The Baltimore Ravens were unstoppable during the regular season and entered Saturday’s divisional round matchup with the Tennessee Titans as 9.5-point favorites. Instead of continuing to march toward a championship, the Ravens were stunned at home by an impressive Titans team that is getting red hot at the right time.
Tennessee jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, silencing the shocked crowd at M&T Bank Stadium. It only got more lopsided in the second half, as the Titans rode their defense and a supercharged Derrick Henry to victory, winning 28-12.
These were the biggest winners and losers from the Titans’ absolutely dominant victory over the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Winner: King Henry, we bow before your greatness
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
Derrick Henry was a major reason why the Titans reached the divisional round in the first place. He rumbled for more than 200 yards from scrimmage last weekend to spark the win. On Saturday night in Baltimore, it was Henry once again serving as the engine that drove the Titans to victory.
It’s going to be a long offseason for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. A lock to win the league MVP trophy after a record-breaking regular season, Jackson put up a stinker of a performance in the divisional round.
Jackson threw 36 touchdown passes (leading the league) and just six interceptions all year.
On Saturday night against the Titans, he tossed two interceptions and lost a fumble. Jackson looked bewildered much of the night as the Titans utilized zone schemes and timely blitzes to confuse the second-year quarterback.
While he did rack up 143 yards on the ground, Jackson struggled in the pocket as a passer and will now have to listen to his naysayers say “I told you so” for the next year or so until he gets another shot to change the narrative in the playoffs.
The entire Tennessee defense deserves a huge gold star for the job it did against the highest-powered regular-season offense in the NFL. But it’s particularly noteworthy that big defensive tackle Jurrell Casey had such a big impact on the game, and young Lamar Jackson.
Defensive tackles who can generate pressure up the middle are rare and highly valued. That’s exactly what Casey was able to do Saturday night against the Ravens. He led all defenders in the game with two sacks of Jackson, who’s hard to bring down. Casey was also instrumental in helping the Titans stuff Jackson twice on fourth down.
Because Henry was so effective pounding the rock, the Titans didn’t throw the ball much Saturday night against the Ravens. Ryan Tannehill attempted only 14 passes, garnering 88 yards. But early in the second quarter, up by a touchdown, he dropped an absolute dime as Kalif Raymond roasted First-team All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Raymond burned Humphrey on a slick double move, turning the cornerback to the sideline before darting back to the post (watch here). Tannehill dropped it into a bucket and the Titans took a commanding 14-0 lead that ultimately was the definitive moment in the game.
Yardbarker NFL writers Michael Tunison and Chris Mueller address some of the hottest issues in the league. This week’s topic: Which quarterbacks shined brightest and tumbled farthest in Week 1?
Mueller: Week 1 in the NFL, as you may have heard, is the time for snap judgments, many of which end up being wrong. Still, it was hard not to be impressed by several quarterbacking performances and underwhelmed, to say the least, by others. The goal, of course, is to figure which efforts are a harbinger of things to come and which are blips on the radar.
First, the good. I was skeptical about Baltimore’s newfangled offense, both in terms of what form it would take, and whether or not Lamar Jackson could stay healthy enough and improve enough as a passer to make it work. And while the Dolphins are doing everything short of actively throwing games in an effort to tank, what Jackson (324 yards passing, five TDs) did to them in Week 1 was still stunning.
Jackson has always thrown a good deep ball, and the Ravens had things schemed up such that he had multiple opportunities to cut it loose, and he took full advantage. His 83-yard TD pass to Marquise Brown was beautifully arced, and even took into account a bump that Brown had to fight through well into his route. Far more impressive was his first touchdown hookup with Brown, a 47-yard play that saw him place the ball perfectly on a slant route, giving Brown a chance to catch the ball out ahead of his body and in stride, and go the distance.
If the pass had been thrown anywhere else, it might still have been a completion, but it wouldn’t have gone for a score. Again, it was only Miami; teams will adjust, and Jackson — who faces Arizona in Week 2 — won’t always have all day to throw, but if he keeps up a pace anything remotely close to this, Baltimore might successfully defend its AFC North title.
