Louisville Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson should easily be one of the top three quarterbacks in this year’s NFL Draft. He won the 2016 Heisman Trophy and arguably had a better season this year. So it’s quite confusing why Jackson has received widespread criticism by NFL scouts and draft analysts and is projected as a late draft in the first round.
Jackson is a Black athlete, and the unfortunate root of the criticism he receives is racism.
The premier quarterbacks in this year’s draft include Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen. The common denominator between these four men is that they are all white with big arms. However, if you watch Lamar Jackson’s film and Pro Day tape, his arm is just as powerful as the other four. Why isn’t he just as celebrated as they are? It’s certainly not his decision-making. Last season, Jackson threw a total of 10 interceptions while playing teams in one of the most competitive conferences in the country, the Atlantic Coast Conference. Jackson had to play against elite defenses such as the Florida State Seminoles and the Clemson University Tigers and still managed to throw only 10 interceptions. Rosen, who is also likely to be drafted over Jackson, threw 10 interceptions as well. Darnold — who is considered the best quarterback in many scouts’ eyes — threw 13 of them.
Jackson has also taken criticism for being a running quarterback. An uptick in injuries to NFL quarterbacks, namely Carson Wentz — the quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles and favorite for the MVP Award until he tore his ACL mid-season — has made general managers skeptical of quarterbacks who take extra hits. However, Jackson has managed his health quite successfully, despite his smaller frame. He’s played through minor injuries just as any college football player would, but he’s never experienced any devastating injury that would make teams second-guess him. Jackson’s arm, awareness, and durability are up-to-par with the other elite NFL Draft quarterback prospects. Add unbelievable athleticism to those abilities, and you have Jackson. He is by far the best athlete out of all of the quarterbacks in the draft.
Jackson’s qualifications should make him a surefire top pick, but there’s a glaring problem that isn’t being talked about: Racism is a factor that plays into Lamar Jackson’s draft stock. While most quarterbacks — one of the only positions in the NFL that is dominated by white men — are praised for having a high football IQ, Black quarterbacks are only ever praised for their athletic abilities. NFL scouts and analysts constantly criticize Jackson, saying that he won’t be able to handle concepts at the next level, even though he ran an effective NFL-style offense last year.
Tangibles aside, the most laughable critique about Jackson is that he should try switching his position to wide receiver. Scouts told him that his build is better fit for a wide receiver in the NFL, but Heisman-winning and record-breaking quarterbacks shouldn’t have to switch to wide receiver. A few years ago, Johnny Manziel — another former Heisman winner — wasn’t pressured to switch positions. His game is often compared to Jackson’s, even though with off-field character issues he also had a late first-round grade. This screams racism.
Jackson’s situation reminds me of the same old bias that Black people have to deal with all the time when it comes to job hunting. Their white counterparts will always have the advantage, no matter how talented they are, because of their skin color. Lamar Jackson will be just fine when he enters the league, but it’s both frustrating and disappointing to see him receive this racially coded criticism repeatedly from both scouts and the media in 2018.