NFL offseason power rankings: No. 19 Jacksonville Jaguars have faith in Trevor Lawrence

NFL offseason power rankings: No. 19 Jacksonville Jaguars have faith in Trevor Lawrence

Trevor Lawrence is now paid as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. (Yahoo Sports/Taylor Wilhelm)

Other NFL team previews: 32. Panthers | 31. Patriots | 30. Broncos | 29. Commanders | 28. Giants | 27. Titans | 26. Raiders | 25. Cardinals | 24. Saints | 23. Chargers | 22. Vikings | 21. Seahawks | 20. Buccaneers

If you criticize Trevor Lawrence, prepare to argue your case.

There are many Lawrence guardians on social media who will perk up when the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback's up-and-down NFL journey is mentioned. They'll blame Lawrence's supporting cast and cite the number of drops by his receivers. They'll even bring up his rookie season being coached by the utterly incompetent Urban Meyer, though that debacle seems like eons ago. Lawrence's 2023 ankle injury, which happened when the Jaguars were 8-3 last season and led to a late-season collapse, will also be brought up. Those excuses are valid.

But we weren't supposed to still be debating Lawrence by the end of his third season.

Everyone who goes No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft will inevitably be called a generational prospect, but Lawrence really was one. He was Joe Namath, John Elway, Andrew Luck. Prospects who get to that stratosphere very rarely wash out. And while nobody is calling Lawrence a bust after three inconsistent seasons, it's hard to figure out what he is. The Jaguars paid him this offseason like he's already in the inner circle of elite quarterbacks, with a five-year, $275 million extension. You don't pay a player that way unless you're sold on him, but at least a small part of it had to be that the Jaguars were backed into a corner. They weren't going to risk waiting with Lawrence. It's not like they were going to let him walk in free agency just a few years after drafting him brought new life to the franchise, and a big (or maybe even average) 2024 was only going to drive up the price.

But has Lawrence performed like a $55-million-per-year quarterback to this point? Even his biggest defenders would have to pause before answering.

Lawrence has been an above-average starting quarterback. Over the last nine games of the 2022 regular season he looked like one of the best QBs in the NFL: 2,273 yards, 69.7 completion percentage, 15 TDs, 2 INT, 104.6 passer rating. It seemed like the next step would be to true stardom and becoming an MVP candidate. Then, despite the Jaguars' record last season, he was just OK before that rough ankle injury against the Cincinnati Bengals. He had 14 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 94.4 passer rating before the injury. He wasn't bad, but he wasn't a $55-million-per-year, MVP-level quarterback either.

If you're still sold on Lawrence as a future MVP — and make no mistake, that's the level the Jaguars thought they were getting when they landed the uber prospect — it's based on draft pedigree, some flashes of greatness like the second half of that 2022 season, and finding outstanding traits on tape while also seeing a subpar Jaguars cast around him. It hasn't been based on the overall results, which have been a bit underwhelming. Even Lawrence's signature NFL moment is a bit messy. Two seasons ago he orchestrated a playoff comeback from a 27-0 deficit against the Chargers … but a big reason the Jaguars were down 27 points is Lawrence threw four first-half interceptions. That kind of sums up his career to date.

The Jaguars better be right on their Lawrence gamble, because there's no turning back on a $275 million deal with $200 million of it guaranteed.

For those who believe Lawrence's supporting cast hasn't been good enough, that didn't really get fixed. The Jaguars lost Calvin Ridley (who, even after signing with the Titans, said “I really wanted to, honestly, be with the Jags") and signed Gabe Davis, who doesn't seem like an upgrade over what Jacksonville already had. There are some questions on the offensive line, again. The defense had enough issues that coordinator Mike Caldwell was fired after the season, though that might have been because head coach Doug Pederson needed a scapegoat for the Jaguars' collapse. The defense certainly played a big role though, allowing 34, 31, 23, 30 and 28 points in the five late-season losses.

Had Lawrence not suffered a high ankle sprain against the Bengals, perhaps the Jaguars wouldn't have lost five of their last six games. Maybe they would have won the AFC South and some of the hype for C.J. Stroud would be redirected to Lawrence, who helped Jacksonville to the 2022 AFC South title. There might not have been such sticker shock on that contract extension.

