By now you’ve heard it all. He’s the next Andrew Luck. He’s a generational prospect. He’s got it all. But Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence is much more complex than that. He’s not a generational prospect and he’s not the next Luck. Not yet, at least.
Charting quarterback play is tedious and a bit subjective in nature, but necessary for context. For example, without charting, one might have believed that Jake Fromm was actually an accurate quarterback. Without charting it may have been difficult to understand just how special Joe Burrow’s ball placement was from the standpoint of consistency. It is a necessary evil, and it’s difficult to hide from.
Enter Trevor Lawrence, Clemson Tigers Quarterback
Enter Lawrence, the wonder kid from Cartersville, GA. One of the best, if not the best, high school recruit most have ever seen. Once he put together a seemingly strong freshman campaign, his reputation was near untouchable. That is until his underwhelming 2019 campaign combined with Justin Fields’ efficient season happened (we’ll get to him another time).
He didn’t look like the same player, especially during the beginning stages of 2019. The biggest issue with his season is one that could continue into 2020, potentially causing him to be usurped as the first overall pick in 2021 despite his unbelievable physical tools.
Trevor Lawrence’s ball placement and play charting
First, let’s add some necessary context to this. Placement charting is an admittedly subjective process. However, the results from most exercises are usually consistent with others in the industry that do the same.
For passes behind the line-of-scrimmage, the ball must be placed in the chest cavity not below the naval or above the facemask and must not hinder the ability for yards after the catch. The criteria for throws inside 10 yards is much the same. However, for example, if a receiver is getting draped in man coverage on a slant and the quarterback throws the ball low and away from the defender’s leverage, it is marked as good placement.
The same goes for throws up to 20 yards, but with a bit more wiggle room on where the ball is in the cylinder, as it can rise a bit above the head and below the belt. Throws downfield, because of the distance traveled can be more difficult. Sometimes receivers slow down. Sometimes guys get held. If you’re not certain, let the throw go. You don’t need them all.
Enter Lawrence, who surprisingly struggled at this crucial area of quarterback play. Of 217 chartable passes, 152 were deemed a plus on placement. That puts him at just a tick over the 70% mark, which lands lower than Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jordan Love, Anthony Gordon, and Ben DiNucci from my charting of 2020 prospects.
Lawrence and his particular talents
Lawrence has an incredible arm, however, so maybe those guys simply threw shorter route concepts at a higher volume than he did. Well, not necessarily.
Of the 217 attempts, 107 traveled past the 10-yard mark. So a fair comparison would be next to the three prospects I charter that attempted over 100 passes that went past 10 yards, and they are Burrow, Herbert, and Love.
Burrow: 86/125, 68.8%
Herbert: 65/105, 62.5%
Love: 70/101, 69.3%
Lawrence: 62/107, 57.9%
That’s a pretty significant difference, so we should probably look at this another way instead. After all, the main reason for the low number was his abysmal consistency on throws traveling past 20 yards, only adequately placing 19 of 46 attempts. That puts him dead last of the 10 quarterbacks I charted last season and something he must improve upon in 2021.
Comparing Lawrence to the 2020 first-round quarterbacks
So how does he stack up from 0-20 yards compared to the four first-rounders from 2020?
Burrow: 189/231, 81.8%
Tagovailoa: 95/128, 74.2%
Herbert: 99/142, 69.7%
Love: 128/149, 85.9%
Lawrence: 90/124 72.6%
We’re still not looking very generational, and his performance on third and fourth downs was a struggle as well, albeit on only 38 attempts (and six sacks). Although his numbers weren’t anything to write home about, he was at least aggressive on those downs, attempting exactly double the amount past the sticks as he did underneath the first down marker. One of the most admirable attributes he possesses is that aggressiveness without putting the ball at unnecessary risk (usually).
Another interesting observation was the near-complete lack of attempts once the Tigers’ offense got to the red zone. In the eight games charted there were only 15 total attempts inside the 20, which is interesting because this team averaged nearly 39 points per game in the eight charted. For those not wanting to do the math at home, that’s less than one attempt inside the red zone per game in 2020.
Lawrence takes advantage of his athleticism
There isn’t much to gain from charting those attempts, but I did. Lawrence correctly placed 10 of his 15 attempts, including a few incredible throws over the middle and some very well placed back-shoulder throws. He’s really able to take advantage of his superior athleticism and easy velocity in the tight confines of the red zone.
