Jackson is a native of Broward County, Florida, which is one of the hotbeds for football in Florida, as well as the country as a whole. Before Jackson won the Heisman trophy in 2016, he was a star quarterback at Boyton Beach High School.
During Jackson’s time at Boyton Beach, he put up ridiculous numbers during his two seasons as the varsity starting quarterback. He had a total of 31 passing touchdowns along with 22 rushing touchdowns. Jackson’s quarterback rating was 102.7 as he threw for over 2,000 yards.
Jackson was listed as a four-star recruit by Rivals and received offers from 15 schools, including Florida, Florida State, Auburn, and Nebraska. However, Jackson ultimately decided on Louisville.
In his first season as a true freshman, Jackson had a bit of a slow start compared to the rest of his career. Over the course of 12 games, Jackson threw for just 1,840 yards with a 7.4 yards per attempt average while completing 54.7 percent of his passes. He threw for 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. On the ground, Jackson added another 960 yards with a 5.9 yard per carry average and 11 touchdowns. Louisville played Texas A&M in their bowl game and Jackson had a bit of a rough go through the air but was sensational on the ground. He went 12-for-26 for 227 yards and two touchdowns. His legs won the game for the Cardinals as he had 22 rushing attempts for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
Jackson made an enormous leap from year one to year two as a sophomore. Through the air, Jackson managed to throw for 3,543 yards with an 8.7 yards per attempt average, completing 56.2 percent of his passes, and throwing 30 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. He also became more involved in the rushing game than he already was. Tallying up 1,571 rushing yards with a six-yard-per-carry average and 21 rushing touchdowns, Jackson solidified himself as the clear cut Heisman trophy winner. Unfortunately in Louisville’s bowl game loss against LSU, Jackson went just 10 for 27 with 153 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions, and rushed 25 times for only 33 yards.
Going into his third and final season as a junior at Louisville, expectations were sky-high for the reigning Heisman trophy winner and he delivered in the regular season. Jackson threw for 3,660 yards with an 8.5 yards per attempt average and completing 59.1 percent of his passes. He had 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions through the air. Another great year on the ground for Jackson as he rushed for 1,601 yards, averaging 6.9 yards per carry and 18 touchdowns. For the third straight year, Louisville faced an SEC defense in their bowl game and they fell short for the second straight year. Jackson went 13 for 31 passing for 171 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions while adding 158 yards on the ground with 24 attempts and a touchdown.
There’s a reason he scored 96 touchdowns in the past two seasons.
The Michael Vick comparisons are apt. He fires the ball 60 yards with a flick of the wrist, and could probably run a 4.4 forty yard dash.
You can have your Josh Allen. In my book, in terms of athletic tools, no one in this draft comes close to Jackson.
Jackson throws with an overhand arm motion, but will adjust the release point and angle depending on the situation. He has flashed effective footwork in his dropback and hitch steps, but also has a tendency to play with an extremely narrow base that doesn’t afford him much room for error on his throws.
Jackson has quiet feet in the pocket, allowing him to easily evade pressure or throw when pressure approaches. He’s a magician with the ball on play fakes, turning his body, holding out an arm, carrying the ball in an off-hand and selling the hand off to everyone involved.
Sometimes, Jackson will hold the ball out at a dangerous distance, rather than keeping it close to his chest. That allows him to make LeSean McCoy-esque escape maneuvers, but also could make him vulnerable to fumbles.
Lamar Jackson has come a long way from his freshman year, when I looked at his tape and did indeed think his future lay at wide receiver. He improved his completion percentage each season, and actually finished his junior year above sixty percent until a 13-of-31 performance in the bowl game dropped him down to 59.1 percent.
In terms of highlight throw potential, Jackson and Josh Allen lead the class. Jackson has the arm strength to fit the ball into small windows even when he’s not able to set his feet for the throw.
He also has a good foundational understanding of touch, throwing catchable passes to all levels of the field.
Like Allen, occasionally Jackson’s placement is spotty. When Jackson’s mechanics are rhythmic, he’s on target, but if he gets sloppy, he misses high and wide.
