Holst: Lamar Jackson is the latest black quarterback to receive undue scrutiny

Lamar Jackson

Courtesy of Twitter

Lamar Jackson

Josh Holst

The NFL Draft is set to take place in April, and recently, the country’s best college football players went to Indianapolis to show off their skills and athleticism to 32 potential employers.

Scouts and General Managers will likely spend hours dissecting 40 yard dash times, bench press reps, interviews and game tape.

Five young men in particular are going to be scrutinized because they are considered the most talented prospects at the most demanding position in football: quarterback.

These young men are Josh Allen (Wyoming), Josh Rosen (UCLA), Sam Darnold (USC), Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma, a team Iowa State beat on the road) and Lamar Jackson (Louisville).

The first four men I listed are all near certain to go in the first round, but a lot of questions have been asked of the last one, Jackson.

He won the Heisman Trophy (the award for the best player in college football) in 2016. He is doubtlessly the most dynamic athlete of the five, and he lit the college football world on fire with his electrifying speed and arm talent.

So why do most mock drafts have him ranked the lowest of the five quarterbacks?

His numbers would suggest his 2017 season might have been even better than his 2016, but a less talented roster combined with Mayfield stringing together one of the best seasons of any college quarterback ever meant he missed out on back-to-back Heisman trophies.

His speed is comparable to known video-game breaker Michael Vick, and his passing numbers in college over the last two seasons have been excellent.

Sure, he has a couple of mechanical issues. For starters, his feet are typically too close together when he’s in the pocket, and he doesn’t lift his elbow high enough in his throwing motion. These mechanical issues do negatively affect his accuracy. But they seem fixable with coaching, and even if they aren’t, clearly these flaws haven’t served as much of a hindrance to him thus far.

The problem I have is that a number of other criticisms and requests NFL scouts and analysts have appear to be racially motivated.

First of all, during the combine, a few reports said a few NFL teams asked Jackson to run drills with the wide receivers.

For those of you who don’t know, quarterback is a position that has been played predominantly by white players, while most wide receivers in the NFL are black. Furthermore, most players who switch positions from quarterback to something else after high school or college are black.

Jackson was put in a sort of catch-22, because if he said no (as he did) scouts would view this as arrogance and an unwillingness to do whatever it took to win, while if he said yes he was acknowledging he might not be good enough to be a quarterback in the NFL.

Allen is big and can run, but nobody is saying he should give tight end a shot. The idea that Jackson would make a good wide receiver simply because of his speed is a gross simplification, and taking such a dynamic player away from the position he has been playing his entire life is incredibly counterintuitive.

A player like him can win a game by himself, but needs to have the ball in his hands as much as possible to do that. Why not leave him at the position where he literally touches the ball on every offensive play.

A number of the other criticisms levied against Jackson reek of inconsistency and dogwhistle racism as well:

  • Former GM Bill Polian made the claim Jackson was too slim to play quarterback in the NFL. First of all, if he’s too slim to play quarterback, then he’s too slim to run slant routes over the middle of the field and have his head forcibly removed by linebackers. Second, while he could afford to add a few pounds, he’s already almost exactly the same size as admittedly average NFL quarterback Andy Dalton at six feet three inches and 216 pounds.

  • A number of scouts have pointed out (correctly) that Jackson has issues with accuracy. However, his receivers dropped 12 percent of his passes (the highest mark of the five quarterbacks). Further, Allen (who is almost universally regarded as a top 10 pick), posted lower accuracy numbers than Jackson in college and has a reel filled with comically overthrown passes. Seriously. It’s actually hilarious.

  • A few scouts have suggested Jackson can’t make the necessary reads for the NFL because the offense he ran at Louisville was not very complex. This is potentially the most racially motivated critique, and also one of the most easily contradicted. Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino’s offense is one of the more pro-style systems you are likely to find in college football, and Jackson ran that offense masterfully.

All of these critiques are levied against Jackson without being thrown toward his white competitors, even when the criticisms seem more appropriate for the other prospects.

Allen is more inaccurate than he is, and Darnold has struggled more with making reads than him, and yet both quarterbacks are projected higher than Jackson almost everywhere. What the problem seems to be is that NFL scouts have an idea of what their ideal quarterback is like, and Jackson doesn’t fit that tall, white and slow description.

I’m not saying I know Jackson will be the best quarterback of the five, nor do I think I’d draft him above all of the other four. His mechanical issues do exist, and mobile quarterbacks are more likely to get hurt than others. What I am saying is that he’s a quarterback, and a dang exciting one. Don’t overthink this. Draft the young man.