The stage was set for the former Heisman trophy winner. After breaking his own school record for total yards in a season earlier in the game, Lamar Jackson took the field at his own 34 yard line down four points with a chance to lead his team to one last 4th quarter comeback.

Jackson was served the ultimate opportunity to redeem himself after throwing three interceptions in what had been perhaps his worst passing performance of the season. But, he had the chance to rewrite the script and go out on top in what could be his final collegiate game.

As it played out, it wouldn’t result in some herculean storyline, as Jackson was picked off for the 4th time as Mark McLaurin secured the hat trick with his 3rd interception on his way to Player of the Game honors. Needless to say, it was a performance that made you wonder if he should declare for the 2018 NFL Draft.

Whether you’re a Lamar Jackson truther or not, it was hard to watch him go out like that. I caught myself rooting for him harder than I’ve rooted for my beloved Michigan Wolverines all season. Jackson is often caught in the middle of early draft heat, and I was really pulling for him to bounce back and prove the haters wrong.

To be clear on my stance with Jackson, he’s an extremely talented athlete and deadly with the ball in his hands. We’re talking about the next Michael Vick here (potentially), and I don’t understand why people are so hard on him. Sure, he showed some extreme flaws against Mississippi State, but as a whole I’d consider his 2017 season a success. Let’s not focus on where the player is at now, but instead look at the progress he’s made from last season. How can you knock any sort of progression?

TaxSlayer Bowl Film Review

Early on Lamar was forced to use his legs, which is never a bad backup plan for an offense. However, I still came away impressed with the patience he displayed in the pocket. He didn’t bail on any given play, but instead worked through his reads and resorted to the ground game when forced. He certainly didn’t look like a “run first” QB in this game. Now on the flipside of his pocket patience, when you have a runner as lethal as Jackson, you don’t mind if he leaves the pocket an extra second or two early. The way I see it, Jackson has a greater chance to break off the big play with his feet rather than his arm, but that’s not to say he’s not capable of delivering big time throws.

This was by far Jackson’s most impressive throw on the day. You don’t see many college quarterbacks with the savvy to adjust their arm angle on a tight window throw like this. Superb precision as Jackson tight roped it through for an early game-tying touchdown.

You have to love Lamar’s ability on the run. He’s such a smooth mover that he looks natural in this facet of his game. He has the arm strength to deliver some zingers. Wherever he lands at the next level, you have to think they’ll implement a lot of movement.

No analysis needed. This is what you’re getting in Lamar Jackson. A dynamic playmaker who can score at any given moment in a game.

Interception #1: Jackson got too greedy on this one. Tries to force the big play as the first half winds down. His poor vision through intermediate traffic was on full display in this game.

Interception #2: Lamar Jackson had gone 114 pass attempts without an interception, and now throws two on consecutive attempts. Poor placement as he fires behind his man.

Who doesn’t love a good ole shovel pass inside the 10? Simple play but harder to execute than perceived. It’s all about the subtleties.

We all know about his speed, but why doesn’t anyone talk about Jackson’s strength? Tremendous balance through contact as he tucks underneath his man. He’s not just lighting, but also thunder as a runner.

I’ll say this was the second best throw we saw from Lamar. You see him manipulate the defense with his eyes left, then quickly center sets to deliver the straight-line pass. Really nice placement. I don’t think he minds operating with a condensed field.

Interception #3: I think it’s safe to say that Jackson’s attention to detail on these shorts throws is among his biggest flaws. While this is a catchable ball, the placement is off as often times you’ll see him deliver high or away from his man.

Interception #4: Another misplacement here from Jackson. I don’t know if he lost confidence as the game progressed, but he did not look good in crunch time when his team needed him the most. You really started to question his decision making, which could be a bigger issue than I thought. This a costly turnover down late in a close game.

Following consecutive sacks netting a loss of  20 yards, Louisville faces 4th & 21, just seconds remain on the clock and it’s do or die for Jackson and the Cardinals. Another display of Jackson’s patience as he scans the field and climbs the pocket. Hits Jaylen Smith over the middle for the improbable conversion. Cards still alive, until a final deep heave gets swatted down, helplessly to the ground.

