Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is bookmarked by most mock drafts as the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
That has been a trend since the 6-6, 220-pound quarterback passed for 347 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman in a 44-16 blowout against Alabama in the 2019 College Football Playoff championship game. Lawrence was compared to former sure-fire No. 1 picks such as John Elway, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck in the aftermath of that game.
Lawrence returned to the Playoff championship game as a sophomore, but has been nitpicked more since that 42-25 loss to LSU. Lawrence finished 18 of 37 for 234 in his first loss as a college starter, causing ESPN’s Mel Kiper to wonder if that would have cost him had he been eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft.
“No question Joe Burrow would’ve been the lock, guarantee No. 1 pick to the Bengals,” Kiper said on “SportsCenter” on Tuesday. “Lawrence would’ve gone high, but you would’ve liked to have seen him (more consistent) last season.”
Kiper still has Lawrence at No. 1 in his latest mock, however, which is in line with the first mock draft for 2021 from Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer. Lawrence is the top player on SN’s Top 50 big board, too.
So, what could possibly knock Lawrence off that No. 1 perch? Here are four possibilities:
Fields and Lawrence have been competing since their days on the Elite 11 circuit, and the Ohio State quarterback was a Heisman finalist last season after passing for 3,273 yards and 41 touchdowns to just three interceptions. He added 484 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground — and that was in his first year as a starter with Ryan Day.
The Buckeyes should get more high-yield production from Fields this season, and he could be more attractive to an NFL franchise than Lawrence, depending on the fit. If Ohio State wins the national championship and Fields snags the Heisman Trophy, then that could help persuade that team to go in a different direction.
A surprise quarterback emerges
Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa was the front runner to be the No. 1 pick at this time in 2020, but a season-ending hip injury dropped him out of the top spot to No. 5 overall.
Burrow was a surprise quarterback who had a record-setting season; the Heisman-national title combination vaulted him to the No. 1 pick. Are there any quarterbacks who could jump Lawrence and Fields?
North Dakota State’s Trey Lance could have that opportunity. He totaled 2,786 passing yards, 1,100 rushing yards and 42 total touchdowns for the Bison as a redshirt freshman, and will follow Carson Wentz’s footsteps into the league. Georgia’s Jamie Newman — a Wake Forest transfer — could also be a deep sleeper if he has a monster season for the Bulldogs in the SEC.
A team that doesn’t need a quarterback
A quarterback has been taken with the No. 1 pick in each of the last three seasons: Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, plus Burrow. All won the Heisman Trophy and went to a quarterback-needy team.
What if that doesn’t happen? Oregon tacke Penei Sewell could be a possible No. 1 pick if that team doesn’t need a quarterback. Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau could force the issue with a Chase Young-like season with the Hurricanes.
A quarterback has been taken first in seven of the last 10 NFL Drafts, so this is an unlikely scenario given how hyped Lawrence and Fields will be going into 2021. Even if the team with the No. 1 pick doesn’t need a quarterback, it’s likely it’d trade out of the spot to a team that does for a bevy of draft picks.
A rough junior season
Lawrence was nitpicked for a slow start last season in which he threw five interceptions in Clemson’s first three games. Kiper also pointed to some of the other inconsistencies in 2019:
“For Trevor, he needs to just basically get back to doing what he was doing prior to those final four games,” Kiper said. “Remember he struggled against Ohio State until Shaun Wade was eliminated from the game for targeting. After that, he got on a roll. LSU game? 48 percent. He finished strong, but he struggled early with five interceptions.”
Lawrence will be picked apart even more by critics this season, which has already been disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s possible Lawrence could struggle, and that would give teams the opportunity to take someone else. Keep in mind that Burrow, Jalen Hurts and Fields were the quarterbacks who were Heisman finalists last season.
That’s not always a true barometer of who will go No. 1 — but in recent seasons, it has been.