On the flip side, I’d be concerned if I were a Chicago Bears fan. The defense is great, but Mitchell Trubisky did nothing to impress in the 10-3 loss to Green Bay in Week 1. Pro Football Focus’ passing grade for Trubisky was 53.8 — a bad number, yet one that still seemed generous. He was terrible under pressure, terrible against the blitz, and showed no ability to make big plays. The Bears went 3-for-15 on third downs, and Trubisky — who faces a good Broncos defense on the road in Week 2 — consistently failed to fit the ball into tight windows.
Chicago’s chances of being a serious NFC title contender hinge on Trubisky making big strides, and for one game, he looked overmatched. His interception wasn’t an unlucky one, either. He stared down Allen Robinson, and made it easy for Adrian Amos to play center field and make the pick. The staredown was enough of a rookie mistake.
What’s just as bad is the fact that Trubisky, knowing he had two downs to get 10 yards, could have thrown underneath and taken a chunk, then had a more manageable do-or-die fourth down. He didn’t, and the game was functionally over after that. This is Trubisky’s third season — we need to see much more.
Tunison: Probably the most overlooked of the new head coaches going into 2019 was the Bengals’ Zac Taylor, who had come over from the Rams, for whom he served as quarterbacks coach in 2018. There are several reasons for why this might be — the Bengals are hardly the most popular franchise in the league, but also because even in Marvin Lewis’ protracted stretch of moderate success, there was an understanding that the team hit its ceiling. In part, that was due to good but not great coaching, but also good but not great quarterbacking.
In some ways, the Bengals are caught in the same purgatory a team like the Lions is: They have a middle-of-the-pack starting quarterback who is just good enough to keep his job forever, but never contend for a championship. Andy Dalton is in his ninth season. How did that happen? There have been a few times his status as starter has been threatened, but ultimately the Bengals decided to ride it out.
Clearly the idea of hiring a coach with a background helping QBs was a last-ditch effort to make an honest go of it with Dalton. In Week 1, though the team ultimately fell short in Seattle, he looked pretty good. He threw for two scores and 418 yards. The main concern was a lack of protection, as he was sacked five times, including one on the final possession that resulted in a fumble that iced the game.
This was without the services of A.J. Green and left tackle Cordy Glenn. The Seahawks no longer have the Legion of Boom, but still on the road, given the circumstances, this was about as encouraging as it could be for Dalton, save for perhaps also coming away with a victory.
On the flip side, there’s Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense. They dumped Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator and brought back Dirk Koetter, whom the Falcons had success before he had an unremarkable stint as the Bucs head coach. With a supposed return to offensive competence, the Falcons responded with 12 points in Week 1 against Minnesota, and Matt Ryan had his first multiple-interception game since December 2017.
Atlanta stunk up the joint in the first half, trailing 21-0 at the break. This is a team with immense talent on offense, one of the best receiving tandems in the league, and a quarterback who falls just outside the accepted group of elites. Ryan had a chance to possibly get Atlanta into the game early in the second half, only to throw a red- zone interception on the first possession of the third quarter.
On the second-down play, it was hard to tell whether Ryan was trying to throw it out of the back of the end zone and live for third down or make a sincere attempt to fit one in. Either way the result was essentially a game-ending blunder. Ryan is obviously secure for the foreseeable future, but there’s only so much blame that can be pinned on coordinators for the failure of what should be a dynamic offense.
Mueller: What’s most interesting to me about all of the quarterback-centric stories lately is how many of them seem to involve the play-caller as a co-star. Maybe it’s just my memory failing me, but it feels like the fascination with hotshot offensive coordinators or head coaches is a recent trend. Sure, there was Bill Walsh and the West Coast offense, and Air Coryell further back, but aside from Norv Turner and maybe Mike Shanahan, it never felt like the guys calling the plays in the ’90s and early-2000s had household-name status.
With Taylor in Cincy, you almost get the sense that he’ll get more credit than Dalton, because there is a perception that Dalton is already known, and any growth will be Taylor’s doing. Same thing in Arizona, where it’s Kyler and Kliff, not just Kyler. I could go on, but you get the idea.
