Editor’s note: NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Bucky Brooks shares some of his college scouting notes, including his take on arguably the top rusher in CFB.
But first, Brooks’ evaluation of the reigning Heisman winner’s pro potential:
When scouts are sitting in the film room studying the Louisville star’s game this fall, they will come to a point where they pause the tape and ask themselves whether the 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior has the tools the develop into a franchise quarterback with a multi-faceted game or if he is another dual-threat playmaker destined to fail in a league where “running” quarterbacks flame out.
Fair or not, Jackson will have his talent and potential compared to Mariota and RG3 — two of his most recent Heisman Trophy-winning-QB brethren with games that resemble his own — throughout the pre-draft process due to their success as run-pass playmaking threats as collegians. Scouts will weigh his long-term potential against his predecessors’ production as pros to ultimately determine how high he sits on draft boards on draft day, whenever he elects to make the jump to the pros.
Before we get into Jackson’s evaluation, we should look back at how Griffin and Mariota dominated the game as collegians before becoming No. 2 overall picks in the 2012 and 2015 drafts, respectively.
2010: Completed 304 of 454 passes (67 percent) for 3,501 yards with 22 touchdowns and 8 interceptions; 149 rushing attempts for 635 yards and 8 scores
2011: 291-of-402 passing (72.4 percent) for 4,293 yards, 37 TDs and 6 INTs; 179 rushes for 699 yards and 10 TDs
2012: 230-of-336 passing (68.5 percent) for 2,677 yards with 32 TDs and 6 INTs; 106 rushes for 752 yards and 5 TDs
2013: 245-of-386 passing (63.5 percent) for 3,665 yards with 31 TDs and 4 INTs; 96 rushes for 715 yards and 9 TDs
2014: 304-of-445 passing (68.3 percent) for 4,454 yards with 42 TDs and 4 INTs; 135 rushes for 770 yards with 15 TDs
2015: 135-of-247 passing (54.7 percent) for 1,840 yards with 12 TDs and 8 INTs; 163 rushes for 960 yards and 11 TDs.
2016: 230-of-409 passing (56.2 percent) for 3,543 yards with 30 TDs and 9 INTs; 260 rushes for 1,571 yards and 21 TDs
Although each player thrived in a different version of the spread, I found it interesting that Griffin and Mariota were more efficient and effective passers than Jackson by a significant margin. Griffin, in particular, completed more than 70 percent of his passes as a collegian and looked like a competent thrower on paper. On the other hand, Jackson is a far more explosive runner and delivers more splash plays (touchdowns/long runs) as a rusher.
Now, that doesn’t mean much in the overall evaluation, but it is something that scouts will note when comparing Jackson to his Heisman Trophy predecessors as they discuss his prospects down the road.
When I studied Jackson’s tape from last season, I was impressed with his explosive athleticism and playmaking ability. Simply put, Jackson is a “wow” athlete with an exceptional combination of speed, quickness and burst. He is capable of scoring from anywhere on the field as a slippery escape artist on a variety of zone-read, QB-designed runs (sweeps and draws) and speed-option plays. Jackson’s electric running ability is his biggest asset as a playmaker and Louisville tailors its system to accentuate his strengths.
In the passing game, Jackson is more of a thrower than passer. Despite having a “big” arm (outstanding arm strength, zip and velocity), he lacks the polished footwork and fundamentals to efficiently work from the pocket. He fails to consistently step into his throws, which leads to struggles with his accuracy and ball placement. Jackson routinely misses open receivers on vertical routes and lacks the touch to “drop the ball into bucket” on deep tosses. With his shoddy footwork also affecting his accuracy on short and intermediate throws, Jackson is a streaky passer who’s incapable of stringing together completions at a high rate in a scheme with advanced reads.
At his best, Jackson is most effective throwing isolation routes (quarterback is taught to throw to a specific receiver without a post-snap read) or simple concepts (slant-flat or stick-go routes) on the perimeter. In addition, he is efficient and effective on movement-based passes (bootlegs/sprint outs) with half-field reads that allow him to decisively target the primary or secondary receiver.
