The 2018 NFL Draft Prospect series breaks down draft-eligible players, highlighting their college production as well as their NFL potential. Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
This piece is on Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has declared early for the draft. For the total list of all players leaving school early, see our underclassmen tracker.
For more on all the other passers in the class, see our 2018 NFL draft quarterback rankings.
Updated as of Mar. 5.
Junior | 6’2″ and 216 Pounds | Born January 7, 1997 (Age: 21) | Projection: Rounds 1-2
Combine numbers: 40-yard: DNP | bench reps: DNP | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: DNP | broad: DNP
In 2016 Jackson won the Heisman at the age of 19, becoming the youngest player in history to win the award. Precocious for a prospect, Jackson is perhaps the Deshaun Watson of this year’s draft class: A highly productive and athletic dual-threat Davey O’Brien-winning Atlantic Coast Conference three-year starter who, despite having difference-making talent and decent size, is not truly in consideration to be the first quarterback selected. The question with Jackson is whether his style of play will translate to the NFL. Whereas Watson completed 67.4 percent of his career pass attempts and had ‘only’ 1,934 yards rushing, Jackson has a completion rate of just 57.0 percent and rushed for 4,132 yards. Watson is a passing quarterback who can run; Jackson is a running quarterback who is still learning to pass. In that sense, as a prospect he is less similar to Watson than he is to Michael Vick (56.0 percent completion rate in college).
As a true freshman, Jackson made eight starts at quarterback (and one start at running back), immediately making an impact as he rushed for 960 yards and 11 touchdowns and added 1,840 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air with a 54.7 percent completion rate and 7.0 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A). As a sophomore Jackson progressed as a passer: He still completed just 56.2 percent of his attempts, but his AY/A jumped up to 9.1 as he threw for 3,543 yards and 30 touchdowns. And as a runner he crushed with 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns: Only three Football Bowl Subdivision running backs had more yards and touchdowns than he had. And as a junior he continued to improve, setting career-high marks with a 59.1 percent completion rate and rushing average of 6.9 yards per attempt. Per Football Study Hall, the Cardinals in 2017 were third in Rushing S&P+ and 12th in Passing S&P+, and much of that was due to Jackson.
With his style of play, some talent evaluators believe that Jackson will need to transition to wide receiver (or maybe running back) if he wants to play in the NFL, but he refused to do anything at the combine other than the throwing drills, although he reportedly had an inconsistent performance. Even so, Jackson is unlikely to be drafted outside of the top 50, especially after he shows the full extent of his athleticism at his pro day, and he won’t be drafted that high to play receiver: Position changes often don’t work out as envisioned, and Watson’s rookie-year success could embolden a franchise to take a risk on Jackson. The lack of NFL success of previous Bobby Petrino quarterbacks (Brian Brohm, Ryan Mallett, and Tyler Wilson) doesn’t speak well for Jackson, but his athletic abilities are radically different from theirs, and his skill set makes him a high-upside prospect. Vick retired from the NFL with a subpar 56.2 percent completion rate, but he was a six-time QB1 in fantasy and 61-51-1 as a starter. Even if Jackson fails to develop into a league-average passer, he could have a productive career as a quarterback.
Matthew Freedman is the Editor-in-Chief of FantasyLabs. He has a dog and sometimes a British accent. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he’s known only as The Labyrinthian.
Photo Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports