In the days leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft, *our editorial staff will profile some of the top prospects in the Class including quarterbacks Josh Allen (Wyoming), Sam Darnold (USC), Lamar Jackson (Louisville), Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) and Josh Rosen (UCLA). We will also take a look at Saquon Barkley (Penn State), Bradley Chubb (NC State) and Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame). *
After the Big Four, there is the Fast One.
As we all know, four quarterbacks are angling to be taken at the top of the NFL Draft on April 26 — Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen. For NFL teams seeking a quarterback in the lower half of Round 1 and willing to merge their offense with his impressive skills, Louisville's Lamar Jackson appears to be the choice.
And if you don't know why, let Jackson count the ways. At the NFL Combine, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner gave his own scouting report:
“I’m mobile. I can hit any target on the field. I love the game with a passion. I can lead my team. I feel like I’m a field general when I’m out there. I love to score. I love to put the ball in other people’s hands. I’m not a ballhog at all. It may look like it, but I’m not. I just love winning.”
And, oh, yeah, as he has made abundantly clear whenever he's asked, "I'm strictly a quarterback. Whoever likes me at quarterback, that's where I'm going."
There probably shouldn't be any doubt about that, not after he's drawn favorable comparisons throughout his Cardinals career and on into this pre-draft season to Michael Vick — from none other than Vick himself.
"If I've ever seen another guy that looks like me," Vick told the Louisville Courier Journal, "it's been Lamar Jackson."
Among others, NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks said, "There's no doubt that the dual-threat playmaker is the most explosive athlete I've seen at the position since Vick." And CBS draft analyst Danny Kanell assessed Jackson as "Michael Vick 2.0."
Remarkable Louisville CareerOf course, Jackson presents the rare opportunity to appropriately invoke memories of Michael Vick highlight reel runs. Jackson is not Vick, since Vick was the first overall pick of the 2001 draft and Jackson is being pegged by many as the fifth-best QB, heading to Baltimore at No. 16 or Pittsburgh at 28 or several other possible landing spots.
There's no doubt about Jackson's Round 1 status. When he won the Heisman in '16, underscoring his "I love to score" quote, he accounted for a mind-blowing 51 touchdowns (30 passing, 21 rushing). Then last season he was a mere Heisman finalist as his TD production "slipped" to 45 (27 passing, 18 rushing), yet he posted career highs in passing yards (3,660) and accuracy (59.1%, which would have been higher except for dropped passes by his receivers) and rush yards (1,601) and yards/carry (6.9, which, remember in college includes sack yardage).
Jackson didn't run at the Combine, but for what it's worth, during a "speed day" at a Louisville spring practice a year ago, coach Bobby Petrino's staff timed him in the 40 at 4.34 seconds.
So why is he not mentioned with the Big Four? Well, there is his relative inaccuracy, which was less evident at his pro day than at the Combine, some of which stems from what Brooks says is inconsistent footwork and pocket mechanics. Some question if he will struggle running a dropback pro offense. He has put the ball on the ground.
Another Position in the Cards?All of which has led to speculation, which Jackson has tried to nip in the bud with his QB declaration, that maybe he should play wide receiver.
Former Bills GM Bill Polian has been the biggest proponent, but not the only one, of a Jackson position switch. "Short and a little bit slight," he said on ESPN, "and clearly not the thrower that the other guys are."
While 6'3" doesn't sound short, Jackson's 200-pound frame could be slight if, as elusive as he is on the perimeter, his NFL team wants him to carry 100-plus times a season against pro defenses — he had almost 500 carries his last two seasons combined at Louisville. His accuracy does need to improve, but it's comparable to the college accuracy of Josh Allen, who some see as the Browns' choice for No. 1 overall in this draft.
The Lamar debate will rage for a few more weeks before some NFL team decides its needs and his skills and position on its draft board make a perfect fit and take him. It will be at a lower spot than his fans think he should go and higher than his critics think his skills merit.
We'll give Vick the final word here on Jackson. He wasn't predicting a draft position, but his tweet about Jackson being "5X better than what I was at V-Tech" was heard far and wide.
"I said that because he made it look so easy," Vick told the Courier Journal. "Maybe I made it look easy, too, but now I'm on the other side and have the chance to watch younger guys. I wouldn't say it was more credit than he deserved because he deserves a lot, but at the same time it was coming from a guy who revolutionized the position, so to speak.
"I just looked at it almost like it was a passing of the torch."