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Berry: Lamar Jackson is a quarterback

| Monday, March 5, 2018

With the 2018 NFL Draft a little more than a month away, all eyes have turned to the Combine to determine who will be the future of a NFL franchise. For the second year in a row, the Browns hold the No. 1 selection in the draft, and odds are they might draft another quarterback.

Quarterbacks Josh Rosen from UCLA, Sam Darnold from USC, Josh Allen from Wyoming and 2017 Heisman winner Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma have all been listed as potential No. 1 picks. But there’s a notable omission from that list — Louisville quarterback and 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson.

Instead of being in the conversation for the No.1 overall pick, Jackson has spent the majority of his combine interviews addressing rumors and assertions that he should switch from a quarterback to a wide receiver to be successful in the NFL.

Jackson’s answer to whether he would make the switch: “No sir. I am a quarterback.”

Despite the lingering questions regarding his accuracy, stature and durability — Lamar Jackson possesses all the tools he needs to succeed in the NFL as a quarterback.

Asserting that Jackson should make the switch isn’t surprising given that NFL owners and analysts have tended to favor pocket passers over the dual-threat quarterback recently. Although the vast majority of quarterbacks in the league are pocket passers or system quarterbacks, dual-threat quarterbacks are able to succeed in the NFL. Michael Vick or Super Bowl champions Steve Young and Russell Wilson are all examples of dual-threat quarterbacks who have excelled.

Quarterbacks switching positions also isn’t too uncommon as former Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and former Kent State quarterback Julian Edelman found some success as quarterback turned wide receivers in the NFL, but if either had Jackson’s college resume complete with Heisman, Walter Camp and Maxwell awards, I believed both would’ve elected to stay at their original position.

Heading into the draft, Jackson possesses one of the most decorated resumes among all quarterbacks.

In three seasons at Louisville, Jackson has thrown for 9,043 yards and has rushed for 4,132 yards. In addition to over 13,000 total yards, Jackson has accounted for a total of 119 touchdowns against 27 interceptions.

If you watch any film of Jackson at Louisville, he has everything any NFL owner or coach would want in a quarterback.

Jackson has a strong arm, and the ability to use his legs to extend plays by throwing when the pockets collapse or running downfield. Given his statistics and high ceiling, Jackson possesses, why wouldn’t an NFL franchise want a quarterback of this caliber on their team?

Jackson’s only downside is his low completion record of 57 percent, which would rank him fourth out of the fifth quarterbacks mentioned earlier. Josh Allen, a No.1 pick in multiple mock drafts has the lowest completion percentage of 56.2, showing that a high ceiling can overcompensate for some weakness.

Like Allen, Jackson has one of the highest ceilings among quarterbacks, and a low completion rate shouldn’t hold him back. His play wasn’t too different from that of Heisman winners Marcus Mariota at Oregon or Cam Newton at Auburn, but the conversation of whether Mariota or Newton should transfer to a receiver never came up. Both Newton and Mariota have had successful careers thus far, and Jackson should be the same chance.

Sure, given Jackson’s natural athletic ability he could make an explosive wide receiver. If he did run the 40-yard dash at the Combine, Jackson could very well post a sub 4.4 run or perform well in any of the agility drills, but neither statistic adds a lot of value to his draft stock as a quarterback and would only perpetuate reasons Jackson should switch. Jackson even went as far to forgoing the 40-yard dash and other agility drills to place the watch solely on his throwing abilities — a very smart decision by Jackson to take the attention off his legs and to force scouts to focus on his arm.

For Jackson, playing wide receiver should only be done as a last resort, not starting point for his career.

Jackson should have the opportunity to make a case that he can play quarterback in the NFL. As of now, only time will tell if Jackson’s college success can translate into the pros, but until proven otherwise, analysts and scouts should focus on his NFL potential as a quarterback leading up to the draft.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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