We’re only two weeks into the college football season, but already the cream is starting to rise. Several of the top NFL Draft prospects have already begun to separate themselves from the rest of the field. Saquon Barkley, the running back from Penn State, has staked his claim as the top running back prospect in the nation with what he brings in both the run and pass game. The top quarterbacks in the nation — guys like Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson, and Baker Mayfield — have gained clear separation on the rest of the pack.
Lamar Jackson is the most 😴underrated passer in college football. No one has a quicker release than him and he's deadly in the interm game
— Tajh Boyd (@TajhB10) September 10, 2017
However, for as much separation as these three quarterbacks have gained on the rest of the field, no one, as of yet, has separated themselves from the other two. All that could change on Saturday when Louisville Cardinals star quarterback Lamar Jackson squares off against the vaunted Clemson Tigers defense. This match-up is the proverbial “unstoppable force meets immovable object”. And I, for one, absolutely can’t wait to see which one comes out on top.
On one side you have Lamar Jackson, who is putting up “video game numbers” as Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney called it. Jackson is the defending Heisman Trophy winner and is arguably the most improved player in all of college football. That’s absolutely insane. So far on the year, Jackson has led the Cardinal offense on 5 scoring drives with his arm, amassing 771 yards through the air. He’s added 239 yards on the ground and 3 more touchdowns. In two games.
The numbers are impressive for sure, but what has Jackson separating from the field is the improvements he’s made from last year to this. Coming into the season, most viewed Jackson as an athlete playing the quarterback position, rather than a quarterback who happened to be athletic. I was one of those, though not going so far as to suggest a move to wide receiver as some have. But what I’ve seen from Jackson so far this season has impressed me. He looks more confident in the pocket, is showcasing ability to read defenses and make the correct throw. His accuracy has also tremendously improved, jumping more than 8 percentage points from his Heisman campaign.
On the other side, you have the wrecking ball that is the Clemson defense. Arguably the best defense in college football right now, they are likely to pose the biggest challenge Jackson will face all season. Led by three first round prospects in their own right, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence, and Clelin Ferrell, the