I don’t want to sound like I’m bemoaning it, either. Feels like a position long described as the most important in all of sports is finally getting the kind of treatment commensurate with such a designation. If you’re trying to find a franchise QB, might as well go all-in on trying to maximize his talents. If that means hiring as head coach a guy they’re comfortable with, like Freddie Kitchens for Baker Mayfield in Cleveland, or surrounding them with players who complement what they do well, like Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, so be it. Better to risk spectacular failure than deal in half-measures.
Tunison: I think the playcaller as co-star trend began, as many recent coaching trends have, with Rams head Sean McVay. He came to Los Angeles having been hailed with guiding Kirk Cousins to respectability in Washington, where he was offensive coordinator, and the idea was that he could do the same with Jared Goff, who was already being discussed as a bust after a disastrous rookie campaign during the last year of Jeff Fisher’s regime. That was probably unfair given that it was just one abbreviated season, and Fisher had an impressive track record of destroying quarterbacks in pedestrian offenses.
Yet McVay has not only rescued Goff, he has gotten almost the entirety of the credit for his success. Part of that is because fans and media can point to the fact that McVay has been said to essentially read defenses for him and call plays up until the point that the coach can no longer communicate with the quarterback over the helmet mic before a play. That perception solidified with last season’s Super Bowl loss, when the Patriots developed a strategy to call a second defensive play after Goff could no longer talk with McVay pre-snap. We all saw how muddled the Rams’ offense was in that game.
Some of that criticism seems valid and yet also somewhat of an oversimplification. Goff, after all, still has to make the throws, and he’s not going to the first read on every play, so no matter how savvy the guidance is from McVay, he has to do at least some of it himself. Moreover, if this strategy were so simple and effective, why has it not been emulated league-wide yet? McVay is billed as a wunderkind, but I doubt his offensive acumen is that much more pronounced than a lot of other head coaches around the league.
The 32 things we learned heading into the 2018 NFL playoff divisional round:
1. If it seemed the wild-card round was chock full of fresh faces and teams, well, it was. None of the eight clubs competing in the opening round was in action for last season’s wild-card games, and only the Eagles (a No. 1 seed with a bye in 2017) even reached the playoff field a year ago.
1a. But you’ll see largely familiar characters in the divisional round with Philadelphia returning along with the four teams on bye — the Chiefs, Patriots, Rams and Saints, all postseason entries last year, too.
1b. The last team to advance to the Super Bowl after playing on wild-card weekend was the 2012 Ravens, who won Super Bowl XLVII. The next 10 conference champs have all had first-round byes.
2. Gen X-er Philip Rivers, 37, has to be the sentimental favorite to win it all, right? No quarterback in league history has thrown for more yards (54,656) or more touchdowns (374) yet never played on Super Sunday.
2a. And how great (and entertaining) would it be to see Rivers’ Chargers take on the Saints … and former Bolts QB Drew Brees, who kept Philly Riv on the bench for two years?
3. But if you’re into unminted Millennial passers, Patrick Mahomes (23), Jared Goff (24), Dak Prescott (25) and, most certainly, Andrew Luck (29) could ride great story lines all the way to Atlanta, site of Super Bowl LIII.
4. Three quarterbacks made their playoff debuts during wild-card weekend. Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson and Mitchell Trubisky all lost.
5. Welp, Matt Nagy, guess you shoulda laid down for the Vikings in Week 17 rather than invite a matchup with the Iggles and your old buddy Doug Pederson.
6. Did anyone else want Eagles-Bears go into overtime (maybe double OT) just to see how NBC would handle its Golden Globes coverage, which began minutes after Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth wrapped?
7. Rough night for Chicago’s Cody Parkey, whose would-be, game-winning field goal attempt from 43 yards hit the upright then the crossbar before caroming into the end zone. No good. Parkey drilled the Soldier Field uprights four times Nov. 1. Uncanny.
8. But if I’ve learned anything this season, it’s that Parkey is about to get a flood of support from kickers throughout the league as he copes with this unfortunate bounce. Bounces.
