Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields? Settling the four-year-long debate

Photo of CFB/NFL Draft Quarterbacks Breakdown
TigerNet/Creative Commons

Related Posts

Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are very familiar with each other. Since being ranked as the No. 1 and No. 2 overall high school players in the 2018 recruiting class, respectively, there has been no shortage of think pieces about who’s the better quarterback. Those comparisons will follow them for the rest of their careers. So far, it has been Lawrence’s battle to lose and Fields just keeps hanging around.

There’s something to be said about what might be the driving force behind that competition, but those are thoughts for another day. For now, please enjoy think piece number 10,000 about these two.

There will be fewer clips in this article than usual, so I apologize to my fellow visual learners. Clips of the two players can be found on my Twitter.

1. Justin Fields, Ohio State

Surprise! Justin Fields is my QB1 — and no, this is not clickbait. There is a time and place to be a sensationalist, but that time is not now. Film analysis and scheme knowledge matter when evaluating elite NFL quarterback prospects. And based on the film, it is Fields who comes out ahead.

For all the Cal nerds out there, I will start with the analytics. In this category, it’s advantage Fields. Derrik Klassen does a phenomenal job of breaking this down below.

Those who take time to peruse the data will notice that Fields leads the pack in “true accuracy” — a mark that matters significantly more than completion percentage. He leads Lawrence by nearly eight percentage points.

There’s also something else to consider: Ohio State’s offense is the least quarterback friendly out of all of the offenses I have studied this year — Clemson, BYU, Alabama and North Dakota State. OSU mixes in a lot of wide receiver option routes that require receivers to make decisions mid-route and that require the QB to wait a hair longer. In spite of this, Fields succeeds at a significantly higher rate than his contemporaries.

Not only is he elite through his reads (19.09% of his passes went past the first read — the most among all quarterbacks in this class — and were accurate at an 88.1% clip), but his pocket management is masterful at times as well.

He is, of course, not without criticism. He’s trigger happy at times, and tries to force plays down the field a little more often (and a little later) than he should.

But all in all, Fields has everything general managers are looking for in a QB1. At 6’3, 227 pounds, Fields runs a 4.44 and has an absolute cannon for a right arm. He is not perfect, but criticisms about his progressions or his commitment to being an elite NFL QB are very thinly disguised and coded language, something Black quarterback prospects are all too familiar with. The tape and the analytics back it up: Justin Fields is the best quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft.

2. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

I really don’t have much to say about Lawrence that hasn’t been said already, but I fear that this prince that was promised was crowned far too soon. Every bit of the mythos surrounding him stems from that sensational debut season in 2018, and he’s surpassed those expectations tenfold.

He’ll be the No. 1 pick this year, but as evaluators and people think critically about which player they prefer, it is important to not gloss over the tape of those luscious locks of his.

The thing about Lawrence is that he struggles just as much as any top player, and it’s okay to acknowledge that. Additionally, his offense was significantly less challenging to operate, as a class high 28% of his pass attempts were on run-pass options or RPOs — an offense’s best friend and a defense’s worst nightmare. Lawrence’s ball placement, completion percentage and ball placement on secondary reads were all worse than Fields. Additionally, he was altogether less accurate than his competitor.

Lawrence looks sensational playing quarterback, and that is because he is a truly sensational quarterback. But there’s a difference between being crowned for looking the part and actually being the best.

This year, Fields is running the show. Even while running a significantly harder offense, he was more accurate, and being a better athlete (at least in comparison to Lawrence) usually makes a quarterback preferable. It might be time to start asking why Fields doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt.

Jesse Stewart covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jessedstew.