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Can Trevor Lawrence’s Trajectory Be Blueprint for Kenny Pickett?



Steelers Kenny Pickett

PITTSBURGH — Since even before the time he burst onto the scene as a freshman phenom at Clemson, Trevor Lawrence has been ordained to be a star NFL quarterback.

A five-star prospect coming out of Cartersville, Georgia, Lawrence was the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2018, leading Clemson to a collegiate national championship, where he won MVP honors. He threw for 3,000 yards or more in all three seasons with the Tigers and lost a total of three games. He was ACC Player and Athlete of the Year and was the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

He was nicknamed “The Prince Who was Promised.” Every step of the way, he has looked like the kind of player whose future success you could take to the bank.

Until he got to the NFL.

Steelers jaguars Trevor Lawrence Kenny Pickett

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – DECEMBER 26: Jacksonville Jaguars Offensive Tackle Will Richardson (76) and Jacksonville Jaguars Quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) leave the field following the Jaguars loss in the National Football League game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New York Jets on December 26, 2021 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. (Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire)

As good as Lawrence looked up until his rookie season, that’s how badly things went for him in his first NFL go-around. 

He finished the 2021 season 30th in passer rating, 28th in QBR, 29th in completion percentage and 28th in adjusted net yards per attempt. He was, by nearly any metric, dreadful. The Jaguars finished 3-14.

Two years later, Lawrence is near the top of his game. In 2022, he threw for 4,113 yards. His passer rating jumped from 71.9 to 95.2, and his QBR rose from 33.5 to 56.1. Across the board, Lawrence went from looking like one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL to exactly what he was expected to be.

Now, he has the Jaguars sitting at 5-2, comfortably in first place in the AFC South, and looking like a real contender.

A lot happened around Lawrence. The Jaguars fired head coach Urban Meyer and brought in an offensive guru in Doug Pederson. They surrounded him with better weapons in Christian Kirk and Calvin Ridley. Running back Travis Etienne got healthy. Lawrence weathered the storm.

“You don’t win games and you get criticism,” he said. “It’s the nature of the business. Obviously, we’re used to that here, so it doesn’t bug us but it’s just a good reminder to everyone that we use all of this. It’s a chip on our shoulder, we use it as fuel. … We don’t forget it when people are backtracking in a few weeks or at the end of the season.”

The Steelers are well aware of the progress Lawrence has made.

“He can make any throw on the field, both from an arm strength and touch perspective,” head coach Mike Tomlin said this week. “He has unique mobility in terms of his athleticism. And I think that talent set makes him an extreme challenge. And I would imagine with experience because of that talent set, he’s going to be increasingly more difficult to deal with.”

They’re also aware that their starting quarterback, Kenny Pickett, had some similar results in his first 17 starts. Pickett may not have the same pedigree as Lawrence. He certainly wasn’t the same kind of high school prospect and took far longer to emerge on the collegiate scene. But their early-career numbers are pretty comparable.

Steelers Kenny Pickett

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) throws a pass during an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

Rating Comp % ANY/A TD % Int %
2021 Lawrence 71.9 59.6% 4.5 2.0% 2.8%
2022-23 Pickett 78.2 63.0% 5.8 2.1% 2.3%

So is Lawrence’s progress a sign of hope that Pickett, who has had similarly mediocre numbers through the start of his NFL career, will turn things around?

It certainly could be. Pickett acknowledged the similarities between the starts of their careers. Lawerence has more outright talent than Pickett, and that’s why he was drafted 19 picks ahead of the Steelers passer.

But the development of even great NFL quarterbacks is a process, and Lawrence’s trajectory shows that it’s far too soon to put a ceiling on what Pickett can become.

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