2021 NFL draft prospects: Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence

Eric Edholm
·7-min read
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence

6-foot-6, 220 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 7.25 — immediate-impact prospect

TL;DR scouting report: Prototype franchise QB with terrific arm talent and athleticism whose reaction to pressure is among his rare shortcomings

Games watched: Ohio State (2019), LSU (2019), Wake Forest (2020), Virginia Tech (2020), Syracuse (2020), Ohio State (2020)

The skinny: A 5-star Rivals recruit (No. 1 nationally), Lawrence chose the Tigers over Georgia, Alabama and Florida, among others. He supplanted Kelly Bryant as Clemson’s starting QB four games into the 2018 season, starting 11 of 15 games as a true freshman. He completed 259 of 397 passes (65.2%) for 3,280 yards with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions and ran 60 times for 177 yards and one TD. Lawrence became only the second true freshman to lead his team to a national title, earning ACC Rookie of the Year honors, second-team all-conference and a Manning Award finalist. In 2019, he completed 268 of 407 passes (65.8%) for 3,665 yards, 36 TDs and eight INTs and ran 103 times for 563 yards and nine TDs in 15 starts. Lawrence led the Tigers back to the national-title game, where they lost to LSU, and earned first-team All-ACC mention.

In 2020, he completed 231 of 334 passes (69.2%) for 3,153 yards with 24 TDs and five INTs and ran 68 times for 203 yards and eight TDs in 10 starts, missing two after testing positive for COVID-19. Lawrence was named ACC Offensive Player of the Year and third-team AP All-America and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Away, Davey O'Brien Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year award. He chose to declare early for the 2021 NFL draft.

Upside: Strong athletic profile at nearly 6-foot-6. Quick feet in and out of the pocket. Tall frame to survey field cleanly. Looks the part of a prototypical passer but with plus athletic traits.

Strong anticipatory skills. Good pre-snap recognition and post-snap reads. Won’t be underwater as a rookie reading coverages and fronts. Gives his primary reads every chance. Will work through the second read at least. Understands the structure of his offense extremely well. Keeps good time in his head and rarely holds onto it too long. Quick, determined release to get the ball out on time.

Golden arm — shoots lasers all over the field. Especially adept at firing outside the numbers to the far side of the field. Can drive to the seam on a rope. Good throwing mechanics with clean windup and lower-body power to step into throws. Can manipulate his arm angle when needed.

Uses touch better now than he did early in his career — will feather a few great balls over defenders. Drilled some tight-window “keyhole” shots. Great touch and placement to all parts of the field in the short and intermediate. Great passing feel. Throws well on the move, outside the pocket and in the quick game.

Has an aggressive side — loves to go for the carotid artery when he smells fear in a defense. Enough arm to whip it 50 yards downfield and trust his receivers to make the play. Lethal on play action — carries out fakes well with full back turn and unleashes confident strikes. Great feel for the passing game. Highly confident in his reads and exploiting defenders’ leverage. Will eat up zone all day long — like 7-on-7 for him.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 19: Quarterback Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Clemson Tigers throws a pass in the fourth quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the ACC Championship game at Bank of America Stadium on December 19, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence has everything you're looking for in a franchise quarterback. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Active runner who can sting defenses with his legs. Should be used in designed QB run game, even in the NFL. Will scramble when things break down and can outrun a defense and take a hit. Outstanding throwing on the run — bootlegs and waggles should be a big part of the playbook. Undersold toughness — took beatings two years in a row vs. Ohio State and kept coming back for more.

Strong polish and poise — born to play quarterback. Turned in his best all-around season in 2020 despite working with his weakest group of receivers and offensive linemen in his three years. Only two losses as a starter in college football, both in the playoffs. Hasn’t lost a game outside the playoffs in college or high school — combined record of 86-4.

Compartmentalizes well and carries natural, follow-me leadership skills. Humble for a star, yet driven. Extremely popular with Clemson teammates and coaches alike. Carries a big stick but acts like an everyman.

Downside: Underwent labrum (left, non-throwing shoulder) surgery on Feb. 16. Recovery window expected to be 5-6 months, likely keeping him out of on-field activity until training camp. Leaner frame than expected — weighed 213 at his pro day. Hasn’t yet shown he can slide effectively as a runner and could be vulnerable to injury.

Can improve his pocket presence a bit. Reacted to pressure with mixed results — will hurry up his process and let his mechanics wane a bit. Could do a better job of resetting his feet amid pressure and getting his base settled underneath him.

Didn’t always crack the code vs. blitzing teams (see Virginia Tech game) or defenses that got home consistently with four rushers. Completed 57.6% vs. the blitz in 2020, 71.6% when not blitzed — and yards per attempt dropped from 9.4 to 8.1 vs. blitzes. Had a few INT-heavy streaks in his career. Can learn when to throw it away better and fight for another day.

Deep-ball accuracy is hit and miss — some completed passes downfield should have been credited to his talented receivers working back to the ball or adjusting to off-target throws. Air-mailed a few lower-degree-of-difficulty throws. Surprising number of batted balls at the line — 21 over his three seasons.

Consistently surrounded by top-tier talent, especially his first two seasons. Faced a lot of overmatched ACC defenses. Operated in shotgun-heavy system that featured a ton of screen-game action, partial-field reads and predetermined throws. Highly structured offense that didn’t allow for more improvisation — can he do it? We just haven’t seen too many off-script throws the past three years.

Best-suited destination: We know where Lawrence is going — Jacksonville — but what will be interesting to see is how different the design of the Jaguars’ offense is compared to what he can at Clemson. We expect more under-center work and a different diet of passing concepts compared to his college days, but there certainly should be some overlap.

But we also wonder how Lawrence will respond to failure — because that comes for all. Lawrence he could lose more games in the first two months of his rookie season than he has in the past seven years of his life. Can he respond? We believe so. Lawrence is just wired differently, even if his alternative life-perspective views might run anathema to many of the chip-on-their-shoulder quarterbacks populating the NFL. His style has served him well to this point, even if the meat grinder of the NFL can be unforgiving to most.

Did you know: The man Lawrence replaced as the starting QB at Cartersville (Ga.) High? It was actually Miller Forristall, who moved to tight end and ended up at Alabama. Forristall is expected to be a late-round pick or priority free agent

Player comp: There are not many comps we can accurately dish out, but there is some overlap with Justin Herbert’s game.

Expected draft range: First overall pick