The NFL Combine is well underway in Indianapolis and scouts from all over the NFL have checked in, as well as former college players who are looking to make a strong impression before their respective pro days. One player who has seemed to be dissected and cross-examined the most is former Louisville Cardinals quarterback, Lamar Jackson.
Jackson, 21, was one of the most prolific college quarterbacks in recent memory, often toppling statistics across the board. After three years of college play, Jackson has compiled 619 completions on 1086 attempts (57.0% completion rate), for 9043 passing yards, a 69-27 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 4132 rushing yards and 50 rushing touchdowns. In addition, he is the only Heisman Trophy winner to come from Louisville and the youngest ever to win the award.
However, many scouts and analysts have been heavily critical of Jackson’s accuracy, mechanics and even on-field intelligence. Former NFL general manager Bill Polian appeared on ESPN’s Golic and Wingo, criticizing Jackson’s play. He also believes that Jackson should move to wide receiver before it’s too late in his career.
“Short, and a little bit slight, and clearly, clearly not the thrower the other guys are,” Polian said of Jackson. “The accuracy isn’t there. So I would say don’t wait to make that change. Don’t be like [former Ohio State quarterback and current NFL wide receiver Terrelle Pryor] and be 29 when you make the change.”
Polian’s comments about Jackson’s size are questionable, considering that Polian was a fan of Johnny Manziel, who was measured at 5’11 3/4, 207 lbs. Jackson was measured at 6’2 1/4, 216 lbs., which is the height of many former NFL quarterbacks (Tony Romo and Brett Favre) and a current superstar in Aaron Rodgers. Other current quarterbacks like Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Tyrod Taylor are all shorter. Each has had at least a solid bit of success in the NFL.
One valid criticism is Jackson’s accuracy, which has never been at the ideal 60%. Despite that, Jackson has shown consistent improvement in his accuracy, completing 54.7% of his passes in 2015, 56.2% in 2016 and 59.1% in 2017. In addition, Jackson’s touchdown-to-interception ratio is much improved from his freshman year (12:8) and sat at 27:10 last season.
Jackson has a team in the Mid-Atlantic region that views him as a quarterback. It’s none other than the Baltimore Ravens and their general manager Ozzie Newsome. According to John Kryk of the Toronto Sun, Newsome views Jackson as a quarterback in the NFL.
#Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome on #Louisville QB Lamar Jackson: “I don’t know what other teams think about him but on our board he’s a quarterback.”— John Kryk (@JohnKryk) March 2, 2018
Baltimore has been in need of a playmaker on offense for quite some time now. Some have even clamored for a changing of the guard at quarterback, where Joe Flacco has manned the position for 10 seasons now. Flacco, 33, has dealt with two consecutive injury-plagued seasons now, recovering from an ACL injury in 2016 and a back injury in 2017.
Though Flacco had played better at the end of the year in 2017, he finished with poor stats for the year as a whole. In 2017, Flacco finished with a 64.7% completion rate, throwing for 3,141 yards, 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He only rushed for 54 yards and one touchdown.
Jackson has the ability to escape from defenders, bobbing and weaving like Muhammad Ali in his prime and then cutting up the field for positive yardage, turning it into a touchdown. Obviously, the name of the game is passing in the NFL, but with quicker defenders, it doesn’t hurt to have a shifty quarterback that can make throws downfield.
The other aspect to Jackson’s game, his passing, can be improved upon as he gets more reps. If Flacco plays well, the Ravens can sit Jackson behind him, taking reps as the scout team quarterback and being worked slowly into the offense. If Flacco gets injured again, they’ll have a dynamic backup quarterback who can do things that their starter can’t and teams will have a hard time to prepare for that. If Flacco can play for two more seasons, the earliest Baltimore can come from under his contract is in 2020, where he will only have a cap hit of $8 million, if he was cut.
Going forward in the draft, Baltimore could still see other playmakers fall on the board. There are a great deal of talented receivers and running backs in this particular draft, who could fall, due to being overshadowed by bigger-named programs. If Baltimore saw Jackson at number 16 in the 2018 NFL Draft still on the board, there’s a possibility that they can have their cake and eat it too.