We all know Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is going to go number one overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. And rightfully so. We’ve all heard how incredible he is and is arguably the greatest prospect of all time ... but let's take a step back for a moment.
For years, people have been comparing Lawrence to guys like Peyton Manning and John Elway, but those quarterbacks were coming into almost a completely different league. While the comparisons make sense in some ways, the game has changed dramatically in the decades since they stepped foot in the NFL.
So instead, we take a look at how Lawrence compares to quarterbacks of recent memory who ended up being drafted No. 1 overall. Guys that walked into the league under the same general rules, style, and landscape are more likely to tell us how Lawrence will stack up in today's NFL.
Cam Newton 2011 – Auburn
So let's start with the oldest of the bunch on this particular list with Cam Newton. To give you a reminder of what Newton did in college, here are some notable accolades: Heisman Trophy winner, National Champion, threw for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns, and ran for another 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns in his lone year at Auburn.
As a prospect, Newton was worthy of being the No. 1 one pick out of Auburn just like Lawrence is this year out of Clemson. And for good reason. He was coming off one of the best college football seasons we’ve ever seen, winning the Heisman trophy and the National Championship.
He had all the measurable too. Stop me if you’ve heard this saying before, but if you were to build a quarterback in a lab it would be Newton. His combination of size (6-foot-5 & 245 pounds), athleticism, arm strength, and speed is honestly second to none.
Lawrence however is obviously no slouch in those categories as well. He stands tall at 6-foot-6 and weighs in around 220 pounds and is pretty darn athletic in his own right. He isn't as powerful or athletic as Newton, but he brings value with his legs.
Where Lawrence and Newton really differ is in their accuracy. Even as an established quarterback in the league Newton has always struggled with being extremely accurate. He has all the arm strength you can dream of, but his touch was something that needed some work even coming out of college. And in the NFL, Lawrence clearly stacks up more favorably for what is required and asked of an NFL quarterback in terms of the passing game.
Even for his shortcomings as an extremely accurate passer, Newton has had a great career and is currently trying to rekindle the success he had in Carolina where he was the offensive rookie of the year in 2011, the MVP in 2015, went to three Pro Bowls and became arguably the best dual-threat quarterback in NFL history.
Newton already has the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in NFL history with 70 and is still playing. Lawrence obviously won’t do that, but if he is able to make it to three Pro Bowls in his first four years and a Super Bowl in his fifth year it would be a pretty damn good start to his career.
Andrew Luck 2012 – Stanford
Andrew Luck was the gold standard among college quarterback prospects and when you look at his accomplishments you understand why. In three years, Luck threw for 9,430 yards and 82 touchdowns for a 162.8 career rating. He won the 2010 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year and Johnny Unitas Award, the 2011 Maxwell, Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.
Luck is the guy everyone has been comparing Lawrence to as a prospect for over two years now. Luck checked all the boxes for what you want from a franchise guy under center and is a great look at what Lawrence could experience in the NFL.
In terms of measurables, Luck had them in spades.
He threw a fantastic ball, was tough as hell, very smart, and could make things happen on the ground too. And at 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds, he was built in the ideal mold as well.
Luck is widely thought of as the highest-graded prospect ever…. before Lawrence this season. They are so very much alike in a ton of ways, but there is one major difference between them. And it can be a big or little one depending on how you look at it.
Lawrence was thrust into the limelight immediately. He was starting as a true freshman at 18 years old and dominating teams like Alabama in the National Championship game. And while Luck did play his freshman year, he only completed 56% of his passes and tossed only 13 touchdowns.
For comparison, Lawrence completed 65% of his passes and tossed 30 touchdowns in his freshman year. They also threw the same number on interceptions with four each. Furthermore, while Luck played in some big games, including the Rose Bowl he never played in THE big game. But did it hinder his ability at the next level? No.
Does it matter all that much? I don’t know, but it definitely doesn’t hurt to have competed at the highest level of your sport on the biggest stage in the National Championship game multiple times. That’s simply where they differ.
At the NFL level though Lawrence would be thrilled to have the start to his career Luck had. If not for one of the most spectacular rookie seasons ever from Robert Griffin III, Luck would have been named rookie of the year in 2012. Luck would however make three straight Pro Bowls to start his career.
And this won’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet, but if you watched the Colts throughout his career in Indianapolis he kept that franchise afloat for most of his career before retiring in 2019. Outside of two seasons in which he was hurt, Luck threw for 3,800 yards every single season and went over 4,000 yards four times.
