football-player football-score football-helmet football-ball Accuracy Arm-Strength Balance Ball-Security Ball-Skills Big-Play-Ability Block-Deconstruction Competitive-Toughness Core-Functional-Strength Decision-Making Discipline Durability Effort-Motor Elusivness Explosiveness Football-IQ Footwork Functional-Athleticism Hand-Counters Hand-Power Hand-Technique Hands Lateral-Mobility Leadership Length Mechanics Mobility Pass-Coverage-Ability Pass-Protection Pass-Sets Passing-Down-Skills Pocket-Manipulation Poise Power-at-POA Progressions RAC-Ability Range Release-Package Release Route-Running Run-Defending Separation Special-Teams-Ability-1 Versatility Vision Zone-Coverage-Skills Anchor-Ability Contact-Balance Man-Coverage-Skills Tackling Lifted Logic Web Design in Kansas City clock location phone email play chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up facebook tiktok checkbox checkbox-checked radio radio-selected instagram google plus pinterest twitter youtube send linkedin search arrow-circle bell left-arrow right-arrow tdn-mark filled-play-circle yellow-arrow-circle dark-arrow-circle star cloudy snowy rainy sunny plus minus triangle-down link close drag minus-circle plus-circle pencil premium trash lock simple-trash simple-pencil eye cart
NFL Draft

Stacking Up Trevor Lawrence Against Best QB Prospects Ever

  • The Draft Network
  • December 19, 2020
  • Share

Generational Prospect. It’s a term that is heard often throughout the draft community and a term that’s become popular over the last decade. Researching it constantly and having no success, I was unable to identify when it originated, but it’s a phrase that’s been used to describe many prospects during their final seasons on the collegiate level all the way through the pre-draft process. 

Jadeveon Clowney, Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson, Chase Young, and even in some instances with Joe Burrow last draft cycle, the word has become a loose phrase to identify prospects that seem to be in a different stratosphere than what we have seen before. It’s now become a phrase to describe a player that’s supremely talented, but it turns out that almost every year we see another prospect that comes along and eventually the next “generational” player at the position.

This year seems a little different though. Rewinding to the historic 2018 high school recruiting class, the prize players that seesawed back and forth between being named as the top recruit in the country, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, seemed to be destined for stardom since that point. 

With Lawrence going on to win the national championship in a blowout 44-16 victory over Alabama, he became the first true freshman to lead his team to a national title since 1985. Following that point, the tag “generational” was permanently stamped beside him. It’s very rare to see a quarterback prospect as polished as Lawrence come in and dominate college football after walking the halls of his high school only months prior. 

Considering his dominance and the generational term in his hip pocket, I wanted to do research on previous quarterbacks that we have seen in similar situations in years past. With 1967 marking the start of the common draft era, there have been only a select few prospects labeled as being "can’t miss."

Ones that have been viewed in a similar light as Lawrence were John Elway (1983), Peyton Manning (1998), and Andrew Luck (2012). The three are examples from different eras that could be applicable to Lawrence and placed on the same spectrum as signal-callers that were labeled as worthy of being the No. 1 overall pick well before their final collegiate seasons. 

Let’s look back at the pre-draft process for each and scout their game. For this project, I wanted to interview three respected draft analysts—Greg Cosell of NFL Films, Dane Brugler of The Athletic, and Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan. All three shared quotes and gave their opinions on many of the topics contained in this piece.

What makes Lawrence so special? 

He’s the total package, both physically and mentally. He can make every throw with velocity while also having the mobility to move the pocket or use his legs.” Brugler mentioned. “His touch is outstanding and his football intelligence continues to grow. He will set protections, eliminate things quickly in his reads. His coaches speak highly of his unassuming personality and the ways he works to constantly improve. And his body type can hold up against the violence of an NFL season.” 

It’s not a secret that Lawrence had a ready-made game to step onto the field and become a main contributor on the collegiate level, but he’s turned into a player that sees the game in slow motion and dominates the competition. Cosell also had glowing comments about the Clemson product:

“Lawrence has the desirable traits and tools you look for in an NFL QB. Size, arm strength, athleticism, mobility, and he’s shown the ability to make throws at all levels of the defense.”

A stat that seemed to be pretty unbelievable upon discovering it, during the common NFL draft era (1967), Clemson has never had a player selected with the No. 1 overall pick or drafted within the top three selections of the first round. There have been players who were close as Gaines Adams (2007), Sammy Watkins (2014), and Clelin Ferrell (2019) were all taken with the fourth overall pick, but none have been able to crack the door of the top three. 

If things stay on schedule, Lawrence is set to break many draft records for the program. Since he’s arrived from Cartersville, Georgia, he’s managed to shatter previous milestones, but what were others saying about his predecessors during this point in the pre-draft process? Let’s take a trip down memory lane in chronological order to examine how scouts, evaluators, and the media perceived them.

