clock menu more-arrow no yes

Getting to know the 2018 QB class: Lamar Jackson

New, 177 comments
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

If football fans could concoct a recipe with all of the things they demand in a franchise signal caller, they would call out the usual tropes.

“Big arm”.

“Accurate”.

“Throws with anticipation”.

“Understands defensive concepts.”..........“Pocket Presence.” .......“From Northeast Ohio and owns a dozen old Bernie Kosar jerseys”

They don’t know it, but they’re describing Lamar Jackson, the standout former Heisman trophy winner who absolutely obliterated and terrorized college defenses for the last two years.

…..except for the Bernie Kosar jersey thing. On the rest, hear me out.

The Summary:

To understand Lamar Jackson, and the type of player he is, NFL fans need to forget the cliches. The myth of durability in running quarterbacks is a thing of the past, as they’ve determined (WITH SCIENCE) that guys get injured just as frequently from the pocket as they do on the run. The “dual threat” language quarterbacks are pinned with, that is a backhanded way of saying, “Can’t be trusted executing a passing offense,” was obliterated by Deshaun Watson as he thrashed the adage and 2017 NFL defenses. “Skinny knees, won’t survive an AFCN winter” is an epithet on the tombstones of enormous, physically gifted, prototypical Browns QBs of the past as well as the small ones. Understand that Lamar Jackson defies the cliches, and is twice the passer casual NFL fans think he is.

Also, understand that Jackson will face the exact same litany of questions that Deshaun faced about his game, and is a better prospect in every respect.

He’s also the most electric running quarterback since Michael Vick, but casual NFL fans have seen that particular parade of highlights every Sunday morning on Sportscenter.

The Grade

Josh’s overall grade on Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson has two flaws, and neither of them are fatal.

When Jackson rushes his throwing mechanics, his eyes and arm get ahead of his lower body, and it causes his accuracy to get muddled. This is the result of throwing constantly on the run, and knowing that you can just throw a ball with upper body strength and get it to where it needs to go, in high school. His alignment and weight transfer has improved every year, after leaving high school, and his accuracy has improved as a result.

The other flaw in the game tape for Jackson is the lack of “outside the hashes” throws the coaches ask him to make. We see his zip to all levels in the middle of the field, but rarely do we see coaches ask him to throw the deep post routes. It’s not a feature in the Louisville offense for Jackson any more than it is was for Teddy Bridgewater, and viewers are left wondering if it’s because they can’t, or just because they wont.

The NFL combine will be a great opportunity for NFL GMs to pick Jackson’s brain about his ability to digest NFL concepts, as well as a chance for coaches to put some throws on tape that they aren’t seeing him execute at the NFL level, if he throws.

The Background

Lamar Jackson came to Louisville as an athlete, not as a quarterback, despite being one of the most talented high school quarterbacks in the country. He didn’t have a playbook in high school, but his coach looked out for his development and got him ready for the college game by giving him a slew of practice snaps from under center. Head Coach Bobby Petrino was thrilled to have him on the roster and figured decisions about what position he’d fill could be put off until the following year, since there were already 3 well regarded quarterbacks on the roster. Jackson, though, had other plans.

Coach Petrino was thoroughly surprised by how well Jackson could pass the ball; not just by his god given arm talent and velocity to all levels, but also about his feathery touch and advanced understanding of where he wanted to go with the ball.

”He’s done a great job of working with his technique and consistency of his drops. “ Bobby Petrino said. “He’s really coachable. He kind of reminds me of when I was in the NFL with Mark Brunell, who had unbelievable fire, but he really wanted to be coached, too.”

….”I coached a kid [Tyler Wilson at Arkansas] who played great for us for two years, but it took him three years to do it. Since he was in the eighth grade, he was all no-huddle, shotgun. He never called a play in the huddle, never put a guy in motion, never shifted tight ends, never had his hand underneath the center. He would drop the snap. The great thing with Lamar was that when we put him under center, taking the snap was never an issue. Then, all we had to do was work on his footwork and get him in spots and things like that.”

Jackson didn’t have a prototypical college read-option/zone read offense installed for him. Petrino is a coach with multiple stints in the NFL, and he mixes complicated schemes with spread concepts. (like most successful NFL teams do, these days) Jackson played significant snaps as a true freshman, and took over completely as a true sophomore. Jackson absolutely hounded coaches, demanding as much time from the staff as he could absorb to refine his game and adjust to the game plan.

His education as a multi-faceted QB was been rushed; he didn’t have time to refine his mechanics while ensuring that everything was kept in sync, and I expect (like his fellow mechanics-wonky classmate, Sam Darnold) to see a much more polished product at the NFL combine.

(Editors note: his college mechanics still looked better than Minnesota QB Case Keenum’s in the playoffs. Sheesh.)

Petrino continued to slave away to maximize Jackson’s ability to throw the ball.

”What we did this spring was say, ‘OK, we’re going to work hard on throwing the ball on time,’” Petrino says. “When he took off and ran or left the pocket, I would just blow the whistle. He’d give me one of these—shrug, ‘I would’ve run for a touchdown, Coach.’ I’d say, ‘I don’t care. I want to see you throw for a touchdown.’- ”So we just forced the issue. We took his legs away.”

Michael Bode (@mgbode) from waitingfornextyear.com had this to say in their QB preview:

“Head coach Bobby Petrino kept expanding the offense to challenge Jackson throughout his tenure. His work within the pocket is often overlooked, but, by his third season starting, he was calling audibles and making multiple reads from the pocket. When he did scramble, his eyes remained upfield to pass until his options forced him to run.”