There were a few interestingly leveraged passes down deep, which could very well have as much to do with a slightly miscalculated leverage read than anything to do with his natural placement.
One area where Lawrence looks great is when he breaks the pocket. On 34 attempts, he placed the ball well on 25 of them, a clip higher than his throws from within the pocket. He’s a natural when moving to his left and escaping to the edges while keeping his eyes downfield. It’s an athletic move, and at the end of the day, that’s exactly what he is, an athlete.
Trevor Lawrence’s passing ability
Lawrence’s arm is a ton of fun. His arm mechanics are really efficient, and when he’s able to drive the ball to the intermediate or deep, the ball explodes out of his hand. His carriage is pretty low at times toward the bottom of his number, but instead of pushing up and back fully elongating the motion, he usually brings it just a hair behind his ear, making for a compact loading process.
From there, Lawrence displays effortless elbow velocity down the hallway and solid extension. His torso snaps through his throws, helping to supplement his overall velocity. His natural arm strength and his ability to activate his core through throws allow him to drive passes even when his base is compromised and has to throw retreating or moving away from pressure to his left.
That said, he does sometimes struggle to push the ball deep downfield on longer developing vertical routes. The pass releases flat, as if he’s in a hurry to get it there, and it falls short of the target. His receivers almost consistently did a great job fighting to get back to the ball and draw penalties, but that is something to note. He’ll also throw vertical routes with timing too flat, minimizing the margin for error and often leading to overthrows.
Trevor Lawrence a mix of Roethlisberger and Wentz?
Lawrence has a little bit of Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Wentz in him while working within the pocket. He stands tall and is willing to hold the ball for excruciatingly long periods of time, taking massive shots along the way, just like Wentz is susceptible to. The main differences are his ball security appears to be superb, keeping both hands-on throughout the process, and his ability to consistently get back up and remain in the game.
Like Big Ben, Lawrence is able to shake away from a large percentage of attempted arm tackles from defensive linemen to make a play. Come to think of it, there are a few Deshaun Watson plays out there as well, where he’ll release the ball to the flats as he’s falling to the ground.
However, Lawrence’s actual pocket manipulation needs a little work. That work could simply come in time. It took Dak Prescott until his fourth season in the NFL to get it.
Other aspects of Trevor Lawrence’s game
Lawrence has the ability to escape pressure and use his athleticism to make plays downfield, but the subtlety of slight adjustments and resets are inconsistently present in his game. The flashes are there, but I wish they happened more often. There are times he miscalculates the path of pressure and will move into it, while others he’ll stand statuesque and deliver a pass instead of sliding or slightly stepping up to avoid a rush and deliver a ball.
From a processing standpoint, there is a lot to like. First, his ball-handling with RPO’s and read options are outstanding. Lawrence rarely, if ever, made the incorrect call to give/keep or give/throw, and he gets a lot of practice in that Tigers’ offense. He’s also incredibly adept at hitting the most beautiful throw in the game. Consistently, Lawrence hits that sweet spot between a sitting corner and a flashing safety toward the sideline in Cover 2 with consistency thanks to his marriage of pre- and post-snap processing with initial reads.
He’s also very advanced attacking the right spots in zone coverage, and in man coverage, well, playing man is difficult against him because of this next trait.
Trevor Lawrence can also run with the ball
Lawrence is an incredibly gifted runner. As of today, this is his best attribute and what makes him so incredibly dangerous, despite being a work in progress in other areas. If a defense is playing man, and especially if they’re bringing five or more and playing Cover 1 or 0, and they aren’t absolutely disciplined in their rush lanes, he is going to make them pay dearly.
His vision as a runner is outstanding, and his ability to use his long legs and surprising fluidity on cuts allows him to quickly take up a considerable amount of space. This allows Lawrence to often make corners and safeties miss the mark on their tackle attempts.
Overall, Lawrence is a uniquely gifted quarterback who struggled as a sophomore just a season after setting the world on fire on his way to a national championship win. If he simply becomes more consistent in a few areas it’ll be difficult to envision any other player going first overall come April 2021. There are a few other young men, however, chomping at the bit for that title too.