Trevor Lawrence is the most valuable commodity in football. No one has demolished Alabama like his Clemson team since the ‘90s, and Vegas already gives him even odds to go first overall in the 2021 draft. Right now, he is the best pro prospect since Andrew Luck, and it remains to be seen if he will surpass Luck and become the most perfect prospect since Peyton Manning. Lawrence was a 0.9999 graded 5* recruit going in to college and was the second highest rated quarterback prospect of all time (since the rankings began in 2000), behind Vince Young, who was listed as a dual threat, not a pro-style QB. #TankforTrevor will trend many times during the 2020 NFL season, and teams need to ask themselves, “Where do we see ourselves in two years?” Then, they need to figure out how they can make sure the answer includes, “with the first overall pick.”
Are there any teams that shouldn’t #TankforTrevor?
Yes, the Chiefs, Colts, Eagles, and Seahawks all have QBs that should still be elite for the entirety of Lawrence’s rookie deal. They should continue to keep building around their QBs and share all the Super Bowl victories while everyone else is tanking. The Chargers, Saints, and Patriots should all see if they can squeeze anything left out of their aging elite QBs, but if they aren’t within a game of a first round bye a week before the trade deadline, it’s time for a fire sale. Every team that took a QB in the first round in 2018, should give their QB until the trade deadline to convince the coaches and front office that they are or will become elite, if the QB can’t do so by year 1.5, blow it all up. The 49ers should be in this category as well. 19 teams do not fit into these categories, they need to be working the phone lines starting now to acquire as much draft capital and ditch as much talent as possible.
Why should anyone else not tank?
Like Luck and Manning, Lawrence might not declare for the draft until he uses all of his eligibility in college. Lawrence did say in the post-game interview, “I want to win three more of these.” That was the right thing to say whether he thought about it or not. Unlike Manning and Luck, Lawrence has already won a national championship, and fellow Clemson QB and national champion Deshaun Watson was able to take summer classes and graduate in three years so he could declare early with a degree. In all likelihood, Lawrence will declare and make a team a competitor for over a decade starting in 2021.
Who will win the Lawrence Lotto?
Tanking, at least for more than a season, doesn’t really exist in the NFL. Head coaches and executives don’t have the job security to pull it off. The Cardinals, 49ers, and Jets certainly didn’t try to tank this year, while the Raiders came as close to The Process as any team, and are all picking ahead of the Raiders. So we’ll assume that no team boldly trades every positive asset for 2021 picks, and try to figure out which team will finish with the worst record in 2021.
Let’s use the Cardinals as an example. Two years prior to this season, the Cardinals were 7-8-1, with an aging Carson Palmer finishing up his second to last season, but also finished second in total defense and had the league’s third most efficient defense per DVOA. They started 2018 0-3 with Bradford as the starter and finished 3-13 with Rosen starting and struggling in the last 13 games. By the end of 2018, they had one of the worst offenses of all time by any metric, and their defense had regressed to 20th in total defense and 17th in efficiency. The Cardinals provide a good look at how a team can regress to the worst in the NFL over a two year period, but let’s take in a larger perspective. Here’s a table displaying where each of the last 10 teams to finish 32nd in the league finished two years prior.
Unsurprisingly, quarterback play is a very good predictor of where a team will draft. The table below shows how the last 10 teams to pick first overall performed in net passing yards, their rank in net passing yards and TD:INT ratio the year they earned the first overall pick.
Let’s narrow down the list of teams that are likely to pick first in 2020:
Every team picking top 4 has a QB who was either drafted top 10 or is one of the 10 highest paid QBs. These teams will be adding an elite talent to their team, and have lots of money to spend in free agency. The Cardinals, 49ers, Jets, and Raiders are eliminated
The Buccaneers have an important decision to make regarding Jameis Winston next season and if they choose wrong, their team could be disastrous. They are on Trevor Watch.
The Giants have too many elite offensive weapons. The Giants are eliminated
The Jaguars are one of two teams with negative cap space going in to this offseason, have an aging defense, and have no prospects at a solution at quarterback. The Jaguars are on Trevor Watch.
Unless Josh Allen or Matthew Stafford are injured for the majority of 2020, neither of these teams will be the worst in the league. The Lions and Bills are eliminated
The Broncos and Bengals have decent quarterbacks who they may move on from in the next two years, and both teams have been regressing over the past few seasons. They are on Trevor Watch.
Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan will keep their teams off Trevor Watch. The Packers and Falcons are eliminated
The Dolphins have the 6th least cap space headed in to this season, are likely to move on from Tannehill. Under a new coaching regime, they are likely to rebuild. The Dolphins are on Trevor Watch.
Alex Smith’s career may be over and the Redskins have the 8th least cap space. They have no clear direction and are on Trevor Watch.
Cam Newton, Baker Mayfield, Kirk Cousins, and Marcus Mariota are good enough to keep their teams well out of the first overall pick contest, and all of these teams have a good amount of young talent. The Panthers, Browns, Vikings, and Titans are eliminated
At this moment in time, it appears Antonio Brown will be traded. No one outside of Pittsburgh has any idea if Big Ben will be playing in two years. This team needs a closer examination, so we’ll put them on Trevor Watch.
Seattle has an elite QB and young talent. The Seahawks are eliminated
The last time we saw the Ravens, their offense looked first pick worthy. Their elite defense could easily fall apart like the 2016 Cardinals. The Ravens are on Trevor Watch.
The Texans are somewhat similar to the Ravens right now, but Deshaun Watson is a more known commodity and will be at worst solid QB over the next two seasons. The Texans also have much more cap space and are rumored to be close to locking up Clowney to a long term deal. The Texans are eliminated
A defense like the Bears will be difficult to keep together, but Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, Roquan Smith, Kyle Fuller, and Allen Robinson on offense are already under contract through 2020, and Mitch Trubisky may be the Bears’ weakest link, but he’s not bad enough to earn the first overall pick. The Bears are eliminated
The Eagles, Colts, Rams, and Chiefs have talented young QBs under contract (assuming Wentz and Goff have their 5th year options picked up) in 2020 as well as other elite playmakers. The Eagles, Colts, Rams, and Chiefs are eliminated
The Cowboys will almost certainly extend Dak and Amari Cooper and pick up Zeke’s option. That O-line will still be great, and there’s no way that offense will be bad enough top pick top 5 barring multiple season ending injuries in the preseason. The Cowboys are eliminated
Philip Rivers will be 38 years old for most of the 2020 season, and Joey Bosa’s 5th year option will be picked up. Melvin Gordon might not be around, but Keenan Allen and Mike Williams will both be on team-friendly deals. Their window might be closing by 2020, but they won’t be terrible. The Chargers are eliminated
It is difficult to imagine the Patriots being not just as average, but terrible. But Tom Brady and Gronk are not even under contract for 2020, nor should they be expected to be good by then. Bill Belichick will be 68, and possibly retired. Sony Michel and James White are they only weapons they have under contact, and the Patriots are unlikely to have the draft capitol or cap space to get any new ones until 2020. There is no succession plan at QB. There are no exciting defensive players under contract and under 30 for 2020. The New England Patriots, are on Trevor Watch.
The Saints are built to win in the next two seasons. Drew Brees, who turns 40 on Tuesday is also not under contract for 2020; neither is Michael Thomas. Cam Jordan (who will be 31), Sheldon Rankins, and Marcus Davenport will be under contract, as well as 3/5ths of the best offensive line in football. Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore will still be on rookie deals. But the Saints have a shockingly low 20 players under contract for the 2020 season. To make matters worse, they have one pick in the first four rounds of the 2019 draft, which will be one of the five last picks of the second round. It will be an ugly rebuild, and if Brees doesn’t come back, they may blow it all up, deliberately or not. The Saints are on Trevor Watch.
22 teams have been eliminated. The Jaguars, Buccaneers, Broncos, Bengals, Dolphins, Redskins, Steelers, Ravens, Patriots, and Saints all have the uncertain QB situations and the lack of team-friendly contracts for 2020 it takes to earn the first overall pick. Trevor Lawrence will almost certainly end up playing for one of these nine teams. Who is the favorite to become a contender for the nearly the entirety of the 2020s and 2030s? Tune in next time on Trevor Watch, during that awful weekend before the Super Bowl when the Pro Bowl is the only football game being played.
All DVOA statistics were retrieved from footballoutsiders.com and Expected W-L was retrieved from pro-football-reference.com