QB | Clemson Tigers | 6-5 5/8 | 213 lbs.
NFL QB Expectations
Over the last three NFL seasons, QBs have been tasked with targeting their receivers on three particular patterns at a higher rate than those sexy Go routes. The most frequent of which is the Out — 18% more than Gos. Not to be confused with the Speed Out, you can distinguish between the two by the squared-off break — a hard cutting 90° angle for the traditional Out. The second most frequent route — 12% more common than Gos — is the Hitch (also referred to as a “Curl,” “Hook,” or “Stop”). Next, we have the Crossing pattern — 11% more — where the receiver will drive toward, cross midfield at various depths. While these three routes may not elicit the same level of viewing excitement as the beloved Gos, the third-level work accomplished by the deep targets are entirely dependent on the underneath patterns keeping secondaries honest. To close out the most important routes required by the NFL QB to master, we have the collection of routes I will refer to as Flatwork (Speed Outs, WR Screens, and Slide routes). These will most often involve Slot WRs and TEs working at a depth within five yards of either flat. These five patterns account for over 75% of the average route profile for NFL QBs.
It took Trevor Lawrence four games into his freshman season to unseat Miller Forristall as the starting QB for the Cartersville High School Hurricanes. A 14-year-old Lawrence passed for over 3,000 yards, 26 TDs in HC Joey King’s spread offense. His freshman year ended with a crushing 27-3 defeat in the Class 4A Georgia state championship game at the hands of Buford High. But Lawrence would have the last word between the rival schools. T-Law led his Hurricanes over Buford 10-0 the following year to capture his first Class 4A title, distributing 3,655 yards, and 43 TDs to only four INTs as a sophomore. Widely expected to commit in-state to Georgia, Lawrence chose Clemson a week after aiding Cartersville to an obliteration of the Thomson Bulldogs 58-7 for back-to-back Class 4A Georgia state championships as a junior.
Lawrence had been the apple of former Georgia HC Mark Richt’s eye before the second-winningest coach in Bulldogs’ history was canned by retired UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity. Even though Kirby Smart, Richt’s replacement, immediately focused his primary attention toward regaining Lawrence’s trust, Clemson QB Coach and former Recruiting Coordinator Brandon Streeter had already seduced Lawrence to the Clemson Orange and Regalia-side. In his final season of high school, Lawrence tossed 41 TDs to a single INT. “Sunshine” earned the title as the Maxwell Football Club’s Offensive National High School Player of the Year and USA Today All-USA Offensive Player of the Year in 2017. He was selected First Team All-State after his sophomore, junior, and senior years.
It should come as zero surprise that the 2016 and 2017 Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year joined Clemson with five stars next to his name, considered the top pocket passer/Pro-style QB by ESPN, 247Sports, and Rivals from the Class of 2018. And Lawrence wasted no time establishing himself among the greatest QBs to ever play at Clemson University. It took Trevor all of four games to unseat Kelly Bryant for the right to lead Dabo Swinney’s offense. When Lawrence guided the Tigers to a 44-16 College Football Playoff victory over Alabama in 2018, he became the first true freshman QB to start and win an FBS national championship since Jamelle Holieway accomplished the same back in 1985. For those unaware, Holieway achieved the feat for Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma when pressed into action after Troy Aikman suffered a fractured ankle facing Jimmy Johnson/Michael Irvin’s Miami Hurricanes.
Lawrence may have “only” collected a single CFP National Championship Trophy, but just make sure you can properly see the forest for the trees. A Lawrence-led offense never lost a single non-playoff game in his combined high school and college careers. For those scoring at home, the astounding exploit amounts to 72 consecutive victories — including annual ACC Conference Championships. Lawrence has also assembled a 17-4 record during his playoff career. He has also compiled 41-game (Cartersville) and 29-game winning streaks (Clemson) to go along with four regional and two Georgia state championships with the Canes. Lawrence fell 13 completions short of overtaking Russell Wilson’s FBS record for consecutive completions without an interception (379), when tossing a pick in Week 7 last season facing Georgia Tech. Lawrence has made such an impact on football during his three years stationed in Clemson that both the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets were rumored to be #TankingForTrevor last season.
