Rookie quarterbacks look to make big impact for 2021 NFL season
The start of the 2021 NFL season is near, and there is plenty of hype and hope surrounding the rookie quarterbacks. Three quarterbacks were taken with the first three picks, and five were drafted in the first half of Round 1.
Two rookie quarterbacks are expected to start the season in Week 1.
Trevor Lawrence – Jacksonville Jaguars
Zach Wilson – New York Jets
Three others may start the season as backups, but could push for early season starting assignments or playing time.
Trey Lance – San Francisco 49ers
Mac Jones – New England Patriots
Justin Fields – Chicago Bears
For purposes of data and systems I’m going to share stats and research from VSIN, these are the quarterbacks and teams to track and note for scheduling and situations that apply.
When rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 14-1 record as starter and the playoffs in 2004, it pushed the envelope on rookie quarterbacks being able to produce and perform quickly. Of course, Big Ben benefitted from a Steelers defense that ranked No. 1 in total yards against and allowed just 17 points per game.
So a team's defense, offensive line and supporting players, coaches and system play a big part in a quarterbacks success. A rookie QB like Sam Darnold of the NY Jets in 2018 had little chance for success with a poor offensive line and supporting personnel.
As you evaluate the 2021 rookie quarterbacks and watch them play, I would note early season projections of teams offensive line strength. Monitor how they play as the season progresses, and any key injuries that will impact potential QB production. Even a former MVP like Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes struggled last year in the Super Bowl when he had injured offensive line starters, and backups playing in front of him. He was doomed going against a top-tier Buccaneers defense.
So here are the offensive line rankings from Pro Football Focus (PFF) heading into the 2021 season. You can use other analysts rankings, but start with a foundation of protection and note those match-ups to determine if a rookie quarterback is more likely to struggle.
Of the five rookie QB's above with a chance to play or start in 2021, here are their teams offensive line rankings by PFF.
3 - Patriots (Jones)
9 - 49ers (Lance)
22 - Jets (Wilson)
23 - Jaguars (Lawrence)
28 - Bears (Fields)
You can project more potential success for Jones and Lance if they can get into the game and/or start, and also use some of the information for making future bets at online sportsbooks and information if so desired on Rookie of the Year of other team props.
Rookie Quarterbacks Situations and Systems with ATS Results
Since 2004, there have been 46 rookie quarterbacks that have started at least seven games during their rookie season. Here are some of the SU and ATS results. The ATS results could vary slightly depending on opening/closing lines and market moves for grading. But using these as a guide may assist you as you dig deeper into the match-ups and project how the rookie quarterback may perform in a given week.
Since 2004: 255-349-2 SU (42.2%) and 307-284-15 ATS (51.9%).
Since 2013: 117-213-2 SU (35.5%) and 156-171-4 ATS (47.7%).
Only 3-of-17 had a winning record – hello Dak Prescott and the best offensive line in football, and Lamar Jackson and the #1 rushing attack in the AFC. Both the Cowboys and Ravens had top 10 defenses those years. Last year, Tua Tagovailoa of the Dolphins also produced a winning record in nine starts.
The bookmakers and leading online sportsbooks are aware the those rookie quarterback trends. So early season games and betting lines may reflect potential struggles for rookie quarterbacks. But like betting the often contrary NFL itself, rookie quarterbacks have produced their best ATS results in Weeks 1-3 of the regular season.
Weeks 1-3: 14-26-1 SU and 27-14 ATS (65.9%). Put those rookie QBs and teams in an underdog role of 3 points or more, and the money comes rolling in at 23-4 ATS.
But as coaches gather more film and review those rookie quarterbacks play, the adjustments seem to be made. Also, some rookie quarterbacks that may not have been ready to start immediately may be thrust into starting roles by October.
In Weeks 4-15, rookie QBs are 85-160 SU and 107-132-6 ATS (44.8%). However, last year's three rookie starters were a solid 14-10-1 ATS during those weeks and 19-14-1 ATS overall – Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa.
Rookie Quarterbacks on the Road
One of my favorite situations to pay attention to is rookie quarterbacks on the road, especially against strong defenses. I also like inexperienced quarterbacks on the road in certain stadiums and environments, like Buffalo. Tough place to play for the less experienced.
So since 2013, rookie QBs with seven or more starts during a season are of 41-120-1 SU and 73-84-5 ATS (46.5%). From Weeks 10-17, they are just 20-67 SU and 33-52-2 ATS (39.3%).
Justin Herbert was a real exception last season as a rookie that played superb over the course of 15 starts. However, those three top-rated rookies still combined to go just 2-7 ATS in Weeks 10-17.
The pro football season is longer than college, and even as the rookies try to improve, there are setbacks. Rookie quarterbacks face much tougher competition and defenses, and their mistakes and miscues are magnified. There is a real process of learning to become a more capable quarterback and leader, at least for a vast majority of rookie quarterbacks.
Big Underdogs and Division Games
I prefer to play more NFL underdogs, and have had some success posting underdog picks only on OSGA for the past four seasons. Last season it took a 3-0 sweep in Week 17 to finish 25-25 ATS, with 16 outright underdog winners. The four year record is 102-79 ATS (56.4%).
But you should still proceed with some caution when you see a weaker team and rookie quarterback in a big 'Dog role. And especially on the road, and even more against a strong or Class A defense.
Combined with rookie QB road struggles, a big underdog role has not been favorable to rookie QBs either. Since 2012, rookie starting quarterbacks playing on teams in the underdog role of 7 points or more have won just 17 games while producing a 17-98 SU and 49-59-7 ATS (45.4%) mark. Since those rookies are facing better teams favored by more points, you may want to evaluate the totals and team totals more closely as the rookie QB's teams have averaged just 17.3 points per game.
Division games bring more familiarity to teams, opponents and coaches. The games are more meaningful, and I've always looked for added struggles and less scoring when a team has a rookie quarterback. And the results since 2012 have proven such when wagering on totals.
In division match-ups with a least one rookie starting quarterback, the under is 24-12 when the posted total is 47 points or more (higher than average scoring).
In division games since 2013, rookie QBs are 35-84 SU and 52-66-1 ATS (44.1%). And as a moderate or big home underdog, it's really bettor beware. Home division 'Dogs of 4.5 points or more with rookie QBs are just 3-20 SU and 7-15-1 ATS (31.8%) in their last 23 games.
Looking at the five highly-rated rookie quarterbacks who could potentially start, and here are early season division games to watch for and monitor.
Week 1: Jacksonville at Houston - Jaguars up to a 3-point favorite
Week 1: Miami at New England - Patriots -2.5
Week 2: New England (-3.5) at NY Jets - Potentially 2 rookie QB's
Week 4: Detroit at Chicago (-5.5)
Week 4: Seattle at San Francisco (-3.5)
I'm not a trend handicapper or bettor, and you should rarely bet on NFL games based on trends or even worse, team trends. But situational handicapping with systems that make sense and can be supported with some technical analysis can be used as part of your handicapping process when trying to be on the winning side of point spread prognosis.
Just be aware of all the surrounding situations as you evaluate match-ups, and especially when wagering on or against a rookie quarterback.
You can bet on it.
FairwayJay is a proven sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. He chips in additional sports betting coverage and reporting on industry news and events. Read more great insights from FairwayJay and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay