Trevor Lawrence Isn't Perfect; Why Deeming Him Generational is Dangerous
Photo by Richard Shiro/Associated Press
First thing's first; hear me out. You have been told for three years that Trevor Lawrence is a generational prospect, and he's flashed that potential at times. There are prominent draft analysts that are comparing Trevor Lawrence to Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning, carefully dancing around the criticisms that he should face by touting his arm talent, winning nature, and plus-athleticism. He has all of those things. He's a very good quarterback prospect, and I've graded him as such. This isn't an article for clicks, despite your instinct to claim it is. This isn't an article to tear the kid down either. This is an article to temper expectations for Lawrence as he enters the NFL, because the bar that's been set is far too ambitious. This is also an article to highlight the areas that Trevor needs to improve in, and perhaps shine a new light on how you watch him. Let's dive in.
The Inconsistent Placement
Your first argument will be: Trevor Lawrence is completing 69% (nice) of his passes this season, so how can he be inaccurate? Your second argument will be: I've seen some of the best-placed downfield throws come from this kid.
Both of those statements have weight, but they also don't paint the whole picture.
Here's a good example of how Trevor's accuracy statistics are propped up. Dabo Swinney and Tony Elliott have created one of the most dynamic, efficient college offenses. Trevor is often throwing on air; it's rare (but not entirely absent) that you'll see Trevor needing a perfectly placed ball. This makes his evaluation difficult, especially when the tight-window throws in his third year as a college starter have been less than impressive. Here's an example of unimpressive placement in a tight-window situation:
The idea was correct - a back shoulder placement was the best option here - but the execution was off. The example below highlights how some of his over-the-middle attempts can get away from him. He sails far more throws than you'd be led to believe, and it's been a problem since he stepped foot on a football field. My notes from my 2019 viewing of his film were, quite literally: "sails wide open throws to all three levels of the field." He hasn't done much to convince me I was seeing things, either.
The most concerning part of the intermediate inaccuracy is that it often results in game-changing interceptions. Obviously, the interceptions are less game-changing for Clemson than they will be for Jacksonville, but it's an issue, nonetheless.
Here's a deep throw instance in 2019 where Trevor is in a clean pocket, has single coverage on the outside, and sails the throw.
No quarterback makes every deep throw. Not Pat Mahomes, not Aaron Rodgers, not Tom Brady. But Trevor sails throws at an alarmingly high rate when coverage is tight. When he's throwing to a wide open receiver, he's accurate. Both of these situations are incorporated into his deep accuracy, but only one of these situations will be a constant at the next level.
The counterargument to this entire section is going to be "well no quarterback is accurate 100% of the time." I implore you to scroll back to the opening paragraph of this section and the 69% completion rate. That same number was attained by Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts in Air Raid offenses. Justin Fields - the QB1 in this class - completes 73% of his passes while running as pro-style an offense that you'll find in college football. And that brings me to my next point.
The Scheme Mask
I mentioned above that Swinney and Elliott have done an amazing job at crafting an offense that college defenses can't stop. Quick-hitting read options, screen passes, and occasional RPO rollouts are prominent in Clemson's dynamic offense. While that shouldn't always be viewed as a knock on a prospect (see: Justin Herbert), it also traditionally indicates that a team is masking issues. With Herbert, it was apparent that they were hiding his inability to make reads downfield (Brett Kollman did a really good pre-draft video of Justin Herbert and why his evaluation was so difficult - check it out). I'll talk about Lawrence's inconsistent read-ability later, but what I want to highlight here is exactly how much the scheme is used as a crutch.
