JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence is checking things off the “Is he a franchise quarterback?” list.
Can he rally the team from a three-score deficit to win a game? Yes, he did it Nov. 6 against the Las Vegas Raiders.
Can he lead the team on a winning touchdown drive in the final seconds? Yes, Nov. 27 against the Baltimore Ravens — with a two-point conversion.
Can he put the team on his back and win a road game against a division rival? Yup, nailed that Dec. 11 at the Tennessee Titans.
Can he overcome a rusty start with a turnover in the final 90 seconds and lead a tying drive to force overtime? That happened on Sunday against the 10-4 Dallas Cowboys.
The next big item on the list? Helping the Jaguars become an annual playoff team, which is something he might be able to start doing over the next three weeks — beginning with a matchup against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.
THE JAGUARS (6-8) are one game behind the Titans in the AFC South standings, with a season-finale meeting between the teams on the schedule. Jacksonville can claim the division — and accompanying playoff spot — by winning its last three games (at Jets, at Texans and vs. Titans).
But even if the Jaguars don’t make the playoffs for the first time since 2017, Lawrence has already proved to his teammates and coaches that he was the right No. 1 overall pick in 2021.
“I judge a man by how he comes to work every day and the things that he is able to do for his team, whether he’s battling through injury or that he’s going through something at home, whether he had a poor game last game, or whether he was written off last year,” receiver Zay Jones said. “That’s kind of how I view who a man is, and Trevor Lawrence has proved to me, if not anyone, that he is here and he’s here to stay.”
Since November began, Lawrence leads in the NFL in completion percentage (70.4) and passer rating (111.2), and his Total QBR of 71.2 ranks fourth, behind only Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields.
Lawrence has thrown for 1,680 yards with 14 touchdowns and one interception. That interception, which came Sunday against Dallas, snapped a streak of 204 passes without an interception (the second-longest in franchise history). The Jaguars are 4-2 over the past seven weeks with come-from-behind victories over the Raiders (down 17-0), Ravens (TD pass and 2-point conversion pass with 14 seconds to play) and Cowboys (down 27-10).
Tight end Evan Engram, however, doesn’t need to see the stat sheet to know Lawrence has been playing at a high level. All he has to do is listen.
“Whether it’s calling the play in the huddle, whether it’s a conversation on the sideline about a specific play that just happened, the tone of the voice [is the giveaway],” Engram said. “Like giving encouragement, picking guys up, moving on to the next play after a bad one. For me it’s all in the tone of the voice that tells me a lot about how a quarterback is feeling.”
It hasn’t always looked — or sounded — that way.
IN HIS ROOKIE season, Lawrence dealt with dysfunction during Urban Meyer’s 11-month tenure as head coach. There were questionable coaching decisions, like having Lawrence rotating first-team reps with Gardner Minshew in camp and benching running back James Robinson multiple times for fumbling but telling everyone to ask running backs coach Bernie Parmalee why. He yelled at his assistant coaches, demeaned players and created an atmosphere of distrust inside the building.
None of that exactly provides a stable, nurturing atmosphere for anyone, let alone a rookie quarterback.
Lawrence started his rookie season 0-5 before leading the Jaguars to a come-from-behind victory over the Miami Dolphins in London. He finished the season with 12 touchdown passes, 17 interceptions and five lost fumbles — and more games with a passer rating of less than 40 (two) than games with a rating of more than 100 (one).
Last season took its toll on all the players — even the guy who tries to not let anything affect him.
“He’s not a real high, low emotional, panicky person just by his nature,” said Jeremy Lawrence, Trevor’s father. “[There were] a lot of things out of his control that were challenging, obviously, and he and I talked some about it, but it’s just something he’s got to work through and really not a whole lot you can do. Just focus on the things you can control.”
Lawrence has never publicly talked about what he and his teammates went through with Meyer and how it impacted his performance, but he did say the 2021 season did challenge his confidence at times.
“Honestly, there were times last year, where you start to question some things,” he said. “This game really tests you mentally, especially when you’re not having a great year as a team, as a player, as an offense, whatever that may be.
“Where do you get your confidence from? It can’t just be circumstantial. I’m playing well, so that’s why I’m confident. It’s got to be in something bigger than that.”
One of the biggest things Lawrence has learned from them is you can’t press as a quarterback. When things aren’t going well you can’t try to do too much. There are no 14-point throws.
“Last year there were times I did [press and not play within himself] and you leave the field after the game and you’re feeling like, ‘Man, that was awful.'”
SOME GUYS FIGURE out that lesson quickly. Others may need multiple years to get it, and some guys never do. The expectation for a quarterback picked first overall is to immediately perform, which is illogical considering the circumstances.
If you’re the first pick in the draft, you’re probably headed to a bad team and the team might have a new head coach. Eight of the 14 teams that selected quarterbacks first overall since 2000 had new head coaches.
It’s natural for those quarterbacks to struggle. But some of the players who went on to become Hall of Famers were awful in their first year or two.
Peyton Manning set an NFL rookie record with 28 interceptions in 1998. A year later he led the Colts to a 13-3 record, AFC East title and the first of 11 playoff appearances in 12 seasons.
Troy Aikman went 0-11 as a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. It took him three seasons for him to throw more touchdown passes than interceptions. The Cowboys made the playoffs from 1991-96, a stretch that included three Super Bowl titles.
“My first year was pretty dysfunctional for that matter,” said Aikman, now an analyst on “Monday Night Football.” “I mean, it wasn’t a bed of roses with Jimmy [Johnson] and Jerry [Jones] coming in for the first year. We had a revolving door with players and it was hard. It’s hard to win like that and we didn’t.
However, there’s an even longer list of quarterbacks taken first overall who never developed into franchise quarterbacks. David Carr went to the expansion Houston Texans in 2002 and was sacked an NFL-high 76 times as a rookie. He was the most-sacked quarterback in the NFL in three of his first four seasons and only lasted one more year with the Texans before being released.
More recent examples of No. 1 quarterback picks who didn’t plan out? Jameis Winston, drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2014, Jared Goff, by the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, and Baker Mayfield, by the Browns in 2018.
LAWRENCE HAS HAD some good moments this season, but some bad ones, too.
End zone interceptions against the Texans and Denver Broncos on the same play (a sprint out right) were alarming. Head coach Doug Pederson said there’s only one read, and if that guy isn’t open, air-mail the ball into the stands and go back to the huddle. Lawrence tried to fit the ball into the back of the end zone through a mass of defenders and the throws were picked.
The Jaguars lost those games by seven and four points, respectively. It’s not a stretch to say the Jaguars likely would have won had Lawrence not turned the ball over.
Lawrence recently called that loss to the Broncos in London, which ended with an interception that halted a potential winning drive on the first play, a turning point.
“[We] should have won that game,” Lawrence said. “I remember I never forgot how I felt in that locker room, so I don’t want to feel like this anymore. I’m going to, one, start taking care of the ball, but two, I just want to be the player that I know I can be. “And I think that kind of flipped a switch in me and honestly, too, I think I have a little bit more of a chip on my shoulder now.”
Since that Broncos loss on Oct. 30. Lawrence has been a different quarterback — one of the best in the NFL.
“He’s understanding our system better,” Pederson said. “We’re recycling plays a little bit more, so the verbiage and everything is sort of easier to spit out in the huddle than Week 1 or even in training camp. All of that really helps him in his growth and really his development, and it’s all starting to come together for him.”
Receiver Christian Kirk, who played with Kyler Murray in Arizona, said Lawrence’s fuller understanding of the system has made him and the rest of the offense more efficient.
“Oftentimes, younger quarterbacks, especially in a new system, the first couple weeks you’re just calling the play that’s called in the huddle,” Kirk said. “As you mature, and you look at some of the guys that are veterans that have been in a system for a while, if they don’t like the play that’s called, and based on the look when you break the huddle, they’re able to get to a play that they feel comfortable with and that they like, and more times than not, that play is going to be executed at a high level because that’s what they’re comfortable with. They can see it, and they can play fast.
“It’s one of the areas that I’ve seen from him that’s been really encouraging, just putting everybody out in the right spots to go out and succeed on that play.”
THEY ALL SAY the same thing about Lawrence.No matter what’s happening on the field, no matter how he has played or the outcome of the game — Lawrence is right down the middle.
Coaches and teammates say his demeanor in the huddle, on the sidelines, in the meeting room, and in the locker room is consistent. The way he carried himself after the Jaguars’ rout of the Los Angeles Chargers in SoFi Stadium is the same as it was after their loss to the Broncos in London’s Wembley Stadium.
“I’m the same guy,” Lawrence said. “I’ve always been this guy. I haven’t always played my best every week, and that’s going to happen sometimes, but I really love the direction that this offense, this team, is heading and we feel really good about who we are.”
Lawrence’s even-keeled approach is an important part of why his confidence hasn’t been shaken by 22 losses and the ups and downs of the past 16 months. It would have been understandable if it had because Lawrence had lost only four games combined as a starter at Cartersville High School (Georgia) and Clemson.
“He’s dealt with adversity really well,” Engram said. “One thing I notice is he doesn’t lose that swagger and confidence about himself. I don’t think anybody has to worry about that with him.”
Kirk said he has played with quarterbacks in his career who have lost confidence and it’s pretty easy to tell.
“Confidence, it comes and goes, especially in the NFL,” Kirk said. “It can humble you. It’s happened to not only quarterbacks, but receivers, running backs, and everybody in this league. We’ve all been humbled at some point. It could be one play, one throw, one catch to kind of get that confidence back and be like, ‘You know, I’m a real guy in this league and I can play at the highest level.'”
Which is where Lawrence is sitting right now.
“I like the way I’ve been playing,” he said. “There’s always things to improve on. There’s still a few plays every game that I could do better, whether it’s a missed throw, missed read, get through my progressions faster, protections, all that stuff. There’s always things I can improve on. There’s little things but I do feel really comfortable, really confident.”
Like a franchise quarterback.