NFL Draft: Scouts compare Louisville QB Lamar Jackson to Michael Vick, Vince Young
Is Jackson the next Michael Vick? Vince Young? Either way, NFL success is far from guaranteed
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is only a true sophomore and therefore not eligible for the NFL until at least the 2018 draft, but scouts -- like everyone else -- are already buzzing about the early Heisman front-runner.
In case you've been living under a rock for the past month of Jackson's breakout season, he's run past LSU's Leonard Fournette, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and everyone else as the most exhilarating athlete in college football. He currently leads the nation with 168 points scored, 24 more than his closest competition, pass-happy California quarterback Davis Webb. How about this statistic to put into perspective how dominant Jackson has been over the first five games of the season: Only 15 of the 128 FBS teams have more than Jackson's 14 rushing touchdowns so far.
But who does Jackson compare to, and does his skill-set translate to the NFL?
I reached out to a handful of NFL scouts to get some perspective.
The most popular comparisons for Jackson were former early draft picks Michael Vick (2001, No. 1 overall, Atlanta) and Vince Young (2006, No. 3 overall, Tennessee), perhaps not surprising given that only a handful of players at any position possess the raw athleticism this trio boasts.
Vick has been a popular comparison for Jackson, with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney among those who have brought up the former Virginia Tech star when discussing the Cardinals' young dual-threat dynamo.
"A right-handed Michael Vick, is what I was saying the other night," Swinney said prior to he and his own dual-threat Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson beating Jackson and the Cardinals last week.
"He's got that same explosiveness," Swinney added. "He can rip the football the same. To me, you hate to compare guys, but that's what he looks like."
Personally, I see a combination of the two.
At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds (according to Louisville's official athletic website), Jackson is right in between Vick (6-1, 214) and Young (6-5, 233), in terms of height. With his broad shoulders and long limbs, Jackson most closely resembles a slimmer Young, as opposed to Vick, who sports a much more compact build.
Like Vick, Jackson is a decisive, explosive runner who can cut laterally every bit as quickly as he accelerates. Vick, who once was reportedly clocked at 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash, accelerated so quickly in part because he possesses very light feet and a short gait. Young's long legs by comparison made it more difficult for him to change directions as fluidly. Once he got those long legs going, though, Young simply galloped away from opponents.
As much as it may seem like hyperbole, Jackson appears to have both Vick's elusiveness and Young's almost graceful acceleration. These traits, along with surprising power and body lean, make Jackson an absolute nightmare to tackle in the open field.
Perhaps one of the most important similarities to keep in mind with these three quarterbacks is just how raw each of them are/were as passers in college.
Like Vick and Young before him, Jackson isn't asked to make a lot of complicated reads as a pocket passer. This isn't to imply that he can't do it, only that it doesn't make a lot of sense to ask him to do it at this level, where his running and (occasional) passing is so effective. To ask him to stay put and survey the field would being taking away the very improvisational magic and pure athleticism that makes him special.
Look at things from Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino's perspective. Like legendary head coaches Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech) and Mack Brown (Texas) before him with Vick and Young, respectively, Petrino is likely more concerned with maximizing Jackson's impact on his own team, rather than worrying about developing him as a traditional pro-style quarterback for the NFL.
Jackson has plenty of arm strength and shows some natural savvy as a passer, occasionally looking off defenders and altering the speed of his release when defenders close in. The vast majority of the routes he's asked to make are quick throws like slants and shallow crosses or deep passes designed to beat the safeties creeping up to the line of scrimmage to try to slow him down in the running game.
Jackson has clearly improved as a passer from his freshman season, already throwing for more touchdowns this season (14) through five games than he did last year (12) in 11. That said, he is still completing at "just" a 59.4 percent completion rate, something that runs true on tape. Simply put, Jackson runs hot and cold as a passer, hitting receivers in stride on some throws but misfiring badly on others when his feet aren't set.
Statistics can be used to prove just about anything, but it is worth noting that 11 of Jackson's 14 passing touchdowns this season came in the two games against Conference USA cellar-dwellers Charlotte and Marshall. Jackson has thrown one touchdown (and one interception) in each of his "other" three games this season, wins over Syracuse and Florida State and last week's loss to Clemson.
Like Vick and Young, Jackson's intoxicating potential will likely earn him a high draft selection when he opts to make himself eligible to the NFL. Also like Vick and Young, however, he faces a very steep learning curve.
Of course, with talent like Jackson's, obstacles can be left in the dust as quickly as defenders.
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