CRAWFORD | Naysaying begins: Would you want Jackson as QB? You'd be crazy not to
Plenty of fans said they wouldn't want Lamar Jackson as quarterback of their team next season in a recent Paul Finebaum poll. Eric Crawford takes a second look.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – And so it begins. Right after Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy, you knew it was coming, the inevitable backlash.
He’d built himself up, so it was time for people to start tearing him down. It’s an unavoidable American arc. Few escape it.
So here was the question as posed by ESPN Southeastern Conference commentator Paul Finebaum via his Twitter account: “Would you want Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson to play QB for your team next season?”
The results were right down the middle. As of this writing, 51 percent said yes (out of better than 10,000 responses) and 49 percent said no.
If Jackson wants a gauge on his naysayers, Finebaum’s SEC-centric audience is a good place to look. There are plenty of them. And he gave them some reason for disbelief with back-to-back losses to SEC programs Kentucky and LSU to finish last season. He turned it over four times against Kentucky. Of the 62 plays Louisville ran against LSU, 51 were either a Jackson run or pass.
These are things Jackson and Louisville coach Bobby Petrino spent the spring addressing. Petrino knows that Jackson tried to take too much of the offense on his shoulders – and legs – late last season, and he knows that he should’ve done more to stop him. He would never blame his quarterback, and he shouldn’t. Jackson was only trying to help his team.
On Saturday, Jackson performed much as he did a year ago in the spring game, preferring the air to the ground, playing a more conventional quarterback position while throwing for 346 yards and three touchdowns, while running for 33 yards and a touchdown against a defense not allowed to tackle him.
Don’t read into spring game statistics. Jackson threw for 10.8 yards per attempt and 18.2 per completion against a defense not allowed to sack him. UK threw for 12.1 yards per attempt and 20.7 per completion against a Louisville defense that was allowed to tackle in the last real game played here.
The real proof will come in real games.
But Jackson shouldn’t be depicted as a guy who needs to prove himself all over again. He put up numbers against a Florida State defense that was pretty good. He did enough to nearly win a game at Clemson, a team that you might remember won the national championship.
He’s played against five SEC teams in his career, and wasn’t the starting quarterback in two of those games. Still, he’s carried for 756 yards against those five teams (7.13 yards per carry, 151.2 yards per game), even with 96 yards in sack yardage subtracted. He’s thrown for 891 yards in those games (total yardage of 329.4 per game), and accounted for 11 touchdowns.
Nick Fitzgerald, a fine young sophomore QB from Mississippi State, carried for 120.1 per game, as the top running QB in the SEC last season. In fact, of SEC quarterbacks, only Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly at 384 yards per game averaged more than Jackson.
As good as Alabama freshman Jalen Hurts is, he produced 283.9 yards per game against SEC competition last season. But he had a little more around him in the way of talent. And by a little, I mean a lot.
My point is this – if Jackson were the quarterback for an SEC team, the numbers in Finebaum’s poll would be a little different, and the conversation would be different. As an SEC quarterback, even with the same numbers he’s produced so far in his young career against SEC teams, Jackson would be celebrated instead of second-guessed. Inside the club, your glass is always depicted as half full. Outside it, you'd better believe it's half empty.
But here’s the fact of the matter: Jackson has played two college seasons. As a sophomore, he was taking his first crack at the game after an offseason of serious football education. He’s got so much upside it’s ridiculous. His game in many ways was still raw last season. He was devastating in his ability to run through defenses, but when they adjusted, he didn’t.
An offseason of looking at game video will help him with that issue, will teach him to put the ball into the hands of others so that it can be more effective when it’s in his own.
And Petrino knows this. He’s building it into the offense, with more of a designed running offense geared toward running backs carrying the ball and Jackson doing a bit less free-lancing, though you don’t want to take that away from him entirely.
I’d say this as to the coming onslaught on Jackson. Not every critical word about him is fair. It’s also not wrong.
He’ll have to accept the valid, reject the vapid, and most importantly, come out on the other side as a better football player.
The Heisman season was, in some ways, a college football miracle. They don’t let that Heisman Trophy outside a small circle of schools very often.
The idea now isn’t to go out and defend it, or go out and justify it. The idea for Jackson this season, for his sake, I would hope is just to go out and play football, become a better quarterback, and sharpen his game for the next level.
To worry about what percentage of fans would want you as their quarterback isn’t constructive. I guarantee you, if he’d announced his transfer in the offseason, not a coach in America wouldn’t have wondered if he could get in on the Lamar Jackson sweepstakes.
If you don’t want this guy, with his raw talent and willingness to study the game and improve, that’s fine. Plenty would take the Heisman winner, the most exciting player in the college game today, and take their chances.
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