Jaguars open NFL draft, Meyer era by drafting Lawrence

The Jacksonville Jaguars made the easiest and maybe most significant selection in franchise history when they chose Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first pick in the NFL draft Thursday night.

The Jaguars made the announcement that’s been expected for months official shortly after the start of the draft, setting off a raucous celebration inside TIAA Bank Field. A sold-out draft party, which included a crowd of 8,000, cheered wildly as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stepped to the podium to call Lawrence’s name.

Lawrence is 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).

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The next two picks were also quarterbacks with the New York Jets selecting BYU product Zach Wilson with the No. 2 overall pick and the San Francisco 49ers snagging Trey Lance, out of North Dakota State, with the third pick.

The Atlanta Falcons ended the run on quarterbacks by taking Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase rounded out the top five when he was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals.

The chance to draft Lawrence was one of the factors that lured coach Urban Meyer out of the broadcast booth and got him back on the sideline. Jacksonville has five of the top 65 picks, including the 25th pick later in Thursday’s opening round.

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.

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

He completed 66 per cent 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.

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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.

“No negatives,” Baalke said recently. “All the research we’ve done, you’re always looking for the stars to align when you’re looking at prospects, whether that be from a physical, mental, character aspect, whatever the case may be. With his situation, like many others in this draft, the stars all align and that’s what you’re looking for.”

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 five-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.

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The Miami Dolphins took Alabama reciver Jaylen Waddle at No. 6. Rounding out the top 10 were offensive tackle Penei Sewell (Detroit Lions, Oregon), cornerback Jaycee Horn (Carolina Panthers, South Carolina), cornerback Patrick Surtain II (Denver Broncos, Alabama) and receiver DeVonta Smith (Philadelphia Eagles, Alabama).

The Eagles secured the No. 10 pick after the Dallas Cowboys traded down to No. 12, also receiving Philadelphia’s third-rounder (84th).

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