National Football League

Will Jacksonville's turnaround be up to Trevor Lawrence or the franchise?

April 4

Current status of the Jaguars: under construction.

The Jacksonville Jaguars rode a 15-game losing streak to the end of the season en route to the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, with newly appointed head coach Urban Meyer at the helm.

Now, a club that made one playoff appearance in the past 13 seasons has a shot at a fresh chapter. The franchise has drafted three quarterbacks in the first round: Byron Leftwich (2003), Blaine Gabbert (2011) and Blake Bortles (2014), but none has found success.

Jacksonville has been searching for its franchise QB and chasing the success it found with Mark Brunell in the team's early days, and rumor has it – it's not a rumor – that the club will draft generational talent Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick.

Can Lawrence overcome a struggling franchise and lead the Jags on a path to greatness, or will the club be his demise?

The team seems poised for change with Meyer leading the way, but college football analyst Matt Leinart argues that the organization will be the key to whether Lawrence succeeds at the next level.

"Organizations are the most important thing ... It definitely starts at the top with the decision-makers and building a team around these young QBs – doing whatever it takes to breed success on the field, off the field."

The Jaguars franchise qualified for the playoffs in four of its first five seasons but has struggled ever since. Since 2000, the Jaguars have only three postseason appearances and one division title. Jacksonville is one of four NFL teams that have never made a Super Bowl appearance, and the Jags ended last season with the worst record in franchise history (1-15).

In addition to the No. 1 pick, the club owns seven total picks in the first four rounds and boasts the most projected cap space in the NFL ($39.39 million), providing the franchise capital to begin a significant rebuild.

However, not everyone is convinced – including Emmanuel Acho – that Jacksonville can turn things around or that Lawrence will be able to overcome what awaits him in Florida.

"It's not Trevor Lawrence's fault. ... In life and in football, it's not your talent alone that dictates your success but rather the environment you're in. ... I look at those who have come before him ... All these dudes were incredibly talented out of college, but the environment they went to, it didn't cultivate their talent."

Since 2001, 15 QBs have been drafted No. 1 overall. Some have found success, mostly in terms of personal accolades. None has won a Super Bowl.

Atlanta Falcons QB Michael Vick led the Falcons to two playoff appearances (2002, 2004) while becoming the first QB in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season in 2006.

The following season, the Houston Texans selected David Carr, who never led the franchise to a winning record in five seasons.

The next year, the Cincinnati Bengals selected Carson Palmer, who sat his entire rookie campaign. He later won AFC Player of the Year on the way to the franchise's first playoff berth since the 1990 season (2005). 

The Bengals took another QB No. 1 in 2020, Joe Burrow. He became the first rookie in NFL history to throw for at least 300 yards in three straight games, but behind a porous offensive line he went down with a season-ending injury in Week 11.

In 2006, Alex Smith was the No. 1 pick by the San Francisco 49ers. He struggled with injuries and inconsistency until 2011, when he led the 49ers to their first NFC West title since 2002 and their first NFC Championship game since 1997. 

The next year, JaMarcus Russell went to the Las Vegas Raiders and started a total of 25 games before he was released in 2010.

In 2009, it was Matthew Stafford to the Detroit Lions. He made one Pro Bowl (2014) with Detroit and led the Lions to three playoff appearances (2011, 2014, 2016) in his 12 seasons with the club. 

The Los Angeles Rams had two No. 1 QB picks: Sam Bradford in 2010 and Jared Goff in 2016. Bradford played five seasons for the Rams but never led the team to a winning record. Goff led Los Angeles to its first Super Bowl appearance since 2001 but was traded to the Lions this past offseason.

In 2011, the Carolina Panthers drafted Cam Newton, who won the 2015 NFL MVP while leading the Panthers to a 15-1 record (best in franchise history) and their first Super Bowl appearance since 2003, but Newton was released in 2020.

In 2012, Andrew Luck went to the Indianapolis Colts and led the team to four playoff appearances and one AFC Championship berth. Then he retired before the 2019 season, at the age of 29.

In 2015, Jameis Winston was selected No. 1 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He guided the Bucs to one winning season in five years with Tampa Bay, failing to reach the playoffs. The season after Winston was released, the franchise won a Super Bowl with some guy named Tom.

In 2018, the Cleveland Browns took Baker Mayfield, and in his first NFL season, he led the Browns to their first win in 19 games, snapping a 635-day winless streak. Mayfield found success in 2020 as well, guiding Cleveland to an 11-5 record (best since 1994), a playoff appearance (first since 2002) and the team's first playoff win since 1994.

The next season, Kyler Murray went to the Arizona Cardinals. Despite Murray's individual success as the 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the club has failed to reach the playoffs in his young career.

Lack of success and difficulty staying healthy are par for the course for a No. 1 pick QB, but ESPN Jaguars reporter Mike DiRocco expects Lawrence to be able to handle the environment and put Jacksonville into playoff contention early and often.

"The best-case scenario for this team is Trevor Lawrence is the real deal and we see him play as a rookie the way we expect him to. ... They have fallen in love with Trevor Lawrence, as they should. ... One of the reasons that Urban took the job is because [the Jaguars] had the No. 1 pick and the opportunity to get Trevor Lawrence."

Before we find out if Lawrence will be the key to success in Jacksonville, we will have to see if the Jaguars indeed draft the QB No. 1 overall and then what pieces Meyer will add to compliment him.

Maybe Lawrence's generational talent will lead to generational success. 

Or maybe it will be much of the same for the top QB selected.

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