From Diante Lee, who wrote this outstanding opus on Lamar:

“The offense is pro style, and mirrors some of the spread elements Jim Harbaugh used to unleash the legs of Colin Kaepernick in the run game. Petrino wants to hit a defense with inside zone and stretch zone from as many formations and with as many “tags”, reads and adjustments as he can to set up the perimeter game for his QB.”

“These progressions and reads are only some of the more commonly occurring calls within the offense. Petrino may mirror routes, he may call for inside-out or high-low reads, he may take a downfield shot, or a triangle read, or a shallow-to-deep cross progression.”“This amount of versatility in an offense, and Jackson’s ability to process the multiple concepts from varying personnel goes a long way to show that the offense he is in prepares him mentally for the next step in his playing career.”

From Diante Lee’s piece:

Diante Lee’s “Lamar Jackson: Pro ready”

In both college and in the NFL, Cleveland’s Deshone Kizer showed off a world class arm and good ball placement when his mechanics are sound, but has proven incapable of both diagnosing a defense quickly based on alignment, and keeping his mechanics sound throughout his throwing motion. Lamar Jackson’s short stride and tight release are much easier to keep in line, but he’ll sometimes rush his throwing motion and throw with only the upper half of his body. Results are the same, but it’s far easier for NFL QB coaches to slow down a motion than completely rework the throw or the stride. Lamar Jackson does a MUCH better job of chopping his feet prior to throwing, and of resetting his balance (both on the run and in the pocket) after scrambling. Even without having his legs underneath him, Jackson is regularly capable of powering the ball downfield with great velocity due to his compact throwing motion and whip-like delivery. Lamar exhibits a plus pump fake, and uses it to manipulate defenders (especially linebackers) with his eyes. He does not lock onto his primary reads waiting for them to uncover, but rather, you’ll see his eyes quickly scan the entire field. Watch below as he chops his feet, resets his plan of attack while scanning, and hit his receiver in stride despite traffic and trash at his feet. Jackson throws into a lot of NFL windows.

Some stats for the Losers:

JUST going off the stats, Jackson is every bit the passer the other top QBs in the draft are, despite also being the most dynamic runner the league has had in 20 years at the position. (His per rush numbers are also better than top 10 lock-of-the-century-of the-week Saquon Barkley)

To summarize this thread: among the “top 4” draft quarterbacks, Jackson’s ranks (per @PFF) are as follows:

1. Passing stats: % of catchable passes thrown from total: first. (78%)

2. 4th quarter catchable passes: second (77%)

3. 3rd down catchable passes: third….and it’s a very tight group (71%)

4. deep passes third….and he’s not close (47%)

Jackson’s deep ball needs fine tuning, but for perspective, the “most NFL reader pass thrower in college football”, UCLA’s Joshua Rosen, is 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, and 3rd, respectively. Evaluators tend to focus on the 5-15 yard range for NFL accuracy, because that’s where NFL quarterbacks absolutely have to be on the money. Jackson slays in this range.

Jackson measures in at a checks-all-the-boxes 6’3, and his frame is on the slender side at 210 pounds. I look to see him add weight at the next level, but he’s escaped relatively unscathed through 3 years at Louisville. This is noteworthy, for a quarterback that takes licks running QB power plays in one of college football’s most physical conferences.

Required Reading:

Please see the incredible work by Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) as he threads some of the passing work Jackson has put on display, and Mark Schofield (@MarkSchofield) as his fantastic work can be found here. Also, read Derrik Klassen’s (@QBKlass) thread as he shows readers how “Lamar Jackson is smart” , and shows off the way Jackson reads defenses pre-post snap and adjusts the offense.

He was only a sophomore at the time, but Matt Waldman gave Lamar Jackson the Boiler Room treatment here, and had great perspective on what was brewing in Louisville.

You can see every throw of 10+ yards from the 2017 season here.

Comps:

The only other player I've seen with the same whip-like release and next level “man amongst boys” athletic ability is the one and only, the inimitable….Starship 7, Michael Vick. Mike Vick went #1 overall in his draft, and immediately flipped the moribund Atlanta franchise into an NFC force, going to the playoffs in his first three seasons despite being incredibly raw in his execution of a passing offense.

Theoretically, if Lamar suddenly changes course on 4 years of work ethic and playbook concepts, he could flame out like Jake Locker or Vince Young. His body rhythm/weight transfer when throwing will need to be in concert with a greater frequency in the league in order to improve his accuracy.

How could he end up on the Browns?

In this, internet scouts and “anonymous NFL scouts” have come to a consensus; Lamar Jackson is not currently thought to be a top 10 pick, or in the same tier of draft prospects as Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold. Many also expect Baker Mayfield to be in the discussion, in this “top tier” of QBs.

I think this is a mistake, but i’d expect Lamar Jackson to be available in the early second round or later, where an inventive organization and offensive coordinator will have the ability to groom him for the job without having to rush him into action. For the Browns to be in the market for his talents, the dreaded “trade back” would be necessary, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth would be heard from Los Angeles to New York.

In Dissent of Lamar Jackson, by Mike Krupka:

“[Jackson is] susceptible to big hits due to his running style, and will need to learn how to protect himself and slide. He needs to work on his base and adjust to pro-style drops / rhythm drops, anticipation consistency / timing throws. While he is an accurate passer, his deep ball needs a good amount of tuning. He also needs to work on his ability to throw outside the numbers. While it could be a product of his scheme and his supporting cast, Jackson seems to rely heavily on middle of the field reads or the RB outlet when his first read over middle is not there – progressions in the pocket need work. His mechanics and accuracy also seems to break down a bit under pressure. Ball security will continue to be an area of opportunity as long as he is utilized heavily in the running game but overall he takes care of the ball well for as much as he’s asked to be its steward.”

Conclusion:

Please help us, Lamar Jackson. You’re our only hope. (Well, along with some other guys in your class, but you’re the most fun)