By Charlie Campbell
Summary: One general manager from an AFC team told WalterFootball.com that Jackson is the most dynamic player in the 2018 NFL Draft. With amazing running ability, speed, and a powerful arm, Jackson is a rare talent who possesses a phenomenal skill set. While he made highlight-reel plays on a routine basis, some in the media have criticized him to the point that he may not be a high first-rounder and could slip to the middle or back portion of Round 1. Some analysts have even suggested Jackson should move to another position. In speaking with team sources, however, multiple top executives and scouts think that Jackson is being undervalued and definitely can stay as a quarterback in the NFL.
Jackson broke into the starting lineup for Louisville as a freshman and completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,543 yards with 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions. That season, he also ran for 960 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. In 2016, Jackson set college football on fire while winning the Heisman Trophy. The sophomore was a massive point-producer for the Cardinals. Jackson completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,543 yards with 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions on the year. He also ran for 21 touchdowns and 1,571 yards while averaging six yards per carry.
Jackson’s 2017 was comparable to his Heisman winning season although he wasn’t even invited to New York as a finalist for the sham award, which effectively excludes linemen and defensive players. In 2017, Jackson completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,660 yards with 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry on the ground on his way to 1,601 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns.
Sources from around the league acknowledged that Jackson was a one-man team. Louisville did not have a good running game and fielded a bad offensive line that allowed steady heat on Jackson. Poor receivers consistently dropped well-thrown passes, and that kept Jackson from completing 60 percent of his passes. While a poor supporting cast is used to help justify some of the underwhelming numbers for Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, the same benefit of the doubt doesn’t seem to get extended to Jackson.
Of the top quarterback prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft, Jackson has the most athletic ability and dual-threat danger to give defenses huge problems. He has elite arm strength with a powerful gun that can make devastating throws. Jackson’s arm is so strong that he can make throws off platform that other quarterbacks can only make after having set their feet. With just a flick of the wrist, the ball explodes out of Jackson’s hands, and he can beat good coverage with perfect throws that very few quarterbacks can make. Jackson also hangs tough in the pocket while staring down the barrel to deliver passes while under the pass rush. He showed good field vision to work through progressions with pocket presence and patience to let routes develop. Jackson can buy time with his feet, and although so many of his highlights were dominated by runs, Jackson has a devastating arm to hurt defenses downfield. He also ran a complicated college offense under Bobby Petrino, displaying full command of the system.
On top of well-above-average arm strength, Jackson is an amazing athlete with incredible mobility, speed, and moves to rip up defenses with his feet. From a skill-set perspective, Jackson is very similar to Michael Vick. Jackson is extremely fast and explodes down the field when he takes off on the run. Jackson can take off when plays break down and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field by just using is feet and his elusive running in the open field. In the open field, Jackson is a shifty runner who weaves around defenders with excellent moves in the open field to juke would-be tacklers. He is a dynamic and electric runner for the NFL.
There are a few issues that Jackson has to improve for the next level. He must increase his accuracy. Jackson has issues with poor footwork at this time; when he throws, he transfers too much weight to his front foot with his back foot off the ground. That leads to him sailing passes and making overthrows. Jackson has to improve his accuracy and footwork for the NFL. If he improves his feet, Jackson’s accuracy will improve from that. Landing with a good quarterback coach and offensive coordinator could lead to the accuracy and footwork issues being resolved. Jackson also had an alarmingly low score on the wonderlic test. Part of that could be from him not hiring an agent who would have him prepared and had him doing practice tests. Jackson is being represented by his mother, and teams have had a hard time communicating with them to set up workouts, visits and meetings. Still, his wonderlic score is concerning.
“Lamar [Jackson] has no idea how to throw with his core and legs,” said one NFC scout who specializes in quarterbacks and was on the field during the combine workouts. “He’s all arm and wrist action right now, very much like Cam [Newton], but much cleaner delivery. When he gets some serious coaching on driving his body into throws, he could be insane. Completely blank canvas. It’s amazing he threw it as well as he did, seeing how much work he needs in that aspect alone. There’s not a QB coach alive who looked at that and didn’t feel as if they could make a very good passer. Old rule: you can fix the feet – not the mind or arm.”
The other issue is weight as Jackson has a thin frame and needs to add more muscle to help protect against injury in the NFL. While Jackson is skinnier than the ideal, he was very durable in college and much more so than Josh Rosen or Josh Allen. With his elusiveness, Jackson dodges a lot of big hits, and you rarely ever saw him take a big shot while running. With his speed and slippery moves, Jackson is hard to square up for defenders. Still, he should seek to get stronger, and that could definitely be improved in a pro strength and conditioning program.
With his physical talent, I think Jackson could have success in the NFL if the offense is built around him and his skill set, similar to what the Texans did with Deshaun Watson during the 2017 season, when they averaged almost 40 points per game with the rookie dual-threat quarterback. Scouts from teams across the league tell me that Jackson is being undervalued and unfairly critiqued. That could send Jackson lower in his draft class, but he could end up being a steal for some team. I think Jackson could be a franchise quarterback, one of the most electrifying play-makers in the NFL, and a Pro Bowler. However, all of that depends on Jackson landing with the right team and that team building its offense around him and developing him well.
Player Comparison: Michael Vick. Sources from multiple teams have compared to Jackson to Vick from an on-the-field perspective. Both players are electric runners with strong arms capable of making devastating throws. Vick struggled with accuracy in many seasons during his NFL career, and Jackson has accuracy issues entering the league. Jackson receives solid marks for his intangibles, as opposed to Vick, who had awful character and horrible intangibles. Those issues led to Vick being a massive underachiever, and fortunately, Jackson does not have those problems.
NFL Matches: Cleveland, New York Giants, Buffalo, Washington, Arizona, Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville, New Orleans and Pittsburgh
There are a lot of quarterback-needy teams in the NFL, and Jackson should have plenty of potential landing spots. The Browns need a franchise quarterback, and Jackson could be in play for them if they take position players at picks No. 1 and No. 4 and then target Jackson in a trade-up from the second round.
The Giants could use a young franchise quarterback with Eli Manning aging. If they take a player like Saquon Barkley with the second-overall pick, they could target Jackson in a trade up from Round 2, or they could potentially trade down in the first round and take Jackson.
The Redskins, Cardinals, Chargers, Saints, Bills, Jaguars and Steelers all could target Jackson as their quarterback of the future. Washington and Arizona seem like good potential fits for Jackson in the early teens. Buffalo has two first-round picks, so using one on Jackson could make sense for the organization if it is unable to trade up from pick No. 12. The Chargers, Saints and Steelers all could groom Jackson for a year or two behind their aging star quarterbacks. He could become a true franchise quarterback for those teams. Jacksonville could take Jackson as an upgrade over Blake Bortles. The Jaguars could groom Jackson while playing Bortles and then make the switch when Jackson is ready. After the trades last year by the Chiefs and Texans for young franchise quarterbacks, one can’t rule out the possibility that a team will move up for Jackson.
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