Folks, draft szn is upon us. This year, I’m going to be covering the draft in a way different than we’ve seen it typically be covered in previous years. The draft, in my opinion, should be the starting point for our evaluations of these prospects. Placement and fit matters so much for prospects, yet we grade them as if they’re finished products before we even know where they’re going. Why do we do this? The easy answer is, for clicks. People don’t care about the rookies once the draft is over until they start playing in real games. It makes no sense to do the bulk of the coverage after the draft, because the traffic it would generate for the sites and media outlets will be severely diminished.
I’ve found a way to marry the ideal process with the practical one, and that’s how I’ll be covering the draft this year. I’m going to be bringing you weekly-ish reports on prospects that will provide them with a grade and full coverage of the type of player the prospect is, but I won’t be releasing any rankings before the draft happens. Instead, I’ve added a variable to my grading process that factors in the landing spot of each prospect, and when that fit is added to the pre-draft grade the prospect receives, it will give me the final grade for the prospect. Teams will be sorted into 5 categories of fits; Great, Good, Neutral, Bad, Disaster. These fits are determined with a variety of factors involved, including but not limited to scheme fit, organizational stability, and current players at the position on the team. Once I have the prospects’ final grades, I will release a post-draft big board of the prospects I covered. This way, their landing spots can impact how I feel about them, but the content is still primarily coming before the draft, when most of you will care much more about it. This intro is going to stay in every prospect article I write as a refresher/introduction to those who are reading for the first time. Now, let’s get to it: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville **All clips are from draftbreakdown.**
Lamar Jackson turns 21 years old in 2 days (January 7th). The 6’2″ junior is the most athletic quarterback we’ve seen since Mike Vick. Elite athleticism is joined by an advanced mental understanding of the game, someone who is capable of reading the defense before the snap and knowing where to go afterwards to execute the quick passing game he thrives in. As a passer, he breaks just about every stereotype we see mobile QB’s get labeled with. He would rather pass when he breaks the pocket, he excels with quick passes and while he has a nice arm it isn’t a rocket. Jackson shouldn’t be available by the time the picks hit double digits, but knowing how the league views his style of QB, who knows where he’ll go.
Lamar’s biggest strength (outside his athleticism) is his mental processing ability. He is able to read the defense before the snap and knows where to go when the ball to get it out quickly. When needed, he can get to his secondary progressions.
You can see him subtly work his way into the middle of the field, reading his underneath route before going over the top for a chunk play, including a throw behind his receiver to shield from a big hit on the closing safety.
Any questions about Jackson’s arm strength can be put to bed, he doesn’t have a Wentz or Stafford cannon, but he’s got more than enough arm to make any throw necessary.
After stumbling on his dropback, Jackson rights himself and effortlessly gets the ball 30 yards downfield, accurately enough for the receiver to make the catch in field goal range as the half is winding down.
It goes without saying that Lamar’s biggest ability is his athleticism.
There isn’t much to analyze here, just enjoy his wild ability when he uses his legs.
Jackson has a clean release, and when his mechanics come together, he can make any throw with elite ball placement. I’m not gonna analyze the following three throws, just enjoy the insane ability of Lamar Jackson.
Finally, Jackson (usually) is a great decision maker. He takes care of the ball well and knows when to call a play a loss instead of trying to force something when nothing is there. For such a young QB who has athleticism to rely on, his mental understanding of the game is the most impressive part of his skillset.
Lamar’s biggest weakness comes in his footwork out of structure. Once he gets moved off his initial spot, he has the athleticism to extend and create plays, but his footwork suffers and leads him to miss his targets, usually on overthrows.
If you watch his feet as the pass rusher closes in on him, they’re nearly parallel to the line of scrimmage. His shoulders aren’t lined up to his target, and the result is a pass well over his receivers head out of bounds.
His biggest weakness comes on intermediate throws. His accuracy suffers and this is generally where his mistakes come. Despite the label that mobile quarterbacks with nice arms get, Jackson deserves to go to a system predicated on quick passing and letting him make his reads at the line of scrimmage (and obviously take advantage of his excellent athleticism), instead of a vertical passing offense that asks him to create in chaos like the Seahawks do with Russell Wilson.
The New England Patriots. As has been mentioned, Jackson will thrive in a quick passing offense that puts a lot on the QB’s shoulders before the snap. That’s New England to a T, who has a 40 year old quarterback starting to show some minor signs of aging (amid an MVP season, however), and just traded away their old QB of the future. With the way the league has been reportedly feeling on Lamar, Jackson realistically could be available for the Patriots in the late first round.
The Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco is stuck there for at least two more years, and Jackson isn’t someone who needs to sit and learn. The Ravens skill positions are only slightly better than Louisville’s (sarcasm to a point, chill), and their running game isn’t conducive to an option offense. They would likely need to completely make over the offense if they were to take Jackson, something unlikely to happen with Joe Flacco and the current staff still at the helm. Jackson could make any system work, but ignoring the teams who aren’t going to be taking a QB, Baltimore would be a rough spot to land in.
Lamar Jackson, if a team takes him and lets him be Lamar Jackson, is going to be a star. If everything lines up for him, he could be the most prolific dual threat QB the NFL has ever seen. Unlike the label that his style of QB usually gets, however, Jackson’s floor should be a league-average starter with game-breaking athleticism thanks to his mental processing and ability to get the ball out quickly. Jackson is guaranteed to be overthought throughout the predraft process, but any team at any pick would be wise to take him and build around him.