Is Lamar Jackson an NFL quarterback?

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 23: James Alexander #5 of the Kent State Golden Flashes sacks Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals during the second half at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 23: James Alexander #5 of the Kent State Golden Flashes sacks Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals during the second half at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

How will Lamar Jackson’s dynamic running style of quarterback play translate to the NFL? Will he live up to Michael Vick’s endorsement of his talent.

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is the most exciting, dynamic play-maker in college football. Nobody would dispute that with any ardent sentiment.

The reigning Heisman winner defines the term dual-threat quarterback. His speed, vision and self-confidence are key to his unrivaled play-making ability.

Jackson accounted for over 5000 yards of offense and 51 touchdowns in 2016, lighting up college football with jaw-dropping plays on a weekly basis. This level of production was never going to be sustainable.

But, barring a forgettable outing against Clemson, his play in 2017 has garnered more Heisman hype.

The Florida native has been the talking point of the college game for a little over a year now. But, one area in which he is lagging behind some of the competition is draft hype.

Despite his incredible numbers and freakish athletic ability, many are questioning Jackson’s ability to succeed in the NFL. Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and others, are garnering a great deal more attention than the Cardinal QB.

This is largely due to their respective abilities as prototypical pocket quarterbacks. An attribute that doesn’t come naturally to Jackson, who is arguably a run first player.

Despite drawing comparisons to former Pro Bowler Michael Vick, Lamar Jackson isn’t likely to come off the board in the first round of the 2018 draft.

The talent is there, but can his run-heavy style translate to success in the NFL?

Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson /

Is Lamar Jackson, Vick 2.0?

Lamar Jackson will get drafted. Where exactly he goes is tough to predict though.

He might have the most talent of anyone not named Sam Darnold or Saquon Barkley. But using a first round pick on the Louisville star would be ill-advised. He is too much of an unknown quantity.

His strengths are obvious. His speed and running ability are phenomenal.

The explosiveness with which Jackson takes off and eases past defenders is rare. He throws a nice ball and has ample strength to make all the throws required of an NFL quarterback.

Everything about the junior quarterback screams Michael Vick, but taller. The comparison is approved by Vick himself who said of Jackson: “If I’ve ever seen another guy that looks like me, it’s been Lamar Jackson,”.

The four-time pro bowler also tweeted saying

"“Lamar Jackson 5x better than what I was at V-Tech….Enough said!!”"

The pair share a lot of attributes and that does bode well for Jackson going forward. The speed is there, the arm strength similar, and the confidence. Jackson even betters the number one overall pick from 2001 in a bundle of single season and career college stats including completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns, and rushing yards.

The general perception with Jackson is that, despite these statistical advantages, he isn’t as NFL ready as Vick was at a similar stage. However, he has more potential to grow due to his height and arm strength.

His rawness is an issue. However, if he sits for a couple of years and learns behind a savvy veteran, Jackson could turn out to be a franchise level quarterback.

Jackson is an elusive, strong runner and his ability to make plays when the play breaks down is special.

Outside the pocket he is adept at throwing on the run. His own running ability draws so much attention that receivers tend to become open. Whilst his accuracy needs improving, Jackson actually makes very few bad decisions when throwing the ball.

This is backed up by his excellent touchdown to interception ratio.

In 2016 he tossed 30 touchdown passes to just 9 picks. His potential to become a more accurate passer is there, and as he learns and becomes more pocket orientated, this will come naturally.

His rare ability as a runner will draw respect from defenses in an almost Cam Newton-like way.

Jackson will be a project for any team that drafts him, but his talent and potential are undeniable and he is certainly worth the risk for a team with an ageing or marginal starter.

The level of success that Vick achieved is hard to project onto Jackson, but the Louisville QB could develop into a starter under the right tutelage and in the right system.

He may not have the arm talent or ability to read defenses in the way that his peers do right now. But he undoubtedly possesses qualities that no other player in the NFL, not just college football, can lay claim to.

The knocks against Lamar Jackson

Jackson’s build is the first issue that jumps off the page. At 6’3 and 210lbs he is very slim and would need to pile on 15 or so lbs to hold up in the NFL.

His light frame makes his run-first style a real worry. The quantity and sharpness of the hits that he would take in the NFL will be a serious concern.

Cam is built to suck up hits like these with a much wider, stronger frame, and even he gets popped on the odd occasion. There will be worries over his ability to stand up to the rigors of a 16 game season whilst getting the most out of his ability as a runner.

Turning him into a pure pocket passer would not be advisable and would be a waste of his talent.

The reigning Heisman winner is also very raw as a pocket passer. Even more so than some of the project QB’s drafted in 2017, namely Patrick Mahomes and Mitchell Trubisky.

His accuracy is a real concern, with a career completion rate lagging under 60% in the college game. These numbers rarely translate to success in the NFL.

Jackson needs to develop his ability to read defenses and progress through his reads in the passing game. Due to his explosive ability as a runner, he often takes off as soon as his number one and two options are covered.

Patience in the pocket is key in the NFL, and whilst he has the ability to escape pressure and gain chunk yardage with his feet, teams will be looking for him to remain put for longer on pass plays rather than improvising.

The speed of NFL defenders will reduce his effectiveness in that regard anyway and the more he runs, the greater the chance of injury. Of course, he can be used to great effect on read option plays and designed quarterback run plays.

But, he needs to curb his run first instinct to avoid disastrous plays and injuries.

Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson /

The difficulty of being a run first guy in the NFL has been plain to see with the struggles faced by Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton at times in their respective careers.

The Vick factor was so unique. Nobody has been able to recreate the longevity of his success whilst playing the same dynamic football as yet.

Jackson’s problems with deciphering defenses may prove fatal to his career as quarterback in the NFL. However, his unique athletic ability and his build may suit him to another role on the field.

It has been suggested that Jackson could end up playing receiver in the league much like Terrell Pryor. Pryor struggled to make the leap as a quarterback in the pro game after a standout career at Ohio State.

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He came into the league as a dual threat quarterback but failed to establish himself at the Raiders or Browns. Pryor then made the switch to receiver in Cleveland and he is excelling.

His frame is slightly broader than Jackson’s and he is taller. The Louisville signal caller does share very similar physical traits to All Pro wideout AJ Green though.

Jackson has the speed to line up out wide and the open field running ability to be a dynamic receiver. The notion of Jackson switching to receiver at some point actually has some traction in NFL circles too.

Former Colts GM Bill Polian suggested it on ESPN LA when discussing the top quarterbacks in the upcoming draft:

"“I don’t think that Lamar, the Louisville kid’s in that discussion, in fact there’s a question that he may be, he might be a receiver…that has to do with girth and skill set as well.” he said."

Obviously that is a hypothetical situation that may never arise but it could be an option for Jackson should he struggle to develop into an NFL starter.

The 20-year-old is one of the most talented football players to emerge in years. His playing style evokes memories of Michael Vick at his best, and he has enormous potential.

The strides he needs to make to unlock this potential fully, both physically and mentally, are large. There are clear deficiencies in his play as a quarterback that will restrict his effectiveness in the pro game.

However, there is no doubt that Jackson will get the chance to show what he can do in the NFL as a quarterback and it would be a sight to see should his play translate to the kind of success he has had at Louisville.

The excitement he brings to a stadium is tangible and his stardom could explode on an international level should his dynamic running style be successful as a pro.

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Right now, it looks like will take him some time to reach anything like the level that Vick ascended to. But, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he could one day be better than the former Falcons and Eagles star.