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I Was Right About Lamar

By Jim Johnson
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Lamar Jackson is the best college football player ever. That was a thing I wrote last season. Since then, my argument has only gotten stronger.

Lamar Jackson is the best college football player ever. That was a thing I wrote last season. Since then, my argument has only gotten stronger.

Not the greatest player ever. That carries a different connotation, with the implication of having won championships, but as far as pure talent and production, he is in a class all his own.

Perhaps Cam Newton could throw his name in the hat among signal callers, but that’s it. It could be Barry Sanders or Bo Jackson or Herschel Walker. There are a few defenders that are interesting options. However, none of the non-quarterbacks were as impactful, as valuable as Jackson, and though both of those terms are different than “best”, they probably matter when you’re splitting hairs this thin.

He became the third player in FBS history to both rush and throw for at least 50 touchdowns.

Despite only being the full-time starter for two years, he finished his career with the most total yards of any power five junior ever, and in the top 25, among all players, for total offense and touchdowns responsible for.

In his two starts against Clemson, who easily had one of the ten best defenses in college football in 2016 and probably the best last year, he compiled 838 yards, and six touchdowns.

His lowest offensive yardage total of the 2017 season was 333, against Kent State, which he compiled on all of 30 plays.

He averaged over 30 yards of offense per game more than his closest competitor, as a junior, and totaled more than Sam Darnold and Saquon Barkley combined.

He became the first player to ever throw for over 3,000 yards and rush for over 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.

He created the 3,500 passing yard, 1,500 rushing yard club as a sophomore and then followed it up by originating the evermore exclusive 3,600-1,600 club.
The point is, Lamar Jackson left Louisville with as compelling a case as any of them and what transpired in the immediate aftermath of his departure has done nothing but bolster his legend.

Louisville had probably one of the ten best offenses in college football in 2017. It finished in the top 20 in FEI, the top 15 in non-garbage time points per drive, and the top five in S&P+.

Then Jackson left, but four of the five starters on the offensive line and his top three receivers were back. It would have been unreasonable to expect the unit to get better, but there was evidence that it wouldn’t suffer much of a regression. Instead, it fell to 118th, 126th, and 112th, respectively, in each of the aforementioned metrics.

Louisville scored 28 offensive touchdowns this entire year. Jackson was personally responsible for 28 touchdowns in the first five games alone of his 2016 Heisman campaign.

I also wrote that he should have been the first quarterback taken in 2018 NFL Draft, based only on his merits as a passer.

Remember when four guys went ahead of him? Weird.

Remember when people thought he should move to wide receiver? So weird.

Remember when Josh Allen was drafted 25 spots ahead of him because, well I’m not sure actually… because he was tall I suppose? So, so weird.

And did you know that while Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson have similar NFL rushing stats, almost all of Jackson’s have come on designed runs -- you know, because he tries to stay in the pocket and simply uses his athleticism to extend plays and give his receivers a chance to uncover -- whereas Allen’s are predominantly on scrambles despite playing behind one of the best pass blocking offensive lines in the league, based on average time to throw? So, so, so, weird.

No one is campaigning for Allen to move to tight end or whatever, though. It’s all very weird, folks.

Among the five first round rookie quarterbacks, Jackson is second in DVOA, DYAR, touchdown rate, interception rate, adjusted yards per attempt, QBR, and passer rating.

In fairness, Baker Mayfield has clearly been the best rookie quarterback, he’s first among the rookies in all of those metrics, but Jackson has been number two, no matter how you slice it. It is worth noting, however, that while Mayfield has been hot for the past month and change, his first five starts were largely underwhelming. His and Jackson’s first five starts are comparatively similar from an efficiency standpoint. The former Oklahoma standout has gotten better with experience. There’s no reason to expect anything different from the B.O.A.T.

Hopefully this will begin to change the way we think about quarterbacks as draft prospects. Frankly, the fact that evaluations at the game’s most important position are still so retrograde is embarrassing. It is, in some ways fitting, I suppose. The NFL is still like a decade behind college football schematically, save a handful of “progressive” offenses. It’s no coincidence that those “innovative” playcallers lead the most effective attacks in the league. (I use air quotes around progressive and innovative because it’s still just adapting the things that good college offenses have been doing forever)

Maybe someday all 32 franchises will realize that it might just be better to be good at football than to be big and strong. It’s probably a pipe dream, but a man can hope can’t he?

Lamar Jackson isn’t the future of the sport because he’s a one-of-a-kind player. I had a conversation with a co-worker last year about whether we would see Baker Mayfield’s passer rating record broken or Jackson’s 3,500-1,500 club joined first. Well, Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa both have better passer ratings right now than Mayfield did. No one even came close to doing what Jackson did.

However, he could, nay should, serve as motivation for NFL decision makers to reevaluate the way they evaluate. The best college football player ever, which Lamar Jackson is, may not become the best NFL player ever, but he’ll probably be pretty darn good, which Lamar Jackson, again, is.

He’s been the second best rookie quarterback so far, despite not benefitting from as much playing time as any of his counterparts, and, with time, could surpass Mayfield for the top spot.

Really, I just said all that to say this: I was right. People got mad when I called him the best player in college football history. They were wrong and I was right (even more right than I previously thought, apparently). People argued when I said he should go ahead of guys like Sam Darnold and Josh Allen. They were wrong and I was right. People thought that he would be better off as a wide receiver. They were wrong and I was right.

Oh, and if you still don’t think he’s a quarterback, you can still fight me anytime, any place.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP