2020, it turns out, wasn’t a very good year, what with a global pandemic and all, but it was a very good year to be a bad NFL team. Last month in Cleveland, the Jaguars converted their woeful 1-15 record from 2020 into getting the best quarterback college football has seen in a generation and a haul of football talent that promises to transform their team — and maybe even their town.
Trevor Lawrence isn’t just the quarterback the NFL has been watching and waiting for since January of 2019 when, as a freshman, he took down mighty Alabama for the National Championship. The folks at Cartersville, Georgia High watched him in middle school and waited for him to take their program to new heights. His phenomenal talent and incredible leadership helped Clemson go 34-2 and win a championship and finish second in another national title game. Lawrence is a revelation on and off the field where he has already graduated and married his middle school sweetheart. His strong Christian faith figures to translate as well in north Florida, as will his famously flowing locks and that Southern college football pedigree. In short, the man asked to revitalize the Jaguars is more than up to the task.
Since new head coach Urban Meyer arrived on the scene in Jacksonville in January, everything is different. There is no mention of what happened in the past, only a strong focus on where the franchise is headed into the future. Lawrence is obviously the lynchpin; Meyer wouldn’t have brought his College Football Hall of Fame resume out of retirement and away from a comfortable television job had it not been for the chance to work with Lawrence. Meyer’s approach to the 2021 NFL Draft was all about the future. The Jaguars have the benefit of thinking long-term coming off a one-win season. No one expects them to win the Super Bowl in 2021 or even make the playoffs. They expect better and that seems certain.
The selection of Stanford offensive tackle Walker Little in the second round and Syracuse safety Andre Cisco in the third are perhaps the best indicators of Meyer’s long-term approach. Little is a massive athlete who was highly regarded before a 2019 knee injury shelved him and the Pac-12’s decision to not play football cost him 2020. The Jaguars have two talented offensive tackles ready to play in the fall and don’t need Little this season, but the value of a potential starting tackle at that point of the draft was too great to pass up and, if he’s as good when he does return to the field as he was when he left it two years ago, the Jaguars will have a steal. Same with Cisco, who looked like a first-round pick at Syracuse in 2020 before tearing ligaments in his knee. He’s a big safety who can run and hit but has the instincts and change of direction skills of a cornerback as evidenced by his 13 take-aways in just 20 games for the Orangemen. The Jaguars don’t need him right away, but if he returns to form they found a top-shelf defensive back in the third round.
Teams that win one game don’t have much to work with in a normal year. Fans are unhappy and don’t want to hear about how things are going to be better next season and casual observers are largely uninterested. This isn’t a normal year. A franchise quarterback and a Hall of Fame coach have completely transformed the outlook in Jacksonville and trust me, it’s really, really hard to wash away the stink of a 1-15 season, but it’s gone. Ticket sales are strong, national media attention hasn’t been this keen since Mark Brunell was throwing to Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell more than 20 years ago and the future doesn’t just look bright, it looks stable, which isn’t something we’ve always been able to say about the NFL franchise in one of the smallest markets in the league. Expect the renaissance of downtown Jacksonville that has been on the drawing board for years to finally rise from the banks of the St. Johns River, powered by a winning team that creates a sense of incredible possibilities thanks to a bad team which gave way to a great quarterback. Football is a team game but one player, at the game’s most important position, can change everything.
Brian Sexton is the senior correspondent for the Jacksonville Jaguars and has served more than 20 years as the voice of Jacksonville’s NFL franchise.