Trevor Lawrence caught the eye of NFL evaluators Monday night when he threw for 347 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in Clemson’s national title game win over Alabama. I polled several scouts about the true freshman QB, and everyone I spoke with agreed that yes, Lawrence is potentially the best prospect since Andrew Luck, and yes, if he were eligible for the 2019 draft he’d be in the conversation for the No. 1 pick. But they also agreed the hype machine is running wild—teams aren’t making plans to stock up 2021 draft picks in order to land Lawrence when he’s eligible. At least not yet.
On Monday, Lawrence started off shaky on Clemson’s first two possessions, but you could see a glimpse of his NFL potential on his second completion of the championship game. On third-and-14 at Clemson’s 21-yard line, Lawrence spotted a flat-footed safety and threw a missile up the right seam. The ball traveled 43 yards through the air and was perfectly on-target, landing in Tee Higgins’s hands for a 62-yard gain that set up the Tigers’ first offensive touchdown. It was one of many NFL throws Lawrence made in an impressive game on college football’s biggest stage.
SI’S CLEMSON CHAMPIONSHIP PACKAGE:Celebrate the Tigers’ National Title
Scouts also saw some negatives in Lawrence’s game. On third-and-12 at Alabama’s 18 yard-line with 53 seconds left in the first half, Alabama rushed six, and running back Adam Choice slipped out of the backfield uncovered on the play, running a swing route toward the left sideline. Drifting back with a defender in his face, Lawrence’s pass sailed over Choice’s head. One scout pointed out this specific play as an example of a play Lawrence didn’t make—with the right touch on the ball, Choice would likely have headed down the sideline for a touchdown.
Scouts will be watching as Lawrence expands his body of work over the next two seasons. Specifically, they want to see how he responds to adversity. Clemson went 15-0 in 2018, and their largest deficit of the season was 10 points against Syracuse in a September game. Lawrence left that game in the first half with an injury, and it was backup Chase Brice who piloted the Tigers’ comeback.
ANOTHER UNDERCLASSMEN RECORD
According to NFL.com’s tracker, a record 117 underclassmen have applied for early entry to the 2019 draft. Other unofficial counts have the number over 120. Last year, 106 underclassmen declared for the draft, and in 2016, that number was 95. The number hovered between 30-60 underclassmen until 2014, when 98 underclassmen declared for the draft.
The problem, of course, is that fewer than 260 players are drafted every year, and when you factor in the senior class it’s clear that many players will declare early and go undrafted. And several scouts point to players who passed up the 2018 draft and raised their stocks, like Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen and Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. This year, Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown would have been one of the top defensive linemen taken, but he has decided to return for his senior season.
The deadline for early entry is Monday, and one notable underclassman to watch for is Oklahoma junior quarterback Kyler Murray. We reported in December that Murray's name had been submitted for a draft grade from the college advisory committee and NFL scouts who visited Oklahoma came away expecting him to enter the NFL draft instead of starting a baseball career, as he had originally planned. Now the baseball side is confirming the same. This report from the San Francisco Chronicle cites sources with the Oakland A’s who also believe Murray will enter the NFL draft.
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