Biggest NFL Rookie Disappointments So Far


There was a ton of hype going into the 2021 NFL season, primarily surrounding the new batch of rookies that were drafted in April. However, after only a few weeks into their first season, the hype train for many of these rookies has already started to crash and burn. These are five rookies whose performance in the NFL has been a total 180 from the stellar playmaking abilities they had in college.

[Ed. Note—for various reasons, this may be slightly out of date. Except the bit about Zach Wilson. We’re pretty sure that’s still true.]

Trevor Lawrence (QB, Jacksonville Jaguars)

The most recent first overall pick has led the Jags to a winless start through three weeks (now 1-5), due partly to his seven interceptions during this span. However, I think he has made some great throws and has had some success moving the ball downfield, unlike some of the other quarterbacks on this list. It kind of surprises me how he has almost 700 passing yards already, considering the atrocious Jags O-line and lack of receiver depth. Limiting turnovers will be key to Lawrence’s development, as well as the future of the Jaguars. 

Kadarius  Toney (WR, New York Giants)

After trading down from the 11th pick, the Giants selected Toney at #20. I would call this a smart move by the Giants FO, except for the fact that the player they drafted has made no impact whatsoever this year. Once a flashy and agile receiver for the Gators, Toney does not look like the same player in the NFL, with only four catches for a measly fourteen yards in three games. This is a key season for the Giants, especially for Danny Dimes, who has to make the next step in his development if he wants a starting job in the future. Toney was supposed to help Jones succeed this year, but his lackluster performance has been one of many reasons the Giants are still winless.

[Toney is now at 23 receptions for 317 yards, but he’s also tweaked his right ankle again.] 

Alex Leatherwood (RT, Las Vegas Raiders)

I didn’t originally want to put a lineman on this list, but drafting Alex Leatherwood was never a smart decision by the Raiders. They released or traded away the majority of their starting O-line in 2020, which was relatively efficient last year, just to spend their most valuable piece of draft capital this year to fix the position. As far as Leatherwood’s on-field performance, he has been relatively decent, but not even close to as good as he was at Alabama, especially after considering everything the Raiders sacrificed to draft him. 

Justin Fields (QB, Chicago Bears)

I wouldn’t normally cast blame on a rookie after just his first start, but Field’s game against the Browns was historically bad. Sacked nine times, he only managed six completions on 20 attempts and 68 passing yards, with one (1!) net passing yard the whole game. Known for his athletic ability in college, he had only 3 carries for 12 yards against the Browns. The fact that the Bears only lost by 20 points blows my mind. Of course, a makeshift offensive line and horrible play calling didn’t help Fields one bit, although I think that for an offensive performance to be that bad it must fall on the quarterback. What a waste of a talented player.

[He’s looked better since, but it’s the Bears. This can’t last.]

Zach Wilson (QB, New York Jets)

BYU’s finest has had a detrimental start to his NFL career. Unlike some of the other quarterbacks on this list, I think that Wilson is the primary, and sometimes the only, reason his team hasn’t won a single game. [Well, they hadn’t.] The Jets have a solid defense with a great defensive-minded head coach. They have former first rounder Cory Davis and speedy rookie Elijah Moore at receiver. Michael Carter has looked like a future star at running back in my opinion. Before Mekhi Becton got injured, the Jets even had an above average O-line. All of this hasn’t stopped Wilson from throwing only 2 TDs compared with 7 interceptions this season, including a four-interception game against the Patriots. I think once Wilson stops trying to force the ball downfield and starts playing more conservatively they will have some successes, but for now this Jets offensive is at its ugliest.