Quarterback Lamar Jackson out to silence NFL doubters

Credit: Joe Burbank

Credit: Joe Burbank

Last month, former Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson made it clear he wasn't even going to entertain the thought.

At the NFL combine, he was repeatedly asked if there was any interest in playing wide receiver. His answer was quick and to the point.

"Whoever invites me at quarterback, that's where I'm going," Jackson told reporters recently. "That's strictly my position ... I'm not going to be a wide receiver at all. I'm a quarterback."

Jackson, who was a standout at Boynton Beach (Fla.) High School, has always been a quarterback. It's the position he has played since dominating youth leagues in Pompano Beach. It's the position he wants to transcend as a member of whichever team selects him Thursday in the NFL draft.

Jackson is considered a first-round talent, with most experts projecting him to go anywhere from No. 15 to No. 25. At the combine, the story surrounding him was the teams reportedly wanting him to work out at receiver. He went so far to prove quarterback is his natural position that he refused to run the 40-yard dash out of fear of teams using it to further their attempts to get him to play receiver.

"I didn't want to show it out here, they've been talking about receiver and stuff like that so I didn't feel I should do it," Jackson said. "At first I was going to run, as a quarterback, but then they said wide receiver, and I had to let them know I was just going to throw."

Jackson is in this predicament despite putting together two of the greatest seasons in college football history. In 2016, he became the youngest Heisman Trophy winner — and first from Broward or Palm Beach County — after throwing for 3,390 yards and 30 touchdowns while running for 1,538 yards and 21 touchdowns. He followed that in 2017 with 3,489 passing yards and 25 touchdowns and 1,561 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.

He is the only player in NCAA history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Still, he's spent the past few months fighting the notion his game won't translate to the next level. Critics have questioned his accuracy, while some say he possesses similar talent to Randall Cunningham, Kordell Stewart, Michael Vick and Russell Wilson, all quarterbacks who have the ability to run.

"Unfortunately for Lamar it's all those things combined," said one NFC executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Because his athleticism is so dynamic, the easy and lazy thing to do and say is, 'He can play another position'. Does he have flaws as a passer? Absolutely. But he has a dynamic trait that none of the other quarterback prospects have."

NFL draft expert Mike Mayock called Jackson the most intriguing player on the board. He thinks Jackson will land on a team that already has an experienced quarterback, thus giving him time to develop.

"The reason it's so hard to place him is because his upside is so high. I wonder if somebody is going to try to get him in the first 10 or 12, 13, 14 picks just because he could be so special," Mayock said. "The flip side to that is, if he starts sliding into the 20s, you've got all these really good football teams with what I call a secondary quarterback need."

Those who have known Jackson for years think it's ridiculous to consider moving him to receiver. Daniel Studdard was an assistant coach at Boynton Beach the first day Jackson arrived on campus. They held a workout with coach Rick Swain and immediately knew the position Jackson was destined to play.

"We took him out there because coach Swain didn't believe he could actually throw," Studdard said. "When he came out, he looked pretty good and you could tell he was a quarterback. That is his position."

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