9. Nick Foles was picked off twice in Sunday’s win over the Bears. The last time he threw multiple INTs in an Eagles uniform, Oct. 26, 2014, Chip Kelly was their coach and Foles had yet to play for the Rams or Chiefs.
9a. The last time Philadelphia played the Saints in postseason, the 2013 wild-card round, Foles was also the quarterback (in a losing effort) — Kelly’s only NFL playoff appearance.
10. Congrats to Eagles WR Golden Tate, who scored the game-winning TD at Chicago, instantly justifying the scrutinized trade deadline deal for him — which cost Philly a third-round pick that appeared awfully expensive given the struggles to integrate Tate into the offense.
10a. Congrats to Eagles LT Jason Peters, RB/KR Darren Sproles and LB Jordan Hicks, who all missed the 2017 Super Bowl run with injuries but tasted a playoff victory Sunday.
10b. Feel for you, Wentz.
11. Was wild-card weekend’s MVP Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley? His unit was on the short end of a 22-10 loss to Baltimore two weeks ago. Sunday, it showed the rest of the league how to contain Jackson — essentially deploying a defense comprised of linemen and defensive backs to shadow, flummox and confuse the rookie.
12. Jackson, who turns 22 on Monday, became the youngest quarterback to start a playoff game in NFL history. He looked like it. Make no mistake, the Ravens don’t win the AFC North without Jackson’s heroics in the second half of the season, when he went 6-1 as the starter. But Bradley and the Bolts provided a blueprint to stopping him and a fresh reminder that, though Jackson remains an elite athlete and highly effective with the ball in open space, he’s got a long, long way to go to be a fully-formed pro quarterback. He was sacked seven times, picked off once and fumbled thrice, losing the ball on his team’s final possession.
13. Who figured on Chargers rookie K Mike Badgley outperforming Ravens all-pro Justin Tucker? Badgley set a Bolts’ postseason record with five made field goals, while Tucker was 1-for-2 on three-point tries. Tucker missed five FGs this season, three against L.A.
14. Who figured on Chargers FB Derek Watt making a longer playoff run this season than brothers J.J. and T.J.?
15. The Chargers haven’t beaten Tom Brady since 2005. Rivers is 0-7 head-to-head against TB12, including two losses in postseason.
15a. But Sunday, the Chargers became the only team in the league to win eight times on the road this season. A visit to Foxborough, daunting as it is, won’t phase them.
16. The last time Rivers appeared in a playoff game at Gillette Stadium, the 2007 AFC Championship Game, he played on a torn ACL.
17. Baltimore’s second-ranked run game, which had averaged nearly 230 yards in Jackson’s seven regular-season starts, was limited to 90.
Some pretty big stuff went down in NFL Week 12 as contenders scrapped for a foothold in the playoff chase heading into the season’s final quarter.
One game that featured teams on the other end of the spectrum gave us one of the most poetic moments of the season.
With only two teams on a bye this week, there was plenty of stuff to digest. These were the biggest winners and losers from the action.
Winner: Browns get revenge
Cleveland did some incredible stuff in the first half on the road against Cincinnati. The Browns put up 28 points in the first half — essentially putting the game away before halftime. It was the first time since 1991 that they’d scored that many points in a first half.
It was also the first road win in 26 tries — saving the Browns from the embarrassment of setting another dubious NFL record.
Along the way, Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb continued to show they’re going to be centerpieces in Cleveland for a long time. Mayfield threw multiple touchdowns for the fifth game in a row (he finished with four and no interceptions), and Chubb racked up 128 yards with two touchdowns.
Oh, and they did it all against their former head coach.
Loser: Who’s trash now, Ramsey?
Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey made headlines before the season for an interview he did in which he blasted many of the league’s quarterbacks. Among them, he singled Buffalo’s Josh Allen out, calling him “trash.” He would also take to social media to troll Allen, which made his disdain for the rookie all the more clear.
