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Is Louisville’s Lamar Jackson a First Round NFL Talent?

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Is it possible that Lamar Jackson will be entirely left out of the first round of the upcoming NFL draft?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Taxslayer Bowl - Louisville v Mississippi St
Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) leaps over Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive back Mark McLaurin (41) during the game between the Louisville Cardinals and the Mississippi State Bulldogs on December 30, 2017
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Only several days ago, Lamar Jackson declared for the NFL Draft. There are some who believe he is not only ready but is primed for a remarkable NFL career. Surprisingly to some, not everyone is as ready to anoint the former college football athletic phenom as the next big thing in the NFL. ESPN Draft expert Todd McShay released his first mock draft (Mock Draft 1.0) late last year on ESPN Insider. It was fittingly titled ‘Mock Draft 1.0’. There will be roughly seven or eight of these mock drafts prior to a highly anticipated NFL Draft night happening April 26th of 2018.

There will be several major events that will heavily factor into what occurs on draft night including: Senior Bowl practice week, Senior Bowl (January 27, 2018) , The East-West Shrine Game (January 20, 2018), NFL Combine (February 27-March 5, 2018), Pro Days, interviews, and private workouts. These events are so pivotal and draft altering that most NFL fans hardly start paying attention to mock drafts until late March.

However, there is a subset of the general populace that absolutely loves all things NFL draft and they could not wait to dive into McShay’s first mock. For those individuals, one omission from Todd McShay’s first-round mock draft will become glaringly obvious, as he rattles off his list of top quarterbacks entering the 2018 NFL Draft. That omission is none other than the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner and 2017 Heisman trophy finalist Lamar Jackson. Jackson is currently not ranked in Todd McShay’s Top 5 Draft Eligible QB rankings, and is not mentioned in the first round of his first mock draft.

Lamar Jackson was other-worldly last season in his 2016 Heisman campaign. His highlight reel could rival any wide-receiver or running back in the country. He favorably compares to former first-round draft picks like Michael Vick, Robert Griffin III, and Vince Young. Michael Vick told the Courier-Journal of Louisville “If I’ve ever seen another guy that looks like me, it’s been, Lamar Jackson”. His arm talent is phenomenal, possessing the ability to throw downfield strikes with effortless motion. His has remarkable speed as a quarterback, according to the Courier-Journal, in March of 2016 Lamar Jackson was clocked at 4.42 in the 40-yard dash.

These traits were in full view on the field in 2016, as Jackson totaled 1,571 rushing yards, 21 rushing TDs, 3,543 Passing yards, and 30 Passing TDs. Jackson followed that tremendous performance by totaling 3,489 passing yards, 25 passing TDs, to go along with 1,443 yards on the ground and 17 rushing touchdowns this past season. Jackson’s stats alone show that he is an all-around weapon on the field, the likes of which we have not seen in years. The mere fact that after his incredible sophomore campaign that he would not be mentioned in the first round of Todd McShay’s “Way Too Early” Mock Draft is utterly dumbfounding to most. However, some experts may argue that we have seen a quarterback like this in recent years.

Robert Griffin III is the most recent example of a young athletically gifted quarterback that dominated at the collegiate level and would seemingly dominant once on the NFL stage. Griffin III had an extremely strong arm, he was tremendously fast, and he too was a Heisman trophy winner. His first year in the league highlighted all his best attributes and led to him winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. This level of success would be short-lived for Griffin as injuries, lack of chemistry with his teammates and his lack of development as a quarterback derailed what was seemingly going to be an incredible NFL career. Jackson does remind some naysayers of Griffin, but Jackson is not Griffin.

However, Jackson does come with some serious question marks. Jackson, like most athletically gifted quarterbacks, has some inconsistency with deep field accuracy and throwing mechanics, makes mind-less on-field mistakes, struggles with footwork in the pocket, and takes off from the pocket at an alarming rate. Even with those weaknesses, Jackson has managed to take care of the ball this season only throwing 6 interceptions. Therefore, the question remains, are there four other quarterbacks in this year’s draft that will have a greater impact on a franchise than Lamar Jackson?

McShay and most scouting experts believe this class is loaded with talent at the quarterback position. When asked to name the top talents they immediately rattle off familiar names like Sam Darnold (USC), Josh Rosen (UCLA), Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), and a less familiar Josh Allen (Wyoming). To be completely fair, according to ESPN.com stats, every one of those players excluding Josh Allen (Pass yards: 1,658, 13 touchdowns, 6 interceptions), has thrown for more yards and more touchdowns than Lamar Jackson.

Actually, as an effective passer, McShay’s lowest-rated quarterback in round 1, Baker Mayfield was the most decorated quarterback of the group this past season. Mayfield’s throwing mechanics, decision-making from the pocket, and off-field antics will be a major talking point for NFL Scouts and GMs this off-season. Josh Allen, has suffered a huge let-down season after a terrific sophomore campaign while competing against what some would argue is lesser talented competition. With that being said, these quarterbacks should rank higher to most than Jackson.

NFL Network Scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks are slightly higher on Jackson than others, stating that he belongs at least in the second tier of quarterbacks, behind Rosen and Darnold, which they believe includes Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield. They also highlighted some of the major concerns scouts have with Jackson’s slight frame, potential durability issues, and inconsistent footwork and mechanics. Daniel Jeremiah believes a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars could potentially be a good fit for Jackson if they were willing to evolve their offensive concepts around his strengths.

Just recently, junior quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Josh Allen all declared for the NFL Draft. With Baker Mayfield being a senior this year, the 2018 QB Draft class is set. With such heavy competition at the top of this quarterback class, some believe that it would have been in Lamar Jackson’s best interest to stay another year in college to add muscle to his slight frame, sharpen his mechanics, and take a crack at winning two Heisman trophy awards.

Todd McShay said, “I would urge him to go back to school for another year…”. McShay was not particularly impressed with Lamar Jackson’s final effort against Mississippi State. Jackson did not amaze or quiet concerns from NFL scouts in that game, McShay rightfully admonished him for showing inconsistent mechanics, missing high on a lot of throws, and not taking care of the football. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal McShay said: “By coming back to school and continuing to work on his mechanics and continuing to get bigger and stronger so his frame will hold up at the next level if he does have to run as much as he does, I just think that would be best for him.”

Lamar Jackson has decided to forge ahead and improve his draft stock throughout the draft process. While McShay has Jackson ranked as his number 7 quarterback in this class, others have at times ranked Jackson much higher. CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso has mocked Jackson as the top overall pick and has Jackson ranked as his number 1 quarterback in this year’s class. So to say there is no clear consensus among scouts on Lamar Jackson would be an accurate statement. It is my belief that through the draft process some team will absolutely fall in love with Jackson and I do not see him making it out of the first round based on current teams with quarterback needs in the NFL.

As most remember, the last time a quarterback of his caliber and athletic talent came into the league it was magically. He was electric, and he re-defined the culture of a franchise. When he left the city took years to recover. When he eventually returned to the league at full strength, the NFL was mesmerized again as he put up video game stats and highlight-worthy plays. The league recognized his growth and development and called him Vick 2.0. By Vick’s own admission, if there was ever going to be one, this is Vick 3.0, prepare to be amazed again.