Zach Wilson vs. Trevor Lawrence: Who Had Better Debut?

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It was a closely contested battle for Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson as to who was QB1 ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft, with the Jacksonville Jaguars ultimately deciding with the No. 1 overall pick that Lawrence was the better option.

Still, for some of us that had Wilson above in the rankings and for the NFL audience in general, comparing the performances of Wilson and Lawrence throughout the season is something that could be interesting.

Here’s a look into how both performed in their NFL debuts and who comes out on top:

Zach Wilson

To say the New York Jets’ offensive line didn’t do the best job protecting Wilson in his rookie debut is an understatement. The quarterback was sacked six times in the 19-14 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Bank of America Stadium.

As if it wasn’t obvious enough that Wilson was under a world of pressure, according to NextGen stats, he was hit 10 times and pressured 14 times. Even with having to deal with all of that, Wilson completed 20-of-37 passes for 258 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. 

Throughout the game, we saw a lot of what can’t be taught in a quarterback from Wilson, who, bear in mind, is still a rookie. Of course, there were some struggles early on before he became more composed, but his ability to bounce back and keep going even when he was getting put in the dirt and under some unfavorable circumstances and go on to record a respectable performance for anyone’s standards was something to be admired. Speaking more technically, Wilson maneuvered the pocket well and had good field vision, also throwing a higher number of catchable balls than his stat line might reflect. Wilson also showed the ability to go off-script, something he was commended for ahead of the draft.

If what we saw Sunday is any indication of what Wilson is going to be, this is a quarterback who is going to win his team a lot of games and mature faster than most. It’s also worth noting that even in a difficult situation with a team that needs improvement the way the Jets do, Wilson is already making more of it than Sam Darnold (who obviously has way more NFL experience than him) did.

Trevor Lawrence

Lawrence hadn’t lost a game in the regular season of his career at any level of football until Sunday’s 37-21 fall to the Houston Texans. Lawrence completed 28-of-51 passes for 332 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. As with most situations like this, some of it was self-inflicted and some of it was the product of simply playing for a team like the Jaguars, who have a lot of fixing to do across the board.

The former Clemson quarterback’s pocket presence, arm strength, and ball placement were on display in a big way, and his passes that went for touchdowns were perfectly thrown things of beauty. But on some of the other plays, there were ill-advised throws and overthrown balls that one of the least difficult secondaries to face in the NFL took advantage of.

Lawrence showed flashes of a quarterback who can lead future comebacks and win a lot of games and appeared to go through his progressions well for the better part of the game, but the three interceptions each told a story of something between trying to do too much or just not throwing the ball well.

There’s a lot to look forward to and a lot to reflect on with him here. This is also just Week 1, so we’ll find out a lot more about Lawrence as time rolls on, and we’ll probably also spend the whole season wondering what such a talented and mechanically sound signal-caller could do with a more stout supporting cast.

The verdict for Week 1: Wilson is the better quarterback here looking at this first performance alone. Both players still have plenty of room for personal improvement and both have been dealt a tough hand of cards—something that all highly-picked quarterbacks have to deal with. Wilson looked a bit better managing through the debut and looks to be a player who can single-handedly elevate a team over time (though he certainly deserves some help from those around him down the line).

Written By:

Crissy Froyd

Feature Writer

Crissy Froyd is a graduating senior at LSU, also serving as the managing editor of the LSU division of USA TODAY SMG. Crissy has specialized primarily in quarterback analysis and features for the better part of her career and covers the Tennessee Titans in addition to the LSU Tigers.