in due time. Nagy and Shanahan both understand their situations. Yet they are choosing to put their future starters into the game for gadget plays. It's baffling.
Nagy inserted Fields last night when the Bears were on the Rams' three-yard line. It is extremely likely Chicago will score in that situation regardless of who is taking the snap. Fields did his job and scored on a designed run, and there was much celebration. But it's a massive risk. The chance of Fields getting hurt on a play like that is much higher than a play taking part on any other part of the field, and the payoff was for a touchdown that was almost definitely going to happen anyway. The same goes for Lance, who was taken off the sideline for a pass on the Lions' five-yard line.
What's worse, Nagy admitted that Fields would have been in the game more often had the score been closer after Sunday night's affair. He clearly thinks highly of the Ohio State product's talents and ability to contribute to winning football. Yet he's sticking with Dalton!
The NFL is all about risk and reward. Nagy and Shanahan are trending heavily towards the risk factor without much payoff on the rewards side. Everybody emerged unscathed this week, but just imagine the outcry if Fields goes down for the year because Nagy had him run the ball on first and goal from the one-yard line. It's a doomsday scenario and Nagy is tempting fate because of... Andy Dalton?
Either start these guys or keep them on the sideline. The half-measures Shanahan and Nagy have decided to adopt are far more likely to end in tragedy than success. But since everything went fine this week, it'll probably happen next week as Niners and Bears fans tear their hair out in unison across the country.