From now until the 2018 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#8 Lamar Jackson / QB / Louisville: 6’2”, 216 lbs
– Amazing running ability and athleticism
– Strong arm, effortless release, fairly compacted throwing motion
– Elite scrambling ability behind the LOS and good accuracy when throwing on the run
– Lethal passer when in a rhythm – capable of picking apart a defense through the air.
– Contrary to his reputation, Jackson was a pass-first QB who generally only scrambled when necessary
– Has experience dropping and play-faking from under center
– Ball placement needs improvement
– Tends to drift backward and throw off his back foot when sensing incoming pressure
– Was sacked frequently, partly because he relied so much on his athleticism and escapability to buy time.
– Took a ton of hits, needs to learn to slide
– Feel for the pocket needs refining: Has inconsistent reactions to the pass rush
– Was indecisive at times and didn’t always pull the trigger when his first read was open.
– Blitz identification and hot route familiarity need sharpening.
– Thinner body frame
– 2015 Stats: played in 12 games, completed 135 passes on 247 attempts (54.7% completion rate) for 1,840 yards, 12 TDS and 8 INTs, plus 163 carries for 960 yards and 11 TDs.
– 2016 Stats: played in 13 games, completed 230 passes on 409 attempts (56.2 %) for 3,543 yards, 40 TDs and 9 INTS, plus 260 carries for 1,571 yards and 21 TDs.
– 2017 Stats: played in 13 games, completed 254 passes on 430 attempts for 3,660 yards, 27 TDs and 10 INTs, plus 232 carries for 1,601 yards and 18 TDs.
– Awards: 2016 Heisman Trophy (youngest winner ever), 2016 Maxwell Award, 2016 Walter Camp Award, 2016 AP Player of the Year, 2016 Davey O’Brien Award, 2016 Sporting News Player of the Year, 2016 and 2017 ACC Player of the Year, 2016 and 2017 ACC Offensive Player of the Year, 2016 Unanimous All-American, 2016 and 2017 First-Team All-ACC
Lamar Jackson is one of the most polarizing prospects in recent years. The 2016 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback not only faces questions about his transition to the NFL or what round he should be drafted in but also whether he can or should play the position at all. Critics argue that he should be developed as a wideout, given his speed, change of direction, and slight body frame. Advocates believe Jackson could be the second coming of Michael Vick, given his electrifying scrambling ability and whip-like arm. I discuss the merits of these arguments below.
Jackson’s running ability is nothing short of remarkable. He is one of the most gifted, entertaining, and creative runners in college football history and, assuming he is willing to slide to avoid big hits, there is no reason to believe that this talent will not transfer to the NFL. Take a look at this play against Florida State for just one example. There were seemingly hundreds of plays similar to this:
Jackson can be just as lethal from the pocket as he is running in the open field. He routinely picked defenses apart on underneath routes and took advantage of breakdowns in the secondary. For example, check out this deep ball he unloads against North Carolina after evading an unblocked rusher off the edge:
No report on Jackson would be complete without a clip showcasing his dynamic dual-threat ability. He is an elite playmaker using both his legs and his arm, making him dangerous from anywhere on the field. The ability to attack simultaneously through both the air and on the ground is what sets him apart from everyone else. This scramble and pinpoint throw against Purdue highlights this attribute:
On the negative side, while Jackson is a proven and capable passer who can make every type of throw, his accuracy and ball-placement sometimes fluctuated. While this type of criticism is generally a huge red-flag for a quarterback, I’m actually not as concerned with him, as I am with a prospect like, say, Josh Allen.
In my opinion, and I recognize this might be purely speculation, I think a lot of Jackson’s accuracy/ball placement issues are linked to his thought-process. More specifically, a common coaching point that quarterbacks frequently hear is where it is “safe to miss” with throws. On Out routes, if you’re going to miss, you have to miss outside. On slants, you never miss high. Verticals you miss long. When I see Jackson’s errant throws, they almost always fall into these typical “safe miss” areas and occur on plays when he appears indecisive. This is a lot different than a player like Josh Allen, who was inconsistent in where he missed and tended to sprayed the ball in a variety of directions, regardless of his decisiveness.
For example, take a look at this play against Florida State, where Jackson misses long on an open corner route after bouncing around several different reads. Obviously, this is a bad, inaccurate pass that should have been completed. However, I also think that given how the play developed, Jackson was intentionally trying to be safe with the ball by throwing slightly long and away from the under-coverage. While this is still a bad play that needs to be completed at the next level, I think it is not necessarily as alarming as it may appear at first glance:
Another example is this next play against NC State. Jackson is in a tough position with inside pressure closing while he is trying to hit a cross-field out route. This is clearly a difficult throw; however, I think he has the time and space necessary to complete this pass. Instead, he played it safe by missing outside. Not a terrible play given that he took care of the ball and avoided a sack, but he still could’ve had a first down completion if he stuck the ball on his man:
My main point is that not all incompletions are created equal, and I see Jackson’s as less objectionable than someone like Allen’s. Incompletions to open receivers is never a good or acceptable thing; however, to me, Jackson’s accuracy is less concerning. As the game slows down for him with age, more snaps, and more familiarity with his system and personnel, he should feel more confident targeting tighter windows, rather than playing it safe with where he misses his throws. It might take some time, and it might not happen at all, but if we are playing the probabilities and evaluating a prospect’s upside, I would see Jackson as a quarterback with correctable weaknesses who can be developed.
Projection: Day 1
Games Watched: at Florida State (2017), at Purdue (2017), at NC State (2017), North Carolina (2017), vs Houston (2016), vs Virginia (2016)