Perhaps the most exciting player in college football has flown under the radar with a lack of talent, on an irrelevant team. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson was nothing short of Superman last year, but even Superman has a kryptonite.
The junior quarterback has completed 562/982 passes for 8191 yards, 60 touchdowns and 23 interceptions thus far. He’s also added 586 carries for 3560 yards and 46 touchdowns using his legs. The Heisman Trophy winning QB had a dynamic season last year, but his team has struggled this year, thus phasing Jackson out of the national spotlight this year. The 6-foot-3, 210 pound Jackson is an elite athlete that you'll rarely find at the quarterback position, but is he a QB who can translate his college success to the NFL?
Strengths: Jackson often takes snaps in the shotgun/pistol formation, but he does take some snaps from under center. He shows smooth athleticism, yet inconsistent footwork in the pocket, and has a snap delivery that can fire the ball out quickly. His arm strength is exceptional, as there are very few throws — if any — that he can’t reach.
He can generate plenty of velocity without using a windup release, and has upper body strength to fit throws into tight windows while off balance. He flashes the ability to accurately drive the ball into tight windows, but his deep-ball accuracy needs to develop more consistency. He can easily reach his target, but he overshoots them by a mile at times. Though, when he sets with a firm base, he throws an exceptionally catchable ball.
Jackson’s elite speed and arm strength make him a dual-threat nightmare for NFL defenses.
Weaknesses: He flashes ability to read through his second and third progression, but he often scrambles if his first option isn’t open. While he needs to develop more pocket presence and patience, it’s also unfair to completely blame him. Louisville’s offensive line is terrible, and Jackson is often running for his life for four quarters. He will make all the sexy throws and runs but he tends to have the ball sail on him on intermediate to deep throws.
While Jackson checks off nearly every athletic attribute, he needs to improve physically to withstand the crushing blows from NFL defenders. We saw how someone like Robert Griffin III got knocked around and was never the same, and his ineffectiveness to read defenses after they figured his game out. We also see the wear and tear Cam Newton has endured. Louisville’s offense often puts Jackson in a position to succeed, giving him easy run-pass options and quick reads that help him avoid big hits. Jackson won’t have that luxury in the NFL, and he’ll need to stay inside the pocket more to let the passing plays develop.
Jackson also needs to avoid staring down his receivers. Clemson most notably made him pay for that, limiting Jackson to one of the worse games in his career. During drives he’ll look like a dynamic QB, and other times he’ll telegraph the entire drive until he’s finally picked off.
Overall assessment: There’s no question Jackson has star potential, but he has a lot of learning to do. His mechanics needs slight refinement and he must keep the ball high when in the pocket to avoid easy strip-sacks. Additionally, Jackson runs into a lot of sacks by trying to do way too much. He must learn to abandon plays or check it down to the running back, rather than hit the home run through the air or on the ground.
His fastball has a ton of velocity, but his accuracy needs work and consistency. He’ll make an impressive throw, but then miss an out-route badly. He has vastly improved his poise in the pocket and his accuracy this year (60.4 percent), but he still needs more consistency. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see how much of a leap he’ll make until he’s given a good line and receiving core to work with. However, history suggests he’ll need to polish his accuracy and decision making before he can dominate as a dual threat.
With the increasing demand and desperation for quarterbacks in the NFL, I think a team takes a chance on him late in the first round. A place like Miami would be an excellent destination for Jackson, who can sit behind starting QB Ryan Tannehill for a year.
As long as Miami can put together a competent offensive line — something they haven’t done in years.
Prediction: Late first round