There are ways to talk yourself into Lawrence being everything he was expected to be coming out of Clemson. The Jaguars seem convinced. Now's the time for Lawrence to show he's worth the money.

Another layer to Trevor Lawrence's new monster contract is it will soon be much tougher for the Jaguars to build a good team around him. They had enough flexibility to make a few moves this offseason. Defensive lineman Arik Armstead, cut by the San Francisco 49ers this offseason, signed a three-year, $43.5 million deal. There are some durability concerns with Armstead as he'll turn 31 in November. Receiver Gabe Davis, known for his inconsistent ways with the Buffalo Bills, got $39 million over three years. Former Packers safety Darnell Savage got a three-year deal worth $21.75 million and former Bills center Mitch Morse got $10.5 million over two years. Morse filled a huge hole at center. Other than Lawrence, the Jaguars' big move was signing pass rusher Josh Allen to a five-year extension worth a little more than $141 million after a 17.5-sack season. The big loss in free agency was Calvin Ridley, who signed a huge deal with the Tennessee Titans, and the Jaguars also cut safety Rayshawn Jenkins and cornerback Darious Williams from the secondary to gain some salary cap space. The Jaguars started the NFL Draft with a smart move, trading down six spots from No. 17 to No. 23 with the Minnesota Vikings while adding a fifth-round pick in 2024 and a third- and fourth-rounder next year. The Jaguars then picked receiver Brian Thomas Jr., an exciting prospect in a deep receiver class. The rest of the draft wasn't considered to be very good, because the consensus grade from analysts ranked 27th of 32 teams.

Grade: C-

Trevor Lawrence has put enough on tape to satisfy his defenders and fuel his critics. He ranked tied for fifth in the NFL among quarterbacks with 400 attempts with a 5.8% big-time throw rate, a metric by Pro Football Focus. He was also tied for fourth in percentage of turnover-worthy plays, another PFF metric, alongside Desmond Ridder, Joshua Dobbs, Sam Howell and Gardner Minshew in that category. Though it's worth noting that Lawrence's play slipped after the high ankle sprain. He threw seven of 14 interceptions in his final four games of the season.

Ranking in the top five for great plays and terrible ones last season is a decent way to sum up Lawrence's career to date. There are plays in which he looks like that generational prospect the NFL was impatiently waiting for. But there are plenty of missed throws and mistakes that have kept him from being great.

The truth is, for those on Lawrence's side and those against him, nobody knows yet what he is as an NFL quarterback. He could be an MVP soon or a pretty big disappointment considering his draft pedigree and second contract, and neither outcome should surprise anyone. The uncertainty makes his contract a bigger gamble than you'd like for more than a quarter of a billion dollars.

The Jaguars have the odds of a middle-of-the-road team at BetMGM. Their win total is 8.5. They're +260 to win the AFC South, behind the Texans but ahead of the Colts and Titans, and +120 to make the playoffs. All of that indicates oddsmakers don't quite know what to do with the Jaguars. They won the AFC South in 2022 and were on their way to another division title in 2023 when Trevor Lawrence suffered a high ankle sprain. Then they were terrible down the stretch and missed the playoffs altogether. That makes it hard to evaluate them for 2024. However, if you're high on the Jaguars, you can get Trevor Lawrence to win MVP at 25-to-1.

From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "It might feel odd to see Travis Etienne Jr. as the RB11 in early Yahoo drafts. After all, Etienne was the third-best running back in cumulative scoring last year (using Yahoo's base scoring, half-point PPR), and he slotted fifth in per-game average.

"The catch is that Etienne's production and workload suffered after the midseason bye. Etienne had six Top 10 weekly finishes in the opening two months, but just one more after the break. His yards per carry and yards per target dropped in the second half, and his touchdown count also suffered — Etienne had eight spikes before Halloween, just four after that.

"Etienne believers and faders will both find ample evidence for their stances. The pro side will note that Jacksonville has thin running back depth behind Etienne; no matter his efficiency, he's likely to play a lot. The detractors will point to a substandard Jacksonville offensive line, and they'll also wonder if Etienne's 5-foot-10, 215-pound frame will continue to hold up through a featured workload.

