NFL first-round QB update: Are 49ers giving a preview of Trey Lance's early role?

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The NFL's three-game preseason schedule is done. The regular season kicks off next week.

One major storyline that could permeate throughout the 2021 season is the performance of the five first-round quarterbacks. All five have a chance to play significant snaps this year, and they'll have an extra regular season game as the NFL shifts to a 17-game slate.

We know Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, the first two picks in the draft, will start Week 1. But the timing on when the next three quarterbacks selected in Round 1 will earn starting jobs is sure to be a weekly watch.

There are fantasy, handicapping and real-football implications at stake with all five. So let's take a look at where all of them stand as we prepare for the regular season.

Trey Lance

San Francisco 49ers

Let's hear it for a two-QB system?!

Kyle Shanahan might have been sending a message to the rest of the NFL with his bizarre and wholly entertaining quarterback usage in Sunday's preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

We can't recall seeing this much shuffling at the position — in any NFL game — in possibly forever. The fact that it happened on the opening drive made it all the more fascinating.

Check out how Kyle Shanahan used the 49ers' quarterbacks on the opening drive of the 49ers' final preseason game. (NFL GSIS)
Check out how Kyle Shanahan used the 49ers' quarterbacks on the opening drive of the 49ers' final preseason game. (NFL GSIS)

Jimmy Garoppolo started. Then Trey Lance came in. Then back to Garoppolo. Back to Lance and so on until the 49ers bashed their way into the end zone. A 10-play drive with five snaps each from the two quarterbacks.

Shanahan will be running the ball this season, y'all. It says so right here. The guess is that Garoppolo is your Week 1 starter at Detroit and Lance will have a package of plays where he comes in and runs, throws a little and heads back to the sideline.

The 49ers have a strong run game, spearheaded by Raheem Mostert, Trey Sermon and Lance. The offensive line looks better than it did a year ago. There are big-play pass weapons, too. Oh, and the defense — assuming it roundly remains healthy — could be a monster.

Even if Garoppolo is good and not great, and Lance takes time to develop as he gets set to turn 21 years old, the 49ers have a tremendous formula and could be an absolute handful for opponents this season.

The two-QB system, assuming the 49ers use it in the regular season, will draw some scorn initially from some. It's inevitable. But once it starts humming, we'd guess it won't be so controversial.

After all, 49ers fans don't have to go too far back to recall the Alex Smith-Colin Kaepernick arrangement in 2012. Kaepernick split time with Smith at first but eventually was named the starter for a team that nearly won a Super Bowl that season.

Lance was given every opportunity to knock Garoppolo out of the captain's chair. That hasn't happened yet, despite some thrilling moments from the rookie. But it most certainly could happen in due time. Maybe a switch happens during the Week 6 bye, or maybe it takes longer for Lance to be named starter.

Or perhaps they stick with this unusual setup, and make history be becoming the first true two-QB system team to make a Super Bowl. That's how good this team could be, even coming off a poor season.

Over at BetMGM, Lance sits at +10000 to win AP MVP honors — the same odds as Garoppolo, funny enough. The more realistic bet, however, might be on Lance winning Rookie of the Year, where he currently has the third-best odds (+750), behind only Trevor Lawrence (+350) and Justin Fields (+700).

Trevor Lawrence

Jacksonville Jaguars

Lawrence was the best we've seen him in the preseason in Sunday's 34-14 win at Dallas. It was the kind of confidence-boosting performance the No. 1 pick needed.

Lawrence was 11-of-12 passing for 139 yards and two touchdowns in a nearly perfect outing, even as the Cowboys started predominantly reserves on defense.

After two games where the Jaguars' first-team offense sputtered more often than not, this was the momentum builder they had to have heading into the season opener against the Houston Texans.

Urban Meyer sure looked relieved. No, we're not going to see this version of Lawrence every week this season. But Meyer had to feel a lot better about his offense heading into the year.

Justin Fields

Chicago Bears

With one throw on Saturday against the Tennessee Titans, Fields gave fans more fuel to question Matt Nagy's decision to start Andy Dalton against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1.

Fields rolled to his right and delivered a 20-yard strike to Jesper Horsted for a touchdown. Bears fans hope it's a preview of what's to come — sooner, not later. It's the kind of play Fields can make and Dalton cannot.

Is Fields a better quarterback right now? Nagy's move suggests the coach does not believe so. He could be on the hot seat if the Bears struggle this season, so you can see why Nagy might trust the veteran just a hair more.

But Fields is coming to a field near you very soon. It could be as early as Week 3, if Dalton can't win his Week 2 revenge game against the Bengals in Chicago. It might be later than that if Dalton plays well early on. We also can't rule out Nagy pulling a Shanahan and inserting Fields for a brief spark in a temporary relief role until he gets the job.

Nagy can't wait to make a switch if the Bears' offense is anything less than impressive early on. Trotting out "decent" every week when there's "special" on the bench is no way to preserve one's job.

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Mac Jones

New England Patriots

The quick ascension of Jones is like nothing we've seen in a rookie quarterback in New England under Bill Belichick. No, seriously.

Tom Brady was a shocking keeper as a rookie on the final roster in 2000, when they had four QBs. Brady was good in preseason games (against future insurance salesmen) that year, completing 22-of-32 passes for 254 yards and one touchdown in his three outings.

But when Brady didn't see time in the third and fourth preseason games that year, the writing looked like it was on the wall for the sixth-rounder. Looking back, Bill Belichick was probably trying to hide Brady, although keeping him on the initial 53-man roster rendered that null and void.

Still, Brady barely saw the field in the regular season. He wasn't close to ready.

Jones is ready now. He might not be the Week 1 starter against Brian Flores and the Miami Dolphins — we believe it will be Cam Newton, even despite Newton's COVID-related absence last week.

But Jones was even better than Brady in his three preseason games and faced better opponents. Jones completed 36-of-52 passes for 388 yards and a touchdown. The one obvious mar on his play: Jones took five sacks, more than one of which looked to be on him. Then again, Brady also took five sacks in his first preseason.

We promise we're not directly comparing the two, even if it's hard not to. The point is just that Brady wasn't ready to start as a rookie, but Jones has been pushing Newton all summer, and some might argue he's been the better of the two to this point.

Jones has shown he's capable of stepping in if (when) the Patriots decide to sit Newton.

Zach Wilson

New York Jets

It's not often you see a rookie, even a No. 2 overall pick, receive veteran's privilege in a final preseason game. Wilson and the majority of the notable offensive contributors sat out, although the wet and poor field conditions for the third preseason game against the Eagles can't be overlooked either.

Wilson finished the preseason 15-of-20 passing for 191 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also took no sacks. He looked terrific, especially in his second preseason game, even if Wilson faced mostly backups in his time.

But why only 20 preseason pass attempts? Well, Wilson received nearly every single first-team rep in practice during training camp, so it's not like he was starved for work.

The Week 1 battle between Wilson and the Jets and old friend Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers looks like a fun little matchup, if we're being honest.

Wilson feels like he's well worth a flier for a Rookie of the Year wager at BetMGM. He's starting Week 1 yet carries longer odds (+1000) than either Fields or Lance, both of whom might start the year on the bench.