How have two things about Lamar Jackson — his representation choice and the chatter that he should be moved from quarterback to another offensive skill position — overshadowed his college excellence?
How can 96 touchdowns produced in his final two Louisville seasons, his career highs accomplished in passing yards, accuracy and rushing yards last season, and a 2016 Heisman Trophy award along with a 2017 Heisman finalist berth get buried beneath choice and chatter?
It’s a tricky question. It is not simply race-based, though considering NFL history with black quarterbacks, that resonates. This player is a monumental core, an alluring theme of next week’s NFL draft.
Which NFL team believes in Lamar Jackson?
Which is best suited to groom him?
Will he defy odds and leap over any of the four quarterbacks — Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield — incessantly rated above him? Will he fall out of the first round?
His mother, Felcia Jones, is his manager. He eschewed employing an agent.
“Most NFL teams don’t want to deal with mothers,” an NFL head coach told me Wednesday morning. “One of the latest examples, the things that were going on in New York with Eli Apple and his mother, it’s something we try to avoid. And you’re talking about having that with the face of your franchise? That’s scary. But let me add this — to me, he is the wildcard of the whole draft. I can’t wait to see what he does in our league.”
Lamar Jackson is creating a captivating cha-cha among NFL teams — one foot in, one foot out.
They love his speed.
They question his accuracy.
They like his arm strength.
They wonder how he will adapt in NFL quarterback progression reading.
Of course, that last point is one to ponder on every quarterback in every NFL draft past, present and future.
Is he too light to absorb hits in the pocket? Will he stay in the pocket or seek first to flee?
Answers to those questions have much to do with where he goes and who is teaching him.
Some NFL teams are beginning to embrace the fact that more onus is on them to provide the proper structure and tutelage at quarterback. They are beginning to accept that they have ruined as many quarterbacks as those blamed for ruining themselves.
Jackson took control of his pre-draft situation. It was his way, without an agent, with his mother, and he began to speak boldly about strictly being a quarterback.
In his own perfect NFL universe, if he could select the complementing NFL coach to tutor him, I think the first, best fit is San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. No one in the league better understands quarterback movement in the passing game. Next, Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay. He is cutting edge in offensive scheming. New Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo would know exactly what to do with Jackson. So would New Orleans head coach Sean Payton and Kansas City head coach Andy Reid. I think Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt also has a clue.
“Are there going to be sound players around him as well as the coaching?” asks Super Bowl 34 winning coach Dick Vermeil. “I mean, you’ve got to have a core in both or it’s tough.”
Vermeil believes Jackson would shine with either of the Gruden brothers, Jay in Washington or Jon with the Raiders. Vermeil said offensive coordinator Scott Linehan in Dallas or Todd Haley in Cleveland could master it. He said new New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur “is a really good quarterback guy.” And of new Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Vermeil said, “His quarterbacks always play well.”
These, however, would be Vermeil’s top four landing spots for Jackson:
- New England: “There is not an offensive place in the league that is more adaptable.”
- New Orleans: “I don’t think that staff has ever had a quarterback not play well.”
- Green Bay: “Players know. Coaches know. That is a really fine offensive staff.”
- Kansas City: “That will always be an offensive football team under Andy Reid. His quarterbacks move.”
NFL coaches nowadays often chirp about the need for their offenses to be “multiple” and to be “varied.”
There is no quarterback in this draft who presents more of both.
Where Lamar Jackson lands next week is a testament to which offensive minds in the league are actually cutting-edge rather than simply blowing smoke about it.