Trevor Lawrence may be the savior of the Jaguars’ franchise. After a wild and exciting preseason debut in Jacksonville, however, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft is headed more toward a typical up-and-down rookie quarterback season than an immediate all-star campaign.
Lawrence played just two series and 15 snaps against the Browns on Saturday, but those were enough to show he will need time before he starts living up to the hype and promise as a passer. There’s no question about Lawrence’s physical pedigree, including an elite arm that was on full display. The support issues around the team — and Lawrence’s attempts to do too much to lift the offense as a result of them — require curbing the enthusiasm.
Cleveland, without top pass rushers Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, tested Lawrence early with pressure and strong coverage. That led to Lawrence having a mixed bag of shaky and great in his performance (6-of-9 passing, 71 yards, 7.9 yards per attempt, 90.5 rating, two sacks).
The Jaguars, who have hinted they will be a lot more dedicated to the rushing attack after leading the league in passing frequency last season, called for only four combined runs from the 1-2 punch of second-year undrafted gem James Robinson and rookie first-rounder Travis Etienne to Lawrence’s 11 dropbacks.
The ugly showed up on the first snap, when Lawrence held the ball too long in the pocket and was dropped by Browns defensive tackle Sheldon Day. The magnificent came on his seventh pass attempt, when he shuffled his feet to buy time and avoid a second consecutive sack and then dropped a downfield dime to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr.
With top wideout D.J. Chark (finger) on the shelf, Lawrence showed complete trust in fellow 11 personnel starters Jones and Laviska Shenault Jr. Lawrence hit Jones, the savvy former Bengal and Lion, on two strong short stick throws to the outside, the first when facing a six-man third-down pressure. He completed two quick targets on screens to the second-year speedster Shenault and misfired on another with little time to throw.
Lawrence’s other two incompletions came on a forced throw on a weird wheel route to No. 3 running back Carlos Hyde and a ball intended for Jones that sailed too high.
Even though coach Urban Meyer suggested earlier in the week that Lawrence is still in a battle with Gardner Minshew for the starting QB job, there’s no doubt he got the No. 1 treatment with the playbook. That was evident in the variety of his throws out of the shotgun and getting him into the flow of play-action.
Although offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell held back a good part of the game plan, the question remains how well the Jaguars will incorporate those Clemson-like RPOs into the flow. There’s additional concern about putting Lawrence in tough spots on third down by being too conservative on early downs. Jacksonville’s pass protection, especially on the perimeter, looks as if it will remain a significant issue.
Bevell has worked with two big-armed QBs with differing styles: Russell Wilson in Seattle and Matthew Stafford in Detroit. He needs to avoid Lawrence getting caught between dinking and dunking and letting loose in the most predictable situations. The early look suggests the Jaguars won’t be one of the NFL’s most creative offenses, including not designing running plays for the super-athletic Lawrence.
Lawrence’s talent will help him fight through the predictability and limitations of the offense. But it’s unrealistic to think there won’t be an equal share of mistakes, both forced and unforced. Every QB in the NFL, even the elite ones, need systems and personel variety that maximize their skill set. There should be more confidence that will happen for Lawrence after he gets done taking the necessary lumps.