By JAMES BROWN
I’m here to make a bold prediction. Lamar Jackson will be a great quarterback in the National Football League. Here is the caveat. That prediction will hold true as long as he’s not drafted by the Cleveland Browns.
I wouldn’t blame the Browns for drafting Jackson No. 1 overall, but there along the snow drifts of Lake Erie, Jackson would be pummeled by a bomb cyclone of opposing defenses. The problems the Browns have a greater than the greatest quarterback. If they had Tom Brady, they would not have him for long because he would be in traction.
In that arrangement, Jackson would suffer the same fate as that of so many former Browns’ QBs. Louisville Cardinals fans should not be heartbroken if their favorite player is not the No. 1 overall pick. Actually, they should rejoice. They should rejoice if he’s taken anywhere after No. 15, because that means he’s going to a team that will not ask him to be its immediate savior.
Let’s back up a bit.
Look at the NFL this season. It would appear that a team needs a great quarterback to have a chance to win. That is true, but peer a little closer and you will see that the Los Angeles Rams, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Minnesota Vikings, the Jacksonville Jaguars have each made the playoffs this season with play callers who are not future hall of famers. Some of them are good enough, but they are also replaceable. (To win in the playoffs, a team does not a good QB, and usually a great one.)
Jackson will not be a great quarterback his rookie season, he may not even be better than Blake Bortles, but he has more upside than most of the guys who have taken snaps this season in the NFL. I mean, he will be better than Bortles and potentially 20 other quarterbacks. While some pro pundits compare him to Cam Newton, I much prefer a comparison to Michael Vick. I would even say, if anyone asked Jackson who he modeled his game after, it might be Vick. His throwing motion is similar and he is similar in size and athleticism. (The throwing motion isn’t a favorable thing, but Jackson is further along as a passer than Vick was coming out of college.)
I believe, barring an unfortunate injury, Jackson will be a good professional quarterback. Of course, his future might largely hinge on for which franchise he plays in the NFL. If he goes to the Browns, his career will be over before it begins.
So, where can he go and flourish?
Recent mock drafts by several experts have Jackson projected anywhere from the No. 4 quarterback taken in the first round to not being drafted in the first round. One draft projection has Jackson going to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 29. That would be good. He wouldn’t be thrust immediately into the role of franchise savior. He could spend a season growing his skills behind future hall of fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Then when Big Ben retires or is traded away, Jackson could step right in and keep the Steel Curtain stable.
Going to Pittsburgh would seem to be a great fit for the next Greatest Show on Turf.
Another team that would allow Jackson to blossom would be the Kansas City Chiefs. They already run an offense he could slide right into. They now do it with Alex Smith, who is no Lamar Jackson when it comes to shear athletic talent. And as we saw Saturday, using Smith in the system really limits the offense. Imagine, if you will, paring Jackson and running back Kareem Hunt.
The problem right off is that the Chiefs do not have a first round pick. They used this year’s pick to trade up last year to take quarterback Patrick Mahomes No. 10 overall. That means KC doesn’t need a quarterback, presumably. I’m here to write that Mahomes is no Jackson. If they find a way to get Lamar, the Chiefs should, but they probably won’t. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that present coach Andy Reid will be coach come draft day after Kansas City blew an 18-point halftime lead at home against Tennessee on Saturday and was bounced from the playoffs, 22-21. There is lots of finger pointing at Arrowhead Stadium today.
All in all, I think Lamar Jackson will be a good NFL quarterback if he lands in the right situation. But isn’t that potentially true for many players in this year’s draft class?
James Brown is Digital Director for Commonwealth Broadcasting. He spent 20 years covering sports in Kentucky and Mississippi. Follow him on Twitter @JbrownESPNKY.