If you’re not a fan of Clemson football (or whichever NFL teams earns the first-overall in 2021), there’s a decent chance you’ll grow to resent Trevor Lawrence in the very near future. That’s just how it goes for sports phenoms these days. The hype grows out of control. ESPN starts to cover the athlete a little too much. Sports pundits, looking to fill hours of air time, push back against the hype in an effort to say something interesting.
It happened with LeBron. It happened with Andrew Luck. It’s going to happen with Lawrence.
In the NFL scouting community, the hype was already overwhelming BEFORE he meticulously picked apart Alabama’s defense in the national championship game. On the day of the game, Bleacher Report ran a story featuring this quote from an anonymous NFL scout:
“I don’t think [calling him the best prospect ever is] hyperbole at all. “With what he now knows, his physical ability at 19 years old, how he wants to be coached and wants to be great, his ceiling is limitless. He makes throws now that guys in our league can’t make.”
And then Lawrence went out an embarrassed a Nick Saban defense in front of a national audience.
It wasn’t the first time a quarterback had gashed Alabama’s defense. But it was the way Lawrence went about it that made the performance so special. We’ve seen quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel and Deshaun Watson open up the Tide defense with their mobility, which then created opportunities in the passing game. But have we ever seen a QB tear apart Saban’s defense from the pocket? Not really…
Well, that’s what this 19-year-old true freshman did on the sport’s biggest stage.
That’s not the most impressive play, but there are a handful of NFL starters who aren’t that comfortable in the pocket. And there are only a handful of NFL quarterbacks capable of making this throw from the opposite hash.
There are even fewer capable of making this one…
I mean, that’s everything you want from an NFL quarterback. The bravery to hang in there and make a throw with a gigantic human being bearing down on him. The anticipation that allowed him to get the pass off before being pummeled and well before the receiver came open. And the accuracy to fit it in the tightest of windows.
That anonymous NFL scout was not exaggerating. Lawrence makes throws that you just don’t see very often on Sundays. The “Smash” concept — a two-man route combination with the outside receiver running a short hitch route and the inside receiver running a corner route — makes up like 90% of Clemson’s offense — OK, that’s a slight exaggeration — and Lawrence is liable to throw that corner route to either side of the field, which can be difficult with the wide college hash marks.
He almost never throws the safer hitch route. Checkdowns are always a last resort for him. Lawrence knows how good his arm is and has the confidence to make literally any throw. And he can get those throws off in a hurry.
Lawrence’s release is quick, but his mind is even quicker. He diagnoses defenses in a hurry which allows him to always throw on time and in rhythm.
SBNation’s Seth Galina, who put together a fantastic Twitter thread breaking down Lawrence’s game, referred to the Clemson star as a “robot sent from the future to destroy defenses,” and I can’t think of a better description so I won’t try.
I mean look at this guy’s mind at work…
Boston Colleg’s defensive end runs right around his blocker, giving him an open lane to Lawrence, whose first read takes his eyes to the other side of the field. With the rusher bearing down on him, Lawrence quickly finds an outlet on the backside of the play and makes an off-balance throw that clears the flat defender and hits his receiver in the hands.
All of the “wow” throws are great, but my favorite Lawrence play may have been this incomplete pass against Boston College that ended up drawing a defensive pass interference call.
It looks like a pretty routine play, but you need to see the end zone view to really appreciate the work Lawrence is doing here.
Lawrence’s first look is to his tight end to the right. He fails to beat his defender so Lawrence moves on to the slot receiver to his left while sliding away from pressure. That slot receiver is being bracketed and now the rush is closing in. So Lawrence calmly escapes while keeping his eyes downfield. While running to his left, the 19-year-old finally finds a receiver to throw to and puts the ball where only his guy can get it. That’s Andrew Luck-level quarterbacking from a dude who can’t buy beer.
So, yeah, the “greatest prospect ever” hype is totally justifiable. But Lawrence can be so much more than that. He could go down as the greatest college quarterback of all-time when all is said and done. In fact, I’d say it’s more likely than not that he does end his Clemson career as college football’s GOAT.
It’s not like there’s strong competition for that title. Outside of Peyton Manning and Roger Staubach, the greatest NFL quarterbacks are rarely included in that discussion. Instead, it’s guys like Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow. The great NFL prospects don’t stick around long enough to stack championships and put up gaudy career numbers. Wuerffel was the only college QB who threw at least 100 career touchdowns and won a national championship. With Lawrence stuck at Clemson for at least two more seasons and already at 30 career touchdown passes, he should be the second.
Only three quarterbacks have ever thrown 100 touchdowns and won a Heisman Trophy: Wuerffel, Ty Detmer and Baker Mayfield. Lawrence is the betting favorite to win it in 2019 and that isn’t likely to change in 2020. He could join that exclusive list as well.
Wuerffel is the only quarterback in both groups, but he wasn’t also considered a legit NFL prospect. He had to wait until the fourth round of the draft to hear his name called. Barring injury, Lawrence will be the first player off the board in 2021. You can set your mock drafts now. He would be the first pick in the 2020 draft. He would have been No. 1 in the most recent draft.
Whatever you want from your college football GOAT, Lawrence will have it by the end of his time at Clemson: The team success, the individual accolades, the numbers and, in due time, the title of greatest NFL prospect ever.
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