Trevor Lawrence is poised to be the top overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Does his film match the prodigious media hype?
The 2021 NFL Draft is almost here but we’ve known who the top pick would be since the college football season ended. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence was a lock to land with the Jacksonville Jaguars as soon as they clinched the No. 1 spot. The allure of Lawrence even persuaded Urban Meyer to finally give the NFL a shot.
Lawrence completed one of the best collegiate careers we’ve seen. He surpassed 10,000 passing yards while completing almost 67 percent of his passes, for 90 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, all while reaching the College Football Playoff all three years, winning one national championship. But is he worth the hype as a can’t-miss talent, or is he going to fall to the wayside of good but not great NFL quarterbacks?
We’re diving into his film and numbers from the course of his career to take a look. I’ve charted every pass he’s attempted over the course of his career and categorized them as catchable or not catchable and compared the numbers to quarterback prospects over the last eight years to see if there are promising results or not. Virtually every quality quarterback currently in the NFL has performed well in this study, whereas almost every bust had indicators of the risk.
So, is Lawrence worth the ‘next Andrew Luck’ hype?
What he does well
The 6-foot-6, 220-pounder has the perfect size and level of mobility to make plays both inside and outside of the pocket. A plus-athlete who has been consistently successful on attempts outside of the tackle box throughout his career, Lawrence will be highly desired by offensive creators who are willing to push his vast skill set and build a varied scheme. In his career, he delivered a catchable ball on 80-of-122 attempts outside of the pocket (66 percent).
Lawrence has fantastic arm strength that allows him to hit far side throws, deep passes and overcome improper footwork on a majority of attempts. His quick passing motion has improved over the course of his career and the result has led to more reliable consistency. He’s blossomed as a big-play hunter who lacked drive-to-drive reliability to a more cerebral and consistent playmaker.
The numbers reflect his growth and development. In 2018 as a freshman, he was accurate on 74.6 percent of 331 passes, accurate on 61 percent of throws beyond 10 yards, with 65 percent of his throws coming under 10 yards. That’s a respectable number that would’ve had him towards the upper half of production of most draft-eligible quarterbacks in the last decade, let alone a freshman.
His sophomore year led to more control of the offense and deeper attempts. He also dealt with a shoulder injury through the first half of the year and he struggled with consistency until it healed. Only 59 percent of his throws were under 10 yards, but he was accurate on 72 percent of his throws and remained steady with 58 percent of throws past 10 yards being accurate.
He showed two different styles and remained in the above-average category of accuracy while still delivering huge chunk plays. It can’t be understated that he’s an excellent passer on intermediate routes and routinely delivers back-breaking throws that most in college won’t attempt.
Lawrence showed excellent growth mechanically since 2019. His front stride became more efficient and it has led to better balance on short and deep throws. The numbers reflect this. He was accurate on 77 percent on throws 0-10 yards (up from 76.6 as a freshman and 71 percent as a sophomore), 68 percent past the line of scrimmage (up from 64 percent as a sophomore) and 60 percent beyond 10 yards.
That puts him in the same company as past top picks Deshaun Watson, Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes.
Also important is he’s consistently good when under pressure. He tallied 137 accurate passes on 225 attempts for a 61 percent completion rate, with 29 touchdowns and five interceptions. He consistently owns conversion downs as well. This situational play is massive for evaluation and he’s shown the mental ability to perform under tough circumstances.
Sometimes it’s difficult to gain much from Lawrence’s performances because of the surrounding cast around him, the scheme and Clemson’s strength of schedule. The Tigers were so clearly the cream of the crop in the ACC that there are swaths of games where Lawrence did little outside of executing and they won in a blowout. He rarely played in the fourth quarter.
What happens when he doesn’t have an amazing surrounding cast in Jacksonville? His accuracy numbers were lowered across the board in 2019 compared to other years due to the mixture of his shoulder injury, rushed decision-making and unreliable mechanics. If he’s going to consistently bite off more than he should, turnovers and mistakes will stack. He’s an aggressive passer and accurate, but a breakdown of his throwing motion leads to overthrows on intermediate attempts and major underthrows on deep passes.
The deep passing game has been maddening for such a big-armed talent. He’ll leave open receivers scrambling to fight for the ball. This was mostly an issue in the season’s past, but something to watch for throughout this season. We’ve seen an elite deep passer in Joe Burrow struggle replicating that success in the NFL, so it’ll be fascinating to watch an accurate but not precise deep passer like Lawrence translate his skillset.
Overall, although Lawrence’s accuracy numbers compare to several star quarterbacks, he’s not in the dominant category. Andrew Luck was an A-plus creator and had the consistency with accuracy that few have ever had. Justin Fields, Mac Jones and Zach Wilson were all more consistent this past season and maybe the gap between them all isn’t as huge as once thought.
Lawrence does other things to overcome his peers, though. And has the physical and mental ability to continue getting much better.
Lawrence isn’t a foolproof prospect, but his traits and high-baseline make him a tremendous one. He has a terrific arm and brilliant mind that’s far too skilled for the collegiate game. He dominated most games without creating Heisman Trophy moments because he doesn’t have to exert the same amount of energy as others.
He makes it look easy until his own mistakes get in his way. His ball placement has been sharper this year than in the past and that will determine what kind of pro he is. The chunk plays and command of the game are similar to Deshaun Watson. Even better accuracy and precision could bring him to a Hall-of-Fame level like Ben Roethlisberger.
Is Lawrence worth the hype as the best prospect since Andrew Luck?
Yes, as long as expectations are that it doesn’t mean he’s perfect or done learning. He’s not quite as clean mechanically as Luck was but he’s the best blend of traits, skill and upside since the Stanford star.