Skeptics may begin to question all the hubbub concerning the former consensus top recruit. Those questions would certainly not be helped much by mentioning the recorded 40-yard dash of 4.78 seconds (58th percentile compared to historical NFL Combine QBs), short shuttle of 4.33 seconds (51st), and 28.25-inch vertical jump (17th) at The Opening Combine in 2017. Lawrence didn’t update those numbers at his Clemson Pro Day, but allow me to pass along that his current athleticism towers over those numbers. Keep in mind that, at the time of that testing, Lawrence just finished adding three inches, and 25-pounds to his lanky frame. Just take a look at Lawrence then, compared to now.
One thing is for sure, if you have yet to fully acquaint yourself with Lawrence’s abilities, you are literally a few clicks away. Full games are available on YouTube for nearly his entire Clemson portfolio. As such, we’ll begin with Lawrence’s examination using the following games from his true freshman season.
True Freshman Season (2018)
Quick note: the easiest way to view these games from YouTube — while also avoiding the ads — is to download the files using a YouTube Downloader. My recommended media players are QuickTime (Mac) or VLC. I’ve made my opinion known throughout this draft profile series that you simply must watch at least four games from a player in order to develop anything close to a reliable analytical opinion. Anything less, you are falling into the all-too-common #SingleGameAnalysis trap. For the QB position, I am of the strong opinion that even more film analysis is required. In lieu of that belief, I will not be presenting the typical film analysis using highlight reels. Instead, we’ll be using the full-game links provided above in order to capture both the positive and the negative. If you do not have the patience/time to click-and-scroll along with me, here are links to Clemson highlight reels from his true freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons in order to conduct your own research. For the rest of us, we’ll begin with three important 2018 plays from Week 4 facing Georgia Tech — links are provided above.
The first play is located at 32:31 in the footage with Clemson in the Red Zone opposed by the Yellow Jackets in a Cover 6. One of the better slot WRs in the NFL when attacking Zone coverages, Hunter Renfrow runs a crisp Out at the expense of GT Safety Tariq Carpenter. This is a perfect example of Lawrence’s arm strength while also throwing across his body, directing a laser to Renfrow with Carpenter closing the distance. At the 37:38 mark, we see Lawrence connect on a Go with Justyn Ross for a 53-yard TD. Don’t allow the fact that LCB Lamont Simmons busted on his Cover 3 responsibilities condescend the coverage diagnosis here from Lawrence. Seeing the single-high safety, Trevor knows it’s either Man or Cover 3 — both vulnerable to outside receivers on Gos using an outside release. To finish off the footage from the first video, head to 43:59. Very few QBs matriculate to the NFL free of flaws — Andrew Luck and Joe Burrow come to mind. Lawrence is not without flaws. However, we shouldn’t ding him for the INT on this play since the designed screen to Travis Etienne hits his LG in the helmet, as the ball is released precisely as John Simpson moves to the second-level.
Let’s move ahead to the footage from Week 11 at Boston College. Allow me to remind you that the Eagles’ pass rush and coverage both performed at top-20 levels that season. We find BC in Quarters (Cover 4) at the 6:38 mark. When a QB properly identifies the opposing coverage shell, he can pinpoint an indefensible attack, provided he possesses the proper level of placement accuracy. That is precisely the case here on the Hitch-and-Go combo by Amari Rodgers, who leaves RCB Hamp Cheevers in his dust trail. Cheevers is completely at fault for biting on the stop feint, but seeing a receiver hit in stride by his QB is far from common at the collegiate level. Lawrence finds former Tigers’ WR/CB Derion Kendrick on a Go down the left sideline at 49:08. At this point, Lawrence is intentionally picking on Cheevers, who hasn’t done himself any favors with this meager press technique. Nevertheless, Lawrence tosses a beautiful dime against the Cover 1.
