Combine Notebook: Lamar Jackson Is a Quarterback. Period.
Day 3 of the NFL Scouting Combine kicked off with an early-morning rumor that Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson would be asked by teams to work out at wide receiver.
So we had nowhere to go but up.
Jackson got to address those rumors by the end of the day. But Friday (and this notebook) were not just about Jackson. We'll also catch you up on:
- Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen and their efforts to silence both doubters and rumors.
- Saquon Barkley doing Saquon Barkley things.
- A big day for Georgia's Dynamic Duo in the backfield.
And much, much more!
Lamar Jackson's Message to the NFL Is Loud and Clear
Lamar Jackson deserves better.
A rumor circulated early on Friday that several unnamed NFL teams asked Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman-winning quarterback with an excellent arm, great mobility and more pocket capability than he is given credit for, to work out at wide receiver.
No top prospect deserves to get the rug pulled from under him like that, especially when that combine surprise comes with a heavy dose of racial semiotics and perceptions: the lone African American quarterback among top prospects suddenly shunted to a position better suited to his athleticism, like it's still 1963.
Luckily, that's not precisely what happened, according to Jackson.
"No teams have asked me to play wide receiver," Jackson said. "I don't even know where it comes from. I'm strictly a quarterback."
Hmm, what we have here is an unsolved mystery. The position-switch rumor was reported on NFL Network, so it's not like it originated in the fevered mind of some attention-seeking blogger.
Perhaps lots of decision-makers on NFL teams assumed that the decision-makers on other NFL teams would make the request, and the buck-passing exercise reached the media before it reached Jackson. Stranger things have happened.
Anyway, Lamar Jackson will not be working out as a wide receiver.
"I'm not going to that team," he said when asked how he would respond if asked to switch positions. "Whatever team wants me at quarterback, that's where I'm going. I'm not going to be a wide receiver at all."
Jackson won't even run the 40-yard dash this week. He said that his speed is evident on film, which it is. He's here to show off his arm, which, for the record, is also evident on film.
Jackson handled a difficult press conference with easygoing good humor. He cracked jokes. He appeared to shrug off the obvious tension in the room as dozens of reporters crowded around his rostrum.
At one point, he was even asked if he would play a Wildcat position if backing up a proven veteran as a rookie. "That's basically another position you're trying to work in there!" he said, laughing.
"No Wildcat. This is not about Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams," he added. Jackson knows a little recent history, too.
So Jackson will not be forced to suddenly accept a demotion and learn a different position on the fly this week. That's good, because Jackson has the potential to be a superstar quarterback if given a fair chance and some time to develop.
But Jackson still deserves better. He shouldn't have to dodge rumors and assert himself in the face of stereotypes. No quarterback should.
The NFL still seems to have a problem with quarterbacks that don't fit the cookie-cutter mold preferred by the league's mighty old-boy establishment. That's the NFL's problem, and it's a big one. It shouldn't have to be Jackson's problem. He shouldn't even have to hear about it.
Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen State Their Cases
Lamar Jackson isn't the only quarterback trying to flip the script on the NFL's culture of gossip-mongering. The top prospects will spend the week trying to silence teams' concerns during private interviews. On Friday, they got to plead their cases to the media.
Sam Darnold, USC
Issues: He decided not to throw this week, making him history's greatest monster. Also, he fumbles a lot.
What he said
On fumbles: "The No. 1 priority of a quarterback is to protect the football. I'm aware of how much I turned the ball over, and it's not OK. I've been addressing it this offseason. I've been working on keeping two hands [on the ball] in the pocket at all times. The only time to let go of the ball is to throw it."
On not throwing this week: "I felt like it was just the best decision for me. Obviously, I'm gonna throw at my pro day, and that's a good opportunity for teams to look at how I can spin it."
Darnold's roundabout delivery would not look good in direct comparison to Josh Rosen's crisp delivery or Josh Allen's pure rocketry. By USC's pro day, no one will remember that he did not throw here. And with the other top prospects dodging character/accuracy/position change issues, Darnold can afford to stand on his record this week.
Baker Mayfield (pictured), Oklahoma
Issues: Height, character/cockiness concerns, Johnny Manziel comparisons that never seem to go away.
What he said
On his height (6'1"): "Height doesn't matter. You see guys like Tyrod Taylor, [Drew] Brees, Russell Wilson, they've proven that it didn't matter. And if you wanna say anything else, I got three years of tape you can watch."
