Trevor Lawrence has rightfully been in the 2021 NFL Draft’s QB1 discussion since his true freshman season at Clemson (and even before, given his pedigree). Even in a class of players like Justin Fields and Trey Lance, it’s hard to not call Lawrence worthy of the first pick in the upcoming draft.
Lawrence stunned the college landscape with his National Championship run after taking over for incumbent starter Kelly Bryant. The label of “Generational QB" was placed, and Peyton Manning comps were thrown at Lawrence.
This sort of pressure from early on would typically weigh on a player and potentially cause them to underperform expectations but Lawrence shouldered that and pressed forward. What proceeded was a college passer rating that went up each year along with his adjusted yards-per-pass-attempt.
Lawrence even ran more often throughout his sophomore and junior seasons, displaying athleticism that will absolutely translate to the next level given his mix of size, speed, and agility.
That being said …
Should Anyone Besides Trevor Lawrence Go First Overall?
I prefer “Should" to “Could." The collective 2021 NFL Draft mind hive is locked into Lawrence as the top pick.
Trevor Lawrence is an elite quarterback prospect in any sense of the word. His traits on and off the field are that of a leader who can carry any NFL organization. He even has his iconic, signature hair that makes him stand out.
The question of whether he is the first overall pick is not intended to be a knock on him as great, rather, HOW great? Yes, he is unquestionably a top QB prospect.
But are we participating in a group “take-lock" by sticking with him despite the presence of another great QB in this class who has had his name slandered due to the narratives that surround him rather than his actual performance on the field?
Justin Fields is as good of a QB prospect as Trevor Lawrence, if not better.
They were the top-two prospects coming out of high school in 2018, yet their paths went in opposite directions as true freshmen. Lawrence was able to usurp his team’s incumbent, struggling starter while Fields was relegated to a change-of-pace QB role behind Jake Fromm, who had performed well enough to hold the job.
The mistake that goes into knocking Justin Fields is that he couldn’t beat out the starting QB to start as a freshman and subsequently had to transfer to get that role as a sophomore.
By all means, it is easy to understand why this is the perception, but in Georgia’s eyes, it’s not that they didn’t see Fields’ talent, but that Fromm had given them no reason to move on. Kirby Smart and the staff viewed this as an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" situation where Fromm had just posted 57 total touchdowns to 13 interceptions through his first two years while increasing his completion percentage from a 62 to 67%.
The Georgia offense has been heavily predicated on the run and was functioning well enough with Fromm’s accurate, short-to-intermediate passing attack. The Bulldogs were 24-5 from 2017-2018, and Jake Fromm played every game.
Now, look at Kelly Bryant and Clemson. After losing National Championship QB Deshaun Watson to the NFL, the Tigers were primed for another run with future NFL stars throughout the offense and defense. Kelly Bryant’s mobility was a plus as he rushed for 11 touchdowns in 2017 but his ratio of 13 passing TDs to 8 interceptions was mediocre. Bryant had the Tigers off to a fine start that led to a deflating 24-6 loss at the hands of 4-seed Alabama in that season’s College Football Semifinal.
Bryant had come into the 2018 season as the starter once more, leading Clemson to wins in their first two games before exiting Week 3 versus Georgia Southern with a chest injury. Trevor Lawrence played the majority of that game and did more than just manage versus a significantly weaker opponent. He posted 194 yards on 19 attempts with 1 TD and 1 INT. His downfield passing looked nothing like what Bryant had ever done given his arm talent but Bryant remained the starter heading into Week 4.
Bryant downplayed the chest issue that next week versus Georgia Tech before getting pulled for poor performance in the second quarter for backup Lawrence, who ended up tearing the ACC rival to shred to the tune of 176 yards on 18 attempts, a 72.2% completion percentage, and 4 TDs with just 1 INT.
Lawrence asserted himself as the alpha on the field and never looked back while Justin Fields was not presented with the same opportunity. Fromm was healthy all throughout his sophomore season and Fields never was asked to throw more than 8 times in a single game.
While Fields was statistically better than Fromm this came in such a small sample and Fromm had not given the team a reason to move away from him. After Fromm was named the starter for 2019, Fields decided to move on elsewhere that could utilize his talents.
We are partaking in revisionist history by stating Lawrence “earned" his job as a true freshman while Fields could not. It took a Kelly Bryant injury for Lawrence to prove himself and while he did with all intents and purposes, it’s because he had the opportunity to. We do not know what this would have looked like if Kelly Bryant had stayed healthy and kept the Tigers winning.
Why Justin Fields Is Worthy Of The No. 1 Pick
Fields has better touch on his throws downfield.
This is not something quantifiable and is subject to dispute, but from watching these two extremely talented QBs operate over the past few college seasons, it is evident that Lawrence has shown to press the ball on his deep throws while Fields drops them in more naturally and has better control over his throw speed/accuracy.
Not to comp Justin Fields to Russell Wilson (they aren’t too alike), but the deep passing ability is reminiscent.
— ESPN (@espn) January 12, 2021
Fields manipulates his arm strength as well as you could ask a QB prospect to do.
It’s a tricky game allocating artificial “points" to quarterbacks or any position at that for their respective traits. Lawrence’s arm talent is much more prevalent on his middle-of-the-field throws, where he can force a pass between defenders like a bullet colliding with another.
However, Fields can replicate this better than Lawrence can replicate Fields’ downfield touch.
This throw by Justin Fields is literally hypnotizing
— The Victory Bell (@VictoryBellOSU) January 5, 2021
If you want to look at surface stats, the claim that Trevor Lawrence has never had a season as good as Justin Fields’ 2019 could be made. While Lawrence is the one to have actually won a National Championship, Fields did outplay him in their most recent matchup in the College Football Semifinals this past New Year’s Day.
While Lawrence faced a much tougher defense, Fields showed resilience playing through damaged ribs, which is not easy to do (ask anyone who’s broken a rib, let alone multiple).
They both can extend plays with their legs and create yards on the ground. Both work through contact well and profile as durable runners. The bottom line, however, is that Lawrence is much more of a golden boy — and deservedly so given his flawless profile. He’s big, mobile, strong, accurate, a championship winner etc.
Justin Fields is all of those things sans the championship while also having transferred schools and dealing with this faulty narrative hanging over him.’
Betting Advice for First Overall Pick in 2021 Draft
Despite the Urban Meyer connection with Fields from Ohio State, Trevor Lawrence is going first overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
There is hardly any debating this because he has the fewest obvious question marks, and teams value marketable athletes as much as they do talent.
When you have a mix of the two at the highest level, it’s hard to debate, though I tried. Fields deserves that much.