Does the Success of Lamar Jackson Change the NFL Scouting Landscape?
I have listened and watched the National Media try to explain the phenomenon that is sweeping the country over the last month- “Lamar Jackson Fever”. It has been very interesting getting the views of media on how it’s going to change the NFL team’s process of looking for their next franchise QB going forward. Having done this, my whole adult life, for a living, I thought it was time to give an insider take.
First off, the success that Lamar has had surprises very few in the business. He was always a special athlete and had explosive quick twitch body control- with the ball in his hands-. Sure, some evaluators saw him as an athlete first and foremost and a passer second, but the fact is, he could throw the ball and had a skillset, that if used correctly would translate to the NFL. I think what surprises NFL people, is the fact that the Ravens were willing to re-design a system to suit his exact skill set perfectly. Offensive Coordinator, Greg Roman has been given accolades, and rightly so for putting this all together. Teams have never had a propensity to design an offense for a particular player, they are usually guilty of doing just the opposite – Drafting players to fit their system. John Harbaugh, one of the better coaches in the NFL gets credit for signing off on the entire scheme change and really pulling the ripcord on Joe Flacco as a Raven. I’m not sure I have ever seen this willing to change, to this extent in my 35 NFL years. That’s what is just as transformational as Lamar’s play, in my opinion.
I remember putting a second-round grade on Lamar coming out of Louisville. I was slightly worried about two things, a body frame on the “slight” side (durability was a concern) and he wasn’t a polished passer from the pocket. The Ravens picking him in the later part of round one was probably reflective of where most teams had him graded at the time of the draft. His skill set was very apparent and virtually all evaluators saw this. NFL teams are always looking for athletic, game-changing weapons, no matter their position. We have always been looking for and giving credit to athletes with these rare skills.
To that end, I don’t think it’s going to change much in the scouting world. Lamar is so much better than any others before him (with maybe the exception of Michael Vick) at what he does and how he does it, I think it’s more of an anomaly. And I say that as the highest of a compliment one can give to Lamar. I think we might be seeing a generational talent but it’s a skillset we have always been looking for and have seen very rarely. What is going to change, possibly, is a team’s willingness to convert to an offense like the Ravens have done, to take advantage of this special talent, if or when it comes along again. So, said another way, it’s going to take another John Harbaugh to take advantage of another Lamar Jackson.
Here is the crazy question about this whole situation. If we turned around and redrafted today, the first round of the 2018 draft, how many teams would be willing to change their whole scheme/offense to fit his style? As good as he has been and with the new information we have gleaned over the last year and a half? I’m still not convinced it’s a slam dunk that teams looking for a QB, back then, would do that and draft him at the top of the draft now. I think the biggest risk, which is still yet to be answered, IS: can this success be sustained over a bigger and longer body of work? Time will tell and that goes against the present-day media philosophy of “we need final answers now”!