JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Trevor Lawrence is the most coveted college quarterback in nearly a decade and universally regarded as the best player in the upcoming NFL draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars have the first overall selection.
So the Jaguars, who haven’t had a franchise quarterback since Mark Brunell in the late 1990s and early 2000s, will snatch up the former Clemson standout and start their rebuild under new coach Urban Meyer. That’s what pretty much every mock draft out there says. That’s what pretty much everyone in the NFL universe believes.
And yet there are some Jaguars fans that are fearful, apprehensive or convinced that the Jaguars won’t do it. Why? Because nobody associated with the Jaguars -- not Meyer, not general manager Trent Baalke, not owner Shad Khan -- has said Lawrence will be the pick. They’ve been given multiple opportunities to do so, too. So, some fans worry.
“We’ve talked,” Meyer said, referring to himself and Baalke. “That’s a three-month, two-month [process]. I think we all know there’s a couple incredible players out there, but my focus has been on the [coaching] staff. But to say we haven’t talked about it, of course we have, and that’s going to be a deep, deep dive.”
There shouldn’t be any panic, though. What the Jaguars are doing is standard operating procedure in the NFL. Teams with the No. 1 overall pick do not tip their hand. The Cincinnati Bengals never said they were taking Joe Burrow last year. The Arizona Cardinals didn’t say they were taking Kyler Murray in 2019, in fact at one point Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said incumbent QB Josh Rosen “is our guy.”
You have to go back to 2009 to find a team that proclaimed early who they were going to take with the first pick. That year, the Detroit Lions signed quarterback Matthew Stafford to a six-year contract one day before the draft. The year before that, the Miami Dolphins signed offensive tackle Jake Long to a five-year contract four days before the draft began.
Andrew Luck was the no-brainer No. 1 pick in 2012 and while Indianapolis told Luck they were taking him over Robert Griffin III a week before the draft, the Colts didn’t announce it publicly.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. rates Lawrence as one of the best quarterback prospects of the past 40 years and said there’s a significant gap between Lawrence and the other quarterbacks in the class, which is why he said there’s no justification for the Jaguars taking anyone else with the first overall pick.
“I go back to [John] Elway, Peyton [Manning], Andrew Luck and now Trevor,” Kiper said. “Even Matthew Stafford when he came out of high school, I thought he would be the No. 1 pick in the draft. Certain guys like that, that you know when they come out of college are going to be locked into being the No. 1 guy. He [Lawrence] was No. 1 out of high school. He’s No. 1 now. He’s significantly better than the No. 2 quarterback in this draft, Zach Wilson or Justin Fields."
“It’s Trevor by miles and certainly he’s going to be expected to be everything those quarterbacks we talked about have become.”
And let’s be clear: Meyer really likes Lawrence. Speaking on Fox Sports while breaking down a potential Alabama-Clemson college football playoff matchup after the 2019 season, Meyer called Lawrence “the best quarterback in college football, ever.”
Not doing homework on the other top quarterbacks, however, would be irresponsible.
“[Having the No. 1 pick] certainly puts you in the driver’s seat, but there are no easy decisions in the National Football League,” Baalke said. “You work through the process, you do the best job you can, and then you make the decision based on the knowledge that you’ve acquired.”
For Kiper, who has been part of ESPN’s draft coverage since 1984, the knowledge points to no other player at No. 1 but Lawrence ... unless Deshaun Watson is somehow available. If the Houston Texans were willing to deal the disgruntled quarterback to their AFC South rival, Kiper would gladly make that deal.
“I’m taking Deshaun Watson,” Kiper said. “The reason is, I know he’s great. He had an ACL at Clemson, he had an ACL with the Texans, but he’s 25 years old, he’s a proven entity. He’s a franchise quarterback already. ... I would trade Trevor for Deshaun Watson, but obviously that’s the only one that would make you think about not going forward with Trevor.”
A potential trade is also the main reason why the Jaguars shouldn’t come out and say they’re taking Lawrence, Kiper said. There are a handful of teams that likely wouldn’t be interested in moving up to No. 1 to take Lawrence -- Green Bay and Kansas City, for example -- but most would, and what’s the harm in listening to any trade proposals?
You never know what kind of compensation you could get, Kiper said, and you may just get an offer you can’t refuse.
“There is a curiosity to see if somebody wants Trevor, what would you be willing to give up for that first pick?” Kiper said. “Look what [the Los Angeles Rams] gave up for Stafford. Two No. 1s, a three and Jared Goff. You never know. I don’t think Jacksonville will listen to any of it, but at least it opens up the opportunity to say, ‘OK we have the No. 1 pick, Trevor Lawrence is our guy, what do you want [to offer for him]?’”
For the Jaguars to even consider dealing the top pick for anyone other than Watson, they’d have to have another quarterback rated pretty closely with Lawrence and believe the compensation would be enough to overcome that gap.
“Say they had Justin Fields or Zach Wilson close enough to say, ‘Hey, you give me five No. 1s and I get Zach Wilson, then I’d think about it,’” Kiper said “If they had it close enough to justify that. I don’t, but if they did have him close enough or Justin Fields close enough to justify that, then you would be open to maybe thinking about it."
“That’s why you leave it open to see if teams want to make a move, what’s the offer? You listen to everything just for curiosity, to see what that pick would be worth knowing that that’s Trevor Lawrence.”
Considering how desperately the Jaguars need a franchise quarterback, how highly regarded Lawrence is as a prospect, the unlikelihood of the Texans being willing to trade Watson within the division, and the fact that having the No. 1 pick and the opportunity to land Lawrence was a big reason Meyer agreed to come out of retirement and take a crack at the NFL for the first time, it seems the Jaguars staying put is pretty much a sure thing.
So, Lawrence should be wearing teal this fall.
“As Shad said, this is a monumental moment for this franchise,” Meyer said. “We’ve seen some franchises explode and we’ve seen others fail. I’ve said this many times throughout my career, is that when the NFL says it’s a quarterback league, I would say, ‘Well, so is college and so is high school, so is Pop Warner.’"
“It’s a quarterback sport, so whoever takes that snap, we have got to be right on.”