Jaguars open NFL draft, Meyer era by drafting Lawrence

NFL Draft

Trevor Lawrence (AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars waited more than four months to make the easiest and maybe most significant pick in franchise history.

As obvious as it was, fireworks and frivolity followed.

A sold-out draft party that included 8,000 fans celebrated wildly as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stepped to the podium and announced Trevor Lawrence’s name as the first pick in the draft Thursday night.

The Clemson star had a more subdued reaction in Seneca, South Carolina — probably because he knew, like everyone else, that he would be the first pick in the NFL draft.

“It was just a kind of a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Lawrence said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to get us back to where we need to be. I’m going to put in the work. No one’s going to work harder than me.”

The Jags added one of Lawrence’s college teammates, standout running back Travis Etienne, with the 25th pick in the first round. The move pairs two of the most productive players in Clemson history as centerpieces of coach Urban Meyer’s offense.

“I’ve always had a very strong belief in speed,” Meyer said, making it clear that Etienne will be used as much as a receiving threat as a ball-carrier. “The idea for offense is to create matchup nightmares. He’s as good outside as a receiver as he is as a running back.”

Lawrence and Etienne became the first QB-RB combination from the same school to go in the first round of the same draft in the modern era, according to the NFL.

Lawrence was the fourth quarterback drafted by the franchise in the first round in its 27 years of existence, joining Byron Leftwich (2003), Blaine Gabbert (2011) and Blake Bortles (2014).

The chance to draft Lawrence was one of the factors that lured Meyer out of the broadcast booth and got him back on the sideline. Jacksonville has five of the top 65 picks.

No matter who else the Jaguars bring in, none of them will compare to Lawrence. He’s now the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future. And Jacksonville is counting on him solving the team’s decades-old problem at the all-important position.

“My mindset always going in is I’m going to earn everything that I get,” Lawrence said. “I don’t have any expectations for anything other myself. I’m not expecting anyone to hand me anything. I want to come in there and earn the respect and trust of my teammates and the right to lead the team.”

Meyer spoke to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who initially had four words for his former college coaching colleague.

“Don’t screw it up,” Swinney said.

″“This will be a very easy transition” for Lawrence, Swinney added. “What he’s stepping into, the expectations, all those things, that his normal. And it has been for a long time. He’s built the right way. … He’s the epitome of consistency. And if you know anything about Urban Meyer, he values consistency and toughness. I didn’t have to sell him on his toughness.”

Lawrence enjoyed a stellar college career, going 34-2 as Clemson’s starter and leading the Tigers to three Atlantic Coast Conference titles and the 2018 national championship.

He completed 66% of his passes for 10,098 yards, with 90 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He also ran for 18 scores.

He finished second in Heisman Trophy balloting to Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith last season. Lawrence threw for 3,153 yards, 24 touchdowns and five interceptions while missing two games after testing positive for COVID-19 in October.

The Jaguars locked up the No. 1 pick in the next-to-last week of the 2020 NFL regular season, and Lawrence was the target long before Meyer was hired to replace Doug Marrone.

Meyer, general manager Trent Baalke and owner Shad Khan never tipped the obvious pick, but they didn’t try to disguise it, either.

Meyer said they made the decision in early February.

The Jaguars already gave Lawrence a playbook and held several Zoom sessions with him. Even Khan sat in on at least one, getting to know a player he’s prepared to guarantee nearly $40 million in a four-year deal.

Lawrence was the fourth quarterback Jacksonville drafted in the last four years, following Tanner Lee (2018), Gardner Minshew (2019) and Jake Luton (2020). Minshew and Luton remain on the roster, but Lawrence is expected to start from Day 1.

He should be a significant upgrade for a franchise that has endured Gabbert, Chad Henne, Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler, Nick Foles, Minshew, Luton and Mike Glennon as starters over the past decade.

“I’m just pumped,” Lawrence said. “The best is yet to come.”

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