INDIANAPOLIS – No wide receiver move.
No Wildcat offense.
No thanks to any team that thinks otherwise.
This is Lamar Jackson’s message to the NFL.
He was a quarterback yesterday. He’s a quarterback today. And he plans on being an NFL quarterback when he’s drafted in a few months.
And if someone has designs on the Louisville quarterback playing something other than his chosen position?
“I’m not going to their team,” Jackson said Friday at the NFL scouting combine. “If anything, whoever likes me at quarterback, that’s where I’m going. That’s strictly my position.”
[Watch on Yahoo: Live stream the 2018 NFL scouting combine on Yahoo Sports’ website, app]
As introductions to the draft process go, Jackson is making a hell of a statement this week. In a combine environment that is often filled with prospects who are fine-tuned and rehearsed into every syllable that comes out of their mouths, Jackson has arrived with a rare air of confidence, defiance and honesty. Not to mention a willingness to buck a system that sometimes values conformity and acquiescence over independence.
With Jackson, we’re going to find out what it means to have a vision and do it your way.
He’s going against the grain in a lot of ways right now. In ways that don’t always win points with NFL teams. How?
It doesn’t start with him bluntly refusing to think he’s anything but a quarterback. He has also not hired an agent, choosing to have his rookie contract and off-field opportunities guided by a lawyer, a marketing team and his mother, who is also his manager. Oh, and the 40-yard dash? He’s not running it at the combine. He’s also not doing some of the agility drills. And he didn’t do the bench-press session, either.
That’s a whole lot of “no” from a player who is consistently seeded behind several other top quarterbacks in this draft. And Jackson doesn’t sound remotely interested in budging. It’s not the first time he has had questions about whether he should stick at quarterback. He didn’t pay attention to that doubt on past occasions, and that faith in himself ultimately delivered him to this NFL opportunity. So why change?
“I’ve faced adversity throughout my whole life,” Jackson said. “Just coming up since youth football, going to high school, they said, ‘You can’t do this and that.’ I got to college and was able to do it. And I’m here now, so I’m ready to do it.”
To be fair to NFL evaluators, Jackson said that any reports suggesting he has been asked to work out as wide receiver are incorrect at this stage.
“No teams have asked me to play wide receiver,” Jackson said. “I don’t even know where [that report] came from. I’m strictly quarterback.”
Asked if any positional negotiation was on the table, Jackson said no.
“Not at all,” he said. “I’m not going to be at the wide receiver position at all [in drills]. Quarterback position.”
Oh, and when he gets to the NFL, no Wildcat packages to get his athleticism on the field, either
“No Wildcat,” he said. “It’s not the [Miami] Dolphins with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.”
Under most normal circumstances – almost all circumstances, really – many prospects would be blasted privately and perhaps even publicly by NFL teams for taking this kind of stance. Teams often grumble when a player doesn’t hire an agent because it can complicate negotiations and lead to a delayed contract signing. The last prominent quarterback to go through the draft process without an agent was Jacoby Brissett in 2016, and his negotiations dragged into June of that offseason, far longer than the New England Patriots’ other draft picks that season.
NFL teams also don’t like players who skip drills and 40-yard dashes. Particularly if it’s a player who is perceived as having something to prove inside of his position group. Despite being a Heisman Trophy winner and one of the most dynamic playmakers in this draft, Jackson certainly falls into the “something to prove” category. But he also says that’s part of why he wants his combine process to focus on his passing workout. He has college film that shows what he can do with his legs.
“Film speaks for itself with that, showing off my speed and showing I can make people miss,” Jackson said. “I just gotta show off my arm because that’s where they doubt me at.”
As it stands, Jackson has already spent time with the New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles. That list will almost certainly grow before he leaves Indianapolis, giving Jackson ample opportunity to answer the primary question of NFL teams: What do you bring to the table?
He’s got that message down. And like most of everything that comes out of Jackson’s mouth, it actually sounds frank and unrehearsed. Like when he compares himself to NFL quarterbacks and points to the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton and New England Patriots’ Tom Brady.
“Superheroes,” Jackson said.
That’s brash. Wildly honest. Like something a player would say when he doesn’t have an agent polishing and over-humbling a prospect. Well, welcome to Lamar Jackson. He’s confident in what he’s doing and where he’s going.
“I’m mobile,” he said. “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 the field general when I’m out there. 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, but I’m not. I just love winning. …
“It’s going to be a different Lamar [in the NFL]. A leveled-up Lamar. Not the same as college. I’m going to level up a lot more. I’ve got a lot of learning to do.
“I’m just ready.”
Starting with Saturday’s passing session, we’ll see how ready the NFL is for Lamar Jackson. In a league that sometimes seeks conformity, he sounds like he’s coming in calling his own shots – whether teams are ready for it or not.