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Zach Wilson or Trevor Lawrence? Who had the better rookie season?

The top two picks in the 2021 NFL draft just finished their rookie campaigns — with similar stats and with highs and lows

New York quarterback Zach Wilson warms up before game against Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Orchard Park, N.Y.
New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson warms up before an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Orchard Park, N.Y. The former BYU gunslinger took his lumps during his rookie season, but showed flashes of his potential too.
Joshua Bessex, Associated Press

So, how did the top two quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL draft do their rookie years?

How did Clemson’s No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence stack up against BYU’s No. 2 pick Zach Wilson?

In a nutshell, it was practically a push. Losing with promise.

On Sunday, Lawrence looked like the star he has been touted to be in a shocking 26-11 win over the Indianapolis Colts — even if some Jaguars fans showed up in clown suits.

The week before, Wilson went toe-to-toe with Super Bowl champs Tampa Bay and Tom Brady, and if not for a miscommunication near the goal line in the waning minutes, may have pulled off a huge upset. Only two NFL quarterbacks with starts the past five weeks have zero interceptions: Wilson and Aaron Rodgers.

Generally speaking, these two have been golden nuggets bouncing up and down on a playground slide all season long.

They’ve been chased, sacked, rushed, battered, hurried, criticized and praised.

Their first year in the NFL has been a twin script — works in progress.

Once upon a time, Lawrence (Cartersville, Georgia) was ranked the No. 1 high school recruit in the Class of 2018. Wilson (Draper, Utah) meanwhile, was ranked by the same ESPN system as No. 42. But by the time both players declared for the draft as 21-year-olds, Lawrence remained No. 1 and Wilson jumped to the No. 2 collegian.

In comparing this NFL rookie class of first-round drafted QBs, Lawrence and Wilson compare more favorably because their circumstances with struggling teams this season were similar. Their situations were certainly different than Trey Lance (San Francisco), Justin Fields (Chicago), and Mac Jones (New England).

You could go down the line with similarities in the two top picks. They had questionable rosters, injuries, sketchy supporting casts and tough schedules. Both Lawrence and Wilson also had rookie head coaches in Jacksonville’s Urban Meyer and the Jets’ Robert Saleh.

With the Jets, Wilson lost his position coach Greg Knapp, who was killed in a bicycle accident a month before the season began. His replacement was Matt Cavanaugh, working under OC Mike LaFleur, who had not been an offensive coordinator before, previously working with the 49ers as passing game coordinator.

Lawrence began the season with veteran OC Darrell Bevell, who’d had that position with the Vikings and Seahawks. It was Bevell who took over interim head coaching duties when Meyer was fired Dec. 16.

Wilson had the worst injury luck with his supporting cast, losing his top three receivers, top running back and most of his offensive line. He missed three games with a knee injury.

When the smoke cleared Sunday with the Jets posting one of their worst offensive outings in franchise history in a loss to the Buffalo Bills, who had the No. 1 total defense and pass defense in the league, Wilson’s Jets finished 4-13.

Lawrence’s Jags finished the season 3-14 with the last-place offense in the league, No. 32 in total offense, No. 22 in passing offense.

Wilson’s Jets finished 28th in total offense and 20th in passing offense.

For his 13 starts, Wilson completed 213 of 383 passes for 55.6%, 2,334 yards with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He did not throw an interception in his final five games.

In 17 starts for the Jags, Lawrence completed 359 of 602 passes for 59%, 3,641 yards, 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

In other words, in four more games this past season, Lawrence had three more touchdowns than Wilson but six more interceptions.

Lawrence’s QB rating was 71.9; Wilson’s was 69.7.

Wrote New York Post columnist Mark Cannizzaro after Sunday’s Jets loss to the Bills: “Surely, for Saleh, the Jets’ first-year head coach, and Wilson, the Jets’ rookie quarterback, it was fun at times, even while compiling just four wins to go with 13 losses. Both men gained invaluable experience at their respective crafts. That was what this season — particularly for Wilson — was going to be all about in the first place.”

But the pressure will build for Saleh and Wilson now that they’ll have access to four picks in the first two rounds of the 2022 draft, including the fourth and 10th overall picks.

Here are Wilson headlines of reflection following his season finale.

What we learned about Wilson, Saleh, Jets (The Athletic).

Saleh, Wilson Jets’ honeymoon period officially over (New York Post)

Three areas Zach Wilson can continue to improve (NJ.com)

Wilson accesses his rookie season (NJ.com)

And for Lawrence? Yahoo Sports columnist Frank Schwab put it this way: Blame Urban Meyer or Lawrence’s teammates or the Jaguars in general for a bad rookie season, but it has been a bad rookie season. He hadn’t thrown for more than one touchdown in a game since the season opener.

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence waves to fans as he leaves the field after leading the Jags past the Indianapolis Colts Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. Lawrence found himself in a tumultuous situation in Jacksonville, a season where rookie head coach Urban Meyer didn’t even last the season.
Stephen B. Morton, Associated Press

Here are some Lawrence headlines after the season ended:

Lawrence finally looks like a star (Yahoo Sports)

Jags clown show could cost them Lawrence (Yahoo Sports)

Trevor Lawrence shines in final game of rookie season (Sports Illustrated)

Following Lawrence’s final game, teammate running back Dare Ogunbowale praised his leadership through a season that ended up being a cluster.

“It was a nightmare season to have for a rookie, to have to deal with the things that we dealt with,” Ogunbowale said. “It had to be tough for him to deal with but he overcame it and was able to lead us and I’m looking forward to watching him in the future.”

Wilson, although making progress amid critics, took full responsibility for losing field position by trying to keep plays alive while absorbing yard-gobbling sacks, this, despite not having his best receivers Corey Davis, Elijah Moore and Braxton Berrios.

“There were two plays when I took sacks trying to make something out of nothing,” Wilson told reporters Sunday. “There it’s my job to throw the ball away, play field position and give us a chance. Those are boneheaded plays on my end. I have to fix it and get rid of them. I have to learn from them and get better.”

There is little doubt Lawrence and Wilson have tremendous talent. Rookie years are supposed to have growing pains.

Both these guys have taken their lumps on bad teams.

But I’d submit there are a lot of teams who’d love to have these rookies now they’ve lived through nightmare seasons for the first time in their lives.