The hype is real: Trevor Lawrence is the next generational quarterback talent.
College football’s deep history features countless gridiron legends who were able to transcend their peers in the biggest games of their careers. Many were quarterbacks, of course, since the sport’s most important position has a massive influence on how games are decided. And though many of the best quarterbacks in college football history were unable to win a national championship, their lore will live forever for creating snapshot moments.
Each decade boasts its own set of greats. The 1980s had the most talented passer of all-time in Dan Marino, power-thrower John Elway, and diminutive Heisman winner Doug Flutie, among numerous others. The ’90s boasted Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, the two greatest collegiate quarterbacks I’ve seen.
The last 20 years has seen a massive boom in quarterback production and profiles. Baker Mayfield, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Robert Griffin, Colt Brennan and Matt Leinart were some of the superstars at the collegiate level.
Some went on to massive NFL success, while others were unable to replicate that success at the next level. Trying to find the next dominant gunslinger in both college and the NFL has us looking at Clemson Tigers sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
I put Lawrence through the same microscope as Marino, Manning, Brees, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Mayfield (click on each for a video thread) in order to chart his accurate passes and situational performance. This study has featured almost 100 quarterbacks, including old-school names and more recent draft classes. This data has been successful at giving a clearer snapshot on the potential upside and clearly weak prospects.
We’re going to compare Lawrence to the greats of the past using this data accumulated by watching every throw. Going back to the 2008 NFL draft class, Lawrence’s freshman season already ranked within the top-20 for the following categories of accuracy: 11-19 yards (69 percent accurate), overall accuracy (75 percent), accuracy beyond the line of scrimmage (70 percent), accuracy beyond 10 yards (61 percent), accuracy when pressured (62 percent), and conversion downs (78 percent). He also owns the lowest interceptable pass rate (interceptions plus dropped interceptions) of any player charted, with just 1.21 percent of his throws being deemed turnover-worthy.
Lawrence already accumulated the statistical profile of a bonafide No. 1 NFL draft pick, similar to Luck, Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins. Considering his age and immense skill set, he’s a generational talent who is worthy of the hype as a potential college football legend and future NFL All-Pro candidate.
The lanky 6-foot-6, 215-pound former five-star quarterback quickly grew into his starting role with the Tigers after mop-up duty early in the season. His developmental curve was astoundingly short, showing massive progress with his decision-making and confidence after limited playing-time until he was named the starter. By mid-season, Lawrence looked like a veteran with complete control of the offense.
His breakout performances at Georgia Tech and Wake Forest marked the first notable moments in his career. Lawrence has a quick release despite his length and has an excellent torque-creating motion that exhumes velocity. He hits tight windows with ease and regularly maximizes his receiver’s ability to run through their route and shield the ball away from defenders.
Clemson’s offense still has many of the basic passing principles as when Deshaun Watson was with the Tigers, making the comparison between the two natural. As great as Watson was for the program, watching each balance the line of staying within the structure of the offense and creation bodes well for Lawrence. Lawrence is significantly more accurate on deeper passes, and proficient on conversion downs, while also taking care of the ball in an unprecedented manner.
The scheme often asks him to make reads at the mesh-point for run-play options (RPOs), or take advantage of one-on-one matchups. It’s a simplistic offense considering the playmaking talent the Tigers have, but Lawrence executes it as well as any quarterback I’ve scouted.
He has so few weaknesses in his game that his most natural collegiate comparison that comes to my mind is to the best amateur quarterback I’ve seen: Drew Brees. One funny nugget that tied the two together as well: both were plagued by batted/tipped passes. Lawrence had a whopping eight, with two going for interceptions.
It certainly helps his production that he was surrounded by the likes of Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross, Hunter Renfrow and Amari Rodgers. But the same could be said for many, especially Mayfield and Murray benefiting from Lincoln Riley’s scheme and Oklahoma’s plethora of playmakers on those rosters. What matters most is the traits and consistency Lawrence exhibits.
He’s already as reliable as some of the best NFL passers at re-establishing his base on the move, and more than willing to take some of the creator burden by buying time in and out of the pocket. The naturalness to his approach is what so many quarterbacks lack and ultimately fall short due to. His gamer mentality and solid athleticism separate him from the robotic pocket passers that rely on structure to succeed.
The statistical comparisons to current and future Hall of Famers is promising, as well. His short accuracy was stronger than Brady, Brees and Rivers, and just behind Marino and Manning. His intermediate accuracy was only behind Brady. He’s first among the group in both throws beyond the line of scrimmage, throws past 10 yards, and on conversion downs.
Though this doesn’t guarantee NFL success, since guys like Cody Kessler and Blake Bortles managed to score well with accuracy charts, the numbers confirm what can be seen on game days, which can’t be said for the two aforementioned NFL backups. Lawrence’s domination of Notre Dame and Alabama weren’t needed to verify that he was more gifted than another productive passer in Bryce Petty, for example, but he was the best offensive player in those matchups, with a clear next-level talent that leaped above his competition.
Both Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa have similar numbers to each other, a testament their respective futures. But Lawrence is more physically gifted with his natural velocity and frame.
His lone directional passing weakness is to the left on intermediate throws, which is more about his balance and core strength than anything else. It’s reasonable to expect that to continue improving as he gains mass on his frame. Even if it doesn’t, he passes every other filter with flying colors like Luck, Mayfield, Haskins and Teddy Bridgewater have in recent years.
There may not be much more of a physical upside for Lawrence to unlock with his remaining two years in college. He can go a few percentage points higher in terms of accuracy and challenge the top spots in my database, but it’s not needed to make the claim he’s as strong of a prospect as Brees, Manning and any other quarterback name that can be thrown out there.
His mental acumen makes the entire engine run, which was spelled out beautifully by Inside the Pylon’s Seth Galina. The leverage reads that he’s correctly identifying routinely is at a high NFL-caliber already. It’ll be fascinating to see what defensive coordinators come up with to confuse him over the next two seasons.
As powerful and talented as Alabama is, the wildcard of Lawrence’s big-play ability and well-roundedness may be impossible to overcome while he’s in college. He should be the favorite for the Heisman in 2019 and any other result than the Tigers winning the national title would be a surprise. Not all of that expectation is solely on Lawrence’s shoulder, but the combination of him and the surrounding cast.