INDIANAPOLIS — Lamar Jackson only just turned 21 years old and treats virtually everyone he meets with respect, reflexively and politely beginning or ending almost every answer with a “yes sir” or “no sir.”
But Friday afternoon inside Hall K of the Indiana Convention Center, after multiple teams reportedly — and ignorantly — asked the electric quarterback to work out as a wide receiver, Jackson felt like he was the only adult in the room, taking back the control he has left of his career and earning power and future.
“I’m not going to their team, if anything,” Jackson said during an entertaining 15-minute press conference in which he was playful, friendly and loose, but also unwavering in his belief in himself. “Whoever likes me at quarterback, that’s where I’m goin’. That’s strictly my position. Yessir.”
These NFL talent evaluators, who apparently learned nothing from doubting Clemson national champion quarterback Deshaun Watson entering last year’s draft, for a second straight offseason are suggesting that an athletic black quarterback’s NCAA success can’t translate to the pros.
Jackson, Louisville’s leader, won the Heisman Trophy two years ago as dynamic, mobile quarterback. He was a Heisman finalist again this past year as an elusive, one-of-a-kind playmaker. Michael Vick has been used as a comparison for his skill set. And yet former NFL GM Bill Polian said last week it’s time for Jackson to move to wide receiver, and now multiple teams did here this week.
But what these NFL clubs don’t realize is that it isn’t Jackson who should change and switch positions to conform to their warped view of his abilities. It is their narrow-minded thinking and supposedly creative minds that need to evolve to best utilize a unique talent like him, instead of casting him aside and out of the sport’s most lucrative position.
Jackson is losing money every time another NFL team says he’s a wide receiver and not a QB.
Good for him, then, for explaining why he has a lawyer and his mom as his manager, but no agent.
“I know coming in as a rookie, agents don’t negotiate really,” Jackson said. “You’re gonna get the salary you’re gonna get or whatever. And I decided I don’t need him. He’s gonna be taking a big cut of my paycheck anyways, and I feel I deserve it right now. Yes sir.”
Jackson also isn’t running the 40-yard dash here in Indianapolis. He’s not bench-pressing even though he grabbed his biceps, smiled and assured, “I’ve been working out, 216 (pounds), you know?”
You can hear the gasps, can’t you? That’s not what we do in the NFL. When you’re a rookie draft prospect you hire an agent, when you come to the combine you participate, and when you get drafted you play whatever position you’re told, because you’re a player and not a coach.
Yeah? Does the same go for Eli Manning, who forced his way to New York in a 2004 draft day trade? Who refused to play at all in Week 13 last season when Ben McAdoo told him Geno Smith would replace him at halftime, which led to a fan revolt and McAdoo’s and Jerry Reese’s firings?
Jackson is a threat to the system because he is doing this his way. It’s just strange the system hasn’t caught up.
There is undoubtedly an offensive and inaccurate stereotype to this as black quarterbacks have a long history of being moved out of the QB position, the perception being they lacked the intellect to run an offense and the grit to be leaders, a clear bias that festered for decades, and still does. The easy comeback to teams asking Jackson to try out at receiver, for example, is: Why aren’t teams asking Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, a 6-5, 233-pound quarterback with upside but holes in his game, to try out at tight end?
Jackson perhaps innocently, but nicely, dismissed that race was behind anyone’s intentions to line him up out wide.
“I can’t speak for the media. The guys do their job, I just do mine,” Jackson said. “I stay away from it, answer their questions. I’m a quarterback. I don’t know anything about no racial slurs.”
He was bubbly and fun and often amusing Friday, like when he said of whether the wide receiver talk was disrespectful: “Yeah, that’s crazy, I thought I did a good job at quarterback. I thought I DID!”
But he was adamant, too, that he’s nothing but a quarterback — a point he was “shocked” he had to defend.
The wiry 6-3, 200-pounder claimed “no teams have asked me” to try out at wide receiver, as the original NFL Network report had suggested. But “no sir,” he wouldn’t do it if they did ask.
One reporter asked Jackson if he would welcome a “slash-type role” just to get on the field as a rookie if he were the backup QB behind an established starter, and Jackson wasn’t fooled one bit.
“That’s basically another position. You’re just trying to avoid the question,” Jackson said with a gotcha grin. “No, nooo. Like I said before, I’m a quarterback. I’d just sit back and try to learn from him as much as I could … No Wildcat. This is not the Dolphins. This is not the Dolphins with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. No sir. No sir.”
Jackson, meanwhile, wasn’t one bit hiding the shortcomings he needed to overcome to convince teams to draft him, either. He’s well aware that his passing accuracy, impacted by footwork, is “why they’re doubting me right now.” And that’s why Jackson is focused solely on throwing well Saturday morning inside Lucas Oil Stadium: to prove his doubters wrong.
“I’m mobile, I can hit any target on the field. I love the game with a passion. I can lead my team. I feel like I’m a field general when I’m out there,” Jackson said. “I love to score. I love to put the ball in other receivers’ hands. I’m not a ball hog at all — it may look like it,” he laughed, “but I’m not. I just love to win. Yes sir.”
Jackson, a famously fast and slippery scrambler on the football field, chuckled when asked how well he handles pressure in the pocket.
“I think I sense pressure very well,” Jackson said, with a smirk that said, ‘What, you’ve never seen me play?’
Who knew, though, that this young man could face such an unusual and heavy pressure so early off the field.
Asked which two NFL quarterbacks were most similar to Jackson, he shot for the moon.
“Cam Newton and Tom Brady. Yes sir. Super heroes,” he said.
But the NFL team that drafts him isn’t getting the next Newton or Brady. They are getting Lamar Jackson.
And he will be playing quarterback. Or he won’t be playing for them at all.