Lamar Jackson is the most exciting player in college football. The Louisville Cardinals quarterback and 2016 Heisman winner threw for 3660 yards, a career high, and 27 touchdowns in 2017. He added 1600 yards, also a career high, and 18 touchdowns on the ground in his third season. While the Cardinals struggles in 2017 caused Jackson to take a step out of the spotlight, the quarterback may have been even better last year than he was in his Heisman winning 2016 season.
Before we continue I am dispelling any talk the Jackson should switch to wide receiver. No. He is a quarterback, and a damn good one.
The most remarkable skill in Lamar Jackson’s toolbox is his incredible speed, agility, athleticism and overall ability as a runner. Read options were a significant part of the Cardinals offense and Jackson’s running prowess may have been the most important aspect of Louisville’s offense last season.
In last years meeting against the Clemson Tiger, arguably the biggest game of the team’s season, the Cardinals offense was entirely stagnant until Jackson gave them a jump start with his feet.
The second the Tigers defensive end took a step inside Jackson took off. Just that slight bit of space is all he needed, and his explosiveness and great burst helped him get to the second level before the defense could react.
Jackson mastered these plays. He rarely ran himself into trouble and did a good job handing the ball off when an opportunity for him to run didn’t open. He is a quick thinker and he is even faster on his feet. If the edge defender even bites a bit on the read, Jackson keeps the ball for himself. Give him even the slightest crease and he’s suddenly gone.
Even when the plays weren’t designed for Jackson to keep the ball for himself he still often made plays on his feet. The Cardinals poor offensive line, combined with Louisville’s receivers having trouble getting opened, left the quarterback having to improvise on a regular basis.
Jackson has incredible pocket presence. He manages to avoid pressure with ease while still keeping his eyes downfield. The quarterback does not seem to get spooked by the slightest bit of pressure and goes through his progressions and still manages to make great decisions. Many athletic passers have the tendency to drop all focus on their receivers and bolt when they’re in hot water, Jackson does not. His speed allows him to avoid the run and turn upfield to make huge gains out of plays that shouldn’t gain anything.
The quarterback doesn’t totally abandon the pass once he takes off, though. He can complete passes on the run and does not fully need to set his feet to deliver a great ball.
Being able to throw on the run keeps the defense honest, and even open more opportunity to take off on your feet. Defenses sprinting forward to contain Jackson when he bolts out of the pocket opens up receivers downfield. If the deeper defenders do not come forward, though, they are susceptible to giving up huge yardage.
Everyone knows that Jackson can run, though. Majority of the highlights of his you see on the likes of SportsCenter and Twitter are plays the dynamic player makes with his feet. This leads many to believe that he is a run first quarterback.
That notion is false.
Jackson is an incredible pocket passer, and arguably one of the best pocket passers in all of college football.
Louisville runs a pro style passing offense. Coach Bobby Petrino’s offense focused on quick passes and the receivers ran a variety of quick in, quick out and curl routes. This offense forced Jackson to quickly process the defense, spot the open receiver and make a quick and accurate pass as soon as the receiver breaks on their route. These passes need to be accurate not only to get to the receiver but also to hit his man in stride to maximize the yards run for after the catch.
The quarterback thrived in this offense. He was able to release the ball quickly and safely and rarely threw troublesome passes on these shorter routes.
Throws like these should have offensive coordinators around the league salivating. Quicker shorter passes keep the defenses on their toes and the offense on schedule. These plays punish a team in they drop too far into zone coverage and if the defense is caught off guard occasionally they can bust for a huge gain.
Jackson can do more than just throw these shallow routes, though. He has an amazing arm and is not scared to test defenses downfield. When given a clean pocket and room to step into throws the quarterback can absolutely torch teams downfield.
His arm talent his severely underrated, and occasionally overshadowed by all of the work he does with his legs. Even if Jackson was not an athletic freak of nature, he would still be a great quarterback prospect based on his arm alone.
The biggest mark against Jackson, though, was his 60% accuracy in his final year at Louisville. Some of his bad accuracy can be attributed to the failures of the talent around him, though. His offensive line was atrocious last season and his receivers had trouble bringing in routine passes.
Not all of his struggles can be on his team, though. Jackson’s deep ball failed him on occasion and he missed a few throws really badly. Throws would float on him at times, and overthrowing receivers over the middle can be low hanging fruit for an interception to an attentive free safety. Majority of his interceptions last season came on balls that were overthrown.
These types of throws happen often when a quarterback tries to throw off of his backfoot without properly stepping through his passes. This is a coachable flaw, though, and one that many college QBs carry entering the NFL.
Jackson is one of the best quarterbacks in the draft and is definitely a first round pick. The player he is today is a quality starter in the NFL. His combination of arm talent and his ability as a runner give him an extremely high ceiling. The quarterback is 6’3, but at 205 lbs he will definitely need to learn how to protect his body well when finishing runs, as he tends to fall into hits often when he could instead slide to protect his body, but that is also a coachable skill. He is not the biggest or strongest option at quarterback in the draft, but definitely the most dynamic of the bunch.
The New York Giants provide an ideal fit for Jackson at #2 in the draft. They already run a similar offense to Louisville. Weapons like Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Sheppard could thrive with Jackson at QB and with Eli Manning’s career coming to a close this is probably their best chance to find an adequate long-term replacement.
Other good options for Jackson include the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills. No matter where he lands, the team that drafts Jackson may be getting a special talent that could take over the league.
More from Bird Breakdowns:
All 24 of Jimmy Grahams 2017 Redzone targets
Header via GettyImages