The Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the NFL‘s most pleasant surprises in 2022. Thanks to a five-game winning streak to end the year, the Jaguars won the AFC South and made it to the Divisional Round before bowing out. With quarterback Trevor Lawrence entering his third season, expectations have risen for the franchise.
The bar for elite quarterback play in the AFC is extremely high. We dive into whether Lawrence can become an elite quarterback in 2023 and what it’ll take for him to get there.
Can Trevor Lawrence Become an Elite Quarterback in 2023?
The NFL offseason is often filled with ridiculous superlatives as everyone tries to pass the time until players are back on the field in the fall. This is especially true for TV programs that have hours of programming to fill and the need to draw in eyeballs. A good example of this came from Kyle Brandt of NFL Network’s Good Morning Football when he put each of the AFC quarterbacks into one of seven tiers.
These listings are subjective, but Lawrence was in a tier with two clear below-average quarterbacks — Kenny Pickett and Mac Jones — and then a solid one in Tua Tagovailoa. Lawrence was also one tier below Jimmy Garoppolo and two tiers below the corpse of Russell Wilson. It was a bizarre segment that felt made for social media clickbait.
Lawrence responded by saying, “The game ain’t played on paper,” because Brandt eluded to some statistics that skewed against the young passer but failed to make a strong point. While the segment isn’t overly important, it does spark the discussion about Lawrence’s growth under Doug Pederson in his first year with the head coach.
Only 23 years old, Lawrence was able to find his stride at the right time in 2022. The Jaguars hit an embarrassing low between Week 5 and Week 8, dropping games against Houston and Denver at home, with another loss to the Colts on the road. Considering the team had spent a record $266 million last offseason, it was a critical moment in the franchise’s season.
Pederson, after experiencing high peaks and low valleys as the head coach in Philadelphia, correctly stated, “Now is the time we have to continue to rally around each other.” Changes needed to be made, but the difference between winning and losing ultimately came down to timely playmaking from the offense.
Lawrence hit a growth spurt almost immediately after the Jaguars lost 21-17 to the Broncos in London.
After tallying six interceptions in eight games, Lawrence had only two more over the rest of the regular season. He also saw his completion rate jump dramatically, completing at least 62.5% of his passes in eight of his nine following games. He had hit that mark in only three of his first eight matchups.
Though Lawrence isn’t quick to point out his successes and has been consistent in caring only about winning over stats, he acknowledged he focuses on limiting turnovers as a place he can always improve. As soon as Lawrence honed in as a consistent decision-maker and improved his completion rate, the Jaguars became immediate contenders.
Though Lawrence doesn’t care about what the numbers say, his visible growth and comfort playing within Pederson’s offense were directly reflected in the numbers. He was a top-10 quarterback in several advanced metrics, including money throws (seventh), accuracy rating (ninth), play-action completion rate (eighth), true passer rating (sixth), and expected points added (seventh).
Key performances against Kansas City, Baltimore, Tennessee, and Dallas proved that the Clemson product hadn’t lost that calmness he had shown in big moments throughout his collegiate experience. In each of the biggest games of the second half of the season, Lawrence showed out.
His two playoff matchups against the Chargers and Chiefs brought some impressive highs, including a ridiculous second-half comeback against Los Angeles. Lawrence led a historical comeback after falling behind 27 points, overcoming four interceptions that could’ve easily snowballed into a blowout.
While his run ran out against a red-hot Chiefs team that was too physical for the Jaguars to withstand, Lawrence was only a timely throw or two away from upsetting the eventual Super Bowl champions. And it’s the missed opportunities that serve as a path for growth, which should be scary for opponents.
Now in Year 2 with the same surrounding cast and system, Lawrence will need to cut down on turnovers — he ranked 24th with 18 interceptable passes last season — while increasing his accuracy. He was only 16th in accuracy from a clean pocket and red-zone completion rate. Considering Jacksonville was No. 1 in pass protection, Lawrence can’t compromise one of the special things about the Jaguars’ heavy investment in the unit.
Lawrence’s inconsistency with accuracy isn’t shocking. I charted every pass he made at Clemson, and though Lawrence was an incredible talent, he made up for relatively routine misses and a lack of consistency with chunk plays. He’s that same player through two years, relying on the splash plays more than being an automatic passer.
It’s a tough task to improve on something that can be limited by physical build, but the AFC has several players who have been able to clear that hump, including Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.
He’ll once again have the big stage to prove himself plenty of times throughout the 2023 regular season. The Jaguars will host home games against the Chiefs, 49ers, Bengals, and Ravens this season. They’ll travel to face Cleveland and Buffalo, marking an extremely challenging schedule.
There’s no guarantee Lawrence will break into the NFL’s elite in 2023, and he’ll have immense competition to get there. Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa, and Los Angeles’ Justin Herbert each have room to improve but are impressive talents in their own right. The second tier of the AFC very well may come down to which passer takes the biggest leap forward.