On character issues: "Teams asked about my character. Until you really sit down with them directly, they might have an image that's been portrayed within stories or headlines. ... I let them know exactly what I'm about, and that's the most important thing. What you see is what you get."
On Manziel: "When it comes to that comparison, it's not my favorite at all. I think we're two completely different people."
Mayfield was soft-spoken yet bold, saying about the Browns that "if anyone can turn things around there, it's me." None of Mayfield's real and perceived flaws are deal-breakers, but history shows that three or four little concerns often add up to one big one when it comes to draft position, if not career success.
Josh Rosen, UCLA
Issues: Leadership concerns, which is a nice way of saying that there is a pervasive rumor that Rosen is about as liked by teammates as an extra set of gassers after practice.
What he said
On leadership: "Leadership is a very personal thing that there aren't any shortcuts to. It takes time. You have to build relationships. And you have to treat each individual, um, individually.
"Some guys respond to a kick in the butt a little better. Some guys respond to encouragement or inspiration. Some get down on themselves so you have to help them up a little bit. ... I'm not really a big rah-rah guy. And if I tried to be, I think my teammates would see right through it."
Rosen also spoke about why he gave up tennis for football:
"Tennis gets pretty lonely. It's an individual sport. All of your friends are your enemies at the same time." It was the first time the NFL Scouting Combine started to sound like a screenplay adaptation of Infinite Jest.
Rosen sounds a little like an individual-sport athlete when he speaks: introspective, intellectual, maybe a little overprepared. No wonder he rubs some Real Football Guys™ the wrong way.
Josh Allen, Wyoming
Issues: The accuracy of an upside-down sundial in a dark basement.
What he said
Allen spoke simultaneously with Lamar Jackson, so who knows? But seriously, the Allen questions can only be answered on a field. He'll get his opportunity tomorrow.
Saquon Barkley: Too Good to Pass Up (Even at the Top of the Draft)
Saquon Barkley tore up his workouts on Friday.
Barkley ran a 4.40-second 40 at 233 pounds. His 10-yard split of 1.54 seconds was comparable to the combine result for skinny Buccaneers receiver DeSean Jackson. Barkley's vertical leap of 41 inches would be excellent for a 210-pound featured receiver. His 29 reps on the bench would put many offensive linemen to shame.
It was a nearly superhuman performance.
At this point, the only arguments for not selecting Barkley first in April's draft are:
- The team picking first needs a quarterback more.
- There are lots of other great running backs in this class.
- Analytics dictate that high draft picks should be reserved for quarterbacks, left tackles, cornerbacks and elite pass-rushers because talent is scarcer at those positions and the difference between very good and outstanding players at those positions has a greater on-field impact.
To address the second point, this class is indeed full of fine running backs. But even compared with the workout numbers posted by Nick Chubb and Derrius Guice, Barkley is in his own subcategory. Rare, almost generational talent like his is worth investing in, even when cheaper alternatives are available.
As to the third point, there are no superlative left tackles in this class, Minkah Fitzpatrick is the only cornerback in that category and Bradley Chubb is the only pass-rusher that fits the bill. The guidelines of analytics do not endorse skipping on a player of Barkley's magnitude to reach for a second-tier performer at one of the high-leverage positions.
That leaves quarterback need, and of course the Browns are at the top of the draft board and have needed a quarterback since before the invention of the internet. It's hard to get a gauge on what the Browns are planning, but they seem to be leaning toward taking one of the "big four" quarterbacks with the first pick in the draft, then perhaps hoping Barkley is still around when they pick fourth.
Barkley shouldn't last past the Giants at No. 2. Several of the top quarterbacks, on the other hand, will still be there at No. 4.
Just food for thought, Browns and Giants fans, and anyone else hoping that Barkley will drop simply because teams don't like to draft running backs early anymore.
Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and the Friendly, Goofy Competition
Even though they are both at the combine trying to jockey their way up NFL draft boards, don't call the relationship between former Georgia running backs Nick Chubb (left, in the picture) and Sony Michel a "rivalry."
"There ain't no rivalry," Michel said on Friday. "Just friends competing against each other."
Even though Chubb is a traditional interior runner and Michel is more of a quick-footed changeup, don't call them "Thunder and Lightning," either.
"That's something somebody came up with," Michel said. "That doesn't affect me and how I play. I don't call myself any of those."