John Elway (1983)

No. 1 overall pick – Baltimore Colts (traded to Denver)

Considering that the media coverage in the early-to-mid 1980s was microscopic compared to what it is now, the pre-draft profiles and breakdowns of Elway’s game from Stanford were difficult to acquire, but what wasn’t was how eventful his process leading up to the draft was. Similar to the 2021 draft, the 1983 one was loaded with quarterback talent. Like Lawrence, Elway was perceived to be the prize of the class, but the group also included names such as Dan Marino and Jim Kelly–two eventual Hall of Fame players. In all, there were six quarterbacks total drafted in the first round that year. A record that still stands today.

On the field, Elway was everything that NFL teams desired. While his team never appeared in a bowl game, it was his traits and upside that made him the darling of the then Pac-10. Leading the conference in passing for three consecutive years (1980-1982), he also was named Player of the Year every season during that time span.

It wasn’t just Elway’s play on the field that made his pre-draft process so lively, it was his demands and statements off of the playing surface. Also a standout baseball player, he was drafted in the second round by the New York Yankees. The then winless Baltimore Colts earned the top overall pick after the 1982 strike-shortened season. Using baseball as his leverage point, Elway's threatened to enter camp with the Yankees if he was selected by the Colts. The franchise still went on to select the Cardinal QB despite his demands.

The hard stance only lasted for nearly a week as the Colts traded Elway six days later to the Broncos. In return, the Colts received quarterback Mark Hermann, offensive tackle Chris Hinton, and the team's 1984 first-round selection (Ron Solt). 

The trade obviously proved to be well worth it as went on to become a two-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Fame talent.

Peyton Manning (1998)

No. 1 overall pick – Indianapolis Colts

One of the more interesting parallels that could be made to Lawrence is with Manning. During the lead up to the 1998 draft, much of the talk centered around Manning versus Leaf—in a similar fashion to the way that’s happening currently with Lawrence and Fields. The former Tennessee signal-caller ultimately ended up as the top overall selection and will forever be in the conversation as being one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.

Prior to arriving at that point, there was plenty of admiration for Manning during his time with the Volunteers. Below is a 1998 excerpt from Sports Illustrated about Manning, which was published by Bob McGinn of The Athletic:

The quick snapshot scouting report contains plenty of talking points, positives, and negatives throughout, which puts lots of context into the draft process as a whole. Manning had plenty of things working in his favor, but the synopsis places a lot of emphasis on his intelligence, preparedness as a player, and upside. Also, the Leaf and Manning opinion variances were fascinating. 

Throughout the report, the quick phrases that stood out were “great overall field vision” and “maturity and great intangibles.” There were lots of factors that carried over into the NFL and led to one of the most decorated careers ever for a quarterback, which was the last sentence on the scouting report.

Andrew Luck (2012)

No. 1 overall – Indianapolis Colts

In a bit of an ironic way, the same flow of this article is the exact approach that the Colts took upon selecting Luck with the top overall selection in 2012. With Manning missing the season following surgery to repair a bulging disc in his neck and the team limping to a 2-14 record, the gem of the 2012 draft landed right in their lap.

Similar to Manning and Leaf in 1998, there were two quarterbacks at the top of the draft as Robert Griffin III was alongside Luck. Although opinions were mixed about both and who was better, Luck was always considered to be the favorite to land in Indianapolis. There’s never truly been a perfect quarterback prospect, but Luck was seen as such. Even though he redshirted during his first season at Stanford, he showed all of the necessary intangibles and traits to carry the hefty tag of being a “can’t-miss” prospect. Eventually becoming the Pac-12 Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons (2010 and 2011), he led the Cardinal to an 11-2 record and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.

Because of all of his accomplishments and broken records, Mel Kiper went as far as to say that Luck was the best prospect at the position since Elway. Carrying lofty expectations, it’s fair to say that he lived up to the hype. Even though he had a brief seven-year career, that involved an abrupt and shocking end with his eventual retirement, Luck was everything that he was labeled to be. We all selfishly wanted his career to continue, but despite his sudden retirement, he showed plenty of glimpses as to why he carried the pre-draft labels that he did.

Exiting the trip down memory lane, it’s interesting to look back on the process of Elway, Manning, and Luck and now compare it to Lawrence. There are lots of similarities between the three and how they compare favorably both on the field and off of it as well. In a similar fashion as his counterparts, Lawrence has essentially been a rockstar since high school, as he won 41 straight games that included two state championships from his sophomore to senior seasons. 

With monumental levels of hype, all he did was go out and build on it as he carried the Tigers to a national championship during the 2018 season. Suffering the first loss of his college career during the 2020 National Championship Game against an unstoppable LSU team, he’s out to reclaim the title this season.

After missing two games following testing positive for COVID-19, he’s back on track as one of the top throwers in the country. He's the overwhelming favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft, but the moniker of being the “best QB prospect” has carried over during his three seasons donning the orange, purple, and white.

On Saturday, he faces his most challenging opponent since his last defeat, as the Tigers are set to face off against Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game—the team that defeated them earlier this season. It was a thrilling overtime defeat, but the Tigers were missing a key piece for that game: No. 16 himself. But the engine of their attack is back and fully healthy. All eyes will be on Lawrence as he leads his team to Charlotte to secure a possible sixth straight conference championship victory for the Tigers.

Filed In

Written By

The Draft Network