As we follow the Jets, it is always worth keeping an eye on college football. The Draft is at the essence of any rebuilding project. The Jets will need to add a core of young talent in the coming years to build a winner, and the quarterback position is of particular importance. While the book is not totally closed on Bryce Petty or Christian Hackenberg, it seems more likely than not (to me at least) that the franchise quarterback of the future is not on the team right now.
There are a number of prospects generating NFL buzz right now. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson is a special case. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Jackson is the most explosive athlete at the quarterback position in recent memory.
In some ways, I feel like his athleticism is almost working against him as people discuss him as a prospect, and that is what I would like to discuss today.
When you see a quarterback make spectacular plays with his legs, it is easy to fall into the trap of labeling him a scrambler. There is a difference between a scrambler and a mobile quarterback. A scrambler looks to run at the first sign of daylight.He has no feel for the game when he is contained to the pocket. A mobile quarterback uses his legs to evade the rush and make plays. Sometimes the mobile quarterback has no choice but to tuck the ball and run, but he also keeps his eyes down the field to see whether he can throw the ball. Similarly there is a difference between being an athlete who happens to play quarterback and being a quarterback who happens to be a great athlete.
A lot of people seems to be dismissing Jackson as a scrambler and an athlete who happens to play quarterback. I don’t get why. To me, he’s falls into the categories of mobile quarterback and a quarterback who happens to be a great athlete.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive review of Jackson’s game. There are some weakenesses and some things worth being concerned about. I just think people are focusing on issues that don’t exist.
Is Jackson a pure runner rather? I say no. I think there have been points where he has shown real sophistication within the pocket.
Before I show you some examples, I start with the standard disclaimer. I don’t know the play call on either side. When you try to reverse engineer these things, it is possible to have missed something. This is simply my best attempt.
On this first play, the defense gave a presnap look of Cover 2. It looked like there were five zone underneath, and two safeties playing deep zone. Louisville had a route combination to deal with Cover 2 on the bottom of the picture. The receiver closest to the middle of the field was going to run a short route, which might hold the attention the bottom deep safety in the middle of the field (orange). Then the bottom two receivers could create a two on one situation against the cornerback in the red circle on the bottom of this picture. If the corner dropped to take the deep receiver, Jackson could throw short. If he sat on the short receiver, the deep receiver could be open, presuming the safety was held in the middle of the field.
This wasn’t actually the defensive call, though. Purdue disguised its front. A middle linebacker was actually blitzing. One of the safeties was moving into the short zone in the middle of the field. And this was a Cover 3 look with one safety and the two corners responsible for covering one-third of the deep part of the field each. At the top of the picture, Louisville had a combination to counter that. Essentially, this could create a two on one with the cornerback in orange at the top of the picture. Again, if he sat on the short receiver, the throw could go deep, and vice versa.
At the snap, Jackson looked left, but soon read that the coverage had been disguised.
So he looked right to beat the Cover 3 look. Who is open as Jackson is going into his throwing motion? It appears to be the yellow receiver. The red receiver looks like he’s covered, right?
Well, Jackson is throwing to the red receiver. That defender’s zone is taking him to the outside receiver on the sideline, which is going to leave open space for the inside guy. You can see the deep corner was playing the outside guy and is not in position to obstruct a pass to the inside receiver running deep into his zone. One of the most important things for any quarterback prospect is to show an ability not to throw to a receiver is already open but to throw to a receiver who looks covered but will be open by the time the ball gets to him.
Now this play actually results in an incompletion.
This is where you might be saying, “John, are you serious? All this praise for Jackson on an incomplete pass?” My answer is simply, yes.
The pass is off the mark because Jackson’s offensive line lost and got him hit.
When you are evaluating prospects stats can matter, but they aren’t the end all. The capabilities a player is showing are more important. Here it looked to me like Jackson digested a lot of very complicated stuff very quickly and made some very good decisions. The throw was off the mark, but that was due to factors beyond his control. To me, this was a very impressive play by Jackson.
I will show you one other play that I found impressive for Jackson. For the sake of your time I will stop here, but these are not the only two plays that impressed me.
Here Purdue shows a Cover 2 look and actually runs a Cover 2. There are two deep safeties splitting the defensive part of the field in half.
The thing is Louisville has three receivers circled running deep routes. It is three on two. The bottom circled receiver holds the orange deep defender on the bottom of the screen to that side of the field. The top circled receiver holds the top orange deep defender to that side of the field, and the middle is split for the middle circled receiver.
This is how things look as Jackson is throwing the ball. Again, you don’t have a receiver who is open at that moment, but Jackson understands that his receiver is going to be open.
This window isn’t open for very long, but Jackson is on time and delivers a strike.
Scramblers don’t like playing from the pocket. Mobile quarterbacks play from the pocket and pick defenses apart.
Mobility comes into play when pressure comes or no receiver is open immediately. Quarterbacks who can move around a bit have an advantage. Sometimes there is no option but to tuck the ball and run, but mobile quarterbacks keep their eyes down the field and look for options to throw before they pull the ball down.
Again I must emphasize this is not a comprehensive review of this player. There are certainly some weaknesses and concerns here as there are with any prospect.
But we need to know what the player can do before we discuss any of this. Incredible athleticism and the ability to wreck games as a runner are not mutually exclusive to being a pocket passer and making good reads. Lamar Jackson is showing an increasing ability to do all of the above.