The hype around Trevor Lawrence when he entered the league was almost unprecedented. Since high school, he has been billed as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, and was viewed as the no-doubt, slam-dunk first overall pick for the 2021 NFL Draft.
His rookie year was a bit of a disappointment. He finished the season with a 59.6 completion percentage, led the league with 17 interceptions and threw only 12 touchdown passes with 3,641 passing yards in his first season in the league. And in a time where quarterbacks like Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert provided instant gratification to their teams, speculation immediately emerged as to whether Lawrence really was the Prince Who Was Promised.
Still, many were willing to chalk up his rookie struggles to a bizarre season that was marred by drama involving short-lived head coach Urban Meyer and a team that was still bad enough to finish with the worst record in the NFL and land the first overall pick in the 2022 draft.
Those who preached patience with Lawrence are certainly looking vindicated now. Lawrence has shined in the 2022 campaign, particularly down the stretch of the year as he has brought the Jaguars into the playoff picture and given Jacksonville a chance to win the AFC South. Along the way, he has picked up wins over top-tier defenses like the Ravens and Cowboys. He’ll get another shot at taking down a talented defense on “Thursday Night Football” when he faces the Jets.
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How has he pulled off such a drastic turnaround? Here’s a look at some key numbers to his impressive sophomore season:
Trevor Lawrence stats
2022 stats: 330 of 500 (66% completion percentage), 3,520 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 49 carries, 239 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns
It doesn’t take an advanced quarterback analyst to see the difference between Lawrence as a rookie and Lawrence as a second-year player. His completion percentage is up nearly 7 percent. He already has twice as many passing touchdowns despite 29 fewer completions. And of course, he has just seven interceptions where he had 17 a season ago.
For those looking for some more advanced stats, this year, he ranks ninth in defense-adjusted yards above replacement (783) and ninth in expected points added (EPA) per play (0.140). Last year, he was 32nd in DYAR (-345) and 28th in EPA per play (-0.045). The numbers suggest he has gone from one of the worst quarterbacks in the league to a top 10 signal-caller.
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His stats are even more impressive during his past six games, however. Since a disappointing 21-17 loss to the Broncos in Week 8, Lawrence has completed 70.4 percent of his passes for 1,680 passing yards with 14 passing touchdowns and only one interceptions. He’s also rushed 22 times for 140 yards and another touchdown, though he has lost three fumbles.
There are a number of reasons for Lawrence’s drastic improvement this season, and obviously some are a bit more intangible. There’s no stat to show the difference between having a season with a non-distraction at coach like Doug Pederson vs. one constantly in the headlines for all the wrong reasons like Urban Meyer.
But this is a piece about his stats. So let’s look at the numbers.
Passing under pressure
There weren’t many passing situations in which Lawrence was effective in 2021, but he was particularly awful under pressure. According to ProFootballFocus, he had a passing grade of 40.0 when pressured, and threw seven of his 17 picks in those situations. He was pressured on 32.9 percent of dropbacks.
This year, he’s been pressured on only 28.4 percent of his dropbacks. He’s still struggled in those situations (34.6 PFF grade, four interceptions), but what’s more telling is what he’s done when he’s had a clean pocket with which to work. He has carved up defenses on the 71.6 percent of dropbacks when protected, posting a grade of 91.5 with a 20:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
The offensive line was solid in 2021, ranking 12th in pass blocking, per PFF, but there has been some improvement around the line. Jawaan Taylor and Cam Robinson have continued to provide standout protection from the outside, while Brandon Scherff has brought consistency to what was a revolving right guard position in 2021 and Tyler Shatley has made a noticeable improvement since shifting from center to left guard (61.3 grade in 2021, 69.7 in 2022).
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But Lawrence has also helped himself out by getting rid of the ball quicker. Last year, Lawrence ranked 19th among qualifying quarterbacks with 2.84 seconds to throw. This year, he’s getting the ball out much faster, rifling it out at 2.49 seconds, which is tied for second with Joe Burrow and trailing only Tom Brady. He’s getting the ball out in under 2.5 seconds on 57.2 percent of dropbacks compared to just 42.4 percent a season ago.
