The Giants on Sunday will face one of the most heralded quarterback prospects to enter the NFL, a player who was nearly unbeatable in college and virtually unflawed in just about every predraft evaluation. Trevor Lawrence was, to many, the perfect pick when the Jaguars selected him first overall in 2021.
He’s won only five games since then, throwing a league-high 17 interceptions as a rookie plus another four this season.
There are lots of reasons why his success is not commensurate with his pedigree, from the people on the field with him to the so-called adults who were tasked with guiding him. As Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said in what smelled like a not-very- veiled charge against former Jacksonville coach Urban Meyer, who didn’t only fail in his dabble into pro football but did so more quickly and spectacularly than just about anyone in head-coaching history: “I think there are a multitude of things that go into a player struggling. You can fill in the blank spaces there any way you want.”
No one is writing him off as a bust, and Lawrence certainly has improved in his second season. Having Doug Pederson around to shepherd him rather than Meyer is a huge help. Mostly, though, Lawrence’s tepid career can be attributed to the basic glitches in the whole concept of quarterback development.
He is young, the NFL is not like college no matter how great the level of competition you faced was, and these matters take time.
Those are all things for the Giants to ponder on Sunday as the team’s brass settles into their seats in Jacksonville to observe this contest against Lawrence with the overarching question of their entire season running through their heads: Who will be their quarterback in 2023?
A month ago, it seemed fairly obvious that the answer lay in April’s draft, when they would thank Daniel Jones for his time and effort over four years with the team, apologize for, as John Mara so perfectly put it this offseason, doing “everything possible to screw this kid up,” then move on to one of the stars who shine so brightly on Saturdays.
Now, though, things have changed. Jones is playing well, yes, but more to the point, so are the Giants. They are 5-1 and the euphoria is palpable. Players are believing in themselves individually and as a group. Who knows where they will go from here?
If they draft a quarterback and play him as a rookie next season, it almost certainly would mean a step backward from the progress that already has been made.
Yes, it could be the right move for the long term. They might have a better chance at making the playoffs and holding trophies with someone other than Jones as their quarterback in the coming decade. But the immediate result surely would be regression.
Given that even the most highly perceived prospects coming into the league this spring are nowhere near the complete package that the still sometimes struggling Lawrence was, it could be a substantial regression. That would be hard to stomach.
Bringing in a highly drafted rookie quarterback sends mixed signals to the entire organization and its fan base. It creates optimism but also begs patience. The Giants can replace Jones with a draft pick, but they’ll essentially be starting over if they do.
That would have been fine in Year 1 of Brian Daboll and Joe Schoen, just as it was in Year 1 of Tom Coughlin when they drafted Eli Manning. But doing so in Year 2 creates some perils to the psyche of the team, alters the proposed time line and shifts the objectives of the players who remain.
For a while, there was a wave of fresh-faced quarterbacks who came into the NFL without needing much seasoning. Up until 2007, there were only five rookie quarterbacks who made it to the postseason as starters in the Super Bowl era (excluding those who had to play because of injuries), and they won a total of only two games. Between 2008-18, however, there were nine, including Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez, who brought their teams to the AFC Championship Game as rookies in back-to-back seasons.
Now, though, the trend is back to taking some time for quarterbacks to grow into their role. Mac Jones made the playoffs last year with the Patriots, but some of the big names of the past few drafts have yet to take a postseason snap, including Lawrence, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa. Recent first overall picks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray have made it to the playoffs but certainly have not succeeded to the point their drafting teams had imagined.
One key quarterback of newer vintage who has become a bona fide elite player is Josh Allen. He certainly is important to this equation as the Giants mull their Big Call coming up in just a matter of months.
Schoen was a first-year assistant GM in Buffalo in 2017 when the Bills went 9-7 and made the playoffs for the first time in a generation (with, by the way, current Giants backup Tyrod Taylor as their starter). They got the franchise moving in the right direction.
The following year, Schoen was part of the front-office decision to draft Allen. Predictably, in 2018, the Bills went backward with a rookie at the sport’s most important position, going 6-10.
The Bills have been to the postseason each year since then and are among the favorites to win the Super Bowl this season. Allen could very well wind up as the MVP. It worked out, but not without that blip.
The Giants would love to find their own Josh Allen in this upcoming draft. They’d be thrilled to land a quarterback who can lead them to the lofty heights at which this new regime is aiming.
But they’d better believe he gives them a better shot at it than Jones does, because there are no guarantees in quarterback evaluation. The closest thing there is to a certainty in that regard is that even the most ideal prospect will take at least some time to find his footing and develop and fulfill his promise.
Schoen saw that in Buffalo. He will see it again Sunday in Jacksonville. And at some point, he’ll have to decide if we’ll see it with the Giants.