Trevor Lawrence isn’t held to the same standard as Justin Fields
If you’ve consumed any sort of sports media over the past few weeks, you’ve been bombarded with the “Tank for Trevor” derby. It’s been a battle to see which team, the New York Jets or Jacksonville Jaguars, can lose more games in order to get the No. 1 pick of the 2021 NFL Draft and thus select Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The Jaguars, by the way, are officially the NFL’s best loser, much to the delight of their fans.
Anyways, the prevailing opinion ever since Lawrence took over for Kelly Bryant 4 games into the 2018 season and led the Tigers to a national title as a true freshman is that he is the surefire No. 1 pick of the 2021 draft. Analysts rave about Lawrence being the most polished prospect since Andrew Luck, and I have yet to see a mock draft in the last 2 years without him at the top.
Heading into Clemson’s showdown with Ohio State in the College Football Playoff on Friday night, you’d think the Tigers have some great advantage at QB, but that’s just not true. In reality, Lawrence and Justin Fields are near-equals as college players, with the one separator being that Lawrence has a national title on his resume and Fields does not.
While Lawrence could wind up being a terrific NFL quarterback for years, he and Fields are nearly indistinguishable over the last 2 seasons. Here’s a blind resume test:
- Player A: 58 TD passes, 12 INTs, 67.2 completion percentage, 9.26 yards per attempt, 16 rushing TDs, 23-1 record
- Player B: 56 TD passes, 8 INTs, 68.9 completion percentage, 9.25 yards per attempt, 15 rushing TDs, 19-1 record
You can probably guess based off the total games that Lawrence is Player A and Fields is Player B, but isn’t it stunning how close they are in terms of production?
And if you want to dive in a little deeper on those numbers, 4 of the 6 defenses that Fields has faced this season are in the top 31 nationally in terms of yards per pass attempt, while Lawrence has faced just 1 in his 9 games (Miami). In 2019, Fields faced 7 top-30 defenses, while Lawrence faced 3 (Texas A&M, Ohio State and LSU), none of which were even from his own conference. Not surprisingly, Fields also has had a better overall grade from Pro Football Focus in each of the last 2 seasons: 92.4-92.0 this season and 91.5-91.1 last season. Considering that Lawrence rarely plays in bad weather while playing in substandard passing conditions is a way of life in the Big Ten, Fields has quite the resume.
Given all of that data, it strikes me as odd that Lawrence has never been held to the same standard as Fields. Every mistake from Fields — like his 3-interception game against Indiana — is magnified on sports talk shows and in QB debates and puts him in danger of dropping below BYU’s Zach Wilson or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, while Lawrence can seemingly do no wrong, despite a lot of evidence that Lawrence makes just as many mistakes as Fields. Lawrence, for example, has thrown an interception once every 68.1 passes, while Fields has thrown an interception once every 69.6 passes.
Former NFL QB Trent Dilfer, who runs the prestigious Elite 11 camp for high school QBs, is the first analyst I’ve heard push back on the idea that Lawrence is a perfect prospect, saying recently on The Ryen Russillo Podcast: “The narrative started going a direction about 12 months ago where it’s like, ‘Oh, he has no flaws. He’s perfect.’ Uh, no, he’s not.”
Dilfer went on to describe Lawrence’s long delivery, how Clemson’s offense cuts the field in half and limits Lawrence’s reads and how he can be overconfident with his arm. Russillo, who was surprised, commented: “You pointed out some things we haven’t heard from anyone else.”
Dilfer went on to sing Fields’ praises and remark that he doesn’t think the gap is as big between Lawrence and Fields as everyone else says it is, referencing a call from an NFL source who said: “I’m watching some Fields tape. I’m early to the party here, and he’s blowing me away. He’s the opposite of what I’m being told he is.”
Dilfer also offered a prediction: “When (NFL scouts) start doing the work and they start diving really deep, deep into every single snap and the why of every single snap, I think you’re going to see the gap close between Lawrence and Fields. It’s going to be one of those either/or, like, ‘I’m fine with either one of them. They’re both going to be incredible in the NFL, so I’m good with either.’ ”
So why don’t you ever hear any mention of Fields in the same breath as Lawrence, other than from Dilfer? Why is Lawrence the obvious choice at No. 1, while Fields is seemingly in danger of being passed up by Wilson (who just lost to Coastal Carolina) and Lance (who played 1 game this season) in the 2021 QB hierarchy? I’m not saying Fields is better, but shouldn’t there at least be a discussion based off what they’ve done the last 2 years?
Fields still has 1 loss as a starting QB — last year to Clemson. It’s funny to think how much different these two would be viewed if Ohio State hadn’t blown a 16-0 lead. When Shaun Wade, who was arguably the top slot corner in the country last year, was controversially called for targeting, the Buckeyes were about to get the ball back late in the first half with a chance to go up 23-0. Instead, Lawrence rallied Clemson to the win.
Maybe if Fields, who is nursing a sprained thumb, can lead Ohio State to an “upset” against Clemson on Friday, the narrative will change and he will make more appearances in the conversation to go No. 1 overall. At this point, though, it feels like everyone’s mind is made up.