Aug. 03, 2018
Next up in my mini series of NFL draft prospects is quarterback Lamar Jackson. Lamar is originally from the state of Florida and played high school ball at Boynton Beach High School. He committed to play college ball at Louisville but some gator fans may remember him as the QB that former coach Jim Mcelwain almost recruited to Florida. In the end, it all worked out for Lamar as he became a heisman trophy winner and record breaker while at Louisville. On stats alone, Jackson is the top college player, but as many people know, collegiate awards don't necessarily translate to NFL success.
If you check twitter and search for Lamar Jackson on any news feed, you'll probably see two highly differing opinions on him. His supporters mention that he is the most athletically gifted quarterback to play college ball in years and that teams need to consider him in the first round, while also favorably comparing him to Michael Vick. The detractors will counter that statement and say that he is a product of the read option/spread offense with no chance of succeeding as a pocket passer in the NFL and should probably just switch to wide receiver. Like with everything in life, the truth is probably somewhere in between.
Lamar Jackson is one of the most athletically gifted quarterbacks to enter the NFL draft in years. He has drawn comparisons to Vince Young and Michael Vick. Just turn on his highlight reel and you will see him break off chunk plays with his legs multiple times each game. One play in particular occurred in their final game of the season against Mississippi State. Louisville got the ball back at their own 15 yard line with just over a minute remaining in the half. The popular call in this situation is a halfback draw or screen pass. A sort of "test the water" play to see if your offense can get a first down or more before calling it a half. The play call by Bobby Petrino was a QB draw and not only did Lamar Jackson pick up the first down, he sliced and diced his way to a 75 yard. Not many quarterbacks can change the complexion of a game with their legs quite like Jackson can. Critics will watch Lamar play and be wowed by his running ability, but the common response is that running quarterbacks don't succeed in the NFL. They argue that Lamar isn't a pocket passer and will never develop into one. Lamar, like every other quarterback in the draft has flaws that need to be worked on but that won't stop teams from taking a chance on him. The next strength that is evident when watching Lamar Jackson is his natural arm talent. He has the genetic makeup that lets him sling the ball 50+ with just the flick of his wrist. To go along with his arm strength, he also has a lightning quick release. Quarterbacks in the NFL need to have quick releases because passing lanes in the NFL close up quickly. It is very common to see NFL quarterbacks struggle because by the time they finish their throwing motion, their intended target is no longer open. The common ceiling for release time in NFL quarterbacks in .4-.5 seconds, anything over that and scouts will dock the quarterback on timing. Aaron Rodgers, the most talented quarterback in the NFL usually sits at a .43 second release time or less. The physical gifts and arm talent are undoubtedly positives for Lamar Jackson and will get him drafted by a quarterback needy team but that isn't to say that he doesn't have his faults.
If teams only watched Lamar Jackson's highlight tape, they would assuredly draft him in the top 20 picks. Watching Lamar play for four whole quarters though will help you realize that Lamar is a flawed quarterback with mechanical issues that need to be fixed before he ever starts a game in the NFL. The most notable concern with Lamar Jackson is his inaccuracy on intermediate to deep pass plays. He struggles to hit the deep out routes and deep post routes. More often than not, he will sail the ball over the receivers head. On out routes, over throws aren't as costly because the football will continue out of bounds for an incompletion. It's the overthrows on post routes that scare me the most because there tends to be a safety over the top and an overthrow will lead to an easy interception. Against Mississipi State, on one particular play midway through the second quarter, Jackson had a receiver open on a deep post route. It would've taken a nice throw to hit the receiver, but instead Jackson sailed the ball and it wound up as an easy interception for the defense. Jackson will need the proper coaching at the next level to pinpoint and correct his mechanical issues. The issue that I've noticed is that he rely's too much on his arm talent and tends to get lazy with his lower half. Too often you see him not set his feet properly which results in too wide or too narrow of a base. Another issue surrounding Lamar is that he takes a ton of hits. He will need to learn to slide more often or get out of bounds on running plays or his career will be cut short due to injuries, i.e Robert Griffin III.
Strengths: Speed and short area quickness while running, strong arm, quick release
Weaknesses: Intermediate/deep accuracy, timing, stares down receivers
Comparison: Robert Griffin III, Carson Wentz
Lamar Jackson will continue to be a polarizing player throughout his NFL career. He clearly has the athletic gifts and physical traits that are needed to succeed as an NFL quarterback. The question will be whether or not he can get the proper coaching to fix the mechanical issues in his lower body to become an accurate NFL passer. Many teams will avoid Lamar Jackson because he is not a prototypical pocket passer, but all it takes is one confident coach that is willing to install the proper scheme for him to succeed. I believe a run first team that uses a ton of play action will help get the most out of Lamar early in his career. Whoever picks Lamar will need to develop a scheme that gets him outside the pocket and give him the ability to create yards with his legs. Even the threat to run each play will force defenses to play closer to the line of scrimmage or spy the quarterback at all times. This can in turn help open up passing lanes for Lamar and help him develop timing and chemistry within the offense. I believe Lamar will go anywhere between the end of the first round, to a team that trades back up, and the middle of the second. Teams that would suit him well include the Jaguars, Cardinals, and Saints.