ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Trevor Lawrence is taller than most quarterbacks. He is stronger and moves better than most. He seems to possess poise and smarts and there’s a way about him where despite his youth and inexperience, he is in command of his team. He has a very good arm.
Lawrence has the all physical skills, intangibles, supreme overall talent and tremendous potential of a No. 1 overall draft pick. He is the best of the best quarterback prospects, probably the most exciting QB coming into the league since Andrew Luck in 2012.
But he’s no Teddy Bridgewater.
Not right here, right now, in 2021 he’s not. Neither is the No. 2 overall draft pick, Zach Wilson, quarterback of the New York Jets. Once the draft is finished, first-round stars immediately become rookies. And few things are tougher than being a rookie player in the NFL.
“It’s tough for sure, especially being a quarterback,'' said Broncos' defensive end Dre'Mont Jones, who made quantum leaps as a player from year 1 to 2 last season. "You’ve got that commanding role, you’ve got to be a leader. You’re expected to come in and produce and make a bunch of plays right away and understand everything. But it’s hard. You’ve got veteran guys that you’re going against, along with learning a whole new scheme that’s entirely different from college.
"You just have to grow from it. They both seem like they’re having a tough time right now but they both, on tape, seem like they’re super talented. They have their moments when you say, 'Oh that’s why they went in the first round and as high as they did.’
"But best of luck to both those men. They’re struggling but overall I think they’re doing a good job.
Funny, isn’t it? On the eve of the NFL Draft in late-April, the acquisition of Bridgewater from the Carolina Panthers barely moved the needle in Broncos Country while the next day selections of Lawrence and Wilson as the 1-2 picks in the draft generated buzz across the NFL landscape.
And yet last week, Bridgewater badly outplayed Lawrence in the Broncos’ 23-13 win at Jacksonville while up the East Coast, Wilson was ghastly, throwing four interceptions in a 25-6 loss to New England. Wilson and the Jets visit Bridgewater and the Broncos this Sunday in Denver’s home opener at Empower Field at Mile High.
Here’s a comparison of the three quarterbacks through the first two games this season:
Rank . Name …… W-L … Comp % … Yds … TD … INT … RTG
6. Bridgewater … 2-0 ….. 77.1 …….. 592 .… 4 ..…. 0 … 120.7
32. Lawrence ….. 0-2 ….. 50.0 …….. 450 .… 4 …... 5 ..… 57.1
33. Wilson ………. 0-2 ….. 55.7 …….. 468 .… 2 …… 5 ….. 56.1
In Bridgewater, the Broncos right here, right now in 2021 have the better quarterback.
“He is, to me, one of the more underrated starting quarterbacks in this league,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said in a conference call Thursday morning with the Denver media. “Yes, he was a first-round pick and a high draft pick. He had that terrible injury, but ever since then—the league has a tendency to kind of tag people with a stigma. His releases are super quick. He’s very accurate, he’s a tremendous decision-maker, he’s got mobility. He is everything you’d want out of a starting quarterback.
“He’s efficient on third down, he doesn’t turn the ball over. He really is a fantastic quarterback, and there’s a reason for Denver being 2-0 and racking up over 400 yards a game in offense. It’s not a fluke.”
Two or three years from now, it may be different. Lawrence and Wilson may be coming into their own as top 10 quarterbacks while Bridgewater inspires the question, ‘Whatever happened to Teddy Two Gloves?’
Until then, history continues to repeat itself. Rookie quarterbacks, no matter how talented, are simply not very good.
“The most difficult part is you don’t really get to be a rookie in this era,’’ said Bridgewater, a rookie and No. 32 overall draft pick in 2014 but a veteran of five teams and eight NFL seasons now. “It was the same when I came in the league. I talked to a guy like Drew (Brees), who when he entered the league he didn’t have social media, the Internet dogging you for every little thing. You were protected a little more.
“I think that’s the toughest part right now, because one mistake and you’ve got someone at home who’s critiquing you and who may never have played a down of football or don’t really understand the process of what goes through every snap, the process of what goes into being a quarterback in this league—especially a young one. Having to just block out all the noise and really have the right people in your corner, I think that’s the toughest part.”
It wasn’t easy in Brees’ day, either. Go back and look at some of the eventual Hall of Famers. Troy Aikman went 0-11 as a rookie. John Elway threw 7 touchdown passes against 14 interceptions while completing less than 48 percent of his passes his first year in 1983. Peyton Manning still holds the rookie record for interceptions thrown.
It may be no coincidence that the three best quarterbacks in the NFL today – Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers – sat out most of their rookie seasons. They didn’t have to lose confidence by playing poorly as rookies.
“I guess the confusion, especially with Vic’s defense,’’ Broncos safety Justin Simmons said when asked about what he likes about playing rookie quarterbacks. “A lot of the time we’re giving you the look that you’re seeing, and a lot of time we’re not. I think that’s part of the game.
“There’s that quarterback-safety battle where you’re trying to give him false information, so he doesn’t know pre-snap where he’s going to go with the football.’’
Bridgewater didn’t start as a rookie until an ineffective Matt Cassel forced him to in his fourth game of the 2014 season. Uncommonly mature and unexcitable, anyway, Bridgewater was ready to play at a high NFL quarterback-level by his second season, when he led the Vikings to an 11-5 record and the playoffs.
Then came a harrowing knee injury and years of NFL teams not quite believing in him.
All that experience good and bad, though, is a big reason why Bridgewater is off to such a terrific start with the Broncos in 2021. Experience being the key, and the word that doesn’t apply to Lawrence or Wilson.