New England Patriots

NFL Draft: How top-3 QB picks have fared in their rookie seasons

There's a wide variance in success among QBs taken near the top of the draft.

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The New England Patriots are, in a word, unstable at the quarterback position.

Mac Jones’ predictable departure and Bailey Zappe’s unreliable play left the Patriots without a long-term answer at QB. Signing free agent Jacoby Brissett, known for his dependable backup status, didn’t settle the matter. 

Though Jerod Mayo announced Monday that the Patriots are open to trading their third overall pick — weighing the benefits of securing additional draft picks further down the line in an attempt to steady other shaky offensive positions — he said securing a quarterback is still the team’s priority. 

Should the Patriots choose to keep their No. 3 pick, they’ll be expected to pick one of the nation’s three top quarterback prospects: USC’s Caleb Williams, LSU’s Jayden Daniels or UNC’s Drake Maye.

But a Heisman-winning college career or early draft selection is no guarantee of success, especially for teams in the midst of a rebuild (just ask Trevor Lawrence or Zach Wilson).

Here’s a look at how quarterbacks drafted within the top three picks over the last 10 years have fared in their debut seasons.

Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 3 pick, 2014)

Record as starter: 3-10

Rookie year stats: 2,908 yards, 58.9 CMP%, 11 TD, 17 INT, 69.5 passer rating

After being named starter ahead of Week 4 of his rookie season, the 6-foot-5 Florida native went 29-of-37 for 253 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, setting a league record for a rookie quarterback’s first start with a 78.4 percent completion rate. His impressive debut was slightly marred, however, by the four pick-sixes he tossed in his first five starts.

Throughout the rest of the season, Bortles established himself as a dual-threat QB, rushing more than 20 yards seven times that season. But he also led the NFL with a franchise record-breaking 55 sacks taken and 345 yards lost.

Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 1, 2015)

Record as starter: 6-10

Rookie year stats: 4,042 yards, 58.3 CMP%, 22 TD, 15 INT, 84.2 passer rating

Despite a tough debut in which his first pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown — against fellow rookie Marcus Mariota's Tennessee Titans, funnily enough — Winston rebounded for a successful rookie season, tying a franchise (and league) record for most touchdown passes thrown by a rookie in one game (5) while setting franchise rookie records in pass attempts (535), pass completions (312), passing yards (4,042) and passing scores (22).

For his efforts, Winston was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team and — once then-New England Patriots QB Tom Brady elected not to participate — the 2016 Pro Bowl.

Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans (No. 2, 2015)

Record as starter: 3-9

Rookie year stats: 2,818 yards, 62.2 CMP%, 19 TD, 10 INT, 91.5passer rating

While he only won three games as a rookie, Mariota set multiple statistical records in Year 1. In his first ever game, the University of Oregon standout became the first player in league history to throw four touchdown passes in the first half of his debut and the first rookie to earn a perfect passer rating (158.3) in his NFL debut.

Mariota would finish his debut season holding franchise rookie records for passing yards (2,818), passing touchdowns (19), most single-game completions (28) and highest single-season completion percentage (62.2).

Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams (No. 1, 2016)

Record as starter: 0-7

Rookie year stats: 1,089 yards, 54.6 CMP%, 5 TD, 7 INT, 63.6 passer rating

Goff wouldn’t make his debut until nine games into the season, and then he’d go on to lose every game in which he started. In those seven starts, he averaged a mere 155.5 yards per game — tallying just five passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown — and his slow decision-making led to almost four sacks per game, an average higher than Tyrod Taylor’s 2.8 (Taylor led the league in sacks that season with 42).

Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles (No. 2, 2016)

Record as starter: 7-9

Rookie year stats: 3,782 yards, 62.4 CMP%, 16 TD, 14 INT, 79.2 passer rating

Wentz threw two touchdown passes and zero interceptions for a 101 passer rating in his Week 1 debut, and he maintained that accuracy through the next 16 weeks of the regular season. He wouldn’t throw an interception until Week 4. By the end of the regular season, Wentz had broken the league record for most completions by a rookie (379) and set the franchise records for rookie completions and pass attempts (607). 

Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears (No. 2, 2017)

Record as starter: 4-8

Rookie year stats: 2,193 yards, 59.4 CMP%, 7 TD, 7 INT, 77.5 passer rating

Before the 2017 draft, the Bears traded up for the second pick in the draft with the hopes of selecting a program-defining quarterback, but Trubisky went on to put up an inconsistent rookie season that would seem to define his career. In Week 7 — his third-ever game — he earned a passer rating of 101.8. A week later, that figure plummeted to 46.9.

His strong arm helped him to set a franchise record for total passing yards by a rookie (2,193), but the disparity in his performances left the Chicago faithful unsure of his ability to be the next franchise QB, and we all know how that ended.

