NFL Midweek Tailgate: Which Week 1 starting rookie QB will have the most success?

Tyler Dragon Safid Deen
USA TODAY Sports Plus
Dak Prescott will make his much-anticipated return on Thursday night.

The NFL season is pulling in at full speed. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers search for the elusive back-to-back Super Bowl Champion title. Notable quarterbacks, such as Joe Burrow and Dak Prescott, look to harness the art of the comeback. New coaches hope to lead their teams to victory.

Every Wednesday during the regular season, USA TODAY Sports+ NFL Insiders Tyler Dragon and Safid Deen will bring you their top five stories of the week for the NFL Midweek Tailgate.

Why wait for game day to get the party going? Start the grills with the insiders' hot takes, keep your beverage-of-choice chilled with a healthy dose of reality in their thorough analysis and grab a chair because Dragon and Deen don't hold back.

Is Tampa Bay the Super Bowl LVI favorite?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady  celebrates after beating the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers are eyeing a repeat. Returning all 22 starters from their Super Bowl LV-winning team is a great start.

A team hasn’t won consecutive Super Bowls since Brady helped the New England Patriots accomplish the feat in Super Bowl 39.

The Buccaneers are going into the season as the favorite in the NFC, but their opponent in last year’s Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs, retooled. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and company are out for revenge. I think the Chiefs are on a mission to go to their third-straight Super Bowl and win their second Lombardi Trophy in three seasons.

    —Tyler Dragon

I must agree: Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs should use last season’s Super Bowl loss as fuel this season.

Mahomes must avenge his loss to Brady to truly take the crown as the NFL’s best quarterback for the next 10 years.

As for the Bucs, Brady’s tenacity is enough to keep Tampa Bay focused this season. But there’s a clear difference between a team full of players chasing a championship for the first time and a team with the pressure of repeating this season.

Brady must wear down at some point, right?

    —Safid Deen

Who is destined to have a major bounce-back season?

Dak Prescott, Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr., Christian McCaffrey, Nick Bosa, Derwin James and Joe Burrow.

All of the players mentioned above are franchise cornerstone pieces for their respective franchises. The Cowboys, Giants, Browns, Panthers, 49ers, Chargers and Bengals are optimistic each of them will get back to their impactful level fairly quickly.

Prescott, Beckham, Bosa and James probably have the most talented teammates surrounding them. That shouldn’t be understated. The talented supporting cast of the Cowboys, 49ers, Browns and Chargers should greatly assist Prescott, Beckham, Bosa and James.

Expect the quarterback, wide receiver, defensive end and strong safety to be in the running for comeback player of the year. The Cowboys, 49ers, Browns and Chargers are entering the season as legit playoff contenders.

    —Tyler Dragon

Seeing all these standout athletes go down one after the other last season was tough to watch. The NFL is obviously better when its best players are healthy and available to play, and I’m excited to see their return to form in 2021.

As for major bounce-back season? I’d love to see what the Browns can do with a healthy Beckham on offense, especially after the end to their season last year.

Baker Mayfield was arguably the best quarterback in the NFL during the second half last season, helping the Browns finish 11-5.

Beckham’s electric playmaking ability on offense could propel Cleveland over the top if he and Mayfield figure out their on-field connection.

   —Safid Deen

Which Week 1 starting rookie QB will have the most success?

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones will be the Patriots' starter.

Five quarterbacks were drafted in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Three of them — Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Mac Jones — are about to become Week 1 starters. That's the most Week 1 rookie starters at QB since five rookie signal callers started the season opener in 2012.

While Lawrence is the most talented and has the highest ceiling out of all the quarterbacks in this year’s draft class, Jones is positioned to have the most success in Year 1.  

Jones has a playoff-ready roster surrounding him in New England and the best coach in the NFL in Bill Belichick. If Jones can manage the game, limit rookie mistakes and play with the poise he showed during preseason, he’ll set himself up for a productive rookie campaign.

    —Tyler Dragon

I’m going to add another name to mix here: Chicago Bears rookie Justin Fields. He may not be a Day 1 starter, but he should be. Fields may have an even better situation than Jones in New England.

Obviously, Jones has Belichick to bring him along and New England retooled its roster after missing the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons.

But Fields is walking into a situation where the Bears made the playoffs with an 8-8 record last season, and have the defensive pieces to give him the ball back on offense. He has already provided Chicago a bigger spark than veteran starter Andy Dalton.

It’ll only by a matter of time before Fields takes over in Chicago, and I think he’ll be the best rookie quarterback in 2021.

    —Safid Deen

Which new head coach has the best roster?  

Chargers new coach Brandon Staley on the sideline.

Urban Meyer and the Jacksonville Jaguars are in full blown rebuild mode. The same can be said for Robert Saleh in New York and David Culley with the Texans. The Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions have some promising pieces, but are destined for another sub .500 season.

That leaves the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Chargers as the two rosters best equipped for success under new head coaches.

Arthur Smith has talent on both sides of the ball in Atlanta. Quarterback Matt Ryan, who was the NFL MVP in 2016, still has a few good years left. The Falcons lost standout wide receiver Julio Jones but added freakishly athletic tight end Kyle Pitts. If the Falcons’ O-line and defense can play better, the team could be a playoff contender.

On the West Coast, the Chargers have a young and emerging roster. Brandon Staley is taking over a team that won four-straight games to end the season last year. Not to mention, the Bolts have the 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year at quarterback in Justin Herbert, one of the league’s best route runners in Keenan Allen, a standout edge rusher in Joey Bosa and a do-everything safety in Derwin James. The Bolts have core pieces to win games and build around.

    —Tyler Dragon

The biggest factor I look at when evaluating coaching jobs is the quarterback position, and which one of these teams has the best situation for the coach and team to succeed.

Herbert is the standout player that will help his new Chargers coach.

He's the youngest player in NFL history to throw 30 touchdowns in a season, and he set rookie records in total touchdowns (36), completions (396), games with 300-plus passing yards (eight) and games with at least three touchdowns (six).

Add that to the rest of the Chargers’ talented roster, and Staley may have the best scenario for a rookie coach in 2021.

    —Safid Deen

Will Deshaun Watson play this season?

Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson

The allegations against Deshaun Watson are serious. Don’t be surprised if Watson winds up on the commissioner’s exempt list while all legal matters are sorted out. The Houston Texans announced Monday that Tyrod Taylor will start the regular season as QB1.

If and when Watson does return to the field, it likely won’t be for the Texans. He requested a trade and he’ll (eventually) get his wish. However, teams are reluctant to give up assets for the QB while he’s under investigation and facing 22 civil lawsuits from women alleging sexual misconduct or assault. 

Watson’s ongoing legal investigation, combined with his public trade request, is a storyline hovering over the NFL this season — and there’s not a definitive resolution in sight.

   —Tyler Dragon

I also believe Watson will sit out most of this season, while receiving his $10.54 million salary from the Texans.

They are essentially stuck with each other.

Watson’s longstanding trade request, stemming from the end of last season, will continue to stand while his off-field situation is unresolved.

The teams reportedly interested in trading for Watson — the Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles — will likely monitor the situation from afar with hopes to make a move before the 2022 season.

    —Safid Deen