I charted raw pass attempts (not factoring in penalties) and their location in six of Trevor Lawrence's games; Ohio State (2019), Virginia (2020), Wake Forest (2020), Virginia Tech (2020), Notre Dame (2020), and Miami (2020). Here are the results:
I charted four games of Justin Fields - simply as a point of reference (I understand the sample sizes don't match, but this is included just to highlight the difference between Justin Fields' pro-style offense and Trevor Lawrence's college-style offense) - and here are those results:
They're quite similar, but the difference can be found in the Behind the LOS statistics. Trevor Lawrence relies on the speed of his wide receivers to gain YAC in the Clemson offense. Justin Fields actually throws his wide receivers open. Oh, and:
I’d venture to bet that Trevor Lawrence is in the bottom half of college football over that same span of time. I bring up Fields because he's often labeled as a guy who benefits from his system. The contrast (and frankly, incorrectness) in the narrative is what boosts Trevor's value in the eyes of the general public, placing what could very well be an unattainable level of expectation on the kid's shoulders. There's a reason that DJ Uiagalelei threw for 781 yards, completed 69% (nice) of his passes, and 4 touchdowns in the two games that Trevor was out with COVID. The offense is incredibly friendly to quarterbacks. And the bottom line? Trevor benefits more in the Clemson system than any of the top-tier 2021 quarterback prospects do in their respective systems.
The Lack of NFL Reads
Most quarterback prospects aren't making NFL reads while they're in college; in fact, the reason Joe Burrow was touted as one of the more can't-miss prospects we've seen recently was mainly his ability to do so. Generational prospects do make NFL reads. But Trevor Lawrence struggles at times to effectively read mediocre college defenses. Here, he locks into his first and second reads for far too long. When he finally comes back around to the other half of the field, he missed his open receiver. He ends up trying to outrun an edge rusher and takes a sack. He needs to recognize that nothing will be there on the short-side and move onto the next read.
The same thing happens on this play. The pocket collapses, and Lawrence has already missed his first read up the seam to his short-side. Because the pocket has collapsed, he doesn't have time to get to what would seemingly be his second or third read: the out route on the far-side and bottom of the screen cap. The logical play is to get the ball to Travis Etienne and let him feast in the 7 yards of space he has between him and the closest defender. Instead, Lawrence panics as he tries to step up in the pocket and ends up taking a sack. Other quarterbacks in this class get knocked for their internal clock, but Lawrence's is just as questionable.
This one takes us back almost exactly one year, but is effective in displaying Lawrence's read locking. His first read is the receiver you see on the right side of the screen cap. He stares it down so long that he doesn't recognize the dropped linebacker sitting there waiting to take this ball to the house. He fires, a PBU ensues, and Lawrence can be considered lucky for making such a bad decision. This is a probable pick-six in the NFL.
If you don't have faith in my ability to evaluate film, let's look at stats.
In the same six games from above, Trevor Lawrence threw to his first read 80% of the time. He only moved onto his third read a total of 3 times in all six games. Meanwhile:
In four games, Justin Fields moved to his third read 10 times. He only threw to his first read 61% of the time. Again, the purpose of this piece isn't to prop Justin Fields up, but rather highlight the concerns that surround Lawrence that nobody seems to be discussing.
Why The Narrative Is Dangerous
You can do a quick Google search and find articles stacking Trevor Lawrence up against some of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Just a few weeks ago, The Draft Network ran a piece comparing Trevor Lawrence to John Elway, Peyton Manning, and Andrew Luck. He's not that; he's not incredibly far away from being at their level, though. For each issue that Lawrence has, he has an elite trait that makes you think "wow, he really may be the best I've ever seen." The kid is good. But setting expectations that he will be the next Andrew Luck is unfair when he simply has limitations that won't allow him to reach his level as a prospect. Andrew Luck was running a pro-style offense at an extremely high level and displaying some of the best traits a college quarterback has ever shown. In running a base offense that places Luck under center, it allowed us to see his footwork on his drops and say "that's 100% translatable." We don't have that with Lawrence.
It's well-known now that I have Justin Fields as my QB1, and a lot of what I listed here encapsulates my concern with Trevor Lawrence. I think there's a world where Trevor Lawrence fails to meet expectations; not because he's bad - he's going to have some level of success in the NFL - but because the expectations aren't attainable. Do I also believe that Trevor could ultimately become an all-time great? Absolutely. But it's important to take Trevor for what he is: a great quarterback prospect. Don't try to make him what he's not: a generational quarterback prospect.
Film was obtained via Caddy's Cutups.