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns (No. 1, 2018)

Record as starter: 7-8-1

Rookie year stats: 3,725 yards, 63.8 CMP%, 27 TD, 14 INT, 93.7 passer rating

Following a Heisman-winning senior season at Oklahoma State, Mayfield continued to shine at the pro level. He made his debut in Week 3, relieving an injured Tyrod Taylor and leading the Browns in a 21-point comeback, going 17 of 23 for 201 yards for a 21-17 win over the New York Jets that snapped the team’s 19-game losing streak.

His season-total 27 passing touchdowns surpassed Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson for most touchdowns thrown by a rookie and lifted the Browns to a 7-8-1 record — their best since 2007 and up from an 0-16 campaign the previous season.

Sam Darnold, New York Jets (No. 3, 2018)

Record as starter: 4-12

Rookie year stats: 2,865 yards, 57.7 CMP%, 17 TD, 15 INT, 77.6 passer rating

Over his first nine games, Darnold looked shaky. His 14 interceptions led the NFL up to that point, and in three games, he earned a passer rating lower than 40 percent. But by his last four games, he seemed to have found his footing. Over that four-game stretch, Darnold only threw one interception and tossed six touchdowns to finish the season with 17 TD passes.

Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals (No. 1, 2019)

Record as starter: 5-10-1

Rookie year stats: 3,722 yards, 64.4 CMP%, 20 TD, 12 INT, 87.4 passer rating

Murray’s rookie-leading 349 completions and 3,722 passing yards earned him 2019 AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in his debut campaign. His completion total was the third-highest in NFL history behind Carson Wentz (379) and Sam Bradford (354), and he joined legendary quarterback Cam Newton as the only rookie QBs in league history to surpass 3,500 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in their rookie seasons.

Murray's quick feet and long passes helped Arizona improve from a 3-13 record in 2018 to a 5-10-1 record the following season.

Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals (No. 1, 2020)

Record as starter: 2-7-1

Rookie year stats: 2,688 yards, 65.4 CMP%, 13 TD, 5 INT, 89.8 passer rating

Before a knee injury ended his rookie campaign in Week 11, the third consecutive Heisman-winning quarterback to go first overall had settled into the league quite nicely.

In his second start, Burrow broke the record for most single-game completions by a rookie QB (37-of-61 for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns). Later, he became the first rookie in league history to record 400 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, and one rushing score in one game. By that point, he had also completed more passes (221) than any player in their first eight games. 

Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 1, 2021)

Record as starter: 3-14

Rookie year stats: 3,641 yards, 59.6 CMP%, 12 TD, 17 INT, 71.9 passer rating

In his first career game, the Clemson graduate threw for an impressive 332 yards, tossing three touchdowns and three interceptions in the process, but from then on, Lawrence’s rookie season numbers were pedestrian (though some attribute his rocky start to the tumultuous coaching presence of Urban Meyer, who was fired three months into Lawrence’s rookie season.)

Despite playing all but one game that season, Lawrence only threw for 300 yards one more time, and he wouldn’t throw three touchdowns again until his second season. With zero touchdowns over an eight-game span, his 3,641 passing yards fell in the middle of the primary quarterback pack. 

Zach Wilson, New York Jets (No. 2, 2021)

Record as starter: 3-10

Rookie year stats: 2,334 yards, 55.6 CMP%, 9 TD, 11 INT, 69.7 passer rating

Wilson’s rookie campaign got off to quite the disastrous start. Through his first three games, the former BYU standout tossed two scores and seven interceptions, with the Jets scoring an abysmal combined six points in Weeks 2 and 3.

Wilson recorded zero touchdown passes in seven of his 13 appearances, but following an injury-mandated four-game hiatus, he finished the season on a much stronger note, recording zero interceptions over his last five games.

Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers (No. 3, 2021)

Record as starter: 2-2

Stats: 603 yards, 57.8 CMP%, 5 TD, 3 INT, 97.3 passer rating

Lance spent much of his debut season playing second string to Jimmy Garoppolo, appearing in just four games all season. In those four games, however, he performed well, recording five passing touchdowns and averaging over 150 yards per game.

His two losses — one of which was to the then-undefeated 2021 Arizona Cardinals — were decided by a single score. 

Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers (No. 1, 2023)

Record as starter: 2-14

Stats: 2,877 yards, 59.8 CMP%, 11 TD, 10 INT, 73.7 passer rating

Young’s rookie season was disappointing at best, especially when compared to fellow rookie C.J. Stroud’s success. The 22-year-old threw almost as many interceptions (10) as he did touchdowns (11), and his 62 sacks were second in the league to Sam Howell’s 65, driving the Panthers to their second-worst season in history (2-15). 

C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans (No. 2, 2023)

Record as starter: 10-7

Stats: 4,108 yards, 63.9 CMP%, 23 TD, 5 INT, 100.8 passer rating

Coming off back-to-back Heisman Trophy finalist nominations at Ohio State, Stroud exploded for a season that sits among the best rookie campaigns in league history. His 4,108 passing yards ranked eighth among starting quarterbacks in 2023 (his 188 first downs ranking ninth) and he transformed the Texans from the 3-13-1 team they were in 2022 to a squad that carried a 10-7 record into the playoffs. 

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