Joy in Jacksonville arrives shortly after 8 o’clock on Thursday night when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announces with the first pick of the NFL draft that Trevor Lawrence is the new Prince of the City.
If they’re right about Trevor Lawrence being The Next Great Big Thing — if they’re wrong they should probably find another profession — then it won’t be long before he takes his place alongside Patrick Mahomes as the twin faces of the NFL.
He is widely considered such a generational quarterback prospect, the best since Andrew Luck, that together with new head coach Urban Meyer, they are a lock to transform the place into Action Jacksonville.
When you see him play for the first time, you never forget.
“He looked the part,” ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick told The Post. “A lot of times when you’re looking at people who play critical positions like quarterback, or a guy who’s a pitcher or a primary scorer in basketball, one of the first things that strike you about people who are quote-unquote transcendent, potentially transcendent, game-changing individuals, they pass the eye test. I remember thinking, ‘OK, this sonovagun passes the eye test — big, strong, sturdy, fast, composed, just nothing ever seemed to faze him.’ ”
Even before you see him play, you never forget the first time you saw him.
“I was at The Opening, that All-American event up at Portland, up at Nike,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah told The Post. “I walked on the practice field and saw [Trent] Dilfer. It was the only year we’ve ever broadcast that event for the network. I went over and talked to Trent: ‘All right, who are the dudes here?’ And he pointed right to Trevor and told me all about him, he’s like, ‘This kid is like an athletic Drew Bledsoe.’ And ironically [Justin] Fields was there, too. That was the second guy that he pointed out to me to keep an eye on.”
And what did Jeremiah observe about Lawrence?
“Very polished, always under control, on balance, obviously, the obvious stuff, the ball jumps out of his hand and he can really spin the football,” he said. “He carried himself very mature for, I guess he was probably 17, 18 years old.”
Lawrence wore No. 16 at Clemson because Peyton Manning wore 16 at Tennessee. Lawrence is viewed with the same can’t-miss lens as Manning and Luck, also first-overall picks.
“He has a longer body of work than any of the other [Class of 2021] quarterbacks,” Riddick said. “He’s done it at a high level within that body of work for three years, and competed at a championship level, been durable. He has displayed a high level of efficiency in all the areas of quarterback play that you want a quarterback to display a high level of efficiency — completion percentage, yards per attempt — each year it’s going up. There’s no off-the-field nonsense or nothing like that. He’s clean off the field.
“And then when you look at his measurables as far as height, weight and speed, the way he’s functionally using that stuff on the football field, I don’t like using the phrase checking the boxes, it leads you to saying he’s about as close to can’t miss whether it be quarterback or defensive back or anything else. There’s not really much more he could do in his college career than what he did, and when you add it all up, and you compare it to other players who have come out at that position and other players who have played that position and played it successfully in the NFL, you go he has a pretty damn reasonable chance of being one of the real, real good ones.
“Now, what really is going to determine that, which is where the conversation dies off and becomes a little hazy, is what’s it gonna be like once he gets to Jacksonville? How’s it gonna be for him in terms of the culture that they established down there? What’s it gonna be like in terms of the consistency of the play-caller down there, and the people who are upfront blocking for him and the weapons that are gonna be around him and how do they develop? And then, how do they utilize all that on the football field? There’s so many other factors that are gonna go into him being miss or can’t miss. We’ll never be able to pinpoint what reason it was that he was either great or he wasn’t. But he damn sure is lining up to a lot of the things right now that make you believe ‘Hey, I’m gonna take a chance on this guy.’ ”
JaMarcus Russell was the first pick in 2007. He lasted three years with the Raiders. He threw 18 touchdowns against 23 interceptions. His win-loss record was 7-18. Jeff George was the first pick in 1990. He lasted four years with the Colts. He threw 41 TDs against 46 INTs. His win-loss record was 14-35. Lawrence won’t be Russell or George.
“It’s gonna be hard for me to imagine him not being successful because when you add up the physical stuff with the intangibles that he has, the ability to learn, the work ethic — the intangible stuff’s off the charts,” Jeremiah said. “And he’s somebody that’s going to be system diverse and versatile. I think he’s almost foolproof in that regard, that there’s not some system that he’s not gonna be able to run. He can do anything you want to do.”
NFL Network analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner was higher on Luck coming out of Stanford than he is on Lawrence now.
“I believe he’s the most complete of these guys, he’s athletic, he can make all the throws,” Warner told The Post, “but a big part of the game at the NFL level is the ability to process information quickly, get through reads, get it to the right guy, understand how to make those different throws that you have to make. Of this group, without question, he to me is the most sure thing, or the most complete of all of them. But you watch some of these college offenses and you go, ‘Man, I’d like to see more plays where they had to process and get through things.’ There were times that I felt he got away from technique a little bit, got a little wide in his platform for throwing, and the ball would hang on him a little bit. Maybe it’s not a factor, ’cause a lot of that stuff can be well, the scheme was just simplified at the college level, or certain things were accentuated because of the level of play, and that changes at the NFL level.
“So I really like Trevor Lawrence, I like how complete he is, but at the same time I’m not ready to say that he is a lock to be a sure thing in terms of being a really good quarterback at the NFL level.”
ESPN NFL analyst Matt Miller marvels: “His footwork in the pocket for being 6-foot-6 is really rare. You don’t see tall players move as well as he does.”
Joe Flacco was 6-foot-6. He became a Super Bowl MVP. The flip side is 6-foot-8 Dan McGwire, 6-foot-7 Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch and Mike Glennon. Miller isn’t worried about Lawrence.
“No because he’s so athletic,” Miller said. “And I think he plays with such a —for lack of a better term — like a springy base. He’s light on his feet. He’s always up on his toes, he’s always ready to throw. You don’t see the batted balls like you did with some of the other tall guys either. He understands how to move and find those passing windows.”
Lawrence needs to put more meat on those bones, and will need to be more judicious at 213 pounds burning NFL defenses with his legs the way he did in college. But if he isn’t a can’t miss, he’s as close to a can’t miss as you will find.
“He’s not perfect,” Miller said. “He turns the ball over a little bit too much, he’s got some fumbling that turns up sometimes when he holds the ball too long, he sometimes drops the ball in his delivery, but he’s boring because he’s so good. Like he’s not fun to watch, because he’s so good as a prospect. He’s just forever — it’s like, ‘Oh he’ll be the first pick of the draft,’ and he’s played up to that standard, which is really impressive in itself.”
Lawrence, who was 86-4 in high school and college, and beat Alabama as a freshman for the national championship, will lose more as a rookie in the NFL. He’s humble enough and grounded enough and even-keeled enough to handle it. No one doubts that he would have handled the New York market had the Jets Tanked For Trevor, but Jacksonville seems like a more comfortable place for a kid from tiny Cartersville, Ga.
“It’s probably gonna be the most defining moment in Jaguars history since we were awarded the team ,” says Eric Dillard, a proud member of the Bold City Brigade Fan Club. “We haven’t even drafted him yet, and the vibes in town are matching how they were in 2017 when we went to the playoffs for the first time in forever.”
Lawrence donated $20,000 to three Jacksonville charities after Jags fans initially raised $300 for a toaster on his wedding gift registry. The fans raised $11,203. Revolution Cooking, the toaster company, donated $5,000. Local PGA golfer Billy Horschel donated $18,734.
“He just carries himself like any old regular person,” Dillard said, “and that’s just like Jacksonville personified … laid-back Trevor and laid-back Jacksonville.”