Well, Allen and the Bills took it to Ramsey and the Jaguars on Sunday, winning 24-21 in Buffalo, and honestly the game wasn’t really as close as that. Allen outplayed Blake Bortles — throwing a gorgeous 75-yard touchdown pass and scoring twice, helping his team hand Jacksonville its seventh loss in a row.
Right now, it’s clear that the Jags are trash. Being dismantled by Allen and the Bills at this point in the season accentuated that fact.
Winner: Lamar and Gus do it again
For the second weekend in a row, Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards led a winning offensive attack as the Baltimore Ravens easily cruised past the Oakland Raiders.
Jackson accounted for 249 yards and two touchdowns, and Edwards was brilliant on the ground going for 118 yards on 23 carries — a lot of that coming in the second half as the Ravens protected the lead.
Earlier on Sunday before the games began, a report emerged that Jackson had a “strong shot” to retain the job even if Joe Flacco is healthy. Based on the way things have gone the past two weeks — Baltimore snapped a three-game losing streak last weekend and is now very much in the playoff hunt — benching the rookie would be a tough sell.
Loser: Oh, No, Gano!
There are a few things that stand out as big mistakes by Carolina on Sunday in their three-point loss to Seattle. The decision to go for it on fourth down at Seattle’s five-yard line on their first offensive possession backfired, for one. Cam Newton’s interception in the end zone on the first drive of the second half was brutal, too.
At the least, those mistakes cost Carolina potentially six points.
But despite them, the Panthers had a real chance to win at the end of the game. Newton and the offense moved into field-goal range with under two minutes remaining. Then, just like last weekend, Graham Gano — usually extremely reliable — missed the potential game-winner.
Seattle drove down the field and converted the actual game-winner with time expiring instead. Now at 6-5, having lost three straight games, a playoff spot is in no way guaranteed for these Panthers.
I hadn’t intended on getting to the quarterbacks this early. I had intended to hold off until after the underclassmen had declared whether or not they would stay in school or enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
However, a report Wednesday morning by ESPN’s Jordan Ranaan changed my plans. Ranaan reported that once the New York Giants’ season was all but lost — not coincidentally when Odell Beckham Jr. had his season ended by a broken ankle — John Mara instructed the scouting department to start taking a very close look at the top quarterbacks in the upcoming draft.
All along we suspected, if not outright knew, that the quarterback position would be in play for the Giants with a high draft pick in April. Ranaan’s report confirms the fact that the Giants are seriously looking for their next quarterback. With that in mind, here is my (current) list of the top five quarterbacks in the 2018 draft.
1 – Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)
Mayfield had been creeping up my rankings since last season, and when a scout like Scot McCloughan names him as the top quarterback in the class, you take note.
Mayfield has always been a blast to watch, but what sealed it for me was his performance in the rivalry game with Oklahoma State. While Oklahoma State doesn’t have much in the way of a defense, it still managed to stop Oklahoma’s running game and figure out left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., using the mammoth left tackle’s size against him. The Cowboys briefly stopped Oklahoma’s offense cold, then Mayfield did what he does and willed his team to victory.
Mayfield has plenty of arm strength to drive every throw with accuracy, the mobility to escape pressure, extend plays, and make the defense pay for ignoring him.
On the intangible side, Mayfield is a hyper-competitive and aggressive player and a leader on his team, with good field vision and command of his offense. And put simply, Baker Mayfield is a winner. Like Deshaun Watson, winning is all he knows how to do — he just has that air about him that as long as he is on the field for you, your team has a chance.
He has also shown development in his mental processes since returning as a senior, showing greater understanding of defenses, patience, and decision making.
He isn’t without warts, and listed at 6-foot-1 Mayfield will simply be too short for many teams. Not for me, though, and his mobility helps him find (or create) throwing lanes. His competitiveness and aggression do get him in trouble as he takes a sack or throws to the wrong team trying to make a big play when a modest one will do. But, like Eli Manning or Brett Favre, as long as that spark doesn’t get coached out of him the moments of sheer magic will far outweigh the face-palms.
Interestingly, Mayfield started his college career at Texas Tech, where he won the starting job as a walk-on freshman (a first in major college football history). He later lost the starting job to now-Giants’ quarterback Davis Webb and transferred to Oklahoma.
