Daniel Kelly spent four years in pro scouting with the New York Jets. He is the published author of the book “Whatever It Takes,” the story of a fan making it into the NFL.
Before the 2021 NFL Draft, analysts billed Trevor Lawrence as the prototypical quarterback prospect. He had size (6-foot-6 and 220 pounds), a powerful passing arm and a national championship ring with Clemson. Nearly all mainstream draft outlets had a first-round draft grade on Lawrence, who the Jacksonville Jaguars selected with the No. 1 overall pick.
At the time, I also had a first-round grade on Lawrence but with a 90% bust rate. That means he’s more likely to flame out in the NFL than become a superstar.
After watching college film, I concluded Lawrence grossly overused a mechanical play-action fake to hold and manipulate coverages and thus artificially create downfield-throwing windows. In college, he took advantage of blown coverages that left receivers running wide open, something that doesn’t happen often in the NFL.
A predraft Sports Illustrated cover story by Michael Rosenberg further raised my eyebrows. It noted the former Clemson star didn’t have a burning desire to play football. (In the article, Lawrence’s father said, “He’s not, ‘I want to win a Super Bowl at all costs.”)
More than two years later, I believe my bust-rate assessment of Lawrence looks spot-on. I know this is an against-the-grain assessment, but hear me out.
In two-plus seasons as a starter, Lawrence has a 14-25 record (regular and postseason). Yes, he engineered a remarkable comeback win from 27-point deficit against the Chargers last postseason, but aside from that game, he has been more ordinary than extraordinary. Great QBs lift teams, even Jacksonville, which hasn’t had stellar personnel.
In 2021, Lawrence’s QBR was 39.1 (28th in NFL), followed by 56.1 in 2022 (17th) and 41.2 (26th) so far in 2023. (QBR, released in 2011 by ESPN, incorporates all of a quarterback’s contributions to winning, including how he impacts the game on passes, rushes, turnovers and penalties. It’s much more reflective of a QB’s true value than the traditional passer rating.)
Additionally, Lawrence has thrown for 40 touchdowns and 27 interceptions, the sixth-most picks since 2021, per StatMuse.
None of this screams “once in a generation,” the words ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky — a former NFL QB himself — used to describe Lawrence before the draft.
I recently examined film of Lawrence’s games this season against the Colts, Chiefs and Texans. Here’s what stood out:
1. Bad ball placement in critical situations
Lawrence tends to play tight when the pressure increases and game situations intensify. On third down or with his team in the red zone, he seems to press. Lawrence throws even harder in these critical situations, causing his touch, accuracy and timing with receivers to sometimes go awry.
He had three incompletions on third downs against the Colts, five incompletions on third downs versus the Chiefs and one incompletion and one interception on a third down versus the Texans.
2. Lack of ball security
Outside of the two interceptions this season, Lawrence has thrown seven other passes that defenders have managed to get a hand on. That’s a total of nine compromised passes in the first three games (an average of three per game).