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Cinderella Sleeper: The Can’t-Miss Prospect Nobody is Talking About

It is officially that time of the year. The NFL season is unfortunately, officially over. It is the time of year where football fans can no longer kick back with a cold one and watch their favorite team play on Sunday. If you live in Cleveland, chances are its been this time of year for a long time. It is this time of year where fans like to play GM for their favorite team: talking about free agent rumors and who their team should draft – they have it all figured out.

This year as we get closer and closer to the NFL draft, we hear the same names over and over again. “Sam Darold’s size”, “Josh Rosen’s accuracy”, “Josh Allen’s arm strength”, are all anybody can talk about when discussing which quarterbacks will go off the board first. Now while that may be true, I am here to tell you that not one of those quarterbacks are the most talented prospect in this draft. There are plenty of QB-needy teams that are looking to draft their next franchise quarterback in this year’s draft, but there are even more teams who are closer to winning than they think.

The Bills, Jaguars, Ravens, Vikings, and Cardinals are all teams with talented, young rosters who have questions at QB heading into this offseason. These teams could all benefit from a quarterback like Lamar Jackson out of Louisville in this year’s draft. While Jackson does not get the same amount of hype as Darold, Rosen, Allen, or even Baker Mayfield, it is hard to imagine anyone who can do more for an offense as Lamar Jackson can. That is the job of a quarterback is it not? To make and create plays for the offense? There is not a better playmaker in this QB class than Lamar Jackson.

It would not surprise me to see a team like Buffalo draft Jackson in the first round. Their head coach –  Sean McDermott – comes from the Carolina Panthers where dual-threat QB Cam Newton leads one of the most advanced rushing attacks in the NFL. Buffalo is built very similar to Carolina. A young, athletic defense is their key to winning games. Having a QB like Jackson who can spark an offense similar to the way Newton can in Carolina would be a very nice addition in the backfield with LeSean McCoy for a Buffalo team coming back from their first playoff berth in 17 years.

A team like Jacksonville could really benefit from Jackson’s abilities as well. This year, the Jaguars won a playoff game in which their quarterback – Blake Bortles – ran for more yards than he threw for (87 passing yards, 88 rushing yards). This was in a sun-filled Jaguars stadium, so weather was not an excuse as to why the passing game was non-existent. Adding Jackson into the backfield with future-superstar running back Leonard Fournette would add a new dimension to a Jaguars offense that had a better chance to score when it was on the sidelines than when it was on the field in 2017.

The same can be said for the Ravens. Joe Flacco has not been the same since Baltimore won the Super Bowl in 2012. The Ravens offense as a whole has struggled in recent years as well. Baltimore relies on its top notch defense to shoulder the load in wins. The model in Carolina can be followed in Baltimore if they decide to draft Lamar Jackson. This would be one of the better situations for Jackson because he will be able to sit and learn behind veteran starter Joe Flacco. Sitting a year would benefit Jackson by allowing him to not be “thrown into the fire” that is the speed of the NFL defenses right away. Some argue that the best way to learn is through experience, but putting Jackson in a “crockpot” and let him slowly cook and develop his game in the NFL would help him transition both mentally and physically. Jackson needs to add some muscle to his slim frame (6’3, 212 lbs) and sitting a year behind Flacco would allow him to focus on that. Sitting behind a veteran will also help Jackson with developing his mechanics and other aspects of his game that need improvement, like all young quarterbacks need. Pairing that with being mentored by a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, Jackson would be a lot of fun to watch in Baltimore.

The Cardinals and Vikings are very interesting candidates for Jackson as well. Both teams have young, athletic defenses as well as a young core nucleus on offense that could grow with Jackson. Depending on what the Vikings do with their current QB situation (whether or not they re-sign Keenum, Bradford, or Bridgewater) pairing Jackson with their young weapons on offense such as Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs, and Adam Thielen would be electric. The Vikings are the most “win-now” team out of the bunch, so they most likely won’t be looking to the draft to find their next franchise guy.

The Cardinals drafting Lamar Jackson makes sense because not only do they have a young nucleus, they are the most QB-needy team of the bunch. Losing Carson Palmer to retirement leaves the Cardinals with a massive void behind center. A void that can be filled by the most electric quarterback prospect since Michael Vick. Vick and Jackson have similar body types (except Jackson is three inches taller) and both can sling the rock. Putting Jackson in the backfield with the incredibly talented David Johnson mixed in with veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald would be a great fit. What’s more, Jackson would be able to remain a Cardinal (playing his college ball at Louisville – nicknamed the Cardinals).

There are some out there that believe that Lamar Jackson should switch his position to wide receiver if he wants to play in the NFL. This I cannot wrap my mind around. Why would he switch from his position – the position he has been playing all throughout his collegiate career – to a whole new position he would have to learn from scratch. Also, he is far too talented of a quarterback to switch to receiver. He may have won the heisman in 2016, but his 2017 campaign showed tremendous strides in the mental aspects of the quarterback position. Jackson stayed in the pocket more often in 2017, attempting 430 passes opposed to 409 passes in 2016. He also completed a higher percentage of his passes in 2017 along with over 1,000 more passing yards as well.

With the big names (Darnold, Rosen, Mayfield, Allen) likely off the board early on in the first round of the NFL draft, a name to keep an eye out for is Lamar Jackson. Depending on how the combine goes, he may even catapult himself to the top of this list (even though he should be there already). Whatever the case may be, Jackson is an incredible talent and should have a long career in the NFL for whoever decides to make him their next franchise QB.

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