Futures: Lamar Jackson

Futures: Lamar Jackson

by Charles McDonald

The annual NFL draft season tends to be stereotypically cyclical. Between comparing every fair-skinned, behemoth defensive tackle to Haloti Ngata; labeling white skill position players as the next Wes Welker or Danny Woodhead; or questioning the intelligence and play style of mobile, black quarterbacks, the same storylines seem to circulate each year. Most of these criticisms and comparisons are unfair, nonsensical, and at times insulting. Former Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson has become this year's target for unjust criticism.

Jackson is not a perfect quarterback prospect by any means. That fact doesn't mean that he should be subjected to the usual criticisms that black quarterback prospects tend to face. Lamar Jackson is not a potential wide receiver prospect. Lamar Jackson is not a gadget player. Lamar Jackson is a quarterback, and a damn good one at that.

One of the main talking points surrounding Jackson, which is incorrectly founded, is that he played in a "simple" offense at Louisville that won't project well to the NFL. With the success that "college" style offenses have recently had in the NFL (hat tip to Doug Pederson), this really shouldn't be a key component of draft analysis anymore. Regardless, Jackson played in an offense that forced him to read all levels of the defense and go through progressions on a routine basis.

Louisville is calling a play that has the tight end on the right side of the formation running a post towards the middle of the field. Florida State breaks the huddle with two high safeties, but rotates into a single-high Cover-3 look at the snap of the ball. Jackson knows if he wants to hit that backside post, he's going to have to clear the single-high safety roaming in the middle of the field. As the safety is rotating to his deep third, Jackson keeps looking him off to the left side of the field before firing a dart to the wide-open tight end.

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That's an impressive play for someone who supposedly is incapable of reading a defense or manipulating defensive backs. Understanding where the ball needs to go post-snap by using pre-snap keys is a key trait for top quarterbacks.

Here's another example from Louisville's game against Florida State.

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Florida State is showing man coverage across the board before the ball is snapped. Each of their defensive backs is directly aligned with the receiver in front of him.


For players in man coverage, the corner route is one of the hardest routes to cover. The vertical stem allows the receiver to get their cornerback bailing before breaking back towards the corner of the end zone; it can be hard for cornerbacks to get back into a position to play the ball without help overtop. Being the smart, capable quarterback that he is, Jackson knew this is where the ball needed to go before the snap of the ball. On top of the awareness to know the receiver was going to be open, Jackson throws an absolute dime where only his receiver can catch the ball. These are the processes and throws you want to see from a potential franchise quarterback prospect.

Where Jackson can get himself into trouble is sporadic accuracy over the middle of the field. Sometimes he'll throw dimes, but he has shown a tendency to throw high or off-target in the middle of the field.

His most impactful interception over the middle of the field sealed Louisville's fate against North Carolina State.

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Throws over the middle of the field are the biggest area of concern with Jackson's game, but he improved in that area in each of his three years at Louisville. Jackson is probably going to struggle in that phase of the game early in his career. Those are growing pains that his future team is going to have to deal with.

Luckily, Jackson has a undeniable tool that will allow him to flourish while he figures out NFL defenses.

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Any defense that blitzes Lamar Jackson better pray they get home. He has the Michael Vick-esque ability to create big plays out of seemingly disastrous starts. With two defenders flying through the B-gap untouched, Jackson doesn't panic. He knows he has the athletic ability to get to the edge and the speed to create a first down out of what was potentially a massive loss of yards. Rare playmaking ability like this should have NFL decision-makers enamored with Jackson's ability to become the ultimate dual-threat quarterback at the next level.

It should be noted that Jackson isn't a run-first quarterback. He resorts to running as a last-ditch effort to save plays, which usually works out well for him.

Of course, his athletic ability can also be used to create production on the ground. Every year we see more and more teams using option attacks to catch defenses off guard and force defenders to make plays in space. This is an area in which Jackson excels; he routinely maximizes the amount of yards that his offense can gain on option plays, even at the detriment of his own body.

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The team that drafts Jackson needs to be aware that there will be some growing pains as he adjusts to the NFL. Still, he's a supremely talented passer with advanced understanding of what college defenses were throwing at him. His electric ability as a runner will provide an immediate avenue for success, and he'll play his entire rookie season at age 21.

Trying to peg where he'll go in the draft process will be difficult, but he should make the team that pulls the trigger on him very happy. At the least, he'll dominate 2018 NFL highlight reels.


9 comments, Last at 03 Mar 2018, 1:52am

1 Re: Futures: Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson is a quarterback, and a damn good one at that.

Thank you for that and this article.

2 Re: Futures: Lamar Jackson

Excellent analysis and write up. I hope Jackson has a good career, just not in the NFC West.

3 Re: Futures: Lamar Jackson

I didn't see any real analysis of his most obvious weakness in Louisville's losses, his struggles with pressure. LSU and Houston made him badly struggle with front 4 pressure and in general he wasn't as good against fast defenses. This seems a worse flaw than middle accuracy.

4 Re: Futures: Lamar Jackson

I don't watch college football, but he looks like an exciting player from the looks of this article.

5 Re: Futures: Lamar Jackson

Jereme Brown

Which quarterbacks don't struggle with fast defenses? I can't think of a QB that you get excited about when they are going to play a 'fast' defense. Some are better at managing it but I don't see it as a skill that anyone excels at.

6 Re: Futures: Lamar Jackson

Jackson is hard to read, in part because his offensive line was such a disaster in the second half of his seasons.

He generally did well against teams which had to bring extra pressure, but he was not only sub-par relative to himself again teams which could pressure with 4, he was often simply below average.


Houston in 2016 was a good team when they wanted to be (they beat Oklahoma, although Mayfield had a decent day), but was the same team that got torn apart by Navy for 46 and Memphis for 48.

7 Re: Futures: Lamar Jackson

Actually, I think the 2016 Houston game is the second worst game I've watched Baker Mayfield play. He didn't do badly but did make a couple of mistakes. It looked like Houston had 14 defenders on the field when they faced Jackson later that year. The big thing about Houston's defense the last couple of years was their nose tackle, who will be a round one pick next year. If a team can't handle him, he's a nightmare.

8 Re: Futures: Lamar Jackson

Well, the first GIF is a very poor example. Both receivers on the left were open, and, given where the defenders were, it looks as if he made the worst choice of receiver to maximise yards gained, which you claim further down is one of his strengths.
And "supremely talented"? At his age? What are you, a homer of some kind? Having watched some of his stuff on YouTube, I also see times when he fails to keep the ball secure when moving, fails to set his feet properly when throwing, and if he cannot get to the outside runs into sacks. If he was supremely talented, I do not think anyway would be saying he should change positions or will be anything other than a top five pick.

9 Re: Futures: Lamar Jackson

KAO People are obsessed with the idea that Lamar Jackson is being picked on because he's black. This makes their analysis of him a bit off. I'm black and could care less. I think he's a QB, but there's nothing wrong with teams wanting to see his WR ability or thinking he has a potential future there. He has serious mechanical issues and those are not fixed easily if at all because it is so much muscle memory. He has horrible touch and is mostly a see it thrower. When his mechanics and weight distribution in motion are on point he is very accurate but as anyone who has watched him knows, he just doesnt display that stuff very often. I'd take him round 1 late, upside is too high not to but he has to sit at least entire rookie season.