Lawrence hopefully will have a longer career than Luck, but it’s hard to top the production you saw out of 2012's top pick. Lawrence is seen as that good. Those are the levels he is expected to reach.
Jameis Winston 2015 – Florida State
Jameis Winston was a massive hit in college even despite playing just two seasons. In those two years, he threw for 7,964 yards and 65 touchdowns for a 163.3 rating. And in 2013 he won basically every award imaginable like the Heisman, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, AP Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year Award in 2013.
Winston is a more interesting comparison. He is another pretty clear-cut top choice for the Buccaneers back in 2015 out of Florida State. He, like Newton, won a Heisman and a National Championship in college, but unlike Newton, it was not his last year in college.
Winston was just a redshirt freshman in that season so he returned to FSU in 2014. And while they went to the college football playoff, it was definitely a step down from his season prior in 2013. He only tossed 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions in his final year as opposed to 40 touchdowns and just ten interceptions in his Heisman trophy-winning season.
Maybe that final year was a sign of things to come. Even with that though he was clearly the top quarterback in the draft and we all saw why. He had a great arm and size at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds and could really push the ball downfield when he wanted to.
However, his decision-making was less than stellar in his final season, and took a big step back. And that’s where he and Lawrence really differ. Even though Lawrence’s only title was in his freshman season he as a quarterback improved every single year. His completion percentage, yards per attempt, and rating went up each season. And maybe that is also a sign of things to come.
In the league, Winston has had an up-and-down career, but his ups were certainly big ones. He won NFL Rookie of the Year in 2015 after throwing for 4,042 yards and 22 touchdowns. He would throw for 4,000 plus yards two more times, including in 2019 when he threw for 5,109 yards.
However, his interceptions would turn into a bigger issue and in 2019 he tossed 33 touchdowns but also contributed 30 interceptions. He is now the presumed starter for the New Orleans Saints after Drew Brees retired this offseason. Lawrence’s career is expected to be much more consistent, and if his college career is any indication that will be the case. He may not have a 5,000-yard season, but the hope is he will never come close to a 33-interception one either.
Baker Mayfield 2018 – Oklahoma
Baker Mayfield was one the most productive college quarterbacks of recent memory. He threw for 12,292 career yards and 119 touchdowns at Oklahoma and ran for another 893 yards and 18 touchdowns in just three seasons for the Sooners.
He also was no slouch in terms of awards. He won the 2015 Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and 2017 Heisman, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, Manning, Walter Camp Player of the Year, AP Player of the Year, and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Award.
Mayfield and Lawrence are incredibly different though. Mayfield was a two-time walk-on in college, stands only 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, and had to grind and fight to become as good as he did at Oklahoma.
Lawrence has arguably been the best quarterback in the country at his level since he was 15 years old. And yet Mayfield was able to win a Heisman, come within a few minutes of reaching a National Championship, and went No. 1 overall in 2018.
Now, it was in some people’s minds a big surprise he went before Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen. At the very least he was never the consensus number one pick. So, where are they actually similar?
In terms of athleticism, these two are actually fairly close. Mayfield obviously used his legs a lot more in college and was well known for it. Lawrence is maybe not as quick and twitchy on the ground as Mayfield, but their overall speed is right on par with each other. Just watch Lawrence go 67 yards against Ohio State in the semifinal game in 2019. He didn’t run nearly as much, but that never meant he didn’t have the ability to.
In terms of their arms, Lawrence is a cut above Mayfield. The ball really flies out of his hands it seems. It doesn’t look like he has to try very hard to get a lot on his throws. Mayfield seems to really have to put a lot more into his throws downfield.
As a three-year starter, Mayfield has had a solid start to his NFL career. He may not have won rookie of the year, but he did set the rookie touchdown passing record with 27 tosses before Justin Herbert broke it last season.
He didn’t have a great sophomore season after throwing 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, but bounced back for 3,563 yards, 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He has developed into a very quality quarterback, but the truth is if Lawrence is playing at his level, it would be seen as a bit of a disappointment.
Kyler Murray 2019 – Oklahoma
Kyler Murray does not have a storied career like Luck or Mayfield, but his one season in 2019 was incredible. Murray burst onto the scene in his lone season starting for Oklahoma in 2018 after transferring from Texas A&M.
He threw for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns for a 199.2 rating. He also ran the ball 140 times for another 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns. If you’re bad at math, that is 5,362 offensive yards and 54 touchdowns.
