Zwiller: Trevor Lawrence is trending towards bust
Thomas Zwiller | Monday, February 21, 2022
Once in a generation, a quarterback comes along who will change the balance of power in the NFL.
The last QB to be billed as such was Andrew Luck, and though his career was not as long as it could have been, it was still a great career. The most recent QB billed as such is Trevor Lawrence, a Heisman-winning national Champion out of Clemson.
The Jacksonville Jaguars took Lawrence first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, hoping he could guide the Jaguars back to relevance. However, the Jags possess the first overall pick this year, the first team in the modern draft era to have overall first picks in back-to-back years. Because the Jaguars have such a poor roster overall, people have yet to proclaim Lawrence a bust.
However, my co-host on the radio show Touchdown Rundown, Tony Nemeti, has said that Lawrence was a bust from day one. This season has only strengthened his position, so as the offseason begins, I thought it would be fun to look back and see if Jaguars fans should be optimistic or if they should expect to have the first overall pick next year too.
Lawrence vs. Luck
The best place to begin is by comparing Lawrence to Luck, the caliber of player he was compared to throughout the draft.
Luck was drafted number one overall by a Colts team that had gone 2-14 the year prior. He led the Colts to an 11-5 record in his first season. Dropping back 627 times, he completed 54.1% of his pass attempts for 23 touchdowns, 4,374 yards and 18 interceptions while being sacked 41 times. Rather good for a rookie, honestly.
Lawrence, drafted by the 1-15 Jaguars, had a worse performance. Dropping back 602 times, Lawrence completed 59.6% of his attempts, netting 3,641 yards, 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions while being sacked 32 times. The careers certainly did not have a similar starting point, so I would rather not build a projection off of Luck.
The next best way to look at Lawrence is by comparing him to some of the other rookie QB’s taken in the past few years.
Pro Football Reference collects Advanced Passing Numbers, one of my favorite stats that they track; it breaks down a QB’s passing statistics into Air Yards, Accuracy, Pressure and Play Type. The numbers I want to focus on are primarily from the accuracy and pressure categories; as much as I like air yards and play type, they seem slightly less relevant. However, the Passing Data only runs from 2018 to 2021, limiting the sample of quarterbacks we can look at to first-round draft picks in that time span.
That list includes Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert (I’m adding in second-round pick Jalen Hurts), Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson.
He was pretty accurate overall, 71.3% on target, 20.5% were bad throws and 5.7% dropped (the remaining percentage are throw-aways or spikes). Looking at his pressure, Lawrence got 2.4 seconds in the pocket on an average drop back. When dropping back, Lawrence was pressured 22.6% of the time, blitzed 147 times and pressured 151 times. He was hurried 67 times and hit 52 with 32 sacks.
First out as a similar quarterback to Lawrence is Hurts because of accuracy; his on-target percentage is 60.7%. He also has the additional problem of being that much more mobile than Lawrence, so for that reason, as does Lamar, that’s another one off the board. Add in Kyler Murray, too; his play style is slightly different from Lawrence. His sack total (48) is too high.
Next eliminated is Tua. The drop percentage on his throws checked in at 4.3%, and his on-target percentage (74.1%) is higher than Lawrence’s. The following two QB’s out of the conversation are Burrow and Herbert. While they have the same amount of sacks as Lawrence (32), the on-target percentage for Burrow was 75.3% and 76.5% for Herbert. In addition, their drop% (4.8%, 3.9%) and bad throw percentage (14.8%, 18%) are just too dissimilar to Lawrence.
I’ll get rid of Josh Allen too. Allen was blitzed, hurried and hit a lot less as a rookie (126, 54, 33). Allen was also a lot less accurate at 68.4%.
To get the list of similar QB’s down to three, the last quarterbacks to head for the exit will be Dwayne Haskins and Josh Rosen. Haskins played nine games and started seven. I discarded Rosen as the Cardinals did. Since he was traded to Miami, he did not play an entire season and is not a good data point.
The remaining young QB’s: Daniel Jones, Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold.
Jones, Mayfield and Darnold
Jones made it for a similar on target percentage and sacks while Mayfield made it because he had a similar enough pressure and drop percentage. Sam Darnold made it because of his sack numbers, pocket time, hurry-up, pressure and drop percentage. In addition, all three were selected because they played at least three seasons, so it would allow me to map out Lawrence beyond just one year.
Jones — despite playing more games in his second season — saw a significant statistical drop-off. In his rookie season, Jones had 24 TDs, 12 INTs, 38 Sacks, 3,027 yards on a 62% completion percentage to just 11 TDs, 10 INTs, 45 sacks and 2,943 yards on completion of 62.5%. He only played 11 games this season but had a similar story, 10 TD, 7 INT, 22 sacks and 2,428 yards on 64%. And it is hard to attribute the downtrend in stats on his offensive line. In each year, Jones has had a pocket time of 2.5 seconds, and his pressure rate was equally consistent.
Baker tells a similar story; he had a breakout rookie year of 27 TD, 14 INT 25 Sacks and 3,725 yards on 63.8% passing. However, he regressed to 22 TD, 21 INT 40 sacks and 59.4% completion percentage. This season was another rocky one as he went 6-8 record while having a statistically mediocre year.
Darnold had the worst rookie season of the bunch; he had a 17:15 TD: INT ratio, 30 sacks and a completion percentage of 57.7%. Darnold got worse and was replaced by Zach Wilson.
Lawrence vs. the past
All these QB’s started with various degrees of success and ended up regressing.
Adjusted passing, is a great way of giving a QB’s performance context. Darnold entered the NFL with an Average Adjusted Passing score of 88.89; now, it is 77.78. Mayfield started with the best of the trio at 106.33 but is currently an 88.33. Jones is the only one who has seen any improvement, starting at 91.44 and ending at 93.67.
So, while I certainly think Lawrence can improve, I am now skeptical that he will. Young QB’s are like any position, a complete gamble. You can project all you want, but on the field results are the only thing that matters. And after his rookie season, Lawrence is in danger of becoming a bust.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.