While hundreds of players, media and league personnel gather in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, the consensus expectation is Joe Burrow will be selected No. 1 overall in the 2020 draft on April 23. Insert "Trevor Lawrence" 12 months in the future and the story will likely be the same.
Burrow, though, rose from a late-round afterthought to the near-unanimous projection. Lawrence will have occupied the title for several years, which is not dissimilar to Tua Tagovailoa's history.
Only, after Burrow's rise and a hip injury, Tagovailoa is merely a potential top-five pick.
Does any quarterback have a legitimate chance to catch Lawrence, as Burrow did with Tagovailoa? History has shown that NFL teams will pick a potential franchise quarterback above any elite prospect at another position, and Lawrence is certainly that.
The situations—while comparable—are not identical. Tagovailoa has his injury concerns, and the 6'0" southpaw lacks prototypical quarterback size and spectacular velocity. Those negatives were often mentioned during the "Tank for Tua" talk.
Lawrence, meanwhile, is listed at 6'6" and has an impressive throwing speed that topped 61 mph when he was a freshman in 2018. For reference, per OurLads, only Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen threw a faster ball at the NFL combine from 2008 to 2019.
More than a calendar year from the 2021 NFL draft, Lawrence is clearly the top-rated eligible player. Plus, his prospect pedestal is starting a fair bit higher than Tagovailoa's perch thanks to the size, velocity and dual-threat advantages.
All of that is the long-winded way of saying: Good luck catching Lawrence.
By no means is that a shocking statement. If you follow college football even casually, you're familiar with the quarterback who's guided Clemson to the national championship stage in both of the last two seasons, winning the title once.
In all likelihood, Lawrence will be praised as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck (2012). You might already know that.
So, perhaps there's a better question: What would it take for Lawrence to lose his standing as the projected No. 1?
The elephant in the room is an injury—something we never want to consider. Still, this is football. It's a violent game, and Lawrence will be the target of defenders for 500-plus plays in 2020. Forget the targeting discussion of the following play; Shaun Wade's hit on Lawrence in the Fiesta Bowl is a perfect example of the risk a quarterback accepts on any given snap.
We're not dwelling on that topic, but it must be mentioned—injury is the major concern for Tua, after all.
Strictly on the field, Lawrence's top draft-eligible competition is Ohio State's Justin Fields. He's a pass-first dual-threat quarterback who accounted for 3,757 yards and 51 touchdowns last season.
Through seven weeks in 2019, Fields outperformed his counterpart at Clemson. Lawrence struggled with forcing passes—trying to do too much, in his words. Fields had some fumbling issues but tossed one interception in his first 13 games last season.
However, unless Lawrence encounters a similar struggle he can't shake, NFL teams won't be scared away. He totaled 26 scores and zero interceptions over Clemson's last eight games.
It doesn't take much for old-school NFL executives to fall in love with a tall, strong-armed quarterback. And none of those— the 6'5" Allen or 6'5" Daniel Jones, for example—had anywhere close to Lawrence's top-end potential. A brief stretch of errors will be forgiven.
Fields can ascend to No. 1 if he puts together a second near-perfect season. The theoretical expanse of Lawrence's margin for error is subjective, but it's not thin.
The next tier of quarterback prospects—North Dakota State's Trey Lance, Georgia's Jamie Newman, Texas A&M's Kellen Mond, Minnesota's Tanner Morgan, Mississippi State's K.J. Costello, Florida's Kyle Trask and Texas' Sam Ehlinger, among others—is so far behind.
It's tough to be compared to quarterbacks with prototypical size, good mobility, elite production and no injury history, huh?
No, we didn't expect Burrow's rise from marginally efficient to historic, yet it happened. But a comparable surge—and we're not throwing out 60-touchdown predictions for anyone—would simply put a Mond or Trask or Ehlinger within shouting distance of Lawrence and Fields.
If any quarterback is to catch Lawrence, it must be Ohio State's star. Otherwise, the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine won't have a lot of drama surrounding the No. 1 pick either.