2 – Lamar Jackson (Louisville)
This is going to ruffle some feathers, but Jackson is probably the most exciting college quarterback since Mike Vick was terrorizing defenses at Virginia Tech.
Insanely athletic, with the kind of twitch that is the envy of receivers, running backs, and defensive backs across the nation, Jackson has the ability to turn any snap into a highlight reel play. He also has one of the most impressive arms to come along in a long time, and can throw darts to any part of the field with a flick of the wrist — even without setting his base.
Jackson is going to be a divisive, boom-or-bust prospect. He is whip-thin (though visibly thickening as he physically matures) and with his penchant for running the ball and playing outside of the pocket, that could result in injuries at the next level. But while the specter of Robert Griffin III raises its ugly head, Jackson’s extreme athleticism makes it tough for defenders to get a clear shot on him. Also of concern is the potential learning curve coming in to an NFL offense. While college concepts are making their way into the NFL, Jackson would still probably be best served by going to a team with a flexible offense that caters to his strengths and can grow with him.
It is worth noting that we know that the Giants have had credentialed scouts at two of Louisville’s games thus far this season.
3 – Sam Darnold (USC)
The presumptive top QB on many lists (including ESPN’s), personally, I think Darnold should stay in school. Should he come out at the end of this season, he would have less than two seasons of starting experience under his belt. I will always say that quarterbacks, in particular, should stay in school as long as they can — the greater maturity and experience are assets going into the NFL.
Darnold is a red-shirt sophomore, and to paraphrase my mother, he isn’t done cooking yet.
However, the upside with Darnold is impressive. He has the prototypical build, athleticism, and arm strength that will get NFL evaluators drooling. Darnold is capable of absolutely incandescent play, such as in the 2017 Rose Bowl, but his decision making is questionable. He has 11 interceptions to 22 touchdowns on the season, completing 63 percent of his passes, down from 67 percent (31 TDs to 9 INTs) the year before.
Twitter Lane Kiffin is the best Lane Kiffin, because there’s always something happening with Twitter Lane Kiffin. It was as though the social media fishbowl was made specifically for the Florida Atlantic coach. Among the things he does best is troll Tennessee fans and boast about absurd box scores (and then tweet stories about him posting absurd box scores).
Tweeting at (i.e. recruiting) Heisman winners is a new thing, however.
On Wednesday morning, Kiffin quote tweeted two tweets from Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, both of which strongly suggested that Jackson come to Florida Atlantic (or, as he puts it, #thefaU). One tweet in particular referenced Jackson’s mother. Jackson, of course, hails from Boynton Beach, Florida, which is just north of Boca Raton where FAU is located.
As you could infer from the screenshots, the tweets have since been deleted. Purposefully or not — and you could certainly lean towards purposefully — that looks an awful lot like Kiffin is recruiting Jackson to FAU, which, of course, would be a no-no.
Then again, Kiffin has taken in his share of transfer quarterbacks in the past. Most famously was John Franklin III, formerly of Auburn and East Mississippi Community College.
247Sports has released its second annual preseason All-American Team, opening up voting to its vast network of team-based publishers and reporters. The team is listed below in the form of three graphics, weaved in with our five biggest takeaways.
1) Barkley vs. Guice will be one of the hottest debates of 2017
If you read the replies to any tweet about Saquon Barkley or Derrius Guice, you’re guaranteed to find LSU and Penn State fans duking it out over which running back is better. Last year, we saw a similar dynamic between Myles Garrett and Derek Barnett and it appears as though Barkley-Guice is going to be one of the hottest positional supremacy debates of 2017. Unlike last year, when there were five or so running backs with legitimate claims to being the best back in the country, Barkley and Guice stand head and shoulders above peers. The only other backs in the country to receive votes in this poll were Nick Chubb and Royce Freeman. Guice received the most votes for an offensive player, making him the second-most popular overall choice after Derwin James.
2) We have an upset at QB!
