In 2018, the Bills spent the seventh pick in the NFL Draft on a 6’5 mid-major QB who’d just finished a year at 6.7 yards per throw — 10th in the Mountain West.
In 2019, the draft has a QB who measures 6’7, has a better athletic profile than Allen, and just finished a year at 7.7 yards per throw — second in the MAC.
The comparison between Josh Allen and Tyree Jackson isn’t that simple. But in Allen, the NFL saw a QB with great size and arm strength who’d never produced anything special in college (even when you consider that Wyoming’s not the most talented program.) In Jackson, the league’s getting a QB with great size and arm strength and some real, live production from his college career.
But Jackson did not get picked in the top 10. He didn’t get picked at all. And then the same team that drafted Allen signed him, reportedly to a huge deal:
Buffalo QB Tyree Jackson is signing with the #Bills on a deal that guarantees him $75,000, source said. By far the most surprising signal-caller not drafted now becomes a big (literally) project behind Buffalo's other big-armed QB.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) April 27, 2019
Of course, there are reasons Jackson was available this late in the game. They’re the same reasons Allen probably shouldn’t have been a top-10 pick in 2018 and is unlikely to ever be a good NFL passer.
Jackson was a three-year starter at Buffalo, and his numbers weren’t great. His best year was his redshirt sophomore campaign in 2017, when he got 8.8 yards per throw and had a 148.8 rating, second-best in the MAC behind Toledo star Logan Woodside. He was again No. 2 in the MAC in 2018, but throwing for a yard fewer per attempt.
The conference is not a QB pipeline, even when QBs have great numbers. The last draft to include a MAC QB who actually played an NFL down was 2006’s, with Bruce Gradkowski.
His accuracy’s been inconsistent. His completion percentage in 2018 was 55.3 percent. QBs almost never get better statistically once they reach the pros, and those who do only do it slightly. For him to make a difference, he’ll really have to get coached up.
To that end, Jackson’s been working on “lower-body mechanics.”
“I wanna be as consistent as possible,” he told me at the NFL Combine. “I wanna go 100-for-100 on every route. To do that, you need to continue to put the work in.”
All of these issues came up with Allen, too, or at least they should’ve. He was a 56-percent passer in his own Group of 5 conference that doesn’t produce a lot of NFL success stories. He had worse efficiency numbers across his two years as a starter than Jackson did in three.
You could easily make the case Jackson is a more exciting pro prospect than Allen was, whether you’re basing it on numbers, size, or speed.
In the modern history of the NFL Combine (going back to 2000), just five QBs have measured in at 6’7. Nobody’s been taller than that. Jackson is one of the 6’7 guys, along with a list of super tall dudes that probably will not inspire you: Ryan Mallet, Mike Glennon, Paxton Lynch, and Brock Osweiler. But none of those guys were great athletes.
All of those QBs ran at least a 4.83-second 40-yard dash. But at his combine in March, Jackson ran a 4.59. That’s basically Cam Newton speed, as the Auburn great ran a 4.56 in 2011. Jackson isn’t as agile as Newton, and in the three-cone and shuttle drills designed to test lateral movement, he put up identical numbers to Josh Rosen a year before.
For his part, Allen ran a 4.75 40 and also did worse than Jackson in the vert jump and shuttle run, while beating him in the three-cone. Jackson’s a superior athlete.
Jackson’s size is fun, but it’s not the most important thing.
Being tall’s not that big a deal, functionally, as the short Kyler Murray is demonstrating in real time. In Jackson’s case, the key is that his height height and explosiveness come with a damn rocket arm. The man throws a fastball. When he stands in the pocket and uncorks a ball into a tight window, he looks like a giant sentry gun who’s just been mounted there:
But he’s not a statue. Jackson can move and put a lot on a pass while under pressure:
And he can drop in a lovely deep ball:
Go through Allen’s college tape, like Seth Galina did on this website before the 2018 draft, and you see some of nice throws. You also see a lot of errors.
When he takes off running, Jackson resembles an 18-wheeler. Given Allen’s strong running stats in the NFL, you’d think Jackson has upside there.
Buffalo (the college team) didn’t draw up a lot of designed runs for Jackson. He’d take off pretty frequently, though. Not counting sacks, he ran 40 times for 253 yards (a 6.3 average) and seven TDs. He’s not a pretty runner, but he can move with force:
“I’ve been able to feel that for a long time,” Jackson said. “It’s just been something that’s a part of my game. And then when I get outside of the pocket, just extend the play, but also be smart, knowing when to throw the ball away and move on and trust the kicker. So it’s been a good part of my game.”
Look at him go:
Later in the same game!
Allen was one of the best running QBs in the league as a rookie, despite testing as a slower, not much more agile runner than Jackson. That seems encouraging for Jackson’s ground-game potential in the NFL. There are probably a lot of designed runs a team could give him.
I used this same selection of plays in arguing that pretty much any college team would’ve been smart to pursue Jackson as a transfer when he was considering that after 2018. He would’ve been helpful in the ACC. Can he be helpful in the NFL? Maybe.
The two QBs even train together.
The obvious (but easier said than done) thing that would change everything for Jackson (or Allen) is if he could get to even average accuracy.
Teaching QBs to not make wild throws is hard. Here’s Washington State coach Mike Leach, a passing game expert, explaining that it’s damn near impossible:
Mike Leach on how accuracy is most-critical QB trait & biggest mistake HS through NFL coaches always make is pretending they can fix it. "You can go get the shortstop & teach him to play QB easier than you can make someone accurate." Starts :30 in: https://t.co/iAqiNwzkgL— Evan Silva (@evansilva) February 15, 2019
But Jackson’s completion percentage was 60 percent in 2017, before it fell off his senior year. It’s possible there was some noise in his accuracy declining, and maybe he’s got the upside to make more pinpoint throws going forward. One observation I made watching a lot of his games was that he threw a lot of deep balls, which don’t help accuracy numbers.
Maybe things will get better if he’s able to sit and learn for a while, rather than leading an offense for a team with below-average talent even for the MAC.
There’s no guarantee Jackson will work out. But there are enough exciting things about him that if you liked Allen at all as even a second-round pick, let alone a top-10 guy, you should be enamored with Jackson.
Drafting QBs is a crapshoot, but he has similar tools — even better tools — to the ones that just got another Buffalo QB taken in the top seven.