Greg Gabriel: The evaluation of Lamar Jackson as a QB prospect is ongoing

February 23, 2018

In the past few days, there has been much controversy about the future of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. This happened because former Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts GM Bill Polian said that he would advise Jackson to switch to playing wide receiver in the NFL.

This brought about a wrath of comments by people on twitter and on various websites, led by Mike Florio from ProFootballTalk.com. Because of Polian’s comments, that particular website wrote a minimum of four different articles criticizing Polian’s opinion. Isn’t one enough to make your point known?

Personally, although I don’t agree with what Polian said, the fact that people would go out of their way to criticize and lambaste him is utterly ridiculous.

First off, Polian is one of the most successful evaluators in the history of the NFL. As I mentioned above, he has been the general manager of three different franchises and led each of them to a Super Bowl. That led to him being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Agree or not, he is entitled to his opinion and entitled to state that opinion. With his background, Polian’s opinion should also be respected.

The art of player evaluation is a very subjective thing. You could put five scouts in a room, have them view the same six game tapes of a certain player and I guarantee they will come out with about three different opinions. That’s how scouting has always been, and that is how it will continue to be. That’s what makes the business so interesting.

I can also guarantee that there are several evaluators within the National Football League right now whose view of Jackson is very similar to Polian’s. How do I know that? Because I have talked to some of them whose opinions I respect.

Jackson has been a very successful quarterback at the college level. He was so good that he won the Heisman Trophy following the 2016 season. As good as Jackson is, it is not a lock that he will be a top quarterback in the NFL.

Jackson is very unique in that he has the speed and athleticism of a wide receiver or a corner and the obvious throwing abilities of a good quarterback prospect.

That said, he has strong and weak points just like any player in any draft. The following is a small sample of Jackson’s strengths and weaknesses that I discuss in the 2018 PFW Draft Guide.

Strong Points –

Very athletic with speed and change of direction. Elusive runner in the open field. Very good arm strength. Makes some big plays as a passer with 57 TD throws the past two seasons. Receivers are not consistently covered tightly because of his running skills. Defenses must prepare for Jackson’s ability to make plays with his feet.

Weak Points –

Doesn’t have a QB build; he’s a lean, high-cut guy. Has a long throwing motion. Very inconsistent accuracy and ball placement. For such an athletic guy, Jackson is a flat-footed passer and doesn’t consistently get his lower body into throws. Needs a lot of work on his mechanics. His ability to see the field and find an open receiver is inconsistent, and he will force some throws.

Contrary to popular opinion, the overall evaluations of quarterbacks is still very much going on, and the reality is that most teams are only about 60 percent complete with their quarterback evaluations.

Teams have to spend quality time with quarterbacks in order to know exactly what they will be getting should they end up drafting the player. The combine interviews and workouts with quarterbacks are basically useless. They don’t tell decision-makers much that they don’t already know.

There have been quarterbacks in recent drafts who had excellent physical traits — including arm strength, size, overall athleticism and even accuracy — but when they were put in a class room situation and asked to explain their offense, they struggled. This has nothing to do with the innate intelligence of the player but everything to do with what type of system the quarterback has played in both high school and college.

Quarterbacks in many of today’s college spread offenses don’t do anything close to what an NFL quarterback has to do as far as making pre-snap reads, changing plays, reading a whole field and going through a multi-receiver progression.

When it comes to Jackson and the other quarterbacks in this draft, interviews and private workouts will be very important. I would think that each team that has a strong interest in Jackson will schedule a private workout with him so that it can get every question it has about him answered. The team must understand Jackson’s knowledge of offensive concepts. It needs to know what he was actually asked to do at Louisville, from the huddle to pre-snap reads through the end of the play.

Louisville does not have a very complex offense. Quarterbacks who come from those types of offenses often struggle when they get into the league. That is why the classroom portion of a private workout will be so important. Following that well-spent time, each club will have a strong understanding of whether it thinks Jackson has what it takes to be a successful quarterback in the NFL.

The team that drafts Jackson must have a plan. It might have to change its offense so that the scheme will play to Jackson’s strengths and take into account his ability to make plays both as a runner and a passer. If a club is going to ask Jackson to just adapt to its system, it’s making a mistake as he is a very unique player whose strengths must be utilized.

We will begin to find out the answers to these questions after he gets drafted in late April. We should learn a lot about the team that drafts him because we will all know something about their current system. In post-draft press conferences, we will find out a little as to how that team plans to utilize Jackson, but it will most likely be a year or more before we actually know what kind of player he will be in the NFL.

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