With that being said, Jackson certainly has some intriguing tools to build around as a quarterback. He is an A-level athlete with the arm talent to make every throw in the book, but he needs to work on his game to become a top prospect in the 2018 or 2019 draft.
When I compare his game to Mariota and Griffin, he currently is closer to Griffin, the 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year, than the Tennessee Titans‘ franchise quarterback. Jackson and his supporters might take offense to my comparison based on RG3‘s recent struggles, but I believe he could learn from the former Redskins and Browns QB1’s missteps.
Instead of relying solely on his athleticism to get out of trouble, Jackson must learn how to win during the pre-snap phase by understanding how to decipher coverage. In addition, he needs to be able to process post-snap adjustments and find a way to get to his second or third option when opponents blanket his primary receiver.
The best quarterbacks in the game are capable of winning with their minds when opponents take away their legs.
Speaking of legs, Jackson needs to diligently work on his footwork and mechanics in the pocket. He needs to fully incorporate his lower body into his throws to improve his accuracy and ball placement. In addition, he must exhibit more poise and composure when the pocket collapses. Although Jackson is certainly capable of escaping the rush with his legs, he will need to pick and choose when to use his athleticism/running ability in the NFL to enjoy a long career. The size and speed of NFL defenders is much different than collegians, and Jackson will need to avoid hits to his slender frame to consistently suit up for his squad.
Overall, Jackson is one of the biggest wild cards among prospects at his position. He has the athletic talent to be a be a game changer at the next level, but he needs to refine his overall game (pocket poise, footwork/mechanics and diagnostic skills) to become a franchise-quarterback prospect in the eyes of NFL evaluators.
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Is PSU RB worthy of the hype?
At a time when the running back position is seemingly devalued, hype is running rampant for Penn State RB Saquon Barkley in NFL scouting circles heading into the summer.
“He’s special,” said an NFC scout. “He is as complete as they come at the position.”
With such lofty praise being heaped in the 5-foot-11, 223-pound junior’s direction, I thought I would pop in some tape to see if Barkley deserves to be in the conversation with Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette heading into the season. Considering how each of those players came off the board at with the No. 4 overall pick of the 2016 and 2017 drafts, respectively, Barkley has to be a special player to earn that kind of respect in the scouting world.
After studying the game tape, I believe Barkley is a blue-collar runner with a unique game that mixes power with finesse. He has the speed, quickness and burst to turn the corner on any defense, yet he is a nasty downhill runner with enough thump to run through contact at the point of attack. He repeatedly breaks tackles in the hole by lowering his shoulder into the defender, and he will follow it up with a subtle wiggle to avoid the next tackler. Barkley’s uncanny ability to shift from power to finesse is uncommon, which is why running back coaches will salivate over his game at the next level.
Barkley also displays impressive skills as a receiver out of the backfield. He catches the ball cleanly and runs routes like a receiver in space. He is a versatile playmaker who’s capable of aligning anywhere in the formation to create a mismatch in the passing game. As the NFL continues to evolve and incorporate running backs into the aerial attack as mismatch options, Barkley’s ability to catch the ball could make him a difference maker in a multifaceted system.
I believe his blocking skills could give him the edge over others at the position, too. He is a pro-ready pass protector with sound technique and the requisite physicality to challenge linebackers in the pocket. Barkley’s effectiveness in pass pro is surprising to see from a young player, which is why he will earn high marks from scouts checking out his tape this summer.
From a critical standpoint, I will cite his inconsistent production as a bit of a concern. Despite gaining nearly 1,500 rushing yards (1,496 to be exact) as a sophomore, he only had five games with 100 or more yards on the season. Sure, Barkley posted a pair of 200-yard games, but elite runners are expected to post significant production each week and his disappearing acts will lead to questions about his ability to dominate at the next level. It makes it hard to compare his impact potential to Elliott’s and Fournette’s because they consistently topped the 100-yard mark throughout their careers.
In the end, I’m very impressed with Barkley’s game and potential. He reminds me of a young Frank Gore based on his running style, versatility and durability as a RB1. Although he hasn’t put the finishing touches on his collegiate resume, Barkley certainly has the talent and potential to be a dominant player at the next level.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.