JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few hours before the Jacksonville Jaguars finally ended the secrecy charade and selected quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, one of his future targets, receiver D.J. Chark, stood on the field where they would play and looked up at the scoreboards. Lawrence's face, Chark said, would soon be all over it.
Chark has never played with an elite quarterback -- he missed Joe Burrow at LSU by a year -- and the truth is that nobody else in Jacksonville has since Mark Brunell was under center when the Jaguars were first formed in the late 1990s. Until Thursday, the Jaguars had pulled off a remarkable and unsightly draft trick by picking in the top 10 every year but one since 2008 without ever landing a franchise quarterback. But even Brunell, who had taken Jacksonville to an AFC Championship Game in 1999, never invited the dreaming and hope that have accompanied Lawrence, as the NFL awaited his arrival for three years.
So, it was hard to blame the local television hosts who whooped "We got him!" as fireworks burst over 8,000 socially distanced fans at a TIAA Bank Field draft party when the pick was finally announced Thursday night. Here in town this week, there have been sincere discussions about whether Lawrence can do for Jacksonville what Peyton Manning did for the Indianapolis Colts -- put the team and the town on the national stage, maybe get a new stadium built, and perhaps even help revitalize a faded downtown district.
"If you have blood in your veins, I don't know how you couldn't be excited," team owner Shad Khan said about an hour before the pick.
Khan has not shied away from what a critical period this is for his franchise. With five picks in the top 65 of the draft (the Jaguars selected Lawrence's Clemson teammate, RB Travis Etienne, with the 25th overall pick), Lawrence on the horizon and Urban Meyer in the fold, Khan believes this is a transformational moment for the Jaguars.
The Etienne pick was surprising, given the performance of James Robinson and the signing of Carlos Hyde. But Meyer said the Clemson back is as much receiver as runner and the pick was part of an effort to support Lawrence as much as possible.
"It's one way to help a young quarterback, we added Carlos Hyde to James (Robinson). We created depth at wide receiver," Meyer said. "Then we had a chance to go with Travis (Etienne). Our offensive line has got to play better. The offensive line has to play really well. We're confident we have good players there."
In a virtual call with reporters after he was picked, Lawrence sounded game for such an exalted role and responsibility. He said it is important to be normal and one way he wants to do that is by being active in the community.
In a first round where all the drama revolved around quarterbacks, the only suspense surrounding Lawrence was whether anybody with the team would slip up and say his name before the pick became official. All week, as the Jaguars rehearsed for Thursday night's draft party, Lawrence highlights were shown on the big screen in an empty stadium. Of course, he and everyone else had known for months that he would be the Jaguars' choice. Meyer, who said he knew in early February that Lawrence was the pick, all but personally conducted the quarterback's pro day, and the two have spoken multiple times on the phone. On Wednesday, when Meyer visited a Navy destroyer, one of the sailors even asked if he would make Lawrence cut his long hair.
"If I were to pick Trevor Lawrence …" Meyer began with a laugh. "I used to care. I don't care. If you play really, really good and are a good person, I don't care."
Lawrence said it was a weight off his shoulders when the pick was finally made. He hadn't even wanted to try on a Jaguars hat during a test of his television equipment, for fear of jinxing things.
"I'm not expecting for anyone to hand me anything," Lawrence said. "I want to come in there and earn the respect and the right to lead the team."
Lawrence has had success his entire life and with his size, arm, mobility and experience in huge games, he is considered the most complete prospect since Andrew Luck. Lawrence won championships in high school and college. He was the top college recruit coming out of high school. He lost four games – total – in his seven years as a starter in high school and college, to go 90-4. It's entirely possible he will lose that many games in one month in Jacksonville, at least in his first season. But the Jaguars believe they have enough pieces already on the roster, and will add more immediate-impact talent from this draft, that Lawrence will not have to make an adjustment to losing.
"I'm bringing the same mindset," Lawrence said. "Obviously it's different. You're not playing the same competition and you're playing the best of the best week in and week out, but I think that mindset is still important. You still have to expect to win, still have to prepare the same way. I don't know what the point is if you don't expect to win every week. So, I'm going to bring that same mindset (to the Jaguars). Obviously, it's going to be more challenging; (it's) just the nature of the beast, you're playing the best every week. I know it's going to be more challenging, but I think for me it's more so just keeping that same mindset instead of adjusting."
Lawrence said he looks up to quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers -- super efficient, smart and methodical. He said he must get better at everything, but his main priority is adjusting to his new team and coaches and earning the respect and trust of his teammates. Chark, who has been texting with Lawrence, said the Jaguars have had a strong turnout of receivers during the first days of the offseason program and he expects to be catching passes from his new quarterback at a local field as soon as Lawrence's draft celebration ends.
"This will be a very easy transition," said Clemson Coach Dabo Sweeney. "He's well-prepared. What he's stepping into, the expectation and all of those things, that's his normal. It has been for a long time. He's built the right way. He is the epitome of consistency."
The Jaguars have waited a long time for that, at quarterback and in the results. Lawrence, the quarterback the NFL has waited three years for and the Jaguars have waited a franchise history for, may finally provide both.