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What a difference a year can make. 

By the end of 2021, Trevor Lawrence had gone from being the most coveted prospect in the country to being called a bust in some circles. Clearly, though, those who wrote off the former Clemson star after merely 17 NFL starts got it all wrong. 

As 2022 comes to a close, there’s zero doubt that the Jacksonville Jaguars have a bonafide franchise quarterback. Lawrence’s massive year-two leap has been one of the season’s biggest storylines, especially given the ongoing struggles of fellow 2021 first-rounders Zach Wilson and Mac Jones. 

So, how exactly has the 23-year-old silenced his doubters and cemented his case as the most dangerous young quarterback in the league? Unlike the New England Patriots, the Jaguars deserve credit for pulling off a few key moves to set their most important player up for success.

The Jaguars hit a home run by replacing Urban Meyer with Doug Pederson

Need proof of just how much coaching matters? 

Coming off a rookie campaign in which he had to deal with a boss who generated headlines for all the wrong reasons, Trevor Lawrence received a massive upgrade in the form of Doug Pederson. Jacksonville smartly secured the Super Bowl winner as Urban Meyer’s permanent successor, and it hasn’t taken long to reap the rewards of that decision. 

With the ex-Philadelphia Eagles coach providing structure, discipline, and direction, the Jaguars have undergone a radical transformation. Most importantly, Lawrence has lived up to the hype that’s surrounded him since he took the college football world by storm as a freshman. 

Pederson’s system has proven to be a picture-perfect fit for the strong-armed, mobile signal-caller. Lawrence has increased his completion rate from 59.6% to 66%, cut way back on turnovers (he’s only thrown seven interceptions compared to 17 as a rookie), and doubled his scoring production from 12 passing touchdowns to 24. 

Entrusting Pederson to unlock the No. 1 pick’s full potential already looks like a home-run move for a Jacksonville franchise that’s repeatedly made ill-advised ones for years. But as much as better play calling and game management have been critical to Lawrence’s rise, the presence of a competent head coach has only been part of what’s made him so successful.

Better receivers and a breakout star have been pivotal to Trevor Lawrence’s ascent

Trevor Lawrence during a Jaguars-Cowboys matchup in December 2022
Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks on during the first half against the Dallas Cowboys at TIAA Bank Field on December 18, 2022 | Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

The Jaguars drew plenty of criticism for spending big money in free agency on players with solid-but-unspectacular resumes. But you can bet Lawrence is grateful for general manager Trent Baalke’s strategy to bring in several veteran skill players to bolster a supporting cast that didn’t offer much help in 2021. 

Rather than pursuing a true No. 1 receiver, Jacksonville signed Christian Kirk (four years, $72 million) and Zay Jones (three years, $24 million). The former is on pace to break the 1,000-yard mark for the first time. Meanwhile, the latter has already set career highs in catches (74) and yards (764). 

Having two reliable wideouts with solid route-running skills has certainly been a big boost for the Jaguars’ second-year quarterback. The Kirk-Jones tandem may be a few notches below Miami’s duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but it’s a substantial improvement over what Marvin Jones and Laviska Shenault provided during Lawrence’s rookie season. 

Plus, taking a flyer on veteran tight end Evan Engram has paid off tremendously for a Jaguars team that got next to nothing out of the position in 2021. The longtime New York Giant has already surpassed his numbers from a year ago by totaling 61 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns in 14 games, and he’s on pace to finish with the highest catch percentage (72.6) of his six-year career.

Perhaps the biggest X-factor, though, has been the emergence of Travis Etienne. After missing his rookie season due to a foot injury, Lawrence’s college teammate has reminded everyone why he became a Day 1 pick, too. 

With 917 yards and four touchdowns on 182 carries, Etienne has provided big-play ability out of the backfield. Plus, he’s chipped in 238 yards on 27 receptions as a reliable target for Lawrence.

What’s next for a much-improved Jacksonville team?

It’s scary to think about what the Jaguars could look like a year from now. 

After all, they’re just scratching the surface of their potential. 

If Lawrence looks this dangerous in year one of playing in Pederson’s scheme, he’ll only be sharper in 2023. Not only will he have a better command of the offense and stronger chemistry with his receivers, but he’ll also have more experience to draw upon when he faces pressure-packed situations. Considering he’s had a few poor moments and untimely turnovers, it’s fair to say Lawrence is far from a finished product. 

Still, there’s ample reason to be optimistic about both the short- and long-term outlook in Jacksonville. At 6-8, the team has a chance to finish with a winning record for the first time since 2017. At worst, the Jaguars will finish with their highest win total since 2019. 

Finishing with double-digit victories should be a realistic goal for 2023. And even if Jacksonville takes a more conservative approach this offseason, Lawrence can look forward to having another big-time weapon in the huddle next season. 

Don’t forget the Jaguars acquired Calvin Ridley from the Atlanta Falcons before the November 1 trade deadline. 

So, if you think Trevor Lawrence looks lethal now, just imagine how much more dangerous he’ll be with an All-Pro wideout at his disposal.


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