Why is that important? Last year, when he got the ball out in under 2.5 seconds, he had a passing grade of 72.4 and had turnover-worthy plays only 1.7 percent of the time. If he took longer, that grade dropped to 48.2 and the turnover-worthy plays spiked to 5 percent. This year, his passing grade getting rid of the ball under 2.5 seconds is 79.5 and the turnover-worthy play rate is just 1.5 percent. Over 2.5 seconds, it’s a grade of 64.2 and turnover-worthy play rate of 5.6 percent.
Trevor Lawrence averaged a career-low 2.39 seconds time to throw in the Jaguars 38-10 victory over the Chargers.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 25, 2022
Lawrence not only has better protection, but he’s doing his best to give defenders less time to get to him and impact the play. The result? He’s able to limit the risky throws and get the ball out quicker to his playmakers.
Short passing game
Fans love the deep ball. It’s one of the most exciting plays in the NFL, and Lawrence has a good one. His arm talent was one of his biggest strengths coming out of Clemson, and he was effective with deep balls in his rookie season, with a PFF grade of 73.6. While he has improved with the deep ball (85.6 passing grade in 2022), that’s not the biggest area of improvement.
That would be his short passing game. Last year, of all the four depths (behind line of scrimmage, short, medium, deep), his lowest PFF grade came on short passes (zero to nine yards) as he had a grade of 60.3. He was the second-worst quarterback among qualifying with that stat. While he completed 71.7 percent of his short passes, he also threw five interceptions with 2.8 percent of his plays being considered turnover-worthy, and only had two interceptions.
He has drastically improved his short passing in 2022. This year, his 73.9 passing grade ranks 11th. He’s upped his completion percentage to 76.4 percent, and has a 13:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on short passes. His turnover-worthy play rate? That would be a minuscule 0.9 percent, which ranks eighth.
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Part of his success in this area can once again be attributed to his throwing time. Last year, he took an average of 2.39 seconds to throw short passes, which was the 14th-slowest among qualifying quarterbacks. This year, it’s down to just 2.11 seconds. That’s the quickest in the league, ahead of Aaron Rodgers (2.16), Brady (2.21), Kyler Murray (2.22) and Burrow (2.25).
The improvements in the short passing game have accompanied improvements across the board — the only range in which he regressed is behind the line of scrimmage by a mere 2.1 PFF grade points — but the short passing game is an integral part of any offense. Short passes have accounted for 41.6 percent of his attempts this year, increasing the importance of making quality attempts.
This year, not only have his shorter passes been higher quality, but they’ve been among the league’s best.
The Jaguars spent the offseason investing in talent to support their franchise quarterback. The investments have certainly appeared to pay off.
A season ago, Lawrence’s top weapons in the passing game were Marvin Jones Jr, Laviska Shenault Jr., Laquon Treadwell, Dan Arnold and James O’Shaughnessy. So in the offseason, Jacksonville signed wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, as well as tight end Evan Engram to bolster the pass catchers for Lawrence.
Kirk is well on his way to a 1,000-yard campaign, and has emerged as a dependable No. 1 receiver for Lawrence. With a deep grade of 98.5, he’s tied for the 12th-best deep ball receiver in the NFL. He also ranks 16th in yards after the catch per reception (4.7) and is 21st in missed tackles forced (seven). Zay Jones leads the team with 74 catches and has been a physical wide receiver who has won all four contested catches tries on short-range passes and has joined Marvin Jones as standout weapons on the outside. Engram has been a more reliable pass-catching tight end than O’Shaughnessy, checking in at third on the team with 610 yards.
Trevor Lawrence & Evan Engram (21-yd TD)
🔹 Target Separation: 0.6 yds
🔹 Sideline Separation: 1.1 yds
🔹 Completion Probability: 21.1%*
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 11, 2022
According to The Analyst, the Jaguars’ receivers are fifth in matchup win percentage this season. While Lawrence has undoubtedly made improvements to his game, it has helped to have three new receivers who are all currently the team’s three leading targets for him. And all this is before Lawrence gets to benefit from throwing to Calvin Ridley next season.
Lawrence has made massive leaps in his game, and now gets to experience a potential playoff push with an experienced coach and a team that has invested in surrounding him with talent. Expect to see him only continue to get better moving forward.