National Football League

The one word attached to all five first-round quarterbacks

May 10

By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist 

When it comes to talking about the Famous Five of this year’s NFL Draft, there is one word that is always there, attached to their name. Every story, every description, each piece of analysis.

Pressure.

It is a word they’re going to hear a lot between now and the start of the new season, and plenty more once pro football formally gets underway again, so let’s try to not use it too much here.

More than a week has passed since Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones made this 2021 Draft a quarterbacking extravaganza, and finally solved the months-long puzzle of who would go where, and when.

Tevor Lawrence to the Jaguars? Penei Sewell to the Lions? Trey Lance to the 49ers? Justin Fields to the Bears? The Watch Party crew takes a closer look at the first round of the draft to pick a winner from day 1.

No longer are there a litany of questions hanging over each of the five QBs selected in the first 15 picks of the opening round. They’ve all been replaced by this one question: How will they handle the pressu … oops, the struggle … of being thrust into the most scrutinized situation in sports – being a rookie QB with the hopes of a franchise on your shoulders.

The focus on each of the five is different, but they all share a common link. Because of how this offseason has gone, because of the run on QBs, because the position has never been deemed more important than now, and because the fervor of the past few months was so magnified, none of them are going to be allowed to quietly develop under the radar.

They’re going to be watched and discussed and dissected and the only way to get through it is to convince themselves the glare of the spotlight isn’t real, even when they know it is.

"I don’t feel like there’s any pressure on me to feel like I have to save the day," Wilson said recently. "They’re going to put me in the position to make sure I succeed the right way. I’m not going to put that pressure on myself."

But as the No. 2 pick of the New York Jets and with the franchise having traded away Sam Darnold in expectation of his arrival, Wilson must be feeling some kind of pinch, like the rest of the first-round class.

He’s going to a team desperate for success and truly starved of it, and he’s been anointed as the guy to start turning things around. Yeah, there’s some heat there.

So too, for Fields, object of the Chicago Bears’ affection, enough for them to have moved up nine spots to the No. 10 position to select him.

So much misery has gone into the QB role in the Windy City. There’s talk of a curse and, just like with the Jets, the desire for a savior is real, present and time-honored.

"I don’t think there’s pressure at all on me because I expect myself to be a franchise quarterback," Fields told reporters. "There’s really no added pressure. I expect myself to be … hopefully, a top-five quarterback."

Fields’ quote was strikingly similar to Wilson’s and we are starting to see a pattern here. The best way to handle the pressure seems to be this: don’t acknowledge that the pressure even exists. Which, of course, it does.

This is the NFL, it’s always there.

For Lawrence, as the top pick in the draft, the spotlight is perhaps the most intense. Sure, the Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t good, have rarely been good, and shouldn’t necessarily have any great expectation of being good anytime soon.

Except that now they have landed the most-sought after QB prospect in years, and will be pairing him with a legendary coach in Urban Meyer.

Lawrence will be expected to start right away and his debut will be must-see TV. He’s pretty relaxed about the whole thing, which is just as well. Everyone’s going to be looking, wondering, waiting.

There’s really no escaping it and in some ways the QBs are in an unenviable spot. Feel the burn of all that focus, internalize too much, and football productivity is bound to be affected, leading to criticism. Try to mentally step away from it, like Lawrence did during a Sports Illustrated interview in which he (gasp), dared to claim there are more important things in life than football, and you run the risk of being seen as not serious enough about the craft.

Lawrence is chilled enough not to get too flustered by too many things. References to him and pressure usually refer to his time in the pocket, with a Yahoo Sports report quoting an anonymous scout as saying that, against pressure, Lawrence "hurries through" his process.

"This is a nonsense argument,’ FS1’s Colin Cowherd said on The Herd. "If you’re in traffic and someone cuts you off, you put the brakes on a little. Or you speed up – to avoid getting hit. That’s what you would do."

For Lance, his fate is aligned squarely now with that of San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. If he doesn’t pan out, with the front office having embarked upon a dramatic trade to move to the third spot, Shanahan and Lynch will likely be gone.

That’s a lot for a guy who played just 19 games in college, at North Dakota State.

"We're certainly not naive about the pressure that comes with playing quarterback in the NFL," Lance’s mother Angie told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "(But) we feel the pressure of being a first-round draft pick is not going to impact how Trey plays football or who Trey is as a person."

Which only leaves Jones, who, as the lowest of the five picks, could have the least amount of inherited stressfulness.

Except for this – the New England Patriots are only one year removed from Tom Brady. Whatever happens, however good or bad Jones is, he is going to be compared to Brady, just like every Patriots quarterback will be. How’s that for pres…oh, what the heck, everyone else is saying it so why not us?

Yes, there’s pressure. Pressure, pressure, pressure. Pressure from defenses, pressure from fans, the media, your own team, your own expectations. It is not fair and it is not a realistic expectation to foist upon any normal person.

Except that, being an NFL QB isn’t a job for a "normal" person. At any given time, there are only 32 humans on the planet good enough to start in the NFL – forming a rare group who can handle the stress and the burden and that incessant feeling of all eyes being on you.

If you’re a top QB in this year’s draft, frankly, in any draft, the pressure, all-encompassing and ever-present, is a part of your new existence.

Whether you admit it exists, or not.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.


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