As the New Orleans Saints inch towards the arrival of the 2018 NFL Draft, a large segment of Saints fans are torn between either seeing the team further upgrade their current roster to remain among the NFL's top Super Bowl contenders, or finally addressing the team's inevitable need for another QB to eventually take over the reigns of the franchise from future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees.
Without hesitation, the one name that's been brought up time and time again in the past month is that of sensational University of Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, who arguably is better than other quarterback in the entire 2018 draft class, at least numbers-wise.
Compared by some to former NFL QB's Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick, the 6-foot-3, 205 pound Jackson is one of the most sought-after prospects in this year’s draft. He has the highest ceiling for likely success in his future at the NFL level more than any of this year's players at the QB position — but he also has the lowest floor for possible failure as well.
As noted by CBS Sports.com: Jackson initially burst upon the college football scene back in 2015, when he started nine games as a freshman (including once at running back), completing 54.7 percent of his passes for 1,840 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions, while adding another 960 yards and 11 TD's on the ground.
He "broke out" among the national media types following Louisville's 2015 Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M, passing for 227 yards and rushing for another 226 yards while scoring four TD's combined.
Then as a sophomore, Jackson turned in a Heisman Trophy-winning performance, totaling 3,543 passing yards with 30 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, while completing 56.2 percent of his passes and also rushing for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns on 260 carries.
But despite the award-winning campaign, Jackson struggled in the 2016 Citrus Bowl as LSU held him to 153 passing yards on 10-of-27 passing and 33 rushing yards on 26 carries with no TD's.
Jackson followed up his 2016 Heisman season with a similar season last year in 2017, upping his completion percentage to 59.1 on a career-high 430 attempts while passing for 3,660 yards, 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran for a career-best 1,601 yards on just 232 carries (6.9 yards per attempt) with 18 TD's on the ground — an unbelievably impressive stat for any athlete much less a QB.
However, Jackson closed his college career with another disappointing bowl performance (and earned the label for not playing well in "big games'), going 13 for 31 for 171 yards with two TD's and four interceptions against Mississippi State in the 2017 TaxSlayer Bowl (formerly known as the Gator Bowl), adding 158 yards and a touchdown on the ground. It was actually also his only game as a junior, with a QB rating under 120.
For his 3-year college career, Jackson finished with 9,043 passing yards, 69 passing TD's and 27 interceptions, as well as another 50 TD's on the ground to go with 4,132 rushing yards (6.3 yards per attempt). So in essence: Jackson gained 13,000 yards of total offense by himself, while either throwing or running for over 120 TD's.
Those are staggering numbers, no matter how you choose to look at it.
But yet, there are some who continue to have doubts about how Jackson's skill-set will translate at the next level, in any number of the different possible offensive schemes that he will have to digest and become fully immersed with as a starting NFL quarterback.
The biggest question this morning is: are the concerns surrounding Jackson's future LEGITIMATE?
Regarding the comparisons to past players, Jackson is without question the best dual threat college athlete the world has seen since Michael Vick, back when he starred at Virginia Tech.
So why do some alleged "reputable" NFL scouts still only have him rated has their 4th or 5th highest-ranked QB in this year’s draft?
This morning for the Saints News Network, I'm diving head-first into the argument among fans (especially Saints fans that religiously follow the NFL Draft every year) who would either love or hate to see the Saints draft Jackson if he's still there when their turn to pick comes up at #27 overall.
And by doing so, we'll "make a case" as to whether he should be targeted by Saints brass once they are on the clock in a little less than 3 more week from now.
We'll begin first with.....
THE ARGUMENT FOR THE SAINTS DRAFTING LAMAR JACKSON
Lamar Jackson is a freak-of-nature athlete, that can change the outcome of a game with his arm or his legs. He has both elite throwing abilities, and equally possesses top-notch running abilities. His throwing motion and release is very good, and he has good velocity on his deep ball. Additionally, hen has "good zip" on the ball to make tight-window throws, all throughout the entire length and width of the field.
Most impressively, over the course of his career he has made significant improvement at moving safeties and linebackers with his eyes and going through his progressions. His ability to extend plays is maybe the best we have seen, but he will never throw a bad ball to avoid a sack.
But when it comes time for him to "tuck it and run it", his running abilities are that of an elite running back. He uses his speed and field awareness to dance past defenders, and make them look completely silly.
Having Jackson in a Sean Payton offense might sound scary to some, and as of right now: Jackson doesn’t really "fit" the Saints scheme. However, that could mean nothing because Payton would simply just mold and build the offense around Jackson's phenomenal skill-set and strengths.
Jackson likely won't be a Day 1 starter, because his throwing mechanics need to improve — but what better teacher to have mentoring him than future Hall of Fame inductee Drew Brees?
Jackson could sit behind Brees for the first 2 seasons and learn the offense, and essentially "pick his brain". Sitting behind Brees for two seasons would help any QB but Jackson especially; because of his elite throwing abilities and generational running abilities.
Having Lamar Jackson, Alvin Kamara, and Michael Thomas for the future on offense in New Orleans sounds like a 'yes' for me. Imagine a more matured Lamar Jackson taking over the reigns of the New Orleans Saints just in time for the 2020 NFL season.
The possibilities are very intriguing.....
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST THE SAINTS DRAFTING LAMAR JACKSON
Lamar Jackson's ceiling is high, but his "bust" potential is relevant because of the previous amount of 'running' quarterbacks we have seen fail in the NFL in the past.
He has good height, but he is very thin for his size (only 205 pounds "soaking wet") and that scares NFL teams because of the injury factor. When you look at 'running' quarterbacks in the league today, they're all in a bigger mold (Cam Newton, etc.), and Jackson certainly would benefit from adding some weight before the draft and maintaining that same weight regimen throughout the entire length of his NFL career.
Jackson's throwing abilities are elite, but his feet tend not to be set when he throws. His passes tend to be off-centered a lot and he doesn't seem to have enough follow-through on the ball at times, but that can all be fixed (presumably) with the right coaching and proper guidance.
He also tends to miss on underneath coverages, and he's prone to putting too much "loft" on his deeper throws, which often results in interceptions.
While these mechanical issues might seem insignificant in the bigger overall picture, they are and can be CRITICALLY important — especially when you're handing over the reigns of your franchise to the next "heir apparent" and eventual starter.
The bottom line is that the Saints are in a "win now" mode, and trying to make one last run at a championship with Drew Brees under center.
If they want to win RIGHT NOW and not fall behind the World Champion Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, or the "Dream Team" that the Los Angles Rams are currently putting together in the NFC , then they should look less at Jackson and instead target bigger team needs like tight end or wide receiver.