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Crabbs | Developing deep passes the key to next level for Lamar Jackson

DEC 31 Citrus Bowl - LSU v Louisville
Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire

Scouting Notes

Crabbs | Developing deep passes the key to next level for Lamar Jackson

DEC 10 81st Annual Heisman Trophy Ceremony

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Heisman Trophy winning Quarterback Lamar Jackson had one of the most dynamic Heisman runs in recent history. Some of the supporters of other candidates would point to Jackson’s lack of a “defining moment” down the stretch to clinch him the award. But no one in the country had Jackson’s “wow” play resume.

Naturally, eyes have begun to shift towards Jackson as a pro prospect and whether or not he’s going to be given an opportunity to play Quarterback. One ACC coach anonymously suggested Jackson has “no shot” of playing QB in the pros back in January. The response to that assertion this winter and spring has been a lot of hotly contested arguments on both sides of the fence.

You can count me in the camp that believes Jackson will have the opportunity to play Quarterback. Of course, there’s much that can happen over the next one or two seasons before Jackson’s name is in the NFL Draft pool. But I’ve seen enough arm ability and wow throws to think that there’s something here to work with.

Just how much that foundation develops over the next year or two is going to be vital to Jackson’s success. Two places he can start, which will make both him and the Louisville offense that much better in 2017? Situational football and passing to the deeper portions of the field.

They call third down the “money down”. It’s your chance to keep the offense on the field and reset the sticks. Jackson completed under 50% of his passes on third down this past season.

If you further extrapolate the statistics to third and long, Jackson’s completion percentage dips to just 44%.

That 44% on third and long is last out of a group of 2016 passers that includes Patrick Mahomes, Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Mason Rudolph.

If the Cardinals want to play more sustainable football in 2017, Jackson is going to need to reign himself in on third downs. Too many times in his sophomore film you can see Jackson relying on his arm and trying to make too much happen. Playing more within the confines of the offense may slash a handful of “wow” plays from his resume but they’ll also put the offense in position to stay on the field with a greater regularity and continue to have more overall scoring opportunities.

 


 

But the more looming area of progress for Jackson is his deep skills. Jackson’s passing beyond twenty yards? Underwhelming, to say the least.

By and large there’s a lot of green throughout this passing chart. Jackson did well in many areas in comparison to his peers to feed his receivers passes and give them a chance to finish receptions. But his irregularities with his feet and delivery at the point of release are most accentuated when trying to test pushing the ball with accuracy. For example:

A third and seven (money down!) opportunity for Jackson goes awry when he rocks out of the snap and shifts his eyes immediately to his 1 on 1 against press coverage to the far side of the field. His drop doesn’t exactly promote a balanced base for good weight transition on his delivery and you’ll see his hips don’t swing through when Jackson pulls the trigger.

The end result? Jackson’s ball is under-thrown and he doesn’t get the requisite distance on the ball in an effort to allow the receiver to run underneath the ball.

Jackson’s decision here is also sub-par, as the single high safety is aligned on the far hash; he doesn’t have to work very far to challenge the play and ultimately ends up making the interception.

Earlier in the season against Marshall, Jackson made a very different effort to push for a big play but found similar results.

Third and ten (money down!) and Jackson is given off coverage across the board. There are quick option at the top of Jackson’s quick drop (WR Reggie Bonnafon, #7) is running a deep slant from the slot at the bottom of the page and could have challenged for the first down with an on time, accurate throw.

Instead, Jackson looks to extend the play before pushing the ball down towards the end zone with little leverage. His WR, James Quick, never had a chance and another deep defender peels off to finish the play and come down with the interception.

In the Cardinals’ signature win of the season, an early blowout win against Florida State, Jackson missed a more elementary throw that touches on his most alarming trend: Jackson didn’t hit a single receiver outside the left hash beyond 20 yards all season (24 attempts). This was one he should have had easily.

You can circle the issue back to his throwing mechanics to the deeper portions of the field. Here, Jackson does well to get off of his reception point of the snap and get depth onto his throwing platform. He’s quick and confident getting away from the line of scrimmage, which is one of those “foundation traits” mentioned at the beginning of the piece.

But Jackson handcuffs himself when he pulls the trigger. He doesn’t swing through with the back leg and his body looks tight on delivery. The end result? Jackson doesn’t totally get on top of the football and it sails over his target’s head and out of bounds.

I was able to watch 84 total deep passes (of 20+ yards) from Jackson’s 2016 regular season and the overthrow issue was consistent. So were the instances of Jackson trying to make too much happen. Even subtle improvement in both categories should have a ripple effect that the Cardinals offense and Jackson’s pro prospects would benefit from.

 


 

Why do I feel Jackson has what it takes to play Quarterback in the NFL? Every game I watched was littered with the high end ability that doesn’t show up all that often in a passer.

This one requires ice in the veins. Jackson does well to make the most of the shaded safety squatting on the first down marker instead of respecting the boundary and lets this one go for his receiver to run under. With 0:18 left on the clock and down just one point, Jackson doesn’t have to take the deep shot.

But it’s the right read and a great throw.

You’ll get a lot of narrative around Jackson as a non-pro style passer, but there’s flashes if you know where to look. Below, Jackson takes a snap out of the I-formation, offers a play fake in the midst of a seven step drop.

I get on a lot of passers for a lack of timing between their drops and routes. This is not the case on this rep from Jackson. His seventh step hits the ground with an immediate hitch and then Jackson turns loose a beautiful deep ball into the middle of the field to beat man to man coverage. It’s a textbook rep. A lot of Jackson’s best work as a deep passer came to the middle of the field.

Here’s another example against Boston College.

Against Virginia, Jackson gets the chance to illustrate another skill that he’s not fully there with: keeping his eyes down the field as a passer.

In a two minute situation, this is strong awareness in the pocket to stay tucked up into the interior blockers before flushing out the side. Jackson’s eyes never leave down the field and he unleashes a gorgeous throw right on the money while still rolling to his right. The receiver isn’t able to finish the catch; but it’s still a perfect example of how to avoid pressure, extend a play and throw on the move.

 


 

Have patience, college football fans. Don’t rush, NFL Draft enthusiasts. Hold your water, scouts and coaches. No, Lamar Jackson isn’t there yet. But it’s not time to write him off, either.

RELATED: Crabbs | Sam Darnold shows rare situational maturity

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Kyle Crabbs

Kyle Crabbs is the founder/Director of Scouting of NDT Scouting Services, a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the lead NFL Draft analyst for the FanRag Sports Network.

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