ARLINGTON, Texas — So what have the experts gotten wrong about you, Lamar Jackson?
“Everything,” he said Wednesday just outside JerryWorld, where 24 hours from now the 2018 NFL draft will take place. “They don’t give me credit. They don’t give me credit.”
He laughs. It’s a full, old man’s laugh. He seems older than 21.
“It’s all good,” he said. “I’ll show ’em when I get there.”
Jackson has gotten to the precipice of his dream without much of the usual glowing fanfare. He’s probably the least hyped Heisman Trophy winner ever. Baker Mayfield is a swashbuckling gunslinger. Josh Allen can throw it over the moon. Sam Darnold is the safest No. 1 pick. Josh Rosen is brilliant.
Lamar Jackson is raw.
“I can’t tell you,” he said. “I really can’t tell you. I don’t know.”
For almost every other top quarterback, the draft process is about keeping your head about you when everyone else is turning you into some demigod. For Jackson, he’s had to be mentally poised when the world seems to be dismissing him as a mere mortal.
What can he do? Lashing out isn’t a good look. Bragging isn’t a good look. He tries to avoid all the talk, but he’s on social media and his fans (and some haters) inevitably tag him with the latest slight.
On Wednesday, an NFL.com story quoted an anonymous offensive coordinator saying Jackson “hopes” when he throws. “He’s an awesome athlete,” the coordinator said. “He will not be able to play [quarterback] in this league – mark my words.”
Jackson joked that his only throw of hope is when he uncorks a Hail Mary.
No, he’s not perfect. This is not a secret and not something he hides from.
“I had a narrow base in college,” Jackson said Wednesday. “I had to widen my base and work on my accuracy a lot more.”
He said his accuracy has gone “through the roof” during the past few months.
“Wait until he gets top-level coaching” is a common comment at this time of year. Last year, Mitchell Trubisky’s lack of experience running an offense out of a huddle was discussed but not detrimental. It was assumed he would figure it out in the NFL. He went second overall to the Chicago Bears, who traded up to the spot.
Jackson will not go that high. He’s seen as the best of the rest – the project who will be selected after the top four are gone. He said Wednesday he’s even been described as “petite.” He’s 6-foot-3, 217 pounds.
Is some of this because he doesn’t have an agent to pump his tires with the media? Jackson’s manager is his mother, a decision that has drawn its own batch of cynicism.
“She’s been with me all my life,” Jackson explained. “She’s always been my manager, even before this point.”
But if anything, this reflects a seriousness of purpose. Jackson doesn’t want anything extraneous. His mom taught him the game, ran him through drills as a boy and even put on pads herself. She has done a good job, clearly, as Jackson hasn’t been in any trouble. There is no sideshow with him; just results. That’s good management.
There’s one huge advantage to all this doubt: Jackson will probably not be asked to save a franchise. The teams he said have expressed the most interest are the New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. Three of those teams have unquestioned starters already in place. Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco all should be playing 16 games this next season and probably intend to play 16 more in 2019. It’s hard to imagine Jackson growing rankled in the role of backup to any of those Super Bowl champions. It actually seems ideal, as there will likely be plays drawn for him during the season ahead. If he executes, maybe there will be more.
The upside that seems to have eluded Jackson in the pre-draft process can still be visualized and achieved later. The pressure will be relatively low, at least in a world where pressure is always oppressive. And the bright side is if he succeeds in the NFL, the skepticism may actually – finally – diminish.
“Probably after this year, it’ll die down a lot,” Jackson said.
This time, he wasn’t laughing.
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