Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence is one of just two rookie first-round quarterbacks who have yet to find a win through the first month of the season, but don't let that cloud what Lawrence has felt, his coaches and fans have seen, and what defenses have to prepare for: his rapid improvement.
"I think I’m just playing a lot smarter ball," Lawrence proclaimed on Wednesday. And as simple as that is, Lawrence is right. And that is what boils down to his improvement.
In short, Lawrence's first three weeks were marred by inaccurate throws, hero ball decisions, and too many turnovers. But over the last two games, Lawrence has done a 180, reversing his poor decisions and delivering more accurate passes. And as a result, the Jaguars' offense has gotten better by leaps and bounds, even if it is still a work in progress.
"I think I’ve been more accurate, worked the pocket better, situational football’s been a lot better. Obviously, the past two games have been my best as far as decisions go and completion percentage, accuracy, all those things. I think those are my two best games, so that says a lot."
Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft and considered a generational quarterback prospect since high school, didn't have the start to the NFL that many thought the alleged best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck would have. In his first three games, he threw seven interceptions and lost two fumbles, completing over 55% of his passes only once in three attempts, and never having an adjusted net yards per attempt of over 5.0.
Lawrence wasn't aided by one of the NFL's worst defenses or a disappointing receiver room, but his nine turnovers in the first three weeks are a major reason why the Jaguars started 0-3. These types of rookie mistakes happen to all rookie passers, but due to the expectations around Lawrence, many weren't prepared for him to go through the same lows.
But he did. Lawrence failed and learned in his first few starts, and has since implemented what he learned to make him a better quarterback. A quarterback who is hardly recognizable from the version of himself who trotted onto the field in Week 1.
"I feel like I’m getting better every week and just trusting that that’s going to put us in situations to win games down the road. Obviously up to this point it hasn’t, but we’re going to keep getting better eventually if I keep doing my job. I’m going to make the plays," Lawrence said this week.
"I have faith in my ability that when there’s a play to be made, I’ll make it. But just doing the little things every play to take care of the football, to get it in our guys’ hands that can go make plays, and really just to put us in a position to win, we’re eventually going to win some of these. That’s what I’m going to keep trying to do every week and that’s what I think I’m getting better at.”
But just how much has Lawrence improved, at least compared to his peers? When looking at what the advanced numbers say about his first three starts compared to his last two, it isn't hard to see that Lawrence has simply gotten better.
Through the first three weeks of the year, Lawrence was nearly dead-last in most advanced stats due to his turnovers. Out of 35 quarterbacks, Lawrence was ranked No. 32 in EPA/play, No. 30 in success rate, No. 34 in completion percentage over expectation, and No. 34 in EPA/CPOE composite.
But over the last two weeks, Lawrence has skyrocketed. In Weeks 4-5, is No. 16 out of 34 quarterbacks in EPA/CPOE composite, No. 19 in EPA/Play, No. 7 in success rate, and No. 5 in CPOE. He now has two games in a row with a completion rate over 60% and his 5.67 yards per attempt figure from the first three weeks has increased to 8.37 over the last two weeks.
“Yeah since I’m learning just how to really prepare and what works for me and what I feel more comfortable with I think I have gotten better at [preparing]. It’s so much about defensive film but it’s also about knowing your plan inside and out so when the defense does something you’re not expecting, [you’re prepared]," Lawrence said.
"Like you can’t watch every single play ever that they could do. You’re not going to know everything that’s going to come, so you have to be able to react and know where everyone is in your concept or whatever your checkdown is, scramble, whatever it is. You have to know where everybody is so you can react. I think that’s definitely a step that I’ve taken is putting just as much focus on us and what we’re doing as the defense because at the end of the day, we have to execute. It doesn’t matter if I know [what the defense is doing]. It’s like the first game, I knew what coverage they were running almost every play and I threw three picks, so that doesn’t always correlate to being successful.”
By every metric possible, Lawrence has improved. He has made more plays with his arms, legs, and mind. He is making better decisions, turning the ball over once in the last two weeks -- a meaningless interception on the final play of an 18-point loss to the Titans in Week 5.
“I see so much growth from him. I see so much in leadership, I see so much in his decision-making, his accuracy, his trust," Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer said this week.
"The best quarterbacks should coordinate a defense, so the best quarterbacks should be able to go coordinate the defense and I see that happening. I see his knowledge of defense with Coach [Brian] Schottenheimer doing a really good job with his progress. He’s very comfortable and I’m going to add this, he’s an absolute warrior. I mean he is a competitive maniac.”
The game has slowed down for Trevor Lawrence. That is good news for the Jaguars and bad news for the opponents on their remaining schedule. In a year where the Jaguars have quickly fallen out of contention and where Lawrence's development has become the most important storyline, the Jaguars can't ask for much more.
Lawrence has a long way to go, of course. He has yet to have a full four-quarter shredding of a defense where he is putting up video game-type numbers, but those will come in time. Until then, he has looked more comfortable with every passing snap, every attempt, every drop back, and every new look defenses throw at him.
The eye test says it, the coaches say it, the numbers say it, and Lawrence himself has said it. Now, the next step is to continue to elevate his game while helping a struggling Jaguars team figure out how to win a game.
“Just to continue to master what we’re doing," Jaguars offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said about the next step for Lawrence.
"I think the last few weeks, he has continued to progress. I mean, we turned the ball over on the last play, but he’s been protecting the ball. But just continuing to master our offense and we’ll be able to continue to move along with it.