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No, Lamar Jackson isn’t a damn wide receiver

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A quarterbacks coach explains why one of college football’s best quarterbacks is actually a quarterback.

Louisville v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Lamar Jackson could make a great receiver in the NFL. His explosiveness, cutting ability, and straight-line speed make him a perfect fit. Slot receiver, wildcat, returner, wherever.

Unfortunately, I think it would be better for him if he switched positions and tried to play quarterback first. I mean, what better way to get the ball in his hands as often as possible? Hear me out: let him drop back and throw 25 to 30 times a game. Moving a college wide receiver to quarterback is unheard of, but I think Lama-

*an assistant rushes from off camera to bring me a single piece of paper*

I’m sorry, I’m being told Lamar Jackson is in fact already a quarterback.

*adjusts collar*

Jackson, a Heisman-winning quarterback, enters the 2018 NFL draft with wildly different scouting reports on his ability to play quarterback at the next level.

The main issue some analysts seem to have with Jackson is that he’s black.

Sorry, that came out wrong. Let me try again: The main issue some analysts seem to have with Jackson is that he’s black.

*sigh*

Jackson doesn’t fit what some believe a great NFL quarterback should look like: the statue who sits in the pocket. Throughout history, that player has often been white.

Of the 34 quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame, only one is black. That black quarterback, Warren Moon, was a pocket passer who had to prove himself with the Edmonton Eskimos in the CFL before the NFL would give him a chance.

You’d think the narrative would be changing. You have Carolina Panthers quarterback and first-overall draft pick Cam Newton. You can tailor your offense around transcendent players, and if you give them receivers not named Brenton Bersin, they can be good passers, too.

However, black quarterbacks aren’t just asked to change position when moving to the NFL. It happens in the move from high school to college, too.

Of black players who played QB in high school, 62 percent changed positions in college, per the study. Some moves are in the best interest of players, but only 16 percent of white QBs changed positions. Researchers found 22 percent of all players switched positions.

The study found that, after controlling for certain factors, black quarterbacks were 38.5 percent more likely than white quarterbacks to change positions.

“It’s something unobservable that’s driving that result,” Joshua Pitts, an assistant professor of sport management and economics at Kennesaw State University, told SB Nation. “I bet we wouldn’t find that 38 percent [if the study repeated a decade later]. Maybe we would, but I guarantee we’d still find a significant result in that black quarterbacks have a tendency to be pushed out of that position.”

It’s 2018, and we’re doing it again with Jackson.

There have been white quarterbacks who converted into receivers, but those prominent college QBs were actual run-first quarterbacks. Nebraska’s Eric Crouch had more college carries than pass attempts, while Jackson had nearly the opposite in 2017. Jackson had almost as many throws in three years as Crouch and Arkansas’ Matt Jones had in a combined eight.

Here are two sets of statistics:

  • Player A: 59.1 percent completion, 3,660 yards, 27 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 8.7 adjusted yards per attempt, 1,601 yards rushing, and 18 rushing touchdowns in a Power 5 conference.
  • Player B: 56.3 percent completion, 1,812 yards, 16 touchdowns, six interceptions, 6.9 adjusted yards per attempt, 204 yards rushing, and five rushing touchdowns in Group of 5 conference.

You would pick Player A over Player B without hesitation. Player A is Jackson, whom the Anonymous Scout types say should be moved to receiver, while Player B is Josh Allen, who is projected by Mel Kiper at No. 1 overall.

We can dig deeper by looking at PFF’s QB rating stat that takes into account dropped passes, throwaways, spikes, and yards in the air. Jackson ranked 10th in the country with a 97.47 rating. Pretty good. Allen and USC’s Sam Darnold, who might end up going first and second overall? Allen comes in at 80th, and Darnold at 52nd. Just as a passer alone, Jackson blows those two out of the water.

Oh, and he can do this too:

You know who else did that in college?

Jackson has all the physical tools those other quarterbacks have, in addition to being able to change games with his legs.

And based on the narrative, you’d think Jackson is 5’10 or something. Jackson is 6’3 and 211 pounds.

In terms of mechanical throwing ability, Jackson is what you’d call a natural thrower.

It’s effortless for him to throw down the field.

He can probably get by in the NFL without changing much in his mechanics, but he does have issues. Like anything else, they are correctable. Patrick Mahomes took it upon himself to radically change his body last year before the draft.

Breaking down his mechanics a little more ...

... the first thing you notice is how narrow his base is. We generally want the quarterbacks to have a wider base, because guys with narrow bases tend to overstride with their front foot. In a narrow base, the back leg isn’t loaded and ready to go, so it has to load while the front foot is stepping forward, causing the foot to step too far. When you step too far, you lose balance. Jackson avoids overstriding, at least.

His other issue is he doesn’t get his elbow high enough past his head as he’s throwing. The elbow needs to come through in a position where it puts no stress on the scapula, allowing the tricep to be the last muscle to fire.

The way I try to explain that last part to my quarterbacks is you want to put your elbow in a position to do a triceps extension without shoulder pain.

Those are pretty big issues, but he can still throw with tremendous power. Fix the mechanics, and it will help his accuracy.

Jackson’s dropbacks are refined in the pocket.

This is a quick, three-step drop with a hitch. When I see a quarterback looking so clean with his drops, I think he probably has the ability to go through his progressions.

I would argue that the hardest thing for a quarterback to do is get to his second read. If we could throw to our first read every play, quarterback would be the easiest position in sports. As coordinators, our job is to get our quarterbacks in situations where the first read is open as often as possible. It’s easier said than done, and you’re going to call a play in which the quarterback has to cycle through his reads.

One popular dropback system links the QB’s feet to where his eyes should be. This play against Florida State is a good example of that.

The corner route by the slot receiver is Jackson’s first read. When he finishes his three-step drop and reads that the corner route is open, he throws it. If not, he hitches up and throws the little route underneath. The rhythmic movement pattern teaches the quarterback that every hitch in the pocket is a moment to look for the next read. These movements create a calming effect in an otherwise turbulent time.

Jackson understands this.

Because Jackson is a running threat every time he touches the ball, you would assume his college offense was an RPO system.

I did not see a lot of one-read RPOs. Noted motorcycle enthusiast and Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino’s passing attack is built off quick game concepts and a more developed dropback game. This wasn’t USC running a ton of bubble screens and RPOs.

I would not be surprised if he runs more RPOs in the NFL than he did at Louisville.

I keep trying to find aspects of his game that might detract from Jackson as a thrower, but they’re tough to find.

His completion percentage isn’t very high, but his receivers dropped a whopping 12 percent of his throws, according to this:

His adjusted yards per attempt puts him in the top 20 nationally at 8.7, and he did this all behind one of the most porous offensive lines in the country. I wrote about how awful his line was last year in previewing the Citrus Bowl against LSU, and while they got better as a group in 2017, there were still a few turnstiles lined up in front of Jackson.

Is Jackson the best quarterback in this class? I don’t think so.

I like the incredible production of Baker Mayfield and the refined play of Josh Rosen (that’s the quarterback coach bias in me coming out), actually. The problem is that the narratives surrounding this electric football magician are shallow and dangerous.