The 2018 NFL Draft is almost here, and (finally) we can get a better understanding of which teams we think will make the playoffs and which ones will be on the outside looking in. Naturally, teams are going to want to draft the right players, and as we know, the quarterback is the most important position in football.
What makes this particular quarterback class interesting is how deep it is. One would have to go back to the 2012 NFL Draft to find a quarterback class this rich. Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen and Mason Rudolph have all gotten extensive draft buzz, with most projected to become first round picks.
And out of all of these quarterbacks, it’s my opinion that Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is the best quarterback in the draft. But before I dive into his film, let’s take a look at the cases for the other quarterbacks.
Baker Mayfield has caught a lot of attention for his fiery and often vulgar attitude on and off the field, lending him comparisons to former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. A big difference is that Mayfield was actually a much better passer in college. He shows off great pocket movement and has solid arm strength, but sometimes his mechanics under pressure can get a little sloppy and his accuracy looks good but not great. He’s the 2nd best quarterback in the draft behind Jackson to me, and would be a nice asset to a quarterback needy team.
Josh Rosen has also caught a lot of attention for not being a robot like many NFL teams want, but that’s another topic. Rosen’s arm talent is phenomenal; He has the tools to become a really good vertical passer, and his peak play suggests great things are to come. His flaws come from inconsistency at processing the field and making decisions, so whoever drafts him will need to help him polish that area.
Sam Darnold is an intriguing talent. He’s accurate and poised, but his mechanics are very sloppy. Soon we will know if he can fix those mechanics or if he can use them the way Philip Rivers and Cam Newton have and make it work out anyway.
Mason Rudolph has gotten some attention as a possible first round pick. His overall poise and decision-making are perfectly fine, but his arm strength and talent remain a concern for me. We’ll see what happens with him.
Josh Allen is as bad as everyone says he is. He has sensational arm strength and trajectory, but it means nothing without accuracy, composure, making reads, or smooth play. His best hope is landing with an extremely quarterback friendly offense and a great head coach that will make his job a lot easier.
Now let’s get to Lamar Jackson. He’s had an interesting last two years, going from Heisman winner to not being a first round pick, to being more of a wide receiver than a quarterback, to (just recently) becoming a first round pick again. Consistent, I know.
So, what is there to like about Lamar Jackson? Quite a lot, as it turns out!
This play exemplifies how good Lamar Jackson’s pocket movement is. It’s the stuff of dreams. Jackson does a fantastic job of reacting to the edge pressure, shuffling away from it and climbing up the pocket. He looks downfield, resets his feet, plants, and fires a sensational touchdown throw. This play was heavily talked about back when it happened, and for good reason.
But as good as his pocket movement on that play was, this next play was even better.
This is what needs to be analyzed as much as anything in football. How well a quarterback handles pressure, interior or on the edge, will more often than not dictate how good he will be in the NFL. And this play is insane.
Jackson sees the interior pressure, slides away from it, then climbs up the pocket and has the audacity to reset himself. Somehow he’s able to use the new amount of clean space in front him to get the pass off to the receiver in the middle of the field. It’s one of my favorite throws I’ve seen in college football, one that continues to impress me every time I see it.
Now, you all know I do The Deep Ball Project every year, so I’m always intrigued to see how new faces do passing the ball downfield. Lamar Jackson more often that not has fantastic touch on the deep ball, fitting the ball into outrageously tight windows just like the pros do. His timing on these kinds of throws is simply breathtaking.
So, where does Lamar Jackson fall flat? Well, he’s not particularly bad at anything, but concerns over his accuracy are valid. His general accuracy is fine, but I found, like most people, his precision outside the numbers needs work. Some of his passes sail a little too high, perhaps coming from his tendency to have close feet. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it’s something that keeps him from being a near perfect prospect.
However, Jackson has one trait that truly shines above the rest. He’s a good passer, but it’s his running ability that looks like it’s going to be a game changer.
Guys like Randall Cunningham, Steve Young, Fran Tarkenton, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Michael Vick and Colin Kaepernick are/were famous for their legendary work as running quarterbacks, and Jackson, to me, has a shot at joining those gauntlets. It’s one thing to be a dual threat with an ability to run, but it’s how much skill you have on that side that truly matters.
The above run is sublime. Jackson notices there’s no one open downfield as well as the open lane in front of him, so he takes off. With a defensive back coming at him, Jackson makes a terrific cut inside, uses his speed to pick up the first down and a lot more, then spins away from another defender downfield, eventually getting tackled a little later on.
I feel like Jackson has the most complete running ability for a quarterback prospect since Cam Newton. He has the speed, vision, and athleticism to be used in all sorts of ways in the running game, much like Newton. Hopefully, he lands with a team that is able to use him in such a way when it’s time to call a run.
Finally, Jackson has shown he can be a master of buying time on a play, which will excite guys (all of us) looking for razzle dazzle plays on the highlight reels.
With all the hype and opinions on Lamar Jackson, I can’t wait to see who drafts him this season. He’s a great prospect, one that brings high quality as both a passer and a runner, and landing in a great situation would only make him even more exciting.
Sure, Jackson has his flaws, but his best stuff easily offsets any negatives he has. With superb pocket movement and poise, great arm talent, and sensational running ability, Lamar Jackson has my vote as the best quarterback prospect of the 2018 NFL draft.
(Featured image via crescentcitysports.com. GIFs via draftbreakdown.com)