According to a variety of metrics, 2nd year pro Trevor Lawrence has performed better this season than Matthew Stafford. In QBR, Lawrence ranks 15th, while Stafford is 21st. Lawrence is 18th in passer rating and Stafford is 21st. SIS datahub ranks Lawrence tied for 11th, while Stafford is 21st. SIS has an adjusted passer rating called IQR and in that metric Lawrence is 14th, while Stafford is 24th. PFF grades Lawrence as the 28th best QB with a 61.3 grade and has Stafford barely ahead of him in 26th place with a 62.0 grade.
While the Rams' offensive line has struggled this season, the Jags have measured even worse according to ESPN's metrics. The Rams are 23th in pass block win rate, but the Jags come in even lower in 27th place. Both teams also struggle in run block win rate (Jags 22nd and Rams 28th), and if you add up the win percentages for both PBWR and RBWR, the two teams come out exactly the same.
So, if Lawrence has produced better overall stats behind a similar level of offensive line play, does that mean that even this early in his NFL career he's a better QB than seasoned veteran Stafford? To try to pierce through the numbers and diagnose if Lawrence comes out ahead of Stafford in an "eye test", I watched some of Lawrence's games this season.
Overall, he's basically the type of player I was expecting him to be when he was coming out of Clemson. Lawrence has a strong arm and can gun the ball into tight windows. He's a good runner. He plays with confidence and will challenge the defense, attempting difficult throws. But, he also makes a variety of mistakes and needs to improve in a number of areas if he's going to become an elite QB. These are some of the things I see on tape:
Lack of Pocket Composure
I wonder if there is a flaw in ESPN's pass blocking metrics, because in the games that I watched, the pass blocking was generally pretty solid for Lawrence. Several times, what would happen is Lawrence would unnecessarily leave a decent pocket, creating a QB pressure or risking a holding penalty. Alternatively, there were plays where he was supposed to throw the ball earlier, but he was indecisive and slow reading the progression, holding the ball too long and creating a sack or pressure when in terms of the design of the play the blocking gave the QB enough time to get the ball out.
For example, the Jags had the ball in FG range, facing a 3rd & 9. The pocket is fine with both OTs engaged with their edge rushers. When his initial read doesn't come open, Lawrence gets antsy and tries to spin out of the back and side of the pocket instead of climbing forward into the pocket. This results in a big loss of yardage on an avoidable sack, pushing the Jags all the way out of FG range.
On another play, the receiver is open near the sideline. Lawrence has plenty of room to stand and deliver the throw, but for some unknown reason his feet are jittery and he tries to leave the pocket, then skips as he throws. The odd mechanics results in the pass sailing high over the head of the WR, missing what should have been a first down.
3rd down in the red zone. The pocket is clean and if the QB just waits a tiny fraction of a second, he can hit one of the 2 pivot routes and give one of the receivers a chance at a TD if they can slip by the middle linebacker. Instead, Lawrence unnecessarily spins out of the picket and runs towards the sideline, bailing on the play too soon.
On a bootleg pass, it looked like he could have thrown it to either of 2 guys, but he was indecisive, holding the ball too long and continuing to roll out and by that time one of them was no longer as open and the other one turned around and decided to block, thinking that the QB was going to run, the play ultimately resulting in a sack.
Ball Placement and Accuracy Issues
When on, Lawrence can zip difficult throws into small windows to different levels of the field, one of the reasons he was the 1st overall pick. On the other hand, he has many strange errors on what should be very easy passes.
It is 3rd&5. The RB out of the backfield is running a basic arrow route and the rub on the LB provides space so that a very simple pass to the RB would result in gaining the first down. Lawrence opens up his shoulder too far and his left foot isn't even pointed towards the target properly. The ball dies so short that the RB isn't even able to come up with the ball as he goes down to the ground trying to scoop out the low throw.
On screen passes to the flat, Lawrence often puts the ball on the back hip of the WR when it should be out in front of the WR so that the receiver can run forward after the catch. One time, this resulted in the ball clanging off the WR's hands. Similar throws caused RBs to spin around 360 degrees trying to make the catch, slowing them down. Another pass was too high and bounced off the hands of the WR.
There were several outright drops by WRs on tape, where the ball hit them right between the numbers and they dropped the ball. On the other hand, there were throws where Lawrence threw the ball too high and too hard when he needed to deliver it with more touch so that the ball would be easier to catch. An egregious one came against zone coverage where there was plenty of space and no defender contesting the catch point. Should have been a basic throw for a 1st down, but the pass is high and hard, bouncing off the WR's hands and is incomplete.
In the games I watched, Lawrence had 2 very ugly red zone interceptions that were so bad it is hard to comprehend what he was thinking. It was as if he just decided to throw the ball directly to a defender. Presumably the QB didn't see them, but they were so obvious you wonder how the QB could have had blinders on so narrow that he didn't recognize the danger.
He also had what could have been an easy deep bomb TD and for some reason the ball is gunned flat and both too far and wide of the receiver. I can't tell what happened, if the WR didn't run the route the way the QB anticipated or if it was a missed throw.
I do believe that Lawrence is developing and gaining valuable experience. He needs to diagnose the coverage faster, because his eyes can stay too long on a route that isn't open, but I think he should get better with that the more games he plays. Nevertheless, looking at the entire picture, I still believe that Matthew Stafford is a better QB than Lawrence right now. Stafford has made plenty of mistakes, missed throws and turnovers this season, but even with those negative marks I feel that he has thrown the ball more accurately and from a mental standpoint is more advanced, composed and experience than Lawrence.
According to Marc Sessler's rankings for NFL.com, Lawrence is the 20th best QB, while Stafford is ranked 17th. In general, I feel that those types of subjective lists are overly influenced by the QB's reputation and by traditional stats (which in turn are heavily influenced by things like the supporting cast, the coaching and the quality of opposing defenses) but in this instance I agree with the result of having Stafford ahead of Lawrence, despite how they measure in certain passing metrics.
Lawrence doesn't have Cooper Kupp and he isn't coached by McVay. Maybe he'd look better if he were a Ram. On the other hand, I bet that with our OL he'd absorb way more sacks (he's been sacked 10 times this season) and would have more fumbles and INTs. When I did a draft profile on Lawrence, my NFL comp for him was Ryan Tannehill and that is how the SIS numbers look. Tannehill and Lawrence are very similar in terms of their IQR and SIS rankings.