The good news is, I’ve seen that tremendous improvement (including from high school, when he essentially played in a triple-option offense). That tells me his trajectory is headed upward.
Processing speed and decision-making
Jackson played in an Erhardt-Perkins offense under Bobby Petrino, a former NFL coach and longtime college head coach. He does a good job getting through his reads, and sometimes anticipated his initial read coming open. Jackson has that rare athlete’s trait where the game will slow down for him, and he’ll make moves before anyone else on the field can react.
It’s somewhat surprising for a player with his level of productivity on the ground game, but Jackson is one of the most mature pocket passers in the draft. He’ll hang in even when a defender is only a step away, knowing that if the play isn’t available he can escape like Houdini when the pocket closes around him.
Jackson’s narrow base actually benefits him in this instance, because he doesn’t take up much space as he steps around the pocket.
Jackson has a lot of confidence in his playmaking ability, and sometimes pushes his luck in the red zone. He’ll throw the ball up for grabs when the play needs to be killed off. His tendency to swing the ball away from his body when juking, and not to slide on some of his runs, also put him at risk.
The case for and against Lamar Jackson
The case for Jackson
Lamar Jackson is probably the most electric dual-threat quarterback since Michael Vick was playing in the NFL. When carrying the ball, Jackson combines the straight-line speed of a wide receiver with the shiftiness and open-field moves of a scat-back. Jackson’s running ability ensures that any offensive play is never truly “dead.” When a pass play is called and wide receivers are blanketed in coverage, Jackson has the ability to scramble, buy time, and run positive yards if he’s forced to. Jackson also offers one of the strongest arms in the 2017 quarterback class. At times, his deep ball accuracy was just as potent a threat as the his running ability. Despite popular misconceptions, Louisville’s offense featured many different pro-style concepts, route structures, and personnel groupings that have prepared Jackson for the NFL. Under center more in 2017, Jackson’s pocket presence is also underrated. He’s able to side-step pressure, re-establish himself, keep his eyes downfield and rocket a pass to receivers.
Bobby Petrino’s Louisville offense has been likened to the Erhardt-Perkins (E-P) system that the Buffalo Bills are attempting to install this offseason. As such, Jackson is already comfortable with concepts like route sight adjustments by his wide receivers, pre- and post-snap reads, and audibles at the line of scrimmage. If Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll chooses to install zone-read concepts into the offense, Jackson would make those concepts highly effective.
The case against Jackson
Mechanically, Jackson is all over the place, which affects his accuracy and is a problem that can prove difficult for quarterbacks to fully overhaul. His throwing motion is more of a wrist flick than a true follow-through. He often sets up in a tight, narrow throwing base that also doesn’t allow for much follow-through. Jackson tends to overshoot receivers as a result of these issues. While Louisville’s offense did feature pro-style concepts, many of Jackson’s reads were simplistic in nature. Half-field reads were not uncommon and if immediately placed into a more complex environment, Jackson can be expected to struggle. In college, Jackson’s smallish-frame had commentators questioning his ability to absorb multiple hits and stay healthy. His aggressive running style might need to be curtailed a bit if he wants to survive multiple years in the pro game.
(By Dan Lavoie)
Lamar Jackson is a unique kid, from his background, to his raw talent, to his college career and his unorthodox approach to the draft process. If he’d waited until 2019 to enter the NFL, I have no doubt in my mind he’d be the #1 overall pick - if Michael Vick could do it, so could Jackson.
Jackson, though, left school a year early, and in a talent-loaded quarterback class. He also turned off teams by refusing to run timing drills, and his decision not to hire an agent is also annoying some individuals.
Is he the right pick for Buffalo? It’s hard to say. In theory, they have a veteran quarterback to support Jackson, and an Erhardt-Perkins offensive coordinator who just returned from a stint in the college game. On the other hand, we’ve not heard any news connecting the pair since the Combine, and Jackson’s unrefined mechanics may not appeal to a team who seems to prefer traditional dropback pocket passers.
Personally, I don’t care - I love him and all his potential. Do I think there are some better quarterbacks in this draft? I do. But if the Buffalo Bills landed Jackson, I’d still be grinning ear-to-ear.
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