We see our first poor-placement example from T-Law at 1:22:45. He’s looking toward Kendrick again, this time defended by LCB Brandon Sebastian in a Cover 4. Utilizing Rodgers on a short crosser to lure FS Will Harris away from the middle of the field (MOF), Lawrence forces the ball on the Post. He can thank Kendrick for preventing Sebastian — closely shadowing behind — from collecting the pick. Moving along to 1:26:56, you can see FS Lukas Denis sprinting to the MOF a second before the snap. The Eagles are attempting to mask their Cover 1 as an all-out Cover-0 blitz. Rather than sending seven from the pre-snap look, BC ends up only rushing Lawrence with five. It’s truly remarkable how Lawrence “effortlessly” manipulates this quality-designed pass rush as a true freshman. After recognizing his pocket will be safe, Lawrence turns Denis’ downfield momentum against himself, firing an underneath laser to Ross on the Slant.
The final play we’ll look at from this game can be found at 3:01:02 in the video. Even with a game safely in hand, ball security will always be the ultimate priority for Lawrence. One of the few mistakes made against a Cover 6 look all season, Lawrence badly overthrows Rodgers on another Hitch-and-Go inside the coverage of Cheevers. It’s far from a big picture, worst-case-scenario, but still something to log as we continue our evaluation. The final three games we’ll view all occur during postseason play for Clemson. Let’s take a look at four plays from their ACC Championship showdown with Pittsburgh. We’ll start with the play at 6:09, our first action from Tee Higgins as a true sophomore. The late break to close off the MOF by Dennis Briggs is a dead Cover-3 giveaway. Higgins makes quick work of the jam attempt by LCB Jason Pinnock, but drops a perfectly-placed “9” from Lawrence.
The absence of Justyn Ross during the 2020 season due to a back injury was massive for Lawrence. The Go he’s able to collect at 17:38 was a feature clearly missing from their future offense. Panthers’ RCB Dane Jackson aligns across from Ross as if he is in Man, but I actually think they are shading a Cover 4 Zone. Regardless, Lawrence knows Ross will be able to separate from that tight coverage, pulling the Run-Pass Option (RPO) handoff away from Tavien Feaster to target his explosive true freshman WR. Jackson deals a level of revenge when he uses his Cover 3-retreat to fool Lawrence into unloading an Out to Rodgers (28:05). Trevor is extremely lucky he didn’t shorthand this throw, as Jackson would’ve turned it into six. As alluded to earlier, defenders that underestimate Lawrence’s rushing ability will pay the price. At 1:18:42 in the video, Pittsburgh drops eight defenders into a Cover 6. Lawrence is able to stay a step ahead of LB Elijah Zeise, cutting to avoid Jackson’s poor excuse for a tackle attempt on the 16-yard gain.
It never gets old watching old footage from the CFB Playoffs. Facing what was easily his biggest test of his early career, Lawrence used the elite Notre Dame defense to submit the pinnacle performance of his true freshman campaign. We’ll begin at the 27:59 mark. It’s not his best throw, but Lawrence knows LCB Donte Vaughn is in Man (Cover 1) on Ross, and the design will not allow him the opportunity to look back at the QB. With a trio of defenders collapsing the pocket, he makes a solid decision to present Ross with an opportunity to make a play. We can expect to see the Jacksonville Jaguars utilize a ton of RPOs in 2021. HC Urban Meyer used them on nearly a fourth of all offensive plays for Ohio State in 2018. But he had Dwayne Haskins’ immobility under center, not Lawrence. Check out the play starting at 32:58 to see the functional elusiveness of Lawrence for yourself.
On the very next play, Lawrence sets up the blockthrough by Renfrow with a pump fake that forces interference from Vaughn. It prepares the offense for what transpires three plays later. FS Alohi Gilman is responsible for the middle boundary-half of the field in the Irish’s Cover 6 at 35:22. To be clear, Gilman is reprehensible during this play. A popular adage among safeties: If he’s even, he’s leaving. Gilman offers Ross zero respect, taking far too many steps upfield. Lawrence instantly recognizes his opportunity, nailing Ross down the seam for six. After Irish QB Ian Book fails to move the offense on the subsequent drive, a two-for-one opportunity lands in Lawrence’s lap. He doesn’t waste it.
If you require another example of Renfrow’s lethality to a Zone defense, gaze your eyes upon the Corner-Post combo he puts on the ND Cover 4. After literally spinning Gilman around in a circle, Lawrence puts it on Renfrow’s chin to pick up 20 yards. 6-foot-7, 305-pound Jerry Tillery learns of Lawrence’s toughness when he plants a dirty, high hit on him after the play. Lawrence attacks an out-of-position Vaughn, once again, with an End Zone Fade to Higgins at 40:26. Higgins posterizes Vaughn with his one-handed collection to put Clemson up 23-3 at halftime. We close out the 2018 season with the CFP National Championship against Alabama. With the game knotted at seven apiece, Higgins administered further evidence of his straight-line separation in cruising past LCB Saivion Smith. With FS Deionte Thompson off somewhere in Froopyland, Lawrence awarded Higgins with an in-stride strike for a 62-yard gain.
The throw by Lawrence at 48:28 in the footage can only be excused away with inexperience. Forcing the ball to a RB six yards short of the line with a defender in between is a massive error in judgment. Things could have turned out much differently for Clemson had Bama Pick-Sixed this errant throw. It’s irrelevant whether Smith actually rolled his ankle or was simply juked TF out of his shoes (1:18:43), Ross put the game out of reach when he took a Hitch 74-yards to the house. Skipping ahead to 1:31:04, Lawrence’s timing is impeccable darting Ross as he separates from LCB Josh Jobe. To close the season out (1:40:32), we see another perfect example of the zip on Lawrence’s ball, his timing, and carefree composure when pressured. It’s Higgins’ turn to take advantage of the Tide D, highpointing a rope laced from his QB just as the Cover 3 responsibility changes hands from Jobe to Jared Mayden.
True Sophomore Season (2019)
Let’s jump to Week 1 of the 2019 season, with Clemson opposed by Georgia Tech. It comes as no surprise that Lawrence hits a rough patch to begin the year following his true freshman exploits. We see the first of his blunders at 7:51. As evidenced by Joseph Ngata on the opposite side of the field, Cornell Powell ran the correct Out pattern to the right sideline. However, it appears Lawrence expected Powell to Hitch at the top of his route. We know LCB Tre Swilling certainly didn’t mind the confused trajectory. But you’ve got to love the hustle by Lawrence to prevent Swilling from scoring. Especially since the Tigers D intercepted QB/DB Tobias Oliver on the subsequent fourth down. Lawrence hit Higgins on a slightly underthrown Go (9:54) to put Clemson comfortably ahead 28-0 on the next drive.
Lawrence lets loose of another frivolous target (11:45) where he was nearly picked off by Edge Jaquan Henderson, no less. It wouldn’t be the last poor throw of the game from Lawrence, not even of the half. At 12:28, Trevor scrambles to the field-side flat with Henderson in pursuit. For whatever reason, Lawrence jump-stops short of the sideline to wildly toss the ball directly into the arms of Kaleb Oliver to end the half. The closest Clemson receiver is no less than 10 yards away.
Now let’s take a look at Lawrence facing Texas A&M in Week 2. The Aggies’ defense wasn’t quite at the level they would reach in 2020, but that didn’t stop them from playing Clemson close. Let’s begin with the play at 12:18. Lawrence hits Ross on a crisp throw to the field sideline, directly splitting the Cover 2 defensive backs. Unfortunately, we see Lawrence underthrow Ross on an Out-and-Up at 40:05. Lawrence is fortunate that Ross cut off the path of Myles Jones, or possession could’ve changed hands.
