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Bleacher Report – Vikings

The Vikings should be keeping an eye on Lamar Jackson

By Matthew Coller

By the time the draft rolls around, we should have a pretty good idea of the Minnesota Vikings’ plan at quarterback. But even if the Vikings feel they are all set for the foreseeable future, there are plenty of examples to suggest they shouldn’t ignore a quarterback in the draft if opportunity presents itself to land a special player.

The most memorable surprise QB pick that comes to mind is that Packers selecting Aaron Rodgers when he fell in the first round of the 2005 draft. How about the Seahawks being ripped for drafting Russell Wilson because they had signed Matt Flynn to be the starter? Or Kansas City trading up for Pat Mahomes last year despite Alex Smith’s 41-20 record under center as a Chief?

And if history has proven anything, it’s that you can always trade the guy later for pretty good return. The Patriots have done it three times with Ryan Mallett, Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is the guy who could drop this year for reasons that aren’t backed by much logic. People who are calling for the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner to play wide receiver may be falling into some of the same traps as “Teddy Bridgewater didn’t have a good pro day, “Russell Wilson is too short” and “Aaron Rodgers didn’t come from a pro system.”

Jackson could be the high-ceiling QB who drops in the draft and is still stunningly available when the Vikings pick at No. 30.

No matter the situation – whether they have signed Kirk Cousins or brought back Bridgewater or made Case Keenum their franchise QB – the Vikings should be thinking long and hard about taking Jackson.

Louisville’s young quarterback had back-to-back outstanding seasons in 2016 and 2017, combining to throw for over 7,000 yards, rush for over 3,000 yards and score 57 passing touchdowns and 39 rushing TDs.

One of the biggest concerns is his completion percentage. In 2016 he completed 56.2 percent of his throws and 59.1 percent in 2017. A deeper look at his numbers reveals these stats aren’t exactly the most telling. Adjusted for drops and throwaways, he has a higher completion percentage than USC’s likely top pick Sam Darnold (per Pro Football Focus). Jackson also threw 18 percent of his throws deep as opposed to Josh Rosen of UCLA, who only threw 11 percent downfield.

Former NFL player Bucky Brooks wrote a detailed analysis of Jackson’s throwing for NFL.com:

As a passer, Jackson displays outstanding arm strength and range. He can push the ball down the field as an effective vertical passer on post and go routes. Although he struggles a bit with his ball placement and accuracy on home-run balls due to his shoddy footwork and fundamentals, Jackson has the capacity to strike up the band as a long-ball tosser.

In one of Jackson’s most impressive games, a win over Purdue in which he threw for 364 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and completed 65 percent of his throws, the dynamic quarterback prospect flashed his ability to make throw downfield, even after the pocket broke down.

On this play, Jackson is pressured up the middle, he finds space, keeps his eyes downfield and wires a completion.

On the same drive, he’s pressured from outside, fakes a throw to create more time to look for an option and throws a line drive 25 yards downfield to his receiver on the sideline.

Jackson will be unfairly criticized for running his college offense out of the shotgun. Author of Smart Football Chris B. Brown pointed out on Twitter that his coach Bobby Petrino runs an NFL-style passing game.

Petrino literally runs an NFL offense/passing game. (And this writer should know better.) Jackson is not above criticism by any stretch, but some of these are just odd. https://t.co/KbStgkGVlH

— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) February 22, 2018

During his impressive win over the Boilermakers, Jackson made a number of smart throws that require quick reads. For example, this simple successful swing pass is a result of the quarterback realizing Purdue has more rushers than he has blockers. He goes to his hot read for a big gain, kicking off the go-ahead drive for the Cardinals.

In his analysis of Jackson, Brooks writes about some of his weaknesses with certain routes that could be improved with work on his mechanics:

On short and intermediate throws, his struggles with inconsistency are also due to his unpolished mechanics. Jackson misses the mark on outside throws, particularly comebacks and deep outs beyond 12-15 yards. He frequently misses high and wide on those throws, which is largely due to his failure to properly step into his passes.

Jackson is at his best when throwing isolation routes (seams and skinny posts).

Here are two examples of throws on seam routes that demonstrate the accuracy on seam routes down the field.

On Jackson’s future as an NFL QB, Brooks acknowledges that asking him to step into a system that lives and dies on QB footwork would be difficult, but there are recent examples of teams working to their QB’s strengths. Brooks wrote:

Offensive coordinators will feature those concepts prominently in spread offenses, but NFL coordinators typically opt for full-field reads or pure progression concepts that require the quarterback to tie his eyes to his feet in the pocket. Thus, Jackson still has a ways to go as a passer before convincing traditional play callers that he can fill the role as a high-end QB1.

That doesn’t mean that Jackson shouldn’t be considered a top prospect at his position. We’ve seen more NFL teams implement spread systems with simplistic reads if the quarterback flashes exceptional playmaking ability as a dual-threat (see Deshaun Watson, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson). With that in mind, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a team place a solid grade on Jackson that reflects his potential to be a franchise QB.

On a conference call with the Twin Cities media, new Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo mentioned that the team maximized Nick Foles’ talents by focusing on the concepts and throws he was most comfortable with. That approach might be a good fit with a QB like Jackson.

It’s also possible that the outside noise and criticisms will be ignored by a team at the top of the draft. Mahomes was knocked for poor mechanics and lack of an NFL offense last year and the Chiefs traded up in the middle of the first to get him. But if there isn’t anyone willing to take Jackson, the Vikings should consider him as an option, even if they have more pressing needs.

The post The Vikings should be keeping an eye on Lamar Jackson appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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