MOBILE, Ala. — Tyree Jackson has taken the last week of the college football season in stride.
The redshirt junior quarterback for the University at Buffalo football team has done everything from make throws in practice to roll strikes in bowling, but he won’t say much about his future past this weekend.
Could this be Jackson’s last game at UB?
He could declare for the NFL Draft. He could stay at UB for his final season of eligibility. He also has the option of joining another program as a graduate transfer in 2019.
Jackson isn't saying what he'll do next. UB coach Lance Leipold said Jackson and his family will decide on his future after the Bulls' final game Saturday when UB (10-3) faces Troy (9-3) in the Dollar General Bowl at 7 p.m. at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.
“I owe it to all our seniors to go out there, prepare like this is our last game, as it is theirs, to go out there and give it our all,” Jackson said. “The same goes for me. I go out there every week and lock into that opponent, and I feel like that’s how it’s been with this game.”
NFL scouts and draft analysts have taken notice of Jackson, many labeling him as a sleeper pick in the draft in April. At 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, Jackson has the size, the athleticism and the numbers to become an NFL-caliber quarterback. But he also needs to improve in some areas before he can seriously consider a professional career.
“He has to ask himself, ‘Am I going to get better at Buffalo, and be a top 50-60 pick, a second-round pick in a better quarterback class next year?’ ” said Jon Ledyard, a senior NFL draft analyst for The Draft Network. “Or, 'If I’m not going to get better, what can the NFL do for me?’
“This is a hot year for him, and there’s going to be some buzz.”
Jackson isn’t among the top quarterback prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft or projected to go in the first three rounds of the latest mock draft on walterfootball.com.
NFLdraftscout.com ranks Jackson as the No. 15 quarterback in the 2020 draft class. He isn’t listed among the top 50 in its 2019 draft class.
“You recognize that ability and sometimes when you play in a smaller conference, the competition is an adjustment, but he’ll definitely get a look,” said Archie Manning, who hosted Jackson as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy in June in Thibodaux, La. “He’s about to graduate, so I guess he’s got to make a decision about if he wants to try to go in the draft or if he’s going to come back or if he’s going to transfer."
If he returns to UB for his final year of eligibility or if he transfers to a Power Five school, Jackson will remain in a strong 2020 draft class for quarterbacks that could include Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Washington’s Jacob Eason.
If Jackson transfers, he'll have options, but he will have to consider teams that lose quarterbacks to transfers, graduation or the draft. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, a redshirt junior, declared for the draft earlier this month, while other draft-eligible underclassman quarterbacks, including Oregon's Justin Herbert and Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins, have yet to announce their intentions.
If Jackson enters the draft this year, he likely will spend the first year or two of his professional career as a No. 2 or No. 3 quarterback, learning a system and working with coaches to become an efficient NFL quarterback.
“I don’t know his personal situation or the kind of coaching he’s getting at Buffalo, but generally speaking, a quarterback should probably declare off his hottest season, unless there are mechanical or mental concerns,” Ledyard said.
Sam Darnold faced the same situation when he chose to leave USC after the 2017 season. Darnold passed for 4,143 yards and 26 touchdowns, but threw 13 interceptions and lost eight fumbles, the most by any player nationally.
Darnold, however, had size, speed, mobility outside of the pocket and arm strength, and knew he would be a top-10 draft pick. The New York Jets drafted Darnold third overall last year.
Ledyard said Jackson doesn’t have that same guarantee.
“The reality is, you’re not going to get drafted to start,” Ledyard said. “You’re going to get drafted to learn, and you have to sit and earn playing time. Tyree Jackson, he’s probably not going to be a first-round pick. It is a risk if he declares early. If he plays one more year there and can improve his stock, he can go higher.”
Ledyard explained that at the NFL level, a team can mold Jackson into their projection of a professional quarterback. That can mean learning to read professional-level coverages or breaking some habits that a player develops during a college career, even one as productive as Jackson’s.
Jackson has thrown for 2,857 yards and 27 touchdowns in 13 games. He has size, arm strength and the ability to make long throws, but Ledyard said Jackson needs to have a quicker, cleaner throwing motion, and added that Jackson spends too much time in the pocket processing coverage. As a result, he holds the ball too long, something NFL defenses will exploit.
Dan Shonka, a former NFL scout, draws a line for Jackson: Stay another year in college.
“He definitely should stay another year,” said Shonka, who is now general manager of Ourlads Scouting Services. “He’s a raw talent. He’s got to improve his consistency. He’s a big guy and he’s athletic, but you still need to improve your consistency throwing the ball and making decisions.”
“If you’re not accurate and you can’t make good decisions, you’re wasting everybody’s time. Someone will take you because you’re big and strong, but your future is limited unless you’re very accurate. And you’ve got to make good decisions.”
Jackson completed 55.1 percent of his passes this season, which ranked third in the MAC, but 99th nationally.
He started nine games in 2016 as a redshirt freshman and went 165-for-311 passing for 1,772 yards, nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. A knee injury limited Jackson to eight games in 2017, but he finished with 2,096 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions.
He has started all 13 of UB’s games this year. He has improved his play and matured as a result of being healthy and having more playing time.
“With time, you continue to grow and get better, as a leader and a player,” Jackson said. “That’s a big thing, with reps and just with being out there.”
Leipold declined to say if Jackson’s name has been submitted to the NFL’s College Advisory Committee, which advises underclassmen on their draft prospects. But if Jackson’s name has been submitted to the College Advisory Committee, it will give him one of three ratings as a 2019 draft pick: potential first-round pick, potential second-round pick, or neither, which is otherwise a recommendation to stay in school. The deadline to declare for the NFL Draft is Jan. 14.
Incoming freshman quarterback Trevor Bycznski doesn’t know which way Jackson is leaning. But he welcomes the opportunity to learn from Jackson if he returns.
“I can learn from Tyree how to be an NFL prospect,” Bycznski said. “If he stays another year, it would be great for me to learn from him, how he handles his business, how he works out and how he translates and deciphers defenses.”