Grading NFL’s next generation of quarterbacks: Justin Herbert thrives, Trevor Lawrence has nightmarish debut

The past two NFL Drafts featured marquee quarterback classes, and it’s time to begin meticulously assessing how they’re playing at the professional level, as they represent part of the new era at the game’s most critical position.

A grand total of seven quarterbacks selected in the past two NFL draft classes saw considerable playing time during a wild Week 1, and some of the performances weren’t exactly as expected.

Let’s dive deep into the individual efforts of each quarterback and assign a grade on a per-snap basis, taking every individual aspect of their performance into account. At least 10 attempts were needed to qualify for this debut piece, which will come out weekly.

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Best Throws: 

While gliding right in the first quarter, Lawrence found an open Marvin Jones down the sideline and lofted the ball up and over the underneath cornerback. The throw arrived just before the safety ranged from the deep middle. He opened the second quarter with a strike down the numbers to D.J. Chark for 27 yards on a drop back in which he stepped into the pocket but was still pressured before releasing the ball. Late in the third, Lawrence rifled a slant through the tiniest window to James Robinson for what amounted to a 15-yard gain. A few plays later, off play-action, Lawrence found Chark streaking down the sideline for a 41-yard score. While the receiver was open, the ball had to have serious velocity on it to arrive before the safety got there. It did. Late in the game, Lawrence ripped a nice post route to James O’Shaughnessy just beyond a diving Texans defender. 

Worst Throws: 

Lawrence’s second pass of his NFL career should’ve been an easy completion on a short out route to Chark, but the low and outside throw fell incomplete. After escaping a would-be sack from his right, Lawrence drifted left out of the pocket in the second quarter. Downfield stood a wide open Devin Smith, but Lawrence’s hurried throw sailed over the wideout’s head, arrived too far inside, and was ultimately intercepted by Justin Reid. On the next drive, Lawrence didn’t locate the boundary cornerback playing zone on a down-the-numbers throw and was picked again. Lawrence left yards on the field on a late second-quarter misfire to an open O’Shaughnessy on a short stick route. With under a minute to go in the third, Chark got free down the sideline for what could’ve been a long touchdown had the throw been on target. It was high and wide and sailed out of bounds. His third interception must have been a miscommunication because it was thrown directly to linebacker Christian Kirksey. Even if Laviska Shenault cut across the field instead of toward the post, it would’ve been a bad decision for Lawrence to release the football. 

Summary: Lawrence’s debut was ugly. Close to an absolute nightmare. All afternoon, Lawrence struggled with accuracy, even on easy throws, and did not handle pressure — by making smart decisions while under duress — for most of the outing. In fairness, he was pressured frequently and seemed to abandon some pockets because he was thinking of the pass rush instead of surveying downfield. 

Grade: D+
Season Grade: D+

Best Throws: 

Early in the second, Wilson found Corey Davis on a deep over route, and the ball arrived right before the safety flew downhill to disrupt the pass. The play gained 34 yards. Rhythm and ball placement. In the third, off play-action, Wilson again found Davis on a well-timed in-breaking route for 20 yards through a relatively small passing window. His long touchdown to Davis wasn’t a difficult throw — Davis was completely wide open — but Wilson’s escape from the pocket was impressive. Late in the fourth, he fit the ball in over the middle to Braxton Berrios for 15 yards. He later hit Berrios on a crosser down the field while getting hit. The 40-yard gain to Denzel Mims late in the game was a thing of beauty. Wilson emphatically slid forward in the pocket and released the ball without resetting his feet to find the open receiver down the sideline.

Worst Throws: 

Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson intercepted Wilson on seam-throw attempt that he didn’t put enough air under. 

Summary: Wilson came on strong late in the game, which was an encouraging sign. But the biggest takeaway was Wilson’s escapability and how it can be a blessing and curse for him, especially early in his career. He was able to miraculously extend some plays but took six sacks and fumbled on one of those plays. 

Grade: C+
Season Grade: C+

Best Throws: 

With under five minutes to go in the half, Jones ripped a seam throw to Nelson Agholor up and over a pair of linebackers and in front of the safety who arrived a split second after the ball hit the receiver in his mitts. On the same drive, he found Agholor in tight running a jerk route from the slot for a touchdown. While not a particularly difficult throw, Jones did take a lick from an inside blitzer who ran free. With a defender barreling down on him in the third, Jones lofted a 21-yard pass to Agholor who sat open down the left sideline.Jones’ finest throw of the day came via beautiful touch on a wheel route to James White in the third quarter. 

Worst Throws: 

This wasn’t a contest that featured many egregiously bad throws from Jones, thanks in large part to New England’s rather conservative passing plan that featured a multitude of short throws to running backs and tight ends. However, he did have ball-placement issues on what should’ve been another easy completion to Jakobi Meyers on a rollout to the right on a critical third down inside the red zone in fourth quarter with the Patriots trailing by four. The toss was low and away and fell incomplete. 

