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NFL Draft 2018: Could electric playmaker Lamar Jackson jumpstart the Bengals?

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Louisville’s quarterback lit up college football in 2016, taking home the Heisman Trophy at the end of the season. He put up even better numbers in 2017, but does he have what it takes to be a viable NFL play caller?

NCAA Football: Charlotte at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

AJ McCarron made an abrupt farewell to the Bengals’ organization this month, leaving many to question the stability of the Bengals quarterback room.

For better or for worse, Andy Dalton will keep the starting job until his red hair turns gray, but the Bengals still need a new contingency plan, even with backup Matt Barkley on the roster. If Dalton goes down, like in 2015, will there be a McCarron-esque backup that can take over the reigns? Barkley doesn’t instill that confidence.

Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com thinks Lamar Jackson is the answer in Cincinnati. Jeremiah argues that Jackson would be brought on initially as a backup, but could also be used in certain packages.

The Louisville Cardinal dazzled college football fans in 2016 with his electric athleticism and his knack for big plays. Jackson finished his sophomore year with 3543 yards, 30 touchdowns, only nine interceptions and a rating of 148.8 while rushing for 1571 yards, averaging six yards a carry and 21 touchdowns. He won the Heisman trophy by a landslide to cap off a sensational season. His numbers improved in 2017, but it wasn’t enough to woo the Heisman voters a second time.

Jackson has been compared to Michael Vick the last two years, but will he have enough to share Vick’s NFL success? Is he a good fit for the Bengals?

Profile:

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 216 pounds

Year: Junior

College: Louisville

Projected Round: 1-2

College Stats:

Passing yards: 9,043 career; 3,660 in 2017

Passing touchdowns/Interceptions: 69/27 career, 27/10 in 2017

Completion percentage: 57.0 career; 59.1 in 2017

Rating: 142.9 career; 146.6 in 2017

Rushing yards: 4,132 career; 1,601 in 2017

Average yards per carry: 6.3 career; 6.9 in 2017

Rushing touchdowns: 50 career; 18 in 2017

College Highlights:

Conclusion:

Jackson made headlines due to his freak athletic ability. Having scored 119 touchdowns in his career, the accolades of his athleticism are well deserved. Looking at the stats from his junior year, he had the production of a star quarterback and running back meshed into one superstar. When he heads to the combine, his measurables will no doubt be off the charts.

We have seen some mobile quarterbacks thrive in college but fail to make a splash in the NFL. Critics will say that Jackson is going to be the next signal caller in this succession.

Jackson’s frame was viewed as being an issue prior to the Scouting Combine. However, after the official numbers came out, it appears that Jackson measures identically to Dalton. That should eliminate any concerns Bengals fans may have about Jackson being too small or thin to survive in the NFL.

In the scenario the Bengals draft Jackson in the first round, they would have had to sign some free agent help on the offensive line. When Jackson scrambles, or when the Bengals call a designed QB run, Jackson will be exposed to too many hits. The addition of Cordy Glenn helps, but Jackson will require a highly efficient offensive line. Let’s also keep in mind, Jackson may not make it all the way to pick No. 21, where the Bengals are picking.

However, Jackson’s athleticism may also allow him to avoid sacks that Dalton would normally takes. He will have to learn how to be more cautious about sliding and getting out of bounds to avoid loading up on unnecessary hits.

Obviously, having that level of athleticism cannot go unused. Whichever team drafts Jackson will certainly take full advantage of his unusual skill set. In college, many quarterbacks can be successful using their legs as much as their arms, which we saw with Jackson.

In the NFL, however, the most mobile quarterbacks (Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Cam Newton) are also elite passers. Mobile quarterbacks are not sustainable in the NFL unless they use their wheels to supplement their passing game.

Jackson’s passing accuracy is well below par. His accuracy from the pocket is below NFL standards, and his accuracy on the move (and he moves around a lot) is just as bad. Jackson drew some comparisons to his conference rival, Deshaun Watson, who has similar improvisational and mobile abilities. While Watson has a sensational rookie season before he was injured, he was a much more refined passer entering the NFL.

While Jackson’s career completion percentage is a low 57 percent, which is a full ten points below Watson’s career average, Jackson has improved his accuracy every year. Could he carry his improvement over to the NFL? The longevity of his career depends on it.

Jackson has been projected to go late in the first round of the draft. The Bengals, sitting at pick No. 21, would be foolish to take Jackson in the first round. First of all, the Bengals need to address other positions — like center and guard and linebacker. Second of all, if the Bengals want to go quarterback, the team needs to really decide if Jackson is the best man for the job.

If Jackson is still on the board in the second round, a player of that magnitude would be difficult to pass up. Despite his passing deficiencies, he has an electric playmaking ability; surely the Bengals would find a way to put that to good use somehow.