But you can call the Georgia odd-couple backfield (Chubb is laconic and grew up on a farm; Michel produces his own hip-hop) a pair of rock-solid Day 2 NFL prospects after Friday's workouts.
Chubb leaped an impressive 38.5 inches after tying for the leading figure among running backs with 29 reps. He then ran a 4.53-second 40 at 228 pounds.
Michel started the week by weighing in at 214 pounds (making him sturdy enough for every-down duty). His 4.56-second dash isn't a mind-blowing result for a smaller back, but as NFL Research tweeted, Michel's splits and measurements line up almost perfectly with those of 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara.
So why does Michel think NFL teams should draft Chubb? "They'll be getting a great player, an explosive player that makes plays," he said. "And somebody who enjoys doing it."
And what does Chubb have to say about Michel? "He's gonna be a good player, a balanced player. He can do it all. Anything you ask of him, he can do it."
Hmm, the friendly rivals—oops, friendly competitors—sound a little tight during their press conferences. What are they really like?
"They're great," teammate Isaiah Wynn said, chuckling. "They're great running backs. They feed off each other. They're just a dynamic duo."
"They're both the same," Wynn continued. "They're both goofy. They're both smart."
Wait...smart and goofy?
"It's possible," Wynn said.
Indeed. Goofiness aside, this duo of running backs is going to be dynamic at the next level.
Friday Moneymaker: Will Hernandez, Guard, UTEP
Hernandez tore up his workouts: 37 reps on the bench press, a 5.15-second 40-yard dash (the dash isn't all that useful for linemen but does provide a sense of general athleticism), and exceptional smoothness and lateral agility in position drills.
Brief pre-combine scouting report
Insert your favorite tough-guard cliches, because they all apply: Hernandez is a road-grader with a mauler's mentality, and so on. He also had a strong Senior Bowl week. Relatively short arms (77 ¾-inch wingspan) will keep him from moving to the more lucrative tackle positions.
What they said
Hernandez on guards finally getting their fair shake in the draft: "I definitely think they're starting to value guards and interior linemen more. I've heard it from teams themselves. I think it's starting to even out a little bit between tackle and guard. I'm glad, because the quarterback can avoid pressure, but if he doesn't have nothing to step into, what's the point?"
Guards and tackles have not evened out just yet, but Hernandez worked his way into the late first or early second round with Friday's performance.
Friday Speed Merchant: Nyheim Hines, Running Back, NC State
Hines posted the fastest 40 time of the day on Friday at a blistering 4.38 seconds.
Brief Pre-combine scouting report
Hines is a converted receiver and return man who notched several explosive runs for the Wolfpack. When he hits a crease with a full head of steam, he's trouble, and Hines is pretty smart about finding those creases on stretch runs. At 198 pounds, he's strictly an all-purpose back—albeit one with a lot of purposes.
What he said
"A lot of people don't realize that I have a foundation at receiver, and not many running backs have that," Hines said. "Not many running backs do kick returns and punt returns or could even have the skills to play gunner. I think that's what really makes me different."
The Patriots love versatile rusher-receivers like Hines, of course. But lots of teams are in need of a committee back with the ability to turn any stretch run into a 60-yard touchdown. Hines' 40 time was not unexpected, but it was good enough to cement his status as a middle-round selection.
Friday's News and Notes
49ers win coin flip for ninth pick in April's draft. Raiders to pick 10th.
Jon Gruden complained that coin tosses are too mathematical. John Lynch signed the coin for five years and $135 million.
Dolphins working with potential trade partners on a Jarvis Landry deal, per NFL Media's Ian Rapoport.
The Dolphins still haven't figured out what Jarvis Landry is worth and are hoping some other team will tell them.
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome says this is a "make-or-break year" for Breshad Perriman.
Narrator: Perriman broke.
Top offensive-line prospect Quenton Nelson tweaks hamstring, skips 40-yard dash.
Nelson is so strong he could punch through the track surface, tunnel under it and spin his way out of a Bugs Bunny-style hole at the finish line in about 12 seconds.
Gronk is the bonny prince of a mighty empire, but he is haunted by recent misfortunes that plague him with doubt. It's like the most dudebro-iest adaptation of Hamlet ever.
Russell Wilson records an official spring training at-bat for the Yankees.
Write your own "and got sacked" jokes, folks. This is no forum for such lazy humor.