HomeNFLMichael Lombardi: It's Now or Never for Trevor Lawrence

    Michael Lombardi: It’s Now or Never for Trevor Lawrence

    Former NFL GM Michael Lombardi separates the reality from the perception of Trevor Lawrence.

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    Can Trevor Lawrence Be Elite?

    Perceptions can be powerful. Often more powerful than the truth. They also prevent us from searching for the truth. Perceptions are like blinders trainers place on their racehorses to prevent them from looking around. Professional athletes often gain a certain perception because of a good game, good season, or their draft status, which places them in good standing and once there, no one notices. English author C.S Lewis said, “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing.” And when the perceptions are standing good, no one searches for the truth. So, where do you stand on Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence?

    Are you wearing blinders? DraftKings set the Jags win total at 9.5 which “sorta, kind of, maybe” implies, they don’t know where they stand on Lawrence. If Trevor Lawrence was as good as the perception or his standing in the draft, the number should be over 10. The problem is no one knows where to stand on Lawrence—not because of his play the first three years in the league, rather the unknown. 

     

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    The unknown is a vast wasteland exclusively reserved for players with so-called great potential. It’s a place where everyone (coaches, executives, fans) keeps waiting for Trevor Lawrence to show those generational skills we all thought we saw at Clemson. It’s the waiting room of a fancy office with nice chairs, great magazines, and endless amounts of coffee. I’m in that room. I’m waiting. I was on board the Lawrence train big time, in the front with the conductor, singing his praises. But like all waiting rooms, my patience is running dangerously thin. 

    When I first saw Trevor Lawrence as a skinny kid with a long body frame, great arm and more than enough athletic talent, I knew he’d be the first pick in the draft. He looked like the next Peyton Manning—forty-one college starts, a National Championship, 90 touchdowns, just 17 interceptions, and a 39-3 record. The kid had everything you want in a franchise quarterback, and when the Jags received the first pick in the draft that season, their future looked bright. Then he met Urban Meyer. And like all things Meyer touched his one and only year in the NFL, it was bad—really bad. So, as we all waited in the unknown waiting room, we had a legitimate excuse. It was all Meyer’s fault.  

    Two years later, were still sipping cold coffee, still passing the old magazines around. Even with quarterback guru Doug Pederson as the head coach, we are waiting.  Lawrence hasn’t moved from the unknown to the knowing. What worries me, and I am sure worries the Jags, is that he seems to be regressing. He seems to be moving from the unknown to a place where the other five quarterbacks in his 2021 draft class have moved—the none starting room. He is consistently inconsistent. His accuracy hasn’t improved, in fact it’s gotten worse with Dougie.

    Last season, his on target percentage was 74.3, down two points from his second year in the league. His percentage of bad throws was 18.8%, closer to his rookie season than his second year at 15%. He has at least one ball batted down at the line of scrimmage per game and 33 over the last two seasons, which is inexcusable for a tall quarterback. Those are wasted plays. Even though the Jags improved their drops from 40 in Year 2 to 24 last year, Lawrence’s numbers don’t shine. In fact, they don’t even flicker. 

    Lawrence is 20-30 as a starter and has never averaged more than 7.1 yards per attempt in his career, which is a killer number. For someone with a great arm, he hasn’t been able to work the ball down the field.

    And I don’t want to hear the Jags need more skill to help Lawrence. They had plenty of skill talent. They haven’t had a skilled passer—be honest, don’t lie to yourself. Lawrence takes way too many chances with the ball, resulting in 38 career interceptions. He makes too many mental mistakes and hurts his team more than helps.

    His mechanics and fundamentals are never the same. He seems to be pressing. He seems to be playing with more tension than the relaxed player we saw as a freshman leading the Tigers to a National title. He looks nothing like the kid from Clemson. As he enters his fourth year with a $25 million option awaiting after the season, this year will be the defining moment. The waiting room needs to close down. Lawrence will be known, one way or another.    

    Compare Brock Purdy to Lawrence and it’s not a fair fight. And it has nothing to do with the elite skill the 49ers have around Purdy. It has everything to do with Purdy’s instincts, awareness, and ability to play the position with rhythm. Lawrence seldom plays with a great sense of timing or rhythm. He makes too many assumptions with the ball, which forces him into horrible mistakes.

    For a player with 91 career starts over his college and pro careers, he plays the position with a robotic style. Nothing seems natural. The game is moving too fast for him, which is why his yard per attempt is always low. When the game moves fast for any quarterback (think Ryan Tannehill, Daniel Jones), players lacking a great sense of instincts and feel will get rid of the ball quickly, taking the easy throw instead of waiting for a split second longer to drive the ball down the field. Normally, this shows up on third down, as the pressure packages from the defense create confusion for the quarterback.

    For Lawrence this occurs on every down, as he has thrown 18 of his career 38 interceptions on second down. What makes matters even worse is his first down numbers, which is the easiest down to throw the ball, are not impressive. First down raises his yards per attempt to 7.3 which is better than his average but well below what a great quarterback normally produces. Purdy averages 10.3 yards per attempt on first down. 

    Had Lawrence been a second or third round pick, his play wouldn’t be acceptable.  Many would believe they Jags need a better player. His pedigree and perception are why we’re all waiting in the unknown wasteland waiting room hoping it will all click. But will it? And even if it clicks, are those clicks going to be good enough? Playoff good enough? Super Bowl good enough? 

    Past performance is the best indicator of future achievement. Those who believe Lawrence will click, are relying on the past from Clemson, not Jacksonville. I am highly doubtful he can become what I thought I saw in college. Pederson needs to accept the reality that Lawrence isn’t generational. He needs to help Lawrence by not placing the ball in his hands all the time.

    Allow the supporting cast to help. The Jags were sixth in the league in passing attempts and 30th in yards per attempt rushing. Those numbers need to move in the opposite direction. It’s hard to call runs when they don’t work, and it’s even harder to call pass plays with a turnover-prone poor decision-maker quarterback.  Pederson must make the Jags tougher and more physical and make the game simpler for Trevor Lawrence.  If he doesn’t, there will be another coach trying to save Lawrence. At that point, the unknown waiting room will be empty. 

    FYI, I’m taking the under 9.5 for the Jags.   

    Michael Lombardi
    Michael Lombardi
    Michael Lombardi, a seasoned NFL executive with over 35 years of experience, boasts three Super Bowl wins and a career spanning roles with the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, and Cleveland Browns, where he was the general manager. Lombardi's extensive background includes coaching, executive roles, and media analysis, with TV appearances on CBS Sports, Showtime, and NFL Network. He has also contributed to NFL.com and Sports Illustrated, among other media outlets.

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