Trevor Lawrence leaves the Clemson football program as one of the greatest to ever play the position in a Tiger uniform.
However, it is possible that his greatest gift to the Clemson football program will occur during the evening of April 29, 2021, when he will become the Tigers' first-ever No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
Lawrence "recorded one of the most celebrated careers by a quarterback in college football history from 2018-20, leading Clemson to a national championship as a true freshman in 2018 and serving as the face and voice of the sport in the two seasons that followed … concluded his career 34-2 (.944) as a starter, the third-best winning percentage by a starting quarterback with at least 30 career starts since Division I split in 1978, trailing only Miami’s Ken Dorsey (.950) and USC’s Matt Leinart (.949), according to ESPN Stats & Info
"Exited as the winningest starting quarterback in Clemson history, surpassing the 32 career wins held by Rodney Williams, Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson … finished second in 2020 Heisman Trophy voting, tying Deshaun Watson for the highest finish in school history… (the) first quarterback ever to win three ACC Championship Games … was only the sixth quarterback in ACC history to record 10,000 career passing yards and finished tied for third in conference history in career passing touchdowns.," according to the Tigers' official website.
While he didn't win the Heisman Trophy, given each year to the "most outstanding player" in college football, Lawrence's effect on the Clemson program will be far greater than any trophy.
The gift of having a No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, has the ability to fundamentally change the way recruits, fans and the nation view the Clemson program.
Since the inception of the NFL Draft in 1936, the Tigers have had four players break the top 5 in the draft—Banks McFadden, Gaines Adams, Sammy Watkins and Clelin Ferrell.
While many people may wonder what the big deal is with finally breaking the ceiling of a No. 1 pick, let's look at the teams who rank with the most No. 1 picks all-time:
USC: Ron Yary (1968); O.J. Simpson (1969); Ricky Bell (1977); Keyshawn Johnson (1996); Carson Palmer (2003).
Notre Dame: Angelo Bertelli (1944); Frank Dancewicz (1946); Leon Hart (1950); Paul Hornung (1957); Walt Patulski (1972).
Oklahoma: LeRoy Selmon (1976); Billy Sims (1980); Sam Bradford (2010); Baker Mayfield (2018); Kyler Murray (2019).
These three programs each have five No. 1 picks, and minus a couple of years are seen as blue-blood programs. Programs that have established themselves. Programs that recruits want to play for because they have shown the ability to not only put players into the NFL, but put them in the most coveted spot.
In fact, one could argue that the ability to recruit with a former No. 1 pick in the draft is a far greater draw than a Heisman Trophy.
According to Harvard Sports Analysis, "The 94th pick is as close to the normal pick, having a draft value of 100.3 and a CAV (CAV is the comparative value of each pick versus the normal pick and is based off of real, historical, on-field performance) of 15. If Josh McCown had retired instead of signing as Caleb Hanie’s backup with the Chicago Bears...he would have ended his career with a CAV of 15. So if a team uses the 94th overall pick, it should expect to draft a player with a comparable value to Josh McCown: a marginal backup who may spend some time in the United Football League, but will also have some productive outings in the NFL.
"In contrast, the first overall pick has a value of 494.6, almost five times greater than the 94thpick; so one should expect a player with a CAV of 74. Brad Johnson, Rodney Harrison, and Corey Dillon all had CAV’s of 74. Given the first overall pick, that is the kind caliber player one should expect to draft: Pro-Bowlers who can help lead their team to a Super Bowl victory. One cannot expect to get a player like Peyton Manning, although it is a possibility; instead, one should anticipate a player of Harrison, Dillon, and Johnson’s caliber."
All of that means that the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft has a higher ceiling, and offers a greater return on average to make more money and be a better player than any other pick. Duh?
But until this year, Clemson has not been able to recruit with this additional weapon. Head coach Dabo Swinney has never had a No. 1 ranked recruiting class. Yet he still gets some of the best players in the nation to sign with the Tigers. But he also has never been able to walk into recruits home and say, "You see that guy, the No. 1 pick in the draft, the guy that is out there making all that money...we helped make him what you see."
The Heisman Trophy will come, sooner rather than later, but the NFL Draft of 2021 will could fundamentally change the way that Clemson football is perceived nationally. When Lawrence hears his name called, it will give the Tigers another quill in the bag of arrows, another tool to use in their toolbag, a piece of history that can never be taken away and it will elevate them to the status of the elite in college football.