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Path to the Passer: Who will buy into 'electrifying' Lamar Jackson?

(This is the latest installment in a series on potential quarterback options for the Buffalo Bills leading up to the NFL Draft.)

Lamar Jackson is the only player in college football's bowl subdivision era to pass for at least 3,500 yards and rush for at least 1,500 yards in a season. And Jackson did it twice.

Yet at least one NFL team requested that Jackson work out at wide receiver during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last month. Jackson declined. Hall of Fame General Manager Bill Polian is on record saying Jackson would be best at receiver.

The perception of the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner as a "dual threat" – is it fair or not? – arguably is the hottest controversy entering the 2018 NFL Draft.

Most draft observers expect Wyoming's Josh Allen to be taken in the top three picks, even though he completed only 56.3 percent for his career. Jackson completed 57 percent (and 59.1 percent as a junior last season). Two different players in two different situations. Yet the perception exists that Jackson's style subjects him to a harsher standard.

"It's the accuracy throwing the football," said ESPN analyst Mel Kiper of the biggest knock on Jackson. "He finished his career around 57 percent. You can throw to wide-open receivers in college – I call them in-the-area throws – that you can't get away with in the NFL."

"But he's got talent," Kiper said. "I remember Rich Gannon coming out of Delaware was a similar entity. They said great athlete, we can make him a receiver or DB. He developed into a heckuva quarterback. If you give Lamar Jackson time as a second-round pick, I think there's a chance he could become an effective starter down the road."

Pre-draft doubts about Jackson's ability to win from the pocket in the NFL could be overshadowed by the time the first round ends on April 26. Kiper has him going 15th overall to Arizona in his latest mock draft.

The Bills probably could draft him at No. 12. But if the Bills didn't want Tyrod Taylor, one has to question whether they would buy into Jackson.

"Lamar Jackson I think is the most electrifying player in the draft," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. "Somebody’s going to take him and commit their offensive philosophy to him. I would tell you that the most nervous 31 people in the league would be the defensive coordinators who would have to play him."

Anyone who watched Louisville the past two years knows what Mayock is talking about.

Jackson passed for 30 TDs, rushed for 21 and racked up 5,114 yards of total offense during his Heisman season of 2016. He followed up in 2017 with 27 TDs passing, 18 rushing and 4,932 total yards.

Michael Vick has called Jackson "the spitting image of me." At 6-foot-2 1/4 inches and 216 pounds, Jackson is bigger than the 6-foot, 210-pound Vick. Will he be durable if he runs a lot in the NFL? It's a concern all talented scrambling quarterbacks face.

A lot of draft experts like Kiper were thinking "down the road" when Clemson's Deshaun Watson was taken 12th overall by the Houston Texans last season. But he was on his way to rookie-of-the-year honors in six impressive starts for the Texans before suffering a knee injury.

"I think the way the NFL is going, teams are going to start to commit," Mayock said. "You saw what Bill O’Brien did with Deshaun Watson. He did an outstanding job of catering to Deshaun and making him comfortable last year. I think somebody is going to do that with Lamar. He’s Michael Vick. He has as good a pair of legs as anybody in the history of the game. And he’s going to win games with his legs."

Jackson dismissed any suggestion of a position switch when talking to reporters at the combine last month. He declined to run the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis and at his pro-day workout on Thursday.

"Whoever likes me at quarterback, that’s where I’m going," he said. "That’s strictly my position. I don’t need to show off my speed and show people I can make them miss. I have to show off my arm because that’s where they doubt me."

Jackson also would not get drawn into a discussion about any racial bias he faces since the NFL has a history of having less patience with black quarterbacks labeled "dual threats" out of college.

"I can’t speak for the media," Jackson said. "They do their job. I do mine. I stay away from that question. I’m a quarterback. I don’t know anything about the rest of it."

Jackson showed improvement as a passer as a junior in 2017. He increased his completion percentage from 56.2 to 59.1. What did he do better?

"Staying in the pocket more," he said. "Watching a lot of film, I’m like, man, I shouldn’t have taken off there. I should have hit not the first window but the second window. I had to learn that coming into my junior year.

Louisville also did not build an inordinate number of check-downs into its offense for Jackson. He often ran for big gains when another QB might have checked down.

Jackson needs to develop as an anticipation passer, pulling the trigger more effectively before the receiver breaks open. He will need to develop better accuracy driving the ball outside the numbers on deep outs, too.

However, Jackson is going to make big plays downfield that traditional pocket passers can't make.

"I’m mobile, I can hit any target on the field," he said. "I love the game with a passion. I lead my team. I feel like I’m a field general. I love to score. I love to put the ball in other receivers’ hands. I’m not a ball hog at all. It may look like it but I’m not."

Jackson just turned 21.

Broncos coach Vance Joseph said he hopes whoever picks Jackson will show patience.

"They need time to develop quarterback skill sets, not just physical skill sets," Joseph said. "The mental part of the game is huge. Once they get that, they can play. But what happens is the kids come in, we play them too soon, they get burned, they lose their nerve and they can't recover from it. That's coaching and that's the league. We have to give them time to develop and learn how to play the position."

"He's a special talent," Joseph said. "He can do things that most guys can't do – running the football, throwing the football with accuracy. He's got a bright future."

Jackson has a reputation as a strong-character leader at Louisville. It was reported this week he scored 13 out of 50 on the 12-minute Wonderlic test, according to John Middlekauff of the Atlantic. That's low, although the value of it is debated. A few comparisons: Cam Newton was reported to have scored 21, A.J. McCarron 22, E.J. Manuel 28, Eli Manning 39 and Ryan Fitzpatrick 49.

Which team will be willing to mold its offensive scheme around Jackson's talent? Pro Football Weekly analyst Greg Gabriel calls Jackson "the major wild card in this draft" and rates him ahead of Allen.

"The team that drafts him has to have a plan on how to develop Jackson," Gabriel says. "If he settles down and improves his mechanics, he could be very good. Patience will be needed in his development."

"When you have a guy who can move around a little bit like Lamar, you make a defense play 11-on-11," said Chargers coach Anthony Lynn at the combine. "And sometimes, they think that’s not fair. But when the offense can go 11-on-11, that’s a defensive coordinator’s worst nightmare. That’s what he brings to the table."

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