Trevor Lawrence has been set up to fail.
A toxic blend of outsized expectations and a poor situation without the proper help to see him succeed followed this year's No. 1 overall pick to Duval County as both the rookie and his Jacksonville Jaguars flounder in their first year together.
From the start, Lawrence couldn't live up to the designations placed upon him after a stellar collegiate career at Clemson, which began with an unbelievable run as a true freshman taking over the offense and leading the Tigers to a national championship.
Since then, the heralded quarterback prospect was destined to become the top pick in the NFL draft once he declared.
As good as Lawrence was during his time in Death Valley, he was never an infallible prospect, as he was often portrayed. The term "generational" almost became synonymous with Lawrence during the latest draft cycle, even though the descriptor is wildly overused and Lawrence had his faults and poor play for spells.
But it became impossible to overlook a 6'6", 213-pound quarterback prospect with the athleticism to gash defenses if needed, the arm strength to consistently drive the ball to all three levels and an unflappable demeanor in the pocket and any pressure situation.
The traits have always been obvious, even though he wasn't necessarily the college football's best quarterback in 2019 or 2020. Arguments could be made in Justin Fields' favor two seasons ago, while Mac Jones and Zach Wilson were certainly in the conversation this past season.
The point of mentioning the play of others shows Lawrence didn't lap the field when it came to available prospects. Five quarterbacks heard their names called among this year's initial 15 selections. A loaded class entered the league with Lawrence leading the way, yet the first to hear his name called holds the worst grade among the group.
Currently, Lawrence ranks 29th in QBR (35), 31st in completion percentage (58.4) and quarterback rating (72.8) and 33rd in yards per attempt (6.0). His nine interceptions are tied for sixth-worst as well.
Situation matters for every single young player. Jones thriving as the New England Patriots' starting quarterback and frontrunner for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is a testament to both the individual and the organization. He's been placed in a situation to succeed. Lawrence hasn't.
Jacksonville's offense under the supervision of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is unimaginative and doesn't create many easy throws for its rookie quarterback.
"The Jaguars offense is about as standard as an NFL system can be as far as concepts and scheme. Nothing revolutionary for better or worse," Bleacher Report scout Nate Tice said. "It seems early in the season, especially preseason, the Jaguars coaches were honing in on exactly what Lawrence prefers and chose to run a wide range of concepts. The upside of having Lawrence under center is he's shown he's essentially scheme-proof and can handle everything thrown at him.
"If there was some criticism of what they're doing, it would be throwing in more wrinkles from a formation perspective to vary up looks, put more routes on the move and add more 'gimme' throws such as bootlegs, sprint outs and run-pass options.
"While Lawrence can handle everything, he shouldn't be placed in a position to be the hero every time he drops back, even though he has flashes signs of doing it anyway."
As an example, Lawrence had the fourth-lowest expected completion percentage during his first month as a professional quarterback, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Either pressure ruined his attempts or the Jaguars' staff asked him to push the ball downfield far too often.
Protection is an issue. Jacksonville's offensive line ranks among the bottom half of the league, per ESPN Analytics. Lawrence is nimble enough in the pocket to avoid sacks regularly, hence why the Jaguars are tied for 23th with 19 sacks allowed through 10 games. But pressure affects all quarterbacks. A lack of protection coupled with disappointing skill position performances makes life difficult even for the most talented throwers.
"Usually, a poor offensive line is what hinders a young quarterback. The Jaguars offensive line is right around league average overall," Tice noted. "The receiving options, on the other hand, have been a glaring issue.
"When a converted defensive back (Jamal Agnew) appears to be your No. 1 receiving threat, you might have a problem. Marvin Jones Jr. struggles to separate as well as he used to and the squad's main receiving tight end, Dan Arnold, has experienced drop issues since he joined the team mid-season. Also, injuries have forced Lavinska Shenault Jr. to bump outside, which is not his strength. Shenault is more of a super-role player than a true outside receiving threat. His lack of route running ability and overall wide receiver polish show up weekly.
"I do think Lawrence has made the most of it. He attempts to throw his guys open and has shown the ability to consistently put the ball only where the receiver can get it. They just drop a lot. If the Jaguars get an influx of talent in the receiver room next offseason, the quarterback's room for error will grow and Lawrence's life will be a lot easier."
To be fair, the Jaguars tried to add a significant weapon when the organization chose Travis Etienne with the 25th overall pick in this year's draft. The collegiate running back was supposed to serve as the scheme's H-back—Jacksonville's hybrid offensive weapon who is a wide receiver/running back. Unfortunately, Etienne suffered a significant Lisfranc injury and the team placed him on season-ending injured reserve.
Furthermore, both Agnew and D.J. Chark Jr. are also on injured reserve. The idea of Jacksonville maximizing its passing attack with a suspect collection of pass-catchers isn't favorable.
A good surrounding cast is vital. However, evaluations can still be made based on what's being asked of the individual. In Lawrence's case, some of the signs are still positive. He's not without his warts, though. A mixture of extremely promising and somewhat concerning play can be found as onlookers sift through Jaguars games.
"Even if another rookie is getting the hype for being cerebral, Lawrence's pre-and-post-snap processing is at an advanced level for not just a rookie quarterback but for any quarterback," Tice mentioned. "He already handles the Jaguars' protection calls, maneuvers in the pocket well and truly progresses through a variety of passing concepts.
"The biggest criticism you could have for Lawrence is being too aggressive with keeping his eyes down the field. But that wasn't because he was taking sacks but more trying to fit the ball into tight windows when a 'safer' check-down option was available. Lawrence has done better in recent weeks to utilize his underneath routes and actually being too aggressive is a good problem to have since it's far easier to tone down a quarterback's aggressiveness as opposed to trying to instill it in them."
Patience can be a difficult trait for star quarterbacks to accept.
The Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes is a shining example of an elite gunslinger who prefers risky throws instead of taking a simple check-downs because he's found a lot of success slinging the ball all over the yard. Defenses have played him differently this season to prevent chunk plays as much as possible. Mahomes adjusted in recent weeks and appears to be back on track with the Chiefs playing a much better brand of football.
The easy throw isn't the wrong one. Plays are designed to go to their first reads. If they're open, quarterbacks should throw to them. The position doesn't get enough credit when working efficiently within the framework of the accompanying system and moving the ball down the field because of precise play.
|2021 First-round Rookie Quarterbacks|
For rookies, life is a little tougher because the game hasn't slowed down and they haven't seen everything a defense will throw their way. It takes time for skill to match traits. Lawrence is actually further along than most, though his numbers don't necessarily reflect where his development currently stands.
But he can't do it alone, and he must continue to build upon what's been seen so far.
Does all of this mean Lawrence will never live up to expectations? Absolutely not. Peyton Manning entered the NFL as one of the most decorated quarterback prospects of all time. He threw 28 interceptions as a rookie on a bad Indianapolis Colts squad. He continued to get better with each passing season and developed into one of the greatest of all time.
Manning is an example of a heralded prospect who needed time to reach his potential based on multiple factors. His inclusion isn't another way to further pump up expectations for Lawrence. No one should view any rookie as a slam-dunk future Hall of Fame signal-caller, especially if the Jaguars organization doesn't do more in the coming years to help him.
Lawrence can be that caliber of player. He's not right now, because expectations, a poor situation and typical rookie growing pains sabotaged him before he ever took an official NFL snap.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.