AFC East Quarterback preview

Lisa Johnson
AFC South
AFC East Reporter

By Lisa Johnson //@LJ1303

It’s the official start of the 2021 NFL season, team captains are being selected, and the first injury reports are coming out. We are starting to have that old familiar feeling…football is back.

With stadiums expected to be at full capacity, fans are eagerly awaiting to see what this 2021 season will bring.  Especially in the AFC East, where we’ll see two starting rookie quarterbacks in Zach Wilson for the New York Jets and Mac Jones for the New England Patriots.  Let’s look at all four of the teams in the division and how they look in the QB position going forward.

The Buffalo Bills, led by 3rd-year starter Josh Allen, look to be the clear favorites to repeat as AFC East champions.  With Buffalo coming up 1 game shy of the Super Bowl last season, it looks, for now, like a solid pick.

I always circle back to what the players who had that experience must be feeling. You came up 1 game shy of going to the game you have always dreamed of as a kid. I thought of the moment as the clock showed all zero’s at Arrowhead stadium and I saw Bills’ receiver Stefon Diggs come back on the field and watch as the Kanas City Chiefs hoist the AFC Championship trophy.  No doubt taking that all in to gain some motivation for the team’s 2021 run. I have said it many times. I still believe he was the reason and still will be the reason Josh Allen will have another MVP type of season.

The Miami Dolphins will be lead by second-year starter Tua Tagovailoa. Now, this is where things get a bit tricky.  Tua came to Miami with high expectations. Not only was he a National Championship quarterback, but he also won the Maxwell Award and Walter camp award, and finished second in that year’s Heisman race.

With those achievements alone it’s easy to see why teams expected Tua to go early in the 2020 draft. Having been sidelined by a serious hip injury, several experts had questions about Tua’s performance going into the 2020 season. Then COVID hit. They had no training camps and zero preseason games. Everyone will tell that the speed of the NFL is much faster than that of college. He struggled.

Now I can tell you from what I have seen in training camp, this isn’t the same Tua Tagovailoa we saw last year. He looks much improved and has some weapons to clearly throw to.  As far as the questions marks, I don’t see them going away soon.  He’ll need to prove to himself and this team that he can be a leader and a winner.

The New England Patriots. Well, let’s face it. Did you not see that Mac Jones pick coming? Could a pick be any more perfect for Patriots than that one?  Quarterback Mac Jones fits everything Bill Belichick wants in a quarterback. Execute the plays, technique, fundamentals. He does everything a coach would want. He is poised in the pocket, willing to learn, and seemingly ready to lead.

Add to the fact that Belichick doesn’t want what happened last year to roll over to this year, I couldn’t see a more perfect fit than Jones. He’ll have his rookie moments, but for any rookie quarterback, you look for growth every single game. As we all mentioned on the podcast about this team, you can never count a coach like Bill Belichick out.

The New York Jets not only go into the 2021 season with a rookie quarterback, but they’ll also have a rookie head coach as well.  Jets fans are looking for a fresh start, they certainly will get that in Head Coach Robert Saleh.

The former San Francisco 49ers fiery defensive coach flat out has passion while coaching from the sidelines. A far cry from former Head Coach Adam Gase.  I haven’t spoken to any Jets fans that aren’t happy about the change.  Also shipped out was former first-round quarterback pick, Sam Darnold, who is now the signal-caller in Carolina.

Enter Zach Wilson, who came out of nowhere and vaulted to the top of  NFL draft boards where the Jets locked on to Wilson immediately. There is no question that Zach Wilson has the talent to make it to the next level. The only question is when will that happen.

During the preseason he has shown some splashes that he could be a great one, making some throws other veteran quarterbacks might try. Now, this is where he could also get himself into some trouble. Playing in the preseason is nothing compared to the regular season. Making those throws in tight windows in preseason won’t fly in the regular season.  Just ask Buffalo’s Bills QB Josh Allen, who tried that early on in his career.  This is a learn as you go year for Zach Wilson.

I still expect this to be a highly competitive season among them all. Coaching matters and all these teams have some exceptional coaches working with them.

Follow Lisa on Twitter @LJ1303

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