There seems to be a thought process going around that because some of the best plays from Lamar Jackson feature his legs, that he should not be looked at as an NFL quarterback prospect. That is one of the quickest ways to find a lazy analyst clinging to a narrative. When taking away everything Lamar Jackson does with his legs, he is still a very intriguing quarterback prospect. He brings a variety of skills that translate to the NFL and should be looked at as one of the best quarterbacks of the group when it comes to playing from the pocket.
Playing from the pocket
Lamar Jackson is flat out comfortable playing from the pocket. Watch as he stands in here, reads the play, and lets it develop to set up a touchdown. Jackson is watching the safety towards the left hash mark. He knows his receiver running down the left hash has inside space on the cornerback in Cover-3. He also knows he has an option over the middle of the field, who is going to break right, and force that safety to decide to protect that left hash, or follow the middle receiver to the right. When the safety breaks to the middle, Jackson is going over his head to the left hash for a deep touchdown pass.
With less than a minute to go in a tie game, Jackson is dropping dimes from the pocket. He is comfortable, he is reading from left to right, he reacts, and leads his receiver down the field for the clutch touchdown.
Watch the play below. This is a dime from the pocket. His pocket is clean, he stands in strong and rips a pass about 35 yards down the field over his defenders head.
Below, Jackson is identifying his matchups and pinpoints his slot receiver to the left. Jackson sees it and looks away from it. It gets the linebacker to jump to the middle of the field, where Jackson is looking. When the linebacker jumps, Jackson is back to his man, and leading him left, away from the linebacker. This is nuanced passing from the neck up.
Manipulating defenders to free up space and make passing easier is what the best quarterbacks in the NFL do. It is also what “wide receiver” prospect Lamar Jackson is doing.
Jackson creates this touchdown. He is staring left. Therefore, the linebacker near the right hash mark is shifting left. The safety towards the left is following the slant coming from left to right. However, he notices Jackson is not looking that way at all. He must not be thinking of it, the safety assumes. Therefore, the safety sticks to his spot in the middle of the field. Those two just lost a mind game to Lamar Jackson. When the safety stops flowing right and the slot receiver gets past the linebacker, Jackson throws himself an easy touchdown.
On the two plays below, he is looking to the middle of the field to again free up his wide receivers. Both linebackers in the middle of the field are frozen just long enough by Jackson to set up easy passes in the short passing game. Had Jackson been staring at his targets from the start, they would have been forced to make contested catches.
His ability to manipulate defenders into creating completions for himself comes from a unique ability to process the field quickly. He knows what is happening before the snap, and his fast reactions after the snap show that when he sees what he is looking for he is able to react and make impactful decisions.
Watch how quickly he is reading this play. He is going through five options, including his check down, and then comes to the decision to test the deep middle of the field. This is why defenders get frozen so easily by Jackson. He knows where players are without consistently looking at them.
Again, he is able to quickly process the field from left to right. He is instantly on his third read, and before the defense can react, he has the ball out of his hands for a big touchdown.
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Extend to pass
The worst narrative surrounding Jackson is that he automatically uses his legs to get himself out of bad situations. His penchant to take off and run scares Bill Polian, and other NFL executives. However, what makes Jackson a quarterback prospect worth drafting at quarterback is that his mobility only makes his passing game stronger. He does not instantly take off and run. Yes, those highlight runs are cool, but they bury the fact that those are his last options, and not his first or even his second. Jackson first is using his legs to extend plays down the field.
Take the below. Pressure blows this play up before it ever starts. Even your immobile NFL backup is thinking if he survives that defender, he is getting as many yards on the ground as he can and is sliding. Jackson knows he can do more. He does break the defender, but when he gathers himself, he is eyeing up the big one.
This is the same play. Jackson is able to keep his eyes downfield, re-gather himself, set his feet and drop a bomb down the field for a touchdown. Does this look like his habit is to abandon the pass and run?
Below is an absurd pass from Lamar Jackson. Pressure comes, and Jackson is off and running. But, the quarterback prospect knows in the NFL you do not resort to running. He is using his legs to extend the play to set up big passes down the field. Speaking of big passes. What a cannon on the run 25 yards down the field.
Again, Jackson is extending to pass, not extending to run. He is able to use his legs to break pressure. However, he is using his smarts and his arm to get this first down and touch a pass over the defender.
In fact, some defenders respect Jackson so much as a passer that he is able to once again manipulate them into winning a matchup. This is third down. However, there is no panic to Jackson as pressure surrounds him.He breaks free and gets outside. However, he has to beat a linebacker to move the chains. The linebacker has his back turned to the field behind him. Jackson knows this and knows the linebacker is unsure if there is an open receiver right over his head. Jackson makes it appear that there is as he gets ready to pass. That gets the linebacker to take off running and free up space for Jackson to pick up a first down. That is some of the savvy and smarts relatable to the phenom Jimmy Garoppolo.
This is not to say Lamar Jackson is the best quarterback prospect of All-Time. He comes with real questions, just like any other prospect. There are times he believes his physical attributes can overcome poor mechanics and decision making. The two plays below Jackson is trying to hard to keep the play alive. The results are all floating in the air asking to be intercepted.
Jackson also has an issue where he misses high and too far. It happens because he has a narrow base when throwing from the pocket. Like the plays above, he is more reliant on arm talent than mechanics and that hurts him on the passes below.
Jackson has flaws, but to say he does not have a chance to be an NFL quarterback is baffling. Over belief in himself is an issue for Josh Rosen. Footwork is an issue for Sam Darold. As a prospect, Lamar Jackson is right in the same tier as those two and should be treated that way from evaluators.