CRAWFORD | Jackson's 'rise' in NFL Draft projections says more about them than about him
Former University of Louisville quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson's NFL Draft projections are on the rise. A look at why that might be.
LOUISVILLE Ky. (WDRB) – Disclaimer No. 1: I don’t know where former University of Louisville quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson is going to go in this week's NFL Draft.
Disclaimer No. 2: Nobody else does, either.
As the projections surrounding Jackson’s draft prospects continue to escalate, after all manner of dubious speculation since he declared for the draft, it’s fair to wonder what has changed – Jackson’s skills at the position, or the reporting about him? I’m not so sure it isn’t the latter.
The prevailing sentiment on Jackson since he declared for the draft after his junior season has largely been built around the following points:
- He’s not a drop-back passer
- He’s not accurate enough
- He can’t read coverages
- He's a wide receiver
At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last month, Jackson spent the first five minutes of his media session answering questions about whether he’d move to wide receiver, a move he has never entertained, and said no NFL team had asked him to make.
Yet the media persisted with these questions – even though he’s never thrown a pass in an NFL uniform.
The die, it seemed from the questioning, had been cast. And maybe it has. The main problem for Jackson is that he doesn’t fit the NFL template of a pro-style quarterback.
Once upon a time, that wasn’t a problem. When I was growing up, there was great variety at the position. Along with superb passers like Terry Bradshaw, Ken Anderson, Bert Jones and others, you had guys who could scramble, like Fran Tarkington, Roger Staubach and Ken Stabler, until knee injuries forced him to evolve into an elusive, accurate passer. You had guys like Bob Griese, who defied categories, he could just play.
Today, quarterbacks all need to be 6-4 with a cannon. There’s little room for variation.
And that’s spelled trouble for Jackson, who is variation personified. He’s different. Not only is his game different, a blend of blinding runs with pocket passing and a dash of playground built in, but his personality is different. He didn’t hire an agent. Nobody knows what his workout regimen entails.
The NFL doesn’t like different, and the NFL scouting punditry has punished Jackson in its commentary accordingly.
Until recently. As if hedging its bets, now the NFL scouting community is edging Jackson upwards in its mock drafts. Mel Kiper has him in the top 15. The Sporting News had him going to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 28 in a mock draft updated on Friday. In fact, people now are reporting that they wouldn’t be surprised for teams trading up to get Jackson in the first 20 picks. (The latest mock draft I looked at? CBS Sports had Jackson going No. 27 to New Orleans for an apprenticeship under Drew Brees Sunday morning.)
What changed? Or did nothing change?
Jackson had his pro day at Louisville (televised by the NFL Network). He didn’t run for scouts – which was absolutely the right decision. Everyone knows he can run, probably as well at his position as anyone since Michael Vick. The last thing he needed was to spark another round of wide receiver speculation. He made the throws he was supposed to make. Most came away saying he neither hurt or helped himself significantly.
He is, quite simply this: Either an NFL bust, or perhaps the most dynamic quarterback in the league once he gets some seasoning. Now, it appears, there are more than a few teams willing to roll the dice on him being the second of those options.
Perhaps they always were. In more than just sports, the journalism business today seems addicted to narrative, and once one is established, it’s very difficult to change. Outlets report or speculate on something that is far from certain, then build reporting on that foundation as if it were verified fact.
At the very least, it’s smart to question these narratives when we see them. And in Jackson’s case, it appears the media is doing just that. At least they’re doing it before it’s too late.
It’s also true that analysts get more intelligence from the teams themselves as the draft gets closer. But that doesn’t change the fact that they spent months talking about one set of scenarios that, it turns out, might not have been quite accurate. But we all watched and listened. And we'll keep watching and listening, because there's a market for it.
Jackson might or might not go in the first round. Nothing is ever solid where the draft is concerned. Whether the analysts have you going high or low, it’s wise to remember how often they’re wrong – both ways. It’s also wise to remember that it doesn’t determine your worth as a player. That, thankfully, still mostly happens on the field.
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