As you can imagine Murray won a lot of awards too. He won the Heisman, Davey O’Brien, Manning, AP Player of the Year and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2019.
Like Mayfield though, Murray and Lawrence are more different than they are alike. For starters, it was unclear up until a few months before the draft if he was even going to stick with football after being drafted by the Oakland A’s ninth overall to play baseball.
But after his season and some thought, he stuck with football and is an incredibly unique talent at that. Compared to Lawrence, Murray is much quicker and faster with the ball in his hands. He also has a much quicker release.
Unlike Mayfield, though Murray and Lawrence do have a few things in common. They both have an incredible natural talent for throwing the football and can make any throw in the game. In terms of arm strength, the edge may actually go to Murray. Not by much but even at just 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds he can sling it with the best of them.
Lawrence though had much better consistent accuracy as a college quarterback simply because he did it over the course of three years to Murray's just one. He also has a much better ability to hang in the pocket and make plays. Murray certainly has that ability, but he likes to get outside of the pocket and make things happen with his feet and create.
Although he has only been in the league two years Murray has created an impact. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019, although as Jaguars fans know that may have been more of an award for being the first pick rather than his actual performance. However, in his second year, he made up for it.
He nearly threw for 4,000 yards at 3,971, 26 touchdowns, and 12 picks. Those are very solid numbers on their own, but he also ran for 819 yards and 11 more touchdowns on the ground and was at one point in consideration for the league’s MVP.
Lawrence will not produce those numbers on the ground, but he very well could match his passing numbers. It will certainly be interesting to see how quickly he can do so.
Joe Burrow 2020 – LSU
If Murray’s college numbers were impressive, you may want to sit down for what Joe Burrow did at LSU in 2019. He started two seasons and in total, he amassed 8,852 yards and 78 touchdowns for a 173.2 rating through the air. He also did damage on the ground, rushing 243 times for 767 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Burrow might be the closest thing to Lawrence as quarterback outside of Luck among this list. While he only really had one great season in 2019-2020 it was the most historic season from a quarterback in college football history, throwing for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns to just six interceptions and completing 76% of his passes.
It was a magical season and Burrow turned himself into the clear number one pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Compared to Lawrence they measure up fairly similar. Burrow is 6-foot-4 and weighs 221 pounds so they are close in height and weight.
Among all these quarterbacks listed Burrow might be the most accurate of the bunch. His combination of traits, accuracy, and decision-making is right on par with Lawrence. So where are they different?
Well, Lawrence is the better athlete and can utilize his legs more than Burrow. Not that Burrow can’t move a bit but he doesn’t have Lawrence’s speed. Burrow also had a similar road as Mayfield. He decided to transfer from Ohio State after not seeing the field for three years.
It worked out great for him, but like Mayfield he had to really work to improve and become the quarterback he is. Does that mean Lawrence doesn’t work? Absolutely not. But Lawrence was a natural talent and has been blowing people away since he was a sophomore in high school.
Lawrence also has a stronger arm than Burrow. Neither has a massive arm, but Lawrence has a bit more pop on his throws when he chucks it deep.
As for his NFL career thus far Burrow burst onto the scene and then was halted by a season-ending knee injury in Week 10 this past season. In just ten games, Burrow threw for 2,688 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions on 65% completion percentage and was probably going to win Rookie of the Year before the injury.
Burrow was able to prove his great year at LSU wasn’t just a one-hit-wonder. He quickly showed he was a legit NFL quarterback. Lawrence doesn’t have many doubters, but success at the next level is never a guarantee. If Lawrence can make a similar burst onto the scene it would be a good sign of things to come.
All of these quarterbacks share certain abilities as Trevor and compare with him. Some even completely outdo Lawrence in particular categories such as Murray’s quickness and speed or Newton's combination of size, strength, and speed.
However, none of them have the combination of a quarterback pedigree, physical traits, leadership, and experience coming out of college quite like Lawrence. There may be faster and stronger quarterbacks and even more accurate ones, but few are the complete package like Lawrence. Luck is very close and Burrow’s 2019 season was incredible, but even those two as prospects did not possess the natural talent Lawrence does.
Overall all of these quarterbacks have had success at the next level. Some more than others, and if Lawrence is considered better than each and every one of them it will certainly be interesting to see how quickly he can adapt to the NFL and start torching defenses like he is expected to.