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Road to the Draft: Making the case for, against Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

Posted Apr 25, 2018

Does the dual-threat signal-caller make sense for the Browns?

In the final buildup to the draft, we’re taking our analysis of the draft’s prospects one step further. We’re making the case for and against 10 of the players and scenarios that are linked to the Browns, who hold the No. 1 and No. 4 picks.

The case for Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.

1. The numbers: Jackson will enter the NFL after one of the best two-year stretches by any quarterback in college football history. He emerged as one of the sport’s biggest stars in 2016, as he passed for 3,543 yards, rushed for 1,571 yards and combined for a whopping 51 touchdowns. Despite the heavy usage, Jackson rarely turned the ball over and was a runaway winner of the Heisman Trophy. This past year? Jackson was just as good, perhaps even better, even though his team wasn’t. College football hasn’t seen a player carry a major program like this since Cam Newton, and Jackson did it over the course of two seasons.

2. The athleticism: When Jackson’s in the open field, he doesn’t look like a quarterback. There’s a reason why he was able to pile up more rushing yards than Saquon Barkley and most other college football running backs: He essentially ran like one and he rarely took the hard, bruising hits that wear down ball-carriers throughout a game and season. It’s those kinds of special gifts that make Jackson a candidate to make an immediate impact in the NFL, especially if he joins up with a team that is willing to build an offense around him and incorporate schemes and plays that maximize his rare gifts.

3. He could be the next Michael Vick … or better: It isn’t just the running, either. When Jackson uncorks a deep ball with a quick flick of the wrist, it brings back memories of Vick, the former No. 1 pick who made four Pro Bowls. That aspect of Jackson’s game has been enhanced by an “improved ability to hold safeties and linebackers with his eyes,” NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein says. Vick, himself, is a believer and provided Jackson with the ultimate endorsement. “I could not believe what I had seen,” Vick said. “I could not believe the things he was able to do. He was a spitting image of me and the only thing that came to my mind was this kid is five times better than I was when I was at Virginia Tech, only because he was doing it against Florida State. I remember how difficult it was for me to move the chains against Florida State, what effort had to be put in to getting first downs, scoring touchdowns.”

The case against Jackson

1. Accuracy issues: Though Jackson was more dynamic than not and made plenty of highlight reel throws, he didn’t always make the most accurate ones. In his three seasons at Louisville, Jackson never finished a season with a completion percentage better than 60 percent. A key theme whenever the Cardinals lost in 2017 was Jackson’s accuracy, as his completion percentage cleared 60 percent in just one of the team’s five losses. This goes beyond the interceptions and incompletions, too, as Zierlein writes that Jackson often makes his receivers work harder than they should. As Zierlein notes, Jackson’s accuracy while throwing on the run took a dip in 2017. Fixing that will be imperative toward his success in the NFL.

2. Injury risk: Jackson had an uncanny knack to not only evade would-be tacklers, but also find his way toward the sideline without avoiding contact. That will serve him well in the NFL, but it doesn’t guarantee he’ll be able to avoid the inevitable bone-crunching hit that will come his way at some point. To Jackson’s credit, he enters the NFL with little injury history, but he’ll be putting himself at risk every time he tucks and runs against NFL defenders who are bigger, faster, stronger and smarter than what he saw throughout his college career.

3. History: There are outliers all over the place -- Newton, Russell Wilson, etc. -- but Jackson will have to be one of them if he’s to maintain his dual-threat style over a prolonged period of time in the NFL. A number of dual-threats have burst on the scene only to struggle later when their athleticism no longer provided them the same advantage. How Jackson evolves over the course of his career will determine just how successful he is in the NFL. That might be too much of a projection for a team that’s making long-term, franchise-impacting picks at No. 1 and No. 4.

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