Considering Lamar Jackson as anything other than an NFL quarterback has racial overtones

Jay Asser 5/03/2018
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Lamar Jackson throws at the NFL combine. Picture credit: Twitter/@NFL

Forget the question of whether or not he’s a quarterback, Lamar Jackson may end up as the best prospect of any player at the position in this year’s NFL draft.

The 21-year-old had already proved his potential before the scouting combine even got under way in Indianapolis this past week, having put together a stellar college career that included the Heisman Trophy in 2016, but that hasn’t stopped unfair criticism from putting Jackson under the microscope.

Rather than focusing on what he can do as a quarterback, the rhetoric at the combine has centred on if Jackson should be playing an entirely different position.

The ridiculous narrative started when former Indianapolis Colts general manager and NFL analyst Bill Polian suggested Jackson would have to play wide receiver at the next level back in September, before doubling down on his claim in the lead-up to the combine.

Then, an NFL Network report surfaced on Friday that stated multiple teams had asked Jackson to work out as a receiver, but the Louisville product shut down the rumours and stood firm on his belief that he has one position and one position only.

“No teams have asked me to be a wide receiver,” Jackson said. “I don’t know where that comes from. Strictly quarterback.”

Plain and simple, the notion that Jackson should play receiver is an insult and one that comes with racial overtones.

The thinking has less to do with Jackson being better as a receiver because he’s fast and athletic, and more to do with him being an underwhelming quarterback prospect because of his lack of accuracy.

Jackson’s 59.1 per cent completion rate this past season was far from stellar, but it still topped Josh Allen’s mark of 56.3 per cent. And yet the Wyoming quarterback – who, as you can guess, is white – Is being hailed as the potential number one overall pick, while Jackson has to deal with countless questions regarding his position.

Allen is 6-foot-5 and 233 pounds. Why not turn him into a tight end?

This isn’t to pick on Allen or even suggest he shouldn’t be the first pick – it’s to show how laughable the Jackson criticism is.

It’s fine to think Jackson’s raw and needs further developing, but to suggest he play another position is a veiled attempt to stereotype quarterbacks.

‘Pocket passer’ or ‘cerebral’ are often code words used to describe white quarterbacks, while black quarterbacks are usually defined as ‘scramblers’.

Just because you have athleticism doesn’t mean you can’t also stand tall in the pocket, read the defence and deliver an on-time pass. And if you watched Jackson at all in college, you saw he has a range of abilities that make him almost impossible to game plan against.

With the way modern NFL offences are trending, a quarterback like Jackson has the potential to thrive under a creative offensive coordinator or head coach. If players like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton – three of the best quarterbacks in the league who also use their feet nearly as much as their arm – can dominate, why can’t Jackson?

Add in his leadership qualities and relatively clean record off the field and the only reaction the team that drafts him should have is excitement, not a desire to make him something other than he is.

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Shaquem Griffin is turning heads as the star of the NFL combine

Jay Asser 5/03/2018
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Shaquem Griffin ran the 40-yard dash in a time of 4.38 seconds.

Being limited to one hand hasn’t stopped Shaquem Griffin from stealing the show at the NFL scouting combine.

The Central Florida linebacker, who is missing his entire left hand, has turned heads in Indianapolis and potentially raised his draft stock with jaw-dropping performances in the drills.

Griffin first dazzled by racking up 20 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press on Saturday by using a prosthetic on his left arm. For comparison, Carolina Panthers star Luke Kuechly, who is widely considered one of the top linebackers in the NFL, pumped out 27 bench press reps at the combine in 2012.

Griffin’s followed up the show of strength by displaying amazing speed to clock a time of 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash on Sunday – the fastest for any linebacker since 2003.

For perspective on how quick that is for the position, running back and top prospect Saquon Barkley raised eyebrows for running the 40 in 4.40 seconds on Friday.

The 22-year-old Griffin, whose twin brother Shaquill is a cornerback with the Seattle Seahawks, was born with a deformed left hand due to amniotic band syndrome and had it amputated at the age of four to relieve pain that nearly caused him to cut off his remaining digits himself.

Griffin’s display at the combine not only makes him the draft’s feel-good story, but bodes well for his stock as he attempts to become the first player with one hand to be drafted in the NFL in the modern era.

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Robert Quinn trade frees up cap space for Los Angels Rams and bolsters Miami Dolphins' pass rush

Jay Asser 3/03/2018
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Robert Quinn is switching coasts after being traded to the Miami Dolphins.

Another premium defensive talent is on the move in the NFL’s offseason.

The Los Angeles Rams are trading pass-rusher Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins for this year’s fourth and sixth-round picks, while shipping their own sixth-rounder back.

The move for the reigning NFC West champions comes a little more than a week after they acquired cornerback Marcus Peters from the Kansas City Chiefs, which signaled their aggressive intent to get younger and gain salary cap flexibility.

And that’s exactly what the trade of Quinn achieves as well.

The 27-year-old will count for more than $25 million against the cap over the next two seasons and isn’t the same force he was when the Rams inked him to a four-year extension worth $57m in 2014.

The signing of the extension was sandwiched between Quinn’s two Pro Bowl campaigns, when he racked up 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 2013, followed by 10.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in 2014.

His production, however, tailed off the next two years with his sacks dropping to 5 in 2015 and 4 in 2016 as he played just 17 games over that span due to injuries.

This past season, Quinn remained relatively healthy to appear in 15 games and bounced back with 8.5 sacks while switching to outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.

After being one of the Rams’ best players since being drafted 14th overall by the franchise in 2011, Quinn simply became too costly, especially in the context of defensive tackle Aaron Donald set to break the bank.

So instead of losing Quinn for nothing by cutting him loose, Los Angeles pick up a mid-round pick they can potentially use to replenish their linebacking unit.

While the Rams gain cap relief, Miami have put themselves in a position in which they’ll need to shed salary to make space for Quinn.

The Dolphins just franchise-tagged wide receiver Jarvis Landry for $16m and already had Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh accounting for $9.6m and $26.1m, respectively, on the defensive line for the coming season.

In all likelihood, Quinn’s arrival could spell the end for Suh in Miami, with the Dolphins able to save $17m in cap savings if they cut the defensive tackle by March 19.

Landry’s future could also be affected if Miami decide to trade him by March 14 or rescind his franchise tag and let him hit free agency.

Quinn figures to pair with fellow edge-rusher Wake to bolster what was an area of weakness for the Dolphins this past season. Miami ranked 26th in the league with 30 sacks, 10.5 of which were Wake’s.

Though Quinn isn’t much of a factor against the running game, the Dolphins have some room for error after being middle-of-the-road in that area in 2017, ranking 14th with 110.5 rush yards allowed per game and 17th with 4.1 yards allowed per rush.

The price of a fourth-rounder – with the swap of sixth-rounders being a wash – is minimal to add a talent like Quinn.

Because of past decisions and contracts handed out, however, the move also brings with it some cap gymnastics.

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