Will Lamar Jackson Be A Successful Quarterback In The NFL?

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Former Louisville quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson is definitely one of the most talented and highly decorated prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft. 

However, Jackson has also become one of the most polarizing athletes in this year’s draft pool.

This has been because of the constant debate circulating around one idea - the assertion that Jackson should change positions from quarterback to wide receiver. Rising doubts about his effectiveness at the next level has been mixed among NFL general managers, scouts, media, players and fans alike, as this controversy persists to keep fuming. 

Public opinion on the 21-year-old quarterback’s draft stock has been so mixed that various media analysts have projections that range from getting selected as high as the ninth overall pick, to as low as falling back into the second round.

Despite the immense media attention surrounding this topic as of now, Jackson has had to deal with this stigma before. While being recruited as a three-star recruit out of Boynton Beach High School in Florida, several schools did so with the mindset of taking advantage of Jackson as an athlete. The fact of the matter is that the majority of those schools were looking at the athletic phenom as a wide receiver. However, Jackson wanted to play quarterback, and Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino provided that opportunity for him. 

Jackson surely took advantage, and the results truly speak for themselves. Throughout his three-year tenure in a Louisville uniform, Jackson was seriously a human highlight reel. Whenever Jackson dropped back into the pocket, he could either throw a 60 yard laser downfield for a touchdown to one of his receivers, or could take off and run that same distance by simply dancing around the opposing defense, ultimately culminating into the same result. He was just a dynamic threat that could beat his opposition into submission with either his arm or his legs. 

Automatically being compared to the likes of former number one pick and NFL MVP Michael Vick, football enthusiasts across the country were absolutely enthralled with what Jackson was able to do on the field. This list of admirers even includes Vick himself, who thinks that the Louisville quarterback is “five times better” than he was at this point in his own career.

“I could not believe what I had seen. I could not believe the things he was able to do -- It was a spitting image of me,” Vick said.

By the time he declared for the NFL Draft at the end of his junior season, Jackson had already accomplished things that most football players can only dream of. He is currently labeled as the youngest player ever to win the Heisman Trophy, as well as the only player in NCAA history to throw for at least 3,000 passing yards and run for 1,000 rushing yards in back-to-back seasons. Jackson’s college career was one for the ages, and it is safe to conclude, looking at these numbers, he’s a pretty good quarterback.

So why is all of this talk spreading across the league about the possibility of Jackson switching from quarterback to wide receiver? Well, there were a few reasons.

First and foremost, Jackson’s accuracy has been the greatest matter of concern for many teams. Even though Jackson established himself as a dynamic offensive threat, his completion percentage was not exactly his strongest suit, only compiling a 57 percent average for his college career. Despite this troubling statistic, Jackson steadily improved as a pocket passer from his freshman year (54.7 percent) to his junior year (59.1 percent), as he tirelessly worked to upgrade that aspect of his game. 

Also, it should be duly noted that this number can be a little deceptive since Jackson had to deal with the fact that his receivers would drop 8.5 percent of his catch-able throws, which is marked as the highest drop rate among top quarterback prospects in this draft class. This misleading figure was showcased on full display at Louisville’s pro day on March 29th, where Jackson completed 49 of his 59 passes in a scripted session with his collegiate receivers, but seven of those incompletions were due to drops. Only three of Jackson’s throws were considered inaccurate.

ESPN college draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has been one of Jackson’s harshest detractors, even stating that he does not think he will be a first round pick because of his “accuracy throwing the football.” Seems like a fair criticism, right? Kiper Jr.’s assessment would not be a big deal if it were not for the way he defended his position on Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, who only had a 56.3 completion percentage last year against inferior competition, by saying, “Stats are for losers, in my opinion. The guy won.” These are obviously contradictory statements, but Kiper Jr.’s comments helped stir the pot on the league’s discussion over Lamar Jackson. 

Another well-known critic of Jackson’s abilities as a quarterback is ESPN NFL analyst and former general manager Bill Polian, who firmly believes that Jackson would have better long-term potential in the league at a different position because he’s “short and a little bit slight” as well as “clearly not the thrower the other guys are.”

“I think wide receiver,” Polian said on ESPN's Golic and Wingo. “Exceptional athlete. Exceptional ability to make you miss. Exceptional acceleration. Exceptional instinct with the ball in his hand -- and that's rare for wide receivers. [Antonio Brown] and who else? Name me another one who's like that. Julio [Jones]'s not like that. This guy is incredible in the open field. Great ability to separate.” 

These comments generated massive buzz all over the league as players, coaches and executives would weigh in on their opinions over Jackson.

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long had strong words to say to those who were even contemplating that Lamar Jackson should switch positions:

Kansas City head coach Andy Reid, who has earned a distinctive reputation for coaching the position by working with Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, three-time All-Pro Bowl Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith, retired six-time All-Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb, previous Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles as well as the previously mentioned Michael Vick, sneeringly declined the suggestion of moving Jackson to a different position:

Former NFL general manager and media analyst Mike Lombardi inferred that even though Jackson's abilities are not being praised by multiple draft experts, many people in the NFL do see significant merit in Jackson's talents:

Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, whose team has reportedly been very interested in Jackson's value as a first round pick, has concluded that he is quarterback in their eyes:

In response to NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks about the New England Patriots' possible curiosity for Jackson's services, Hall of Famer Deion Sanders and five-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady got into a back-and-forth exchange where the New England quarterback concluded that the former Louisville playmaker is simply a "beast" in his eyes:

Unlike Kiper Jr. and Polian, former NFL quarterback and current Bleacher Report NFL analyst Chris Simms has high regard for Jackson. So much so that Simms praises Jackson to be the best signal-caller in this year’s draft class, and adamantly maintains that the league-wide discourse concerning Jackson’s hypothetical position change as “the dumbest f--king thing I've ever heard. Was it pretty all the time? No, but the decision making is pretty damn good. It's very good actually. He plays the position the right way.”

From my point of view, as someone that watched almost every single college game that Jackson played, he not only has the physical intangibles to be a spectacular playmaker in the NFL, but he has the heart as well. 

Although Jackson can always find ways to enhance his throwing mechanics, footwork, and other football related developments, his drive will be the key to his success in the league. Jackson simply lives and breathes football. He is reportedly consumed by it. 

This passion is obvious since his high school days, where he would spend his time either at home, the classroom or the football field. According to Boynton Beach principal Fred Barch, Jackson was “an all-around great athlete and student,” while Boynton Beach student Rashad Reddick (two years younger than Jackson) told the Courier-Joural that he would stay away from anything that could sideline his dream to become a professional football player, insisting that “if he’s not at home, he’s at practice. I never saw him at a party. He was determined.”

If Jackson lands at the right organization with proper coaching, anything is possible for him. His potential is just through the roof — as a quarterback. Whether you believe in the hype or not, Lamar Jackson deserves the chance to play quarterback in the NFL. 

"He's a quarterback. I've been hearing about things about him playing receiver, they'll probably say he needs to play defensive back next," Vick said. "But listen, the kid is 6-3, 215 pounds. But for anybody to say Lamar Jackson is a receiver, I don't think they understand the quarterback position. I don't think they appreciate the value that could be [brought] from the quarterback position. If I was the GM, I would draft him.”