Opinion: From Lamar Jackson to Antonio Brown, highlighting best and worst of 2019 NFL season
Lamar Jackson, Antonio Brown, the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns, and Andrew Luck's retirement figure prominently as we recap 2019 in the NFL.
We don’t know how fast the fastest — and this season, the best — quarterback in the NFL might be. That’s because Lamar Jackson never sprinted 40 yards at the NFL Combine. He didn’t do any drills at his pro day. He only threw passes.
“I’m strictly a quarterback,” Jackson said at the time.
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It struck a nerve with Jackson. Of course, it did. It always has. This notion that a quarterback good enough to win the Heisman Trophy at Louisville might be better off playing wide receiver always was misguided at best and insulting at worst.
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But from the looks of how it is playing out in Baltimore, Jackson is going to continue to embarrass the NFL’s scouting process in a way that few players before him have been able.
By selecting Jackson anyway with the final pick of the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, the Ravens added a player good enough to make them a title contender in his second season. He’s the NFL’s presumptive MVP and a terrifying dual-threat challenge Saturday night (7:15 p.m., CBS) for the Titans, so much that he has dominated interview topics around the team this week.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel has told his players that when Jackson has the football all 11 defenders should consider themselves “at the point of attack.”
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“There’s a designed play and then he just is like, ‘I’ll go make a play,’” Vrabel said.
In that way, Jackson is a quarterback the likes of which the NFL has not seen. You can throw out comparisons like Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham, but no one really comes close to Jackson’s elusiveness and running ability. And he can throw it, too, better than he gets credit.
To watch Jackson is to realize he’s doing things that you haven’t seen before from a quarterback and might not again.
All of pro football, it seems, has just recently discovered this.
And I still wonder why.
“Everybody who watched him play in college and were Louisville fans, they’re not surprised,” said Titans running back Dalyn Dawkins, a Louisville-area native.
The first round of the 2018 NFL draft was a bit of a painful viewing experience for someone who’d helped cover Jackson’s college career while at the Louisville Courier-Journal. I watched the picks come off the board while Jackson waited, believing that nearly every NFL team was making a mistake by not picking him.
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Four other quarterbacks were among the top 10 picks. Hey, the Titans had their shot at No. 22 and didn’t take Jackson. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin attended Louisville’s pro day and stood steps away from Jackson as he threw passes, but Pittsburgh passed on him at No. 28.
The Ravens passed on him, actually, too, selecting tight end Hayden Hurst seven spots before trading up to land Jackson.
“I think we just took it in total — the skill-set, the personality, the football acumen, what we pictured that we could build with him — all those things,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said this week.
Nov 17, 2019; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (right) exchanges jerseys with Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (left) after the game at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 26: Lamar Jackson of Louisville poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #32 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, left, tries to get past a couple of Texas A&M defenders during the second quarter of the Music City Bowl at Nissan Stadium Dec. 30, 2015. Louisville won 27-21 before a crowd of 50,478.
UofL quarterback Lamar Jackson strikes the Heisman pose after a late touchdown against the University of Kentucky in the Governor's Cup. UK would go on to win the game, but Jackson would later claim the Heisman trophy. Nov. 26, 2016
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A star player being drafted too low is a common story in the NFL, the league that once allowed Tom Brady to fall into the sixth round.
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Everything that’s being said now about Jackson was being said years ago. He was close to unstoppable at Louisville, nearly beating Deshaun Watson’s national champion Clemson team in 2016.
How in the world were four quarterbacks taken ahead of this guy in the first round? Better yet, why did people — experienced football people — keep mentioning other positions?
That one goes back to high school. As a (relatively overlooked) prospect near Miami, Jackson was widely recruited as a defensive back. He told me once that Georgia’s defensive coordinator called and asked about him playing safety. The Bulldogs’ coordinator at the time would have been current Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt.
To each school that inquired about defense, Jackson said no thank you and crossed it off his list.
The NFL should have known better, though, after what Jackson did at Louisville. It’s just the league didn’t know what to make of him.
He was such an outlier in a highly risk-averse, conformist league filled with franchises that tend to avoid high-stakes gambles, especially with first-round draft picks. And Jackson wasn’t a sure thing. On the field, his accuracy was continually called into question (despite the fact that Josh Allen – the No. 7 pick – was less accurate as a passer in college). There was also the typical durability fears for a quarterback who ran so much and tempted injury.
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Defenses know they’re coming, they know what they’re going to do, and there’s still little they can do to stop Derrick Henry and Lamar Jackson.“He’s from Mars,” Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said of Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. “He’s definitely an outer-space guy.
Coaches and teams married to their own quarterbacks or their own systems probably didn’t see Jackson as a fit. After all, he goes off the script. Coaches who spend countless hours developing the script might not like that unpredictability.
Off the field, Jackson never liked the media spotlight and attention. He didn’t train with some quarterback guru before the draft. He didn’t even hire an agent, instead having his mother serve as his manager.
NFL teams seemingly kept finding reasons not to take Jackson, in the process ignoring the ridiculous play-making ability he'd already demonstrated in college.
The Ravens were all in, though. They committed to what they’re doing now. They dumped Joe Flacco to make it a reality, allowing Jackson to instantly put them ahead of so many other NFL teams by doing it.
But it’s not the Ravens’ offensive system that has dominated the NFL this season.
And with a spot in the AFC Championship game on the line, the Titans are going to have to figure out a way to slow him down.
Reach Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Opinion: Lamar Jackson is embarrassing the NFL's scouting process like few before him
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) and defensive end Danielle Hunter (99) sack New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) during the first quarter of a NFC wild-card playoff football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws a pass against Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter (99) during the first quarter of a NFC wild-card playoff game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) runs after a pass reception against Minnesota Vikings strong safety Andrew Sendejo (34) during the first quarter of a NFC wild-card playoff game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
New Orleans Saints strong safety Vonn Bell (24) and defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (22) try to recover a fumble by Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) during the first quarter of a NFC wild-card playoff game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Tennessee Titans cornerback Logan Ryan (26) celebrates with defensive back Tramaine Brock (35) after scoring a touchdown on an interception against the New England Patriots during the second half at Gillette Stadium.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs against New England Patriots middle linebacker Kyle Van Noy (53) and outside linebacker Elandon Roberts (52) during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium.
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs the ball against Buffalo Bills defensive back Siran Neal (33) and outside linebacker Matt Milano (58) during the first quarter in the AFC wild-card playoff game at NRG Stadium.
A Buffalo Bills fan holds a sign prior to the AFC wild-card playoff game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on January 04, 2020 in Houston, Texas.
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