Saturday, December 12th, 2020

The Name’s Jackson, Lamar Jackson…

nicholasmcgee

The Name’s Jackson, Lamar Jackson…

nicholasmcgee NFL

This article originally appeared in Issue 2 of Gridiron Weekly – for individual editions or subscriptions, click HERE



In a draft class filled with cornerback talent likely to go in the first round, Nebraska’s Lamar Jackson has fallen under the radar.

However, after a breakthrough 2019 season that saw him record 40 tackles, three interceptions and 12 pass breakups to be named second-team All-Big Ten, the 6’2″, 208lb Californian is ready to make the leap and try to emulate the taller corners who have recently succeeded in the NFL. He is taking particular inspiration from two former members of the vaunted Jacksonville Jaguars defense that narrowly missed out on a Super Bowl berth in the 2017 season.

“I look at guys like Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, guys who are not just the typical 5’9, 5’10”, 5’11” corners, the guys who are 6-foot plus, guys with long arms but also can move well and play the position at a high level,” Jackson told Gridiron. “If you ask me, that’s the way to go. If you’ve got a guy who can go guard a versatile group of wideouts, from the small guys to the 6’5″ guys, that’s a win.”

Jackson was regarded as a top safety recruit coming out of high school, but has little interest in talk of a move back to that position, despite admitting that coaches might consider his frame versatile enough to guard the elite tight ends that often prove a mismatch for smaller safeties.

“If I see myself as a pure corner, just because I’m tall or just because I’m a bigger guy, I feel like that’s not something you should hold against me,” he added. “At this size, I’ve got the ability to do exactly what I’ve been doing, playing corner and guarding many different kinds of receivers.

“Of course, I see myself as a corner because that’s what I know and that’s what I’ve played all my career, [but] you’ve got to think that, in this league, a lot of the top targets, the guys making the plays, are tight ends. Even if I do play corner, I’m pretty sure teams would like to use my size and my ability to guard guys like Travis Kelce, and those other top-tier tight ends that the majority of safeties struggle with.”
 


“Those places are pretty much staples for DBs and first-round talents that come to their schools. They pretty much have the red carpet rolled out for them.”


 
Despite his multi-faceted skill set and a stellar 2019, Jackson will likely face a longer wait than Ohio State’s Jeffery Okudah and Florida’s C.J. Henderson to receive that life-changing phone call. Jackson believes that that duo’s status as consensus first-round picks is reflective of them going to schools with a history of producing premier cornerback prospects.

Asked if he felt overlooked, he replied: “For sure, but I kind of take into consideration the fact that I went to Nebraska. Okudah went to Ohio State, C.J. went to Florida. Those places are pretty much staples for DBs and first-round talents that come to their schools. They pretty much have the red carpet rolled out for them. They really just have to be productive, everything else is going to follow that due to the previous formula.

“Regardless of feeling like I’m overlooked, however, I’m confident in what I’ve got to offer, I’m confident in my ability. Whoever thinks I’m overlooked now, I ain’t going to give them the opportunity to overlook me once it comes to down to actually playing in the NFL.”

Of course, where Jackson winds up could largely be determined by his ability to convince teams of his talent without ever working out for them beyond the combine. With the scourge of COVID-19 keeping prospects from making the customary pre-draft visits, the 22-year old has been in touch with potential suitors through the magic of modern communication.

“I’ve ‘met’ with the Bears and the Saints,” he revealed. “I actually just spoke to the Saints via conference call, and got on there with the position coaches. They pretty much wanted to see what IQ I had, if I knew what was going on beside just the corner position. Seeing all those guys working from their offices at home just goes to show just how serious this is, [but] there is still work to be done, so people are working, trying to figure out what they’re going to do in the draft.”
 


“I’m going to make my legacy one way or another, [but] he scores touchdowns, he’s the quarterback, so it might be hard for me to ever match his fame.”


 
With the pandemic not only shutting down team facilities and denying face-to-face contact, the players are also having to find alternative methods of staying sharp, and Jackson is no exception.

“For the most part, I’m just telling myself to remain humble, remain grateful for what I’ve got and the positives that are going on,” he confirmed.”Free agency happening was a good sign, that people were still getting paid, still getting traded and all that stuff. At the same time, [the NFL] keeping the draft on the same dates also gives me motivation and something to look forward to, so I’ve just been acting as normal, working out at least once a day, doing something to make sure I stay active, get a sweat in because, with all the unknowns in the future, it would be easy to settle, get complacent and waste time. At the end of the day, you’ve got to remember you’re training to be in the NFL. I just keep the mindset that I want to be a professional, so I’ve got to handle this like a professional: pretty much stay ready, stay on myself, stay consistent and continue to work so that, when they do call, I’ll be more than ready for my next move.”

While his fellow prospects at the cornerback position may have received more attention, the quarterback Lamar Jackson should be aware of his namesake on the other side of the ball, thanks to social media.

“I haven’t had any contact with him, but we get tagged in a whole bunch of stuff on Twitter together,” the younger Jackson explained. “It’s going to be cool when we do actually meet each other, just because we see each other getting tagged in the same posts all the time. I see his name, I’m pretty sure he sees mine. It’s going to be one of those situations where it’s like “what up, bro”. I’m excited for that as well.”

Asked if the quarterback’s standout 2019 campaign, in which he landed the league’s MVP award, might overshadow his own NFL entrance, the Sacramento native – who played under centre as well as on defense at Franklin High School – appeared unconcerned.

“It’s not like I’ll ever be in competition with him or be like ‘I need to be as famous as the other Lamar Jackson’,” he stated. “Those that know me, my family, my friends and anybody who gets to play with me, they’re going to know exactly who I am. I’m going to make my legacy one way or another, [but] he scores touchdowns, he’s the quarterback, so it might be hard for me to ever match his fame.”
 


“It was more than motivation, it went from just playing football to being a job, simply because we’re not working just to play football, we’re working for financial stability, to be able to support my child.”


 
Fame is not at the forefront of Jackson’s mind right now, however, with his career given a new purpose when his son, Legacy Nathan, was born in March last year.

“It’s really one of those feelings that I can’t really explain or put into words,” Jackson conceded. “When I first had him, it was a sense of happiness that I’d never really felt before [but], at the same time, it was anxiety, nervousness of having a child. Once you actually have him and see that he’s a piece of you, it just naturally hit different. It hits home, it hits you heart, hits your head, and it made you mature almost instantly.

“Having my child right before my senior year, I feel like I had just enough time [to adapt]. I was able to have my baby, accept the fact that I had a baby, get a plan in place and execute it come the fall. I feel like the timing was perfect. It was more than motivation, it went from just playing football to being a job, simply because we’re not working just to play football, we’re working for financial stability, to be able to support my child. It just got a bit more real and I kind of locked in a little bit more, so it was pretty much perfect.”

Providing for Legacy naturally takes precedence over securing his own dreams but, fuelled by the duty of supporting his son and the desire to prove himself as a top corner in the class, there is no shortage of drive to make sure Lamar Jackson is making plays on both sides of the ball in the 2020s.



This article originally appeared in Issue 2 of Gridiron Weekly – for individual editions or subscriptions, click HERE

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