Lamar Jackson Doing Himself Few Favors at Combine—and Good for Him

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMarch 3, 2018

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Quarterback Lamar Jackson didn't run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine Saturday. The predictable consternation, harrumphing and oh-my-God-ing among NFL people was not far behind.

The belief from some in the league is that by not running the 40, Jackson lost an opportunity to show his explosiveness.

Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter. The combine largely is little more than a nerdfest for NFL suits and football geeks. Forty times and throwing passes in your underwear without facing a pass rush aren't the most reliable predictors of NFL success.

What does matter? The interviews—and Jackson is acing them. "A truly special person," one team executive who interviewed Jackson said. "Wow'd everyone in the interview. I'd feel comfortable turning over the team to him."

Jackson's throwing performance at the combine wasn't great. His dropback was rough, and he didn't always show great anticipation on his throws.

But we knew this was going to happen with him. He's not a combine athlete. He's an NFL athlete.

He is still, to me, the best quarterback in this draft. And that is this combine's bottom line. Nothing has changed that opinion, and it's one several teams share.

Players like Jackson remain the future of the NFL. He's mobile, able to throw smartly from the pocket or on the run and has the makings of a locker room leader players will respect.

"No worries on the 40," one head coach said. "He'll get it at pro day. Interviewed him. He's got something special about him … Build your offense around him. Leader."

Much of Jackson's success will depend on what team selects him. This is true of a lot of players but especially for him. If he can partner with a smart play-caller like the Saints' Sean Payton or Giants' Pat Shurmur, he'll prosper.

The key is that a team needs to adjust the offense to his talents and not force him into a system that doesn't fit his strengths.

While pure pocket passers like Tom Brady and Matt Ryan are still prime cogs in the sport, the NFL continues to evolve. Players who can throw from the pocket and scramble are dominating—players like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton.

Jackson appears to fit that mold. He can make every throw, has the smarts to make multiple reads and is a quick athlete. And the Louisville offense runs the same nomenclature as the Patriots. So any suggestion that he can't digest a playbook or read defenses is wrong.

Still, it seems the NFL needed a reminder about that, and Jackson was willing to offer it.

The NFL Network's Peter Schrager reported Friday that teams had asked Jackson to work out at receiver as well as quarterback. For his part, Jackson told the media Friday that no team had asked him to play receiver. Yet his decision to not run on Saturday was essentially a confirmation that teams wanted to see him at some other place than QB, and Jackson was having none of it. After his workout, he told the NFL Network he planned on running the 40 but then decided not to after all of the wide receiver chatter.

"I had to just let them know," Jackson said, "I was just going to throw today."

And with that, Jackson offered a symbolic middle finger to all those in the league who don't believe he can run a team.

Good for him.

Lamar Jackson threw for more than 7,000 yards and 57 touchdowns over his last two seasons at Louisville.
Lamar Jackson threw for more than 7,000 yards and 57 touchdowns over his last two seasons at Louisville.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The NFL is full of combine failures, and the football unemployment line is full of combine warriors. And it's not like Brees had an unbelievable combine. Still, he'll walk into the Hall of Fame soon.

There's just one thing Jackson is doing wrong. As ESPN's Josina Anderson reported, he doesn't have an agent, he represents himself and his mother is his manager. This is potentially disastrous. While rookie contracts are heavily slotted, Jackson is still wading into shark-infested waters. Teams look for ways to take advantage of players, and agents, while far from perfect, help players make the transition from college to the NFL much easier.

On the field, though, there isn't much that will hold Jackson back.

The NFL Network's Mike Mayock said Jackson could be "the future of the NFL."

Nothing that happened at the combine will change that.

    

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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