"Most of my fantasy builds will center around one anchor running back, surrounded by plenty of early-receiver depth. I'd prefer to target someone safer than Etienne to be my signature runner."

Travon Walker was a controversial No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft over Aidan Hutchinson and Hutchinson has clearly been better through two seasons. But Walker came on a bit last season with 10 sacks last season. While that's a nice round number that usually leads to big contracts and a lot of attention, Walker might have been a little fortunate to get there. Walker ranked just 99th among qualified edge defenders in Pro Football Focus grades, 50th in pass rush grade, 28th in PRP (a PFF metric measuring pass rush), and 45th in win rate on pass rush snaps, according to PFF. He was 23rd in the NFL with 30 pressures, according to Pro Football Reference. No matter the advanced stats, Walker graded below the elite tier. There's nothing wrong with 10 sacks and a solid performance as a second-year player. But don't buy that Walker has arrived already based on last season. He still has a way to go, but his second season was a positive step. The Jaguars have some defensive questions, particularly in the secondary, but Walker and Josh Allen could be one of the NFL's best pass-rushing duos if Walker continues to improve.

Etienne might be the only good thing to come out of the Urban Meyer era … and let's not forget that Meyer unbelievably said shortly after the 2021 NFL Draft that he wanted Kadarius Toney instead. Regardless, Etienne has been a difference maker for the Jaguars. He missed his rookie season due to a foot injury, but then posted back-to-back seasons with 1,400 yards from scrimmage. Last season, he had 1,008 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, and 476 receiving yards with a receiving touchdown. The surprising part is how much of the workload Etienne handled. He had 267 of the Jaguars' 358 running back carries last season. Part of the reason is 2023 rookie Tank Bigsby was ineffective and the Jaguars couldn't trust him to take on a bigger role. The Jaguars didn't do much to help the depth behind Etienne, so it's likely that Etienne again handles almost all of the running back work for the Jaguars. As long as Etienne stays healthy, the Jaguars know he can be effective in a workhorse role.

On Dec. 4, when Trevor Lawrence dropped back for a third-down pass with less than six minutes to go in a tie game against the Bengals, the Jaguars had an 8-3 record and were in field-goal range to take a 31-28 lead. Lawrence had his ankle stepped on, took a 7-yard sack, the Jaguars missed the field goal and lost in overtime. If that's just a normal incompletion, maybe the Jaguars make a closer field goal, improve to 9-3 that Monday night, Lawrence doesn't suffer an injury that would hinder him the rest of the season, and they'd go on to win the AFC South with 11 or 12 wins. How much different would the conversation surrounding the Jaguars be then? You can't totally dismiss the Jaguars' finish — Lawrence's injury certainly impacted how Jacksonville's season played out but it wasn't the only factor — but it's also fair to wonder what might have been. If you project the Jaguars to win 12 games and the AFC South, that's practically what they were on pace to do last season before Lawrence's injury.

The Jaguars clearly expect Trevor Lawrence to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. They're paying him as such. What if we get another season of Lawrence not exactly struggling but also not quite living up to the hype? Now there's a $275 million price attached to his results. The same questions about the Jaguars' cast remain, and might be even more pronounced after a so-so offseason. There are also questions about the direction of the offense. Offensive coordinator Press Taylor was retained after some criticism, even though the Jaguars' defense was arguably better than the offense (the defense was 10th in DVOA while the offense was 18th) and defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell was fired and replaced by Ryan Nielsen. If Lawrence doesn't play great and the Jaguars don't make the playoffs, you have to wonder if Doug Pederson will be around for the 2025 season. Another coordinator firing probably wouldn't cut it and it's not like the Jaguars would be making a change at quarterback.

The Jaguars might be underrated because of some recency bias. Trevor Lawrence got hurt when Jacksonville was seemingly cruising to a division title. The Jaguars fell into a deep slump to miss the playoffs and the Texans became the AFC South team everyone focused on this offseason. The Jaguars are a flawed team but maybe better than we remember. Lawrence seems likely to play well enough for the Jaguars to be competitive, then the rest depends on the team around him. For now, we'll leave the Jaguars out of the playoffs in the AFC, but that might be an overreaction to what we saw late last season.


Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button