INDIANAPOLIS — Lamar Jackson shouldn’t have to defend himself. But at a press conference at the NFL Combine on Friday afternoon, he did, in his own way.
Jackson’s meeting with a throng of reporters here wasn’t confrontational. Jackson was candid and funny, and he had the 100-some people who’d gathered around his podium cackling for much of the 15 minutes he stood there. It was a surreal event, not because Jackson is a good quote (he is) or because the combine is a circus in general (it is).
The odd thing was everything Jackson had to answer for.
The 21-year-old faced four questions almost immediately that dealt with whether he’d consider switching positions from quarterback to receiver. That’s an absurd idea for an electrifying QB talent who’s 14 months removed from winning the Heisman Trophy as an electrifying QB talent. But because an unverified report had circulated the day before that teams were asking Jackson to work out at receiver, he had to bat the idea away, repeatedly.
“I’m strictly quarterback,” he said once.
“That’s strictly my position,” he said another time.
“I’m not going to be a wide receiver at all,” he added.
“I’m a quarterback,” he said again.
Later, a reporter wondered if Jackson might consider a “slash” role, where he could play some quarterback and some snaps at another position. (Like Kordell Stewart!)
“That’s basically another position!” Jackson said, laughing through the end of that sentence. “You’re just trying to reword the question!”
What about the wildcat offense, now essentially extinct in the NFL?
“This is not the Dolphins with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams,” said a smiling Jackson, who was an 11-year-old in South Florida when the ‘08 Dolphins gave that scheme a go.
Sprinkled throughout the event were questions about Jackson’s decision not to hire an agent to represent him through the draft cycle. That’s an unusual decision, but Jackson’s explanation makes more than enough sense.
“I know coming in as a rookie, an agent doesn’t really negotiate anything,” Jackson said. “You’re going to get the salary you’re going to get. Or whatever. I decided I don’t need him. He’s going to be taking a big cut of my paycheck anyways. And I feel I deserve it right now.”
But wouldn’t he need someone to manage his interviews and workouts?
“I have a guy,” Jackson said.
Had teams wondered why he didn’t have an agent?
“I think the Steelers asked me why I didn’t. But you know, they didn’t really care. They were like, ‘OK, that’s a cool idea,’ yeah,” Jackson said.
A lot of people think Jackson should consider making a pointless, counterproductive career move to stop playing a position where he’s already proven he’s among the best in the world. Others seem worried for him, as if they fear he hasn’t thought through his life decisions.
The theme of Jackson’s week is that he’s confident in himself.
And why shouldn’t he be?
Jackson isn’t doing cone drills, the 40-yard dash, or the bench press. He’ll do field work with the receivers on hand, “just strictly throwing.”
“I don’t need to show off my speed and show people I can make them miss,” he said. “I have to show off my arm, because that’s where they doubt me.”
Jackson does not doubt his own arm. Another reporter asked Jackson which professional QBs he was similar to.
“I would say Cam Newton and Tom Brady,” he said. “Yes, sir. Superheroes.”
(Jackson has no reason to doubt his ability to throw. The last two years, he was around the top 20 nationally in pass efficiency stats that had nothing to do with his running talent.)
Another reporter asked Jackson what the biggest question was that NFL teams had expressed about him. And what did Jackson tell those teams?
“I’m mobile. I can hit any target on the field,” he said. “I love the game with a passion. I lead my team. I feel like I’m a field general. I love to score. I love to put the ball in other receivers’ hands. I’m not a ball hog at all. It may look like it, but I’m not.”
Jackson laughed again, because he’s not nearly as worried about his NFL future as the legions of strangers who want him to change.