How Will the NFL Evaluate Lamar Jackson?

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY


Lamar Jackson finished a distant third in this year’s voting for the Heisman Trophy. Winner Baker Mayfield is the name on everyone’s mind as we head into the ‘meat market’ portion of the football season along with tantalizing prospects like Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen.

Even a polarizing talent like Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen has considerably more NFL draft hype than Jackson.

That’s more than a bit puzzling given how this season actually showed real growth in his game and flashed the kind of potential that should have pro scouts drooling.



I’ll be the first to admit that this article is partly an excuse to post that highlight reel. Granted, everyone looks good when you pick out their best moments, but there’s still something that can be learned from some of those plays.

While Jackson is still a bit raw overall as a passer, he showed considerable improvement year-over-year.

His completion percentage has improved every year at Louisville despite throwing more passes each season. Jackson completed 54.7 percent as a freshman, 56.2 percent during his Heisman-winning campaign, and finally 59.1 percent this year.

The ease with which Jackson can flick the ball downfield is truly impressive. Arm strength is certainly not an issue and while his accuracy can and does need to improve,  his track record at Louisville indicates that’s very likely.

Of course, there’s the blazing speed and video game moves in the open (or well-covered) field. When Lamar Jackson has the ball anywhere on the playing surface, odds are you’re about to see something crazy.

In fact, every time he uncorks a pass or bends upfield to start a run you find yourself instinctively leaning closer to the TV or rising slightly from your stadium seat. He brings rare playmaking ability and instant excitement for fans of an NFL franchise looking for someone to rally around.

Jackson has a proven track record as someone who can carry an entire team. The fact that he essentially replicated his Heisman-winning stats despite losing considerable talent around him is among the most impressive storylines from  college football in 2017.

Might a team have to run some read option to maximize his skills on the next level? I certainly would, as would any coach worth his weight in game film.

The way Houston used Deshaun Watson before he was injured is a perfect example. He can certainly throw and make plays on scrambles, but there were designed QB runs added to the playbook in order to accentuate his talents.

The Texans certainly weren’t running those plays when forced to trot Tom Savage out there.

When someone loudly proclaims, “X isn’t a pro-style quarterback” it drives me insane. For one thing, there isn’t any one ‘pro-style’. It’s whatever a professional coaching staff decides it is and the style will always be open to adjustment.

Ultimately, a good offensive coordinator will tweak his scheme to fit the talent that a team brings in. Is Lamar Jackson ready to start on day one in the NFL? No, probably not for most teams. That doesn’t mean you pass on his rare combination of skills in search of someone who fits your idea of the “perfect quarterback”.

Jackson has the frame to add more muscle which he needs to do and as mentioned previously, his accuracy has to continue to improve. He will evolve as a passer and the two-time ACC Player of the Year will thrive if given the chance to do so.

The quarterback touches the ball on every play, so why would teams pass on a guy who’s a threat to score from anywhere on the field?

They only do that if they’re stuck in the past, searching for some archetypal player with all the measurables valued a decade or more in the past.

It’s not to say there isn’t value in those qualities, you just can’t be blinded by them.

It’s time for NFL general managers to pop on some sunglasses, look outside the box, and turn toward the incandescent abilites of the most talented player in college football.

Follow me on Twitter @BestCates and follow @InsideTheACC for more Atlantic Coast Conference coverage.



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