From top recruits in Georgia to College Football Playoff adversaries to the projected top two picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, Trevor Lawrence vs. Justin Fields is the next great NFL rivalry.
The 2021 Allstate Sugar Bowl between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Clemson Tigers was an offensive show. The College Football Semifinal ended up in a 49-28 blowout but was highly entertaining as quarterbacks Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence combined for 785 passing yards and eight touchdowns. The Buckeyes and Fields exacted revenge for the Tigers’ 29-23 win in the playoff last season.
The game had great back-and-forth moments in the first quarter, with each team trading touchdowns. The second-half was also tied, showing stiffening defenses and coaching adjustments. But the Buckeyes tallied 21 unanswered in the second quarter, and Clemson’s offense wasn’t able to recover with their own big strikes.
For Fields and Lawrence, this was simply the latest chapter in two careers that will forever be intertwined. The NFL awaits both stars, as Lawrence is a lock for the No. 1 pick to Jacksonville (and potentially Urban Meyer), and Fields should go No. 2 to the New York Jets or a quarterback-needy team that trades up. Their futures are extremely bright and will be compared as all quarterbacks are in each class.
Lawrence and Fields represent the future of the NFL
Both of these playmaking passers were meant to be here on this exact stage for quite some time, and have been competing against one another since high school. The two Georgia products were regarded as the nation’s best overall recruit by premier scouting services. ESPN had Fields as the top passer, and Rivals and 247Sports favored Lawrence, but both were almost perfect grades.
There’s been nothing to say that any evaluator missed on their projection. Lawrence has enjoyed one of the best collegiate careers we’ve ever seen since earning the starting job at Clemson midway through his freshman year. His final resume includes a 66.6 completion rate, 10,098 passing yards, 90 touchdowns and just 17 interceptions. He won the National Championship MVP award in his title-winning effort in 2018, along with All-American honors, and three ACC Championships.
Lawrence continues a lineage that he began in high school, where he broke Deshaun Watson‘s state passing records, and then succeeded him at Clemson. While Watson built Clemson’s foundation for greatness, Lawrence continued it, and will now try to replicate Watson’s successes in the NFL as he prepares to turn around the Jaguars. It’s fitting that the two will play each other twice a year for the foreseeable future.
Fields was also an accomplished high school star as he vied for top passing prospect over Lawrence. The dual-threat chose to attend Georgia over other options and then transferred to Ohio State after the Bulldogs shockingly stuck with Jake Fromm over the much more dynamic Fields. Fields has since been a phenomenal development for Ryan Day’s program, completing 69.4 percent of passes for 5,179 yards, 62 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The two feature differing styles despite being large, athletic, strong-arm quarterbacks. That was on display in the Sugar Bowl, even as the Tigers sorely missed offensive coordinator Tony Elliott‘s play-calling and failed to accentuate Lawrence’s strengths. The dysfunctional offense was heavily reliant on Lawrence despite constant pressure being in his face throughout the game.
Lawrence has been the big-play hunter, creating chunk gains with his ability to extend plays and keep his eyes upfield as pressure comes. He’s been very good against the rush as well and had become an excellent intermediate and deep passer because of his pre and post-snap abilities with reading coverages and defender leverage. This game didn’t highlight that skill set thanks to Ohio State’s speed and aggressive gameplan.
Instead of poise, we saw Lawrence’s lengthy release and tendency to overstride reemerge on some of his short and intermediate misses. The pressure rattled him, and he had two interceptable throws and six uncatchable passes with defenders nearby. There have been moments like this for Lawrence like there is for every quarterback in football history against pressure so it’s not defining, but it can’t be the norm for Lawrence when he’s in the NFL.
Fields can certainly sympathize with overreaction to a bad game or two. His field vision and decision-making were phenomenal on the grandest stage, reminding us of his insane upside. He’s a solid deep passer who excels at throwing accurately and playing well within the scheme. He’s creative and capable enough of being excellent in broken plays but has to speed up his process to take fewer sacks and miss early reads.
Fields was able to win within the pocket this game and really silenced critics ready to move him into the third quarterback slot in the class. Just three of his passes on the night were uncatchable after taking out throwaways, and he connected on four scores from the pocket. His touch, timing and ball placement was simply superb.
Both Lawrence and Fields had an ugly interception under pressure but neither player has made a big habit of these mistakes throughout their careers. Fields had two interceptions under pressure against Indiana, but he’s taken care of the ball well enough throughout a year and a half to know that these blips aren’t a concern that’ll be his regular tendency in the NFL. If either turns into an interception machine and thus unplayable, then it was for reasons we likely couldn’t find on film.
A good example here is Sam Darnold, who was a turnover machine in college and has continued to not be able to read defenses pre-snap and stop forcing throws. He should be on the outs in New York if the staff is smart because the way he puts the ball at risk is who he is. Few exceptions like Josh Allen exist, which is someone who completely overhauled their skills thanks to their traits.
These are two brilliant and gifted players and that was on display throughout the Sugar Bowl. Even as Lawrence wasn’t quite able to dig deep to sustain drives and try to answer Fields’ big downfield throws, he displayed the ability to identify problems and overcome challenges presented by personnel mismatches, even if he didn’t fully master the solution mid-game. Even as a great prospect there’s still plenty of room for growth and he’s given us enough on film to believe he’ll be able to reach it in the right situation.
Fields is in a similar boat. He’s not perfect, and we can point towards examples of areas to get better in. He’s done well in less than ideal situations for much of his career, and his struggles are excellent studying points for his self-improvement and the roster-building decisions made by the general manager of his next team.
The AFC could easily feature Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Allen, Lawrence, and Fields as the face of the conference moving forward (Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, and Tua Tagovailoa as well if they end up being stars). Lawrence and Fields have the tools to be studs as rookies and continue that momentum into future years. We were fortunate to have enjoyed the last three years of their play on the grandest of stages of college football, and we’re going to continue to see their playmaking chops at the next level soon.
There was Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, John Elway and Joe Montana and others before them, but Lawrence and Fields is the next great quarterback rivalry that’ll dominate the NFL for the next decade-plus.