What’s in Store For Trevor Lawrence in Year Two?

Image via CBS Sports

Coming out of Clemson, Trevor Lawrence was thought to be the next great thing at the quarterback position. He checked every box you wanted to see from a prospect, and instant success became the expectation upon his arrival in Jacksonville.

It didn’t turn out that way.

The Jaguars were a bad team with Lawrence under center. He had an up and down (and down again) rookie season where he threw 12 touchdowns to 17 interceptions, posted a below average completion percentage (59.6%), and finished the season with just 3 wins.

Simply put, traditional statistics indicate Lawrence had a poor rookie season — but was that really the case?

It’s hard to pin many of the Jaguars’ struggles on their rookie quarterback.

They were a one-win team in 2020, so it’s not like Lawrence was quarterbacking a roster flush with talent. To make matters worse, for most of the season, he was coached by a guy who skipped team flights, belittled his staff, and allegedly kicked his players.

Despite the uphill battles he faced, Lawrence’s rookie season provided the Jaguars with reason for optimism. He consistently flashed the skills that prompted Jacksonville to take him first overall in last year’s draft, and he certainly ended his season on a high note.

In week 18, the Colts came into Jacksonville needing a win to earn a spot in the playoffs. It was a high-stakes game for Indianapolis, but Jacksonville had seemingly nothing to play for.

Despite the misaligned incentives, it was clear from the start that Lawrence and the Jaguars weren’t going down without a fight. Jacksonville scored a touchdown on their first possession of the game, and Lawrence made big play after big play to lead his team to victory.

The first of those big plays came when the Jaguars faced their first 3rd down of the game.

They needed 13 yards — a situation offenses don’t convert very often — and Lawrence made this one look easy. He identified the coverage before the snap, made a quick read, and fired a strike to Marvin Jones between a few Colts defenders that went for 17 yards:

Then Lawrence did it again on another third and long later that same drive.

Jacksonville needed 10 yards for the first, and Indy responded by dialing up a blitz. The rookie was unphased as he rolled to his right, escaped pressure, and connected with Jones for another first down:

This is the stuff you want to see out of a franchise quarterback.

When it’s third and long, there’s only so much a coaching staff can do to put the offense in a position to succeed. Sometimes your quarterback needs to make a play that beats the odds — Lawrence proved on multiple occasions he can do exactly that.

Of course none of that matters if you can’t get the ball into the end zone. Lawrence capped off the Jaguars’ opening drive by tossing a 2-yard touchdown to Laquon Treadwell. While getting Treadwell into the end zone is impressive in its own right, it was Lawrence’s second touchdown of the day that was his most impressive.

On a 3rd and Goal from the 3-yard line, Lawrence pulled a rabbit out of a hat and turned this broken play into 6 points:

Every once in a while, a quarterback gets credited for a touchdown because one of his playmakers makes an outstanding play. On this one, all the credit goes to Lawrence — his athleticism, instincts, calm demeanor, and arm talent propelled the Jaguars into the end zone on this drive.

This is the Trevor Lawrence Jacksonville hoped they were getting when they drafted him with the first overall pick. A guy who can — when all else fails — make some magic of his own.

This upset victory over Indianapolis was Lawrence’s best game of the season, but we can’t fairly evaluate his performance without also looking at his worst.

In week 14 the Jaguars traveled to Nashville to take on another division rival and the AFC’s #1 seed — the Tennessee Titans.

Tennessee’s defense made life miserable for Lawrence in this one. They snagged four interceptions, sacked him three times, and prevented Jacksonville from scoring a single point.

No matter how you slice it, four interceptions is an awful outing, but if we go beyond the box score, Lawrence’s performance looks less concerning.

The first of his four picks was the result of an egregious drop that even his harshest critics wouldn’t have pinned on him. While it’s easy to finger point on Lawrence’s first pick, his second fell squarely on his own shoulders:

The Titans showed a blitz on this one, and almost immediately upon receiving the snap an unblocked defender was heading straight for Lawrence. He knew he needed to get the ball out quickly, and his initial read indicated 1-on-1 coverage with no additional help:

Unfortunately for Jacksonville, this isn’t what happened.

Kudos to the Titans for dialing up a well disguised coverage that baited Lawrence into throwing the interception. Right as he was getting ready to throw the ball, two of Tennessee’s blitzing linebackers dropped into coverage and congested the throwing lanes Lawrence expected to be open:

This one is clearly a miss on Lawrence’s part.

Whether it was a result of the pressure or simply a misread, it’s clear he didn’t see the linebacker who came away with the interception here.

While Lawrence is at fault for this one, it’s not uncommon to see rookie quarterbacks (even those with a high pedigree) make mistakes in these situations. This is a tough defensive concept to identify in the blink of an eye, and it’s even tougher when it’s coming from one of the league’s best defenses.

The hope in Jacksonville is that as Lawrence becomes more familiar with NFL defensive schemes, improvement will follow suit. There’s no guarantee the improvement will come, but these types of mistakes are relatively common among rookie quarterbacks. These interceptions shouldn’t drastically alter the perception of a young quarterback (at least not in year one).

Lawrence’s third and fourth interceptions came late in the fourth quarter with the Jaguars trailing by three scores. He started playing a high-risk, high-reward brand of football with the intention of getting Jacksonville back within striking distance.

You never want to see your quarterback throw an interception, but at this stage in the game, the throws were at least justifiable.

If Lawrence made these mistakes in a tie ball game or when the Jaguars had a lead… that’s a different story. In this particular situation though, the aggressiveness is something you can live with. Most NFL coaches would rather see this outcome than watch a quarterback play conservatively until the clock reaches 0:00.

Plays like these filled Lawrence’s rookie stat sheet with blemishes that don’t accurately represent his quality of play. The numbers may look uninspiring, but the context behind them tells a different story. Throughout his rookie campaign dropped passes were common, playing with a lead was rare, and savvy defensive play calls occasionally got the better of him.

There are parts of Lawrence’s game that need improvement, but it’s too early in his career to let these areas overshadow everything he does well on a football field.

So what can the Jaguars do this offseason to put Lawrence in a better position to succeed? One of the moves they already made was a good starting point.

By hiring Doug Pederson, the Jaguars brought in a head coach who has a reputation as being quarterback friendly.

Pederson played quarterback in the NFL for over a decade, spent numerous years coaching and learning under Andy Reid, and was the head coach of the Eagles when they won the Super Bowl. His entire approach to coaching is quarterback-centric, and he’ll do everything in his power to make sure Lawrence is put in a position to succeed in 2022.

One of the things Pederson is likely already doing is lobbying the Jacksonville front office to get him some help on offense.

The Jaguars hold the number one pick in the draft (again), and all signs indicate they’ll spend that selection on an offensive tackle to protect Lawrence’s blind side for years to come.

The investment on offense shouldn’t stop there.

Jacksonville also has the second most cap space available this offseason, and they should spend big in free agency to get him some weapons to throw to and further help along the offensive line. They can’t risk hampering his development by trotting him out there for another season with a weak supporting cast.

A good quarterback on a rookie contract has become the most valuable commodity in the NFL. The Jaguars have Lawrence locked up through 2024 with a 5th year option in 2025. We just saw Cincinnati serve as a prime example of how quickly a team can ascend with a good young quarterback in house. It’s time for Jacksonville to follow that same blueprint by building around Lawrence and trying to capitalize on his low cap hit.

With some continued development from Lawrence, an upgrade at head coach, and a (hopefully) improved roster all around, the Jaguars look ready to pounce in 2022.

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