TaxSlayer Bowl Takeaways

It was a rocky performance for Lamar Jackson. While he still stands as my QB3 in that 2nd round range, his performance in the TaxSlayer Bowl was highly discouraging and perhaps even surfaced some extra concerns.

This had to have been the worst performance I’ve seen from Jackson all season. I don’t think I’ve seen his decision making as poor as it was in this game. While his receivers were struggling to gain separation throughout, you saw Jackson force a lot of throws to his man while a defender was draped right behind, mostly across the middle of the field. Bottom-line, Jackson has been the victim to a poor supporting cast this year, but some of the choices he made were inexcusable.

Then there’s his accuracy. Jackson was off for most of the day and struggled to get into a groove. You didn’t see him hitting his man in the sweet spot very often. Instead, a lot of throws landed away from his man, or high and not even in catchable range.

Still, there was some to like in what was a disappointing performance. As you would expect, Jackson made a big impact with his feet which was the main source of production for the Louisville offense. Defenses can either take away Jackson’s arm or legs, but rarely you can contain both, and that’s one reason why Jackson is such a special prospect. He can be streaky at times, but he’ll usually have the ability to win one way or another. He’s not a player you can simply contain.

I also wanted to note that I feel we take Lamar Jackson’s durability for granted. For a quarterback who runs as much as he does, and takes a routine pounding on drop backs, he has never missed significant time due to injury. Keep in mind, he has bulked up like we all wanted, and hasn’t lost any athleticism in the process. Prior to that, he was playing with a lean, skimpy frame but still endured punishment and stayed healthy.

I wouldn’t say Jackson’s showing against the mean Bulldogs knocks him down on my board at all, but it certainly wasn’t that signature performance to boost him that I was hoping for. Regardless of his play on Saturday, there’s no denying his skill and talent. The upside and progression he’s made to this point can’t remain to go unnoticed.

Lamar Jackson vs Top 30 Defenses

Watching Jackson struggle against a tough Mississippi State defense got me thinking. How has he performed against the top defenses in college football during his career? Thus, I put my box score scout hat on and compiled his numbers against every top 30 defense he’s faced.

To be clear, I have only evaluated maybe a half dozen of these games, so there is no film analysis included. I was simply curious to see how the numbers stacked up, and if any trends could be identified.

Among his 13 matchups against top 30 defenses, four of those came against teams Jackson faced just once while within terms of the guidelines given. In those four games, Jackson didn’t fair too well and compiled an 0-4 record which surfaced some questions on my part.

His poor performances against Clemson are well-documented, but he put together respectable numbers in two games. Against Florida State he played well in three games and won two of the three contests.

So my question being, is Jackson the type of player who gets better with familiarity against a specific defense? Would he improve if given the chance to play Mississippi State next year?

I’m not saying this is a stone cold trend, but it’s something interesting that could add context. I think it’s safe to say that Jackson is the type of player who gets better with experience, his progression from last year being a prime example. Now does that also carry over to the basis of improvement when comparing his first game against Team A to the next? Not quite something we can say right now.

If this is in fact the case, we could see Jackson struggle early on in his career as there are sure to be growing pains. However, I think this would also lead to a breakout late in his second season or early in his third year once he gets his feet wet.

Final Thoughts

In closing, Jackson is a rare quarterback prospect who is not without flaws and has a ways to go. The fact that he’s made strides and has gotten better is ultimately encouraging, while his finish to the 2017 season was quite the opposite.

You know he’s going to blowup the Combine and put up numbers even a running back or wide receiver would be excited about. When you have someone who can test far above the threshold, dominate on the field and continue to get better, why even entertain the idea of moving him from under center?

About The Author Jonathan Valencia

The Editor-in-Chief of Breaking Football, Jonathan has been an amateur NFL Draft evaluator for nearly the past five years. He prides himself on producing extensive, informative content. Follow him on Twitter @JonValenciaBF for fresh draft takes and GIF analysis of draft prospects. Born and raised in the Jersey Shore area, Jonathan now resides in Washington state with his wife.