Summary: Jones operated Josh McDaniels’ game plan soundly. It was created to get the ball out of Jones hands in a hurry, and he mostly did that throughout, working the flats and checking it down to targets out of the backfield or receivers running short crossers. There were a select few solid throws downfield. Jones did have five of his passes broken up, which came on passes that were either forced or a tick late to their intended target. 

Grade: B
Season Grade: B

Best Throws: 

Late in the second, Burrow fit an out route to Tyler Boyd through extremely tight coverage right before the wideout ran out of bounds. His 50-yard touchdown to Ja’Marr Chase with under a minute to go in the half was perfectly placed over the rookie receiver’s shoulder in stride.

Worst Throws: 

Burrow missed high and wide on an easy throw into the flat on his second toss of the game. Early in the third, Burrow missed a wide open Michael Thomas on a bootleg roll out that would’ve been a touchdown. The throw was low and outside. 

Summary: Burrow was effective in the RPO game and took what the Vikings defense gave him for most of the contest. He made a few nice throws, but the theme was how he limited his mistakes, didn’t have any horrible misses, and didn’t put the ball in precarious situations. The 2020 No. 1 overall pick did take five sacks. It was a workmanlike performance from Burrow with the one splash-play touchdown. 

Grade: B+
Season Grade: B+

Best Throws: 

While it fell incomplete, Tagovailoa delivered a perfectly-placed laser on a play-action, in-breaking route to Mike Gesicki a moment before he was hit inside the pocket. With less than three minutes to go before the half, Tagovailoa lofted a gorgeous back-shoulder fade from the slot to Jaylen Waddle for a 39-yard gain. The rookie receiver elevated to snag the football, and the placement was on-point. After stepping into the pocket on an early third-quarter dropback, Tagovailoa threw a pass to DeVante Parker with perfect trajectory so the big wideout could high-point the ball over the cornerback for a 30-yard gain.

Worst Throws: 

Midway through the second, Tagovailoa was flushed to his right and decided to float a ball across his body in the general vicinity of Waddle. It should’ve been intercepted but was dropped. Just before half, Tagovailoa had Albert Wilson down the sideline for a touchdown. The throw was late and behind the wideout and bounced off the helmet of Patriots cornerback Jalen Mills. With under nine to go in the fourth, Tagovailoa made his most glaring mistake of the game. At the end of an awkward attempt to elude oncoming defenders, he again tossed the ball into harm’s way, and after some ricochets, it landed in the hands of New England corner Jonathan Jones. 

Summary: Tagovailoa threw with quickness and precision on a variety of RPOs throughout this contest. He did most of his work underneath, but two bad decisions off-script essentially negated his collection of good throws down the field. 

Grade: B-
Season Grade: B-

Best Throws: 

In the second quarter, Herbert found Mike Williams in the sideline hole of Cover 2 for an 18-yard gain. The pass needed to have the proper trajectory and velocity. Two plays later, he found Keenan Allen breaking toward the sideline with two defenders close. The ball was properly high and away from the trailing defenders. Herbert placed a gorgeous back-shoulder toss to Jalen Guyton down the left sideline. From the far hash, he ripped a laser to Josh Palmer for a 17-yard gain near the sideline. On a nine-yard gain to Allen, Herbert put the ball exactly where it needed to be with a Washington Football Team defender in the wideout’s hip pocket. Allen ran an out-breaker from the slot early in the fourth, and Herbert hit him in rhythm before the safety came downhill to disrupt the pass. To take the lead in the fourth, Herbert threw a laser back-shoulder to Williams from in tight for six.

Worst Throws: 

Late in the first, Herbert misread a coverage and threw a hospital ball to Guyton over the middle that was broken up. There was an open throw over the middle to Jared Cook that Herbert hesitated on and ultimately threw high and away. He sailed a deep flag route to Stephen Anderson that William Jackson intercepted near the end zone. It was easily his worst miss of the day. 

Summary: Watching Herbert in Week 1 was a different viewing experience from every other quarterback in this series. His outing was filled with high-caliber, challenging throws on which he connected. The interception was simply too far out in front of his intended target, but that low point was far outweighed by all the strikes he threw at the intermediate level and down the field. 

Grade: A-
Season Grade: A-

Best Throws: 

Hurts’ 18-yard touchdown to Devonta Smith was well-placed on a rub route from the slot. 

Worst Throws: 

Early in the second quarter, from a clean pocket, Hurts underthrew a totally uncovered Zach Ertz down the field. Had the throw been made in-stride, it could’ve been a touchdown. Instead, the tight end had to stop his momentum and dive to make the grab.Late in the second, Hurts misfired on a dump-off attempt to Kenneth Gainwell.

Summary: The Week 1 win over the Falcons was the most comfortable Hurts has looked as a passer in his early NFL career. The game plan was littered with screens and an assortment of quick throws, but the second-year pro looked fully aware of where he needed to go with the football on the majority of his drop backs. It was hard to find many high degree of difficulty throws from Hurts, but he was elusive, especially on Philadelphia’s touchdown drive before the half. 

Grade: B
Season Grade: B

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