Once upon a time we argued Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf ('98). We debated Drew Bledsoe or Rick Mirer ('93) and Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin ('12). We've even had three-way battles like Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb or Akili Smith ('99). There's a common thread to all of them. When the dust settled, the debates looked absurd. That is playing out again in front of our eyes with the upcoming NFL Draft.
Perhaps this will be like '15 and both guys at the top of Apri's selections will be serviceable, but not great (Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota). It could be like '04 where multiple quarterbacks became franchise cornerstones and won Super Bowl MVPs (Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger). The odds are though, when history has shown us two signal-callers at the top there's a huge disparity between their NFL careers. So who will it be? The strong-armed, big school National Champion Trevor Lawrence or the elastic, Group of 5 newcomer Zach Wilson?
In the lead up to the draft this storyline has often taken place. The traditional top prospect owns draft boards for months (in this case, years), but cedes ground to the upstart in the weeks leading up. Maybe it's a case of draft analysts needing fresh content. Audiences like drama, so a racehorse making up ground late always plays well. But it's often proven to be illogical and knee-jerk. Bledsoe had a superior arm. Peyton was the future Hall of Famer.
Luck was a lock. McNabb had the big game wins. Anyone pushing the other guys was just creating hype. The top dogs were the known commodities. No need to outthink yourself.
Lawrence is that top dog this year. As a true freshman he took over the reigns at Clemson and directed them to a pair of dominant playoff wins, culminating in a blowout performance over Alabama in the title game 44-16. Lawrence had all the answers that night, tallying 347 yards and 3 touchdowns over Nick Saban's defense. He was named offensive MVP. Since that moment more than two years ago, the NFL Draft could've been held any day. Lawrence would have been the first overall pick.
He's done little to change those extraordinary expectations in the previous two seasons. As a sophomore and junior, he threw for 60 touchdowns and ran for another 17. He tossed only 13 interceptions. He went 14-1 in '19, his only defeat in the title game to LSU. This season he lost one game, the semifinal to Ohio State. So Lawrence went 23-2, tallied almost 7,000 yards passing, nearly 800 yards rushing, 77 touchdowns and 13 interceptions since he was declared the best prospect in college football. So what's changed exactly?
The answer of course, is nothing. But draft analysts say multiple NFL front offices have Wilson rated higher than Lawrence. This is insane. Yes, the BYU gunslinger has an intriguing style. He slithers around the pocket, has great speed, and a live arm. He had tremendous stats this season. He only played two ranked teams, and lost to one of them (22-17 at #18 Coastal Carolina). In the most visible matchup of the season, a CFB bracket buster, he went 19-30, 240 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. The offense put up 17 points. Granted, the ACC hasn't been great competition for Clemson in Lawrence's three seasons. The Tigers also have top-tier NFL talent surrounding him. But let's ask this question: If you put Lawrence under center for the Cougars on December 5, does he win that game? The answer is undoubtedly yes. Coastal Carolina could not have slowed down any attack led by Lawrence.
It could simply be GMs creating false narratives to help their cause. Maybe teams are trying to artificially inflate Wilson's stock to lure a GM into trading up or hoping Lawrence slides down a slot. No matter what, in a few years when we go back over these pre-draft columns the reality will be painfully clear.
Lawrence is Peyton, Luck and McNabb. He's #1. Don't overthink it. He's the best quarterback this spring, no questions asked.