Lamar Jackson is the defending Heisman winner and just last week was named the best player in the country per our College Top247 rankings. But he’ll have to settle for second-team honors for our All-American team, which is selected by a wider pool of voters, who decided Darnold — by a margin of one vote — was the most deserving quarterback. Jackson’s stats were more absurd in 2016 (51 total TDs, 5,114 total yards) but Darnold was close as a passer: More scores, better completion percentage, better QBR, better QB rating, and just below Jackson in yards-per-attempt and interception percentage. Darnold finished the season better, making the Rose Bowl his personal coming-out party — 453 yards, five touchdowns and one of the prettiest passes you’ll ever see — while Jackson sputtered down the stretch. Projecting towards the coming season, both lose a good amount in the passing game, though Darnold’s USC Trojans reload with a higher-rated incoming crop of receivers than Louisville. Given that plus his year-end trajectory, it’s totally reasonable to have Darnold as the first-team quarterback.
Lamar Jackson took home the Heisman Trophy last year, but he’s not receiving as much buzz as some of the other top QB prospects heading into the 2017 season. He is college football’s most electric playmaker and Louisville is capable of knocking off any team in the country when he’s on his game. I recently had a chance to study three of his games from last season. Here’s my scouting report.
Game tape watched: Florida State (Sept. 17, 2016), Clemson (Oct. 1, 2016), Houston (Nov. 17, 2016)
What I liked: Jackson primarily aligns in the shotgun/pistol, but he does take some snaps from under center. He shows quick feet in his drop and has an explosive/snap delivery. He can generate plenty of velocity without incorporating much of his lower half. He flashes the ability to accurately drive the ball into tight windows.
He has tremendous upside as a passer but his ability to make plays with his legs is what makes him special. He has Mike Vick-type explosiveness when he takes off on designed QB runs or scrambles. He gets up to top speed immediately and destroys pursuit angles from opposing safeties. He isn’t quite as shifty as Vick, but he is just as fast in a straight line.
Where he needs to improve: Jackson has ways to go to develop into a consistently accurate passer. He has a bad habit of locking out his front leg, screwing himself into the ground and falling off throws. This dramatically affects his ball placement and touch. He flashes the ability to work to Nos. 2-3 in his progression, but usually if No. 1 isn’t there, he looks to run. In his defense, the pass protection at Louisville was terrible at times (see Houston game).
The other major concern about Jackson is his thin frame. He is very wiry and he’ll need to add some bulk to withstand a 16-game schedule at the next level. The same things were said about Deshaun Watson early in his college career. He packed on plenty of bulk before leaving Clemson and hopefully Jackson will do the same.
Biggest takeaway: I don’t use the Mike Vick comparison lightly. Vick is the most explosive quarterback to ever play the position. Jackson has that type of dynamic speed. However, Vick was a more polished passer and Jackson has some mechanical improvements that need to be made before he’ll be capable of matching Vick’s professional success. If Jackson can clean some of these issues up, watch out!
So, yes, this is a big moment for the players and their schools. But it is also a big moment for the ACC, giving the league some well-deserved bragging rights after so many lean years when it was difficult to come up with even one worthy Heisman contender, let alone two.
As football programs have gotten better, recruiting has gotten better and coaching hires have gotten better, so, too, have the players in the conference. The successes have not been contained to just one school, either. The recent finalists have represented four programs.
When the season started, though, nobody envisioned it would unfold in quite this way. Not even Jackson, who was entering his first year as the full-time starter. “I really didn’t even think about any awards,” Jackson said over the weekend in Orlando, where he picked up his ACC Player of the Year award.
Watson had the name, reputation, expectations and “Heisman favorite” scrawled next to his name. He was the one chosen to repeat as ACC Player of the Year in preseason polling among media members in July, picking up 164 out of 191 votes. Jackson got two.
But Clemson started off with some closer-than-expected games, and Watson did not put up the dazzling numbers many had come to expect. By Week 3, he admitted he needed to have more fun on the field and apologized for bringing negative energy to the team. Jackson, meanwhile, captivated the country with one touchdown binge after another and one highlight reel play after another – from the ‘Lamar Leap’ to making Florida State look like Ferris State in a 63-20 win.
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