As has been the case throughout his young career, Lawrence began to find his rhythm. At 43:49, DT Justin Madubuike chases Lawrence from the pocket. Lawrence keeps his eyes glued downfield until finding Ross on the scramble drill. If you view the EZ replay at 45:56, you can see FS Leon O'Neal Jr. abandoning Ross hoping to take a shot on Lawrence. Tsk, tsk. Fast-forwarding to 2:13:15, Lawrence lobs a beautiful Back Shoulder Go to Ngata with Jones in Man coverage. But Lawrence makes another poor, underthrown Go to Ross at 2:14:59, and to the direct benefit of Travon Fuller. If you only watched these first two games, you could reasonably assume some of the Lawrence hype was unwarranted. But we know better. The next game we’ll check out is Week 8 at Louisville.
After nearly being handed an L from North Carolina in Week 5, Lawrence continues to struggle with his progressions. At 19:52, you can see Higgins at the top of the screen coming free on a Dig to the MOF. However, Lawrence tries to Brett Favre the ball to Rodgers down the seam. FS Jack Fagot comes down with the relatively easy INT off the improper read. What Lawrence is seeing on the following drive at 25:30 is entirely unclear. UofL falls back into their Cover 3, with Higgins turning inside the numbers on the vertical. Tee obviously collided with Khane Pass, but this ball was egregiously overthrown. As bad as it appears, it would be the final INT Lawrence would throw the rest of the season. In fact, he would complete his next 366 passes before surrendering another to the defense.
A new quarter, a new Lawrence. Moving to 32:25 in the video, Trevor only has eyes for Ngata on a Post inside the coverage of LCB Chandler Jones. On a naked Play Action boot (1:07:13) that would make Kyle Shanahan gush, Lawrence lasers the ball to Higgins on an Out. Closing out the use of this game’s footage, Lawrence reminds everyone of his rushing prowess as he takes a designed QB Draw (1:17:08) for a cool 20 yards. Shifting to Week 11 at NC State, we have LB Drake Thomas closing in as Lawrence hits Ross (0:33) after snapping RCB De’Von Graves off at the ankles on a sharp Blaze Out. Lawrence dials up Ross once again at 12:49. In addition to the absolutely perfect throw from Lawrence, Ross obliterates RCB Kishawn Miller on a sick Corner-Post combo. We’ll finish looking at Lawrence’s 2019 season with the ACC Championship against Virginia.
Trevor already connected with Higgins on an Out for their first score, but Lawrence dials in on Ross at 21:58. A preview of his shift to the starting slot for the 2021 season, Ross has zero trouble separating from SS Joey Blount to reach paydirt. A new flavor for the Clemson offense emerged in 2019 with Lawrence establishing a powerful link with Etienne that would eventually result in his becoming one of the premier receiving backs in the country. However, in spite of hitting Travis in the numbers on the Backfield Wheel (59:10), Etienne drops what should have resulted in six. It’s a beautiful thing watching Lawrence shuffling between pocket gaps to manipulate Virginia’s five-man blitz at 1:03:28. He’s able to hold out long enough to zero in on the Slant from Higgins, contested by LCB Heskin Smith. Just prior to DT Aaron Faumui launching into him, Lawrence rockets the ball over 50 yards in the air to Higgins on a Go at 1:30:19.
True Junior Season (2020)
Shifting our focus to the 2020 season, let’s check out the action from Week 7 at Georgia Tech. Lawrence tossed 19 TDs to only one INT in Goal-to-Go (G2G) situations during his Clemson career. We see an example when he hits Powell with a Back Shoulder Fade with Tre Swilling draped across his frame. We already know by now that you simply do not allow Lawrence the opportunity to target his receivers in stride after gaining separation. The GT Cover 6 has no chance at catching Rodgers on the Post at 4:26. “Only” 13 completions shy of Russell Wilson’s FBS record for completions without an INT, Lawrence forces the throw (6:55) to Powell as Antonneous Clayton plants him into the ground. Finding Frank Ladson on a Crosser at 12:36 off Play Action provides valuable insight on Lawrence. It’s an ultra-important route for his NFL portfolio, working outside of the pocket on the naked boot.
Closing out the Georgia Tech game (15:42), Lawrence couldn’t have placed the ball more perfectly on the Corner route to Rodgers. Safe to say that the Yellow Jackets’ coaches will be the first to wave their hands at Lawrence when he is drafted by the Jags. Not that D.J. Uiagalelei — my Devy QB1 — will offer GT any sort of respite in his place. Let’s jump to the Week 13 face-off with Pittsburgh. Even facing a nasty Panthers’ defense, Lawrence wastes no time moving the ball inside the 10. We have another example of Trevor’s efficiency in a G2G when he donates a dime to E.J. Williams on an End Zone Fade (1:31).
As an aside, I feel Powell is being criminally undervalued heading into the 2021 Draft. We see him sneak past Brandon Hill on a clever blockthrough at 4:10. But feast upon his massive athleticism plucking the ball out of the air inside the coverage of Jason Pinnock at 7:30. He makes A.J. Woods his next victim on a powerful throw from Lawrence at 11:16.
We’ll move our attention to the ACC Championship facing Notre Dame. Lawrence’s ability to use his legs will be a big deal to his NFL fantasy value, provided it translates. He’s big enough to withstand moderate hits, elusive enough to evade those he needs to avoid. And, something may come as a surprise, three-fourths of his career rushing attempts were by design. We have a stellar example of him using his legs at 2:57. We definitely don’t want to see Lawrence losing sight of Mike LBs like we see with Drew White at 3:12 translating along with his positive traits. ND SS Justin Walters clearly didn’t know who he was attempting to jam at 5:37 in the video. Rodgers possesses some of the top functional strength in the class. But he lacks the straight-line speed to get out ahead of quicker DBs. Rather than retreating a few steps to contain his average speed, Walters attempts to stand in the way of the wrecking ball at 5:36. It’s only fitting that we close down shop on Lawrence’s film study with his final game as a Tiger.
He’ll want his guy to get that second foot down to cash out in the NFL, but the lob to Powell off Lawrence’s back foot with six Buckeyes bearing down on him was a thing of beauty (15:23). Lawrence stands his ground in the pocket as Javontae Jean-Baptiste prepares to unload, allowing Powell to complete the Blaze Out pattern for a big gain (1:39:50). Of the five coverage types typically installed early on by defenses prior to the exotics, Lawrence has had the most issues with Cover 3. As a defense utilizing that particular scheme at one of the highest rates in the country, I was very interested in watching Lawrence match up to his kryptonite. But OSU scored far too many points, too quickly to draw reliable conclusions. If not for the score, I don’t think Lawrence forces the ball to Rodgers that floated into, and out of the hands of Josh Proctor (2:17:28).
We all know where Lawrence is headed. Meyer was clearly lured out of retirement for the opportunity to have Lawrence lead his offense. The fact that Ohio State scored more points in his final game (49) than the numbers of snaps Trevor took from under center during his entire Clemson career (39) will not be a problem. In Meyer’s last season in Columbus, his QBs only took 20 total snaps from under center. But Lawrence will be tasked with quadrupling his average number of Crossing route targets as a member of the Jags. Take that fact to the bank. However, he’ll pack a complete route profile — from an efficiency standpoint — for his future trip to Florida.
The Bottom Line
I see a lot of Drew Bledsoe’s passing strengths in Lawrence’s game. Bledsoe ended up being known more as the guy who would eventually be replaced by legends, but he put together eight full seasons of elite production. The ceiling for Lawrence is considerably higher. The emergence of the RPO in the NFL only adds another avenue of advantage for Lawrence. As long as his O-line is able to keep his lower half intact, Lawrence has all of the tools to allow him to go on to make a considerable mark during his NFL career. He is completely unphased by pocket pressure — 5.5-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio under pressure during his career. So much so that he consistently turns momentum back around onto defenders to provide his receivers with more time to work.
His supporting cast with the Jaguars will always be the factor that prevents Lawrence from helping his team succeed. Lawrence’s ground production will definitely not translate as quickly as it will for Justin Fields. But Lawrence will be a massive addition to the NFL game starving for special talents at QB. We’ll have to wait to see where Fields lands before we can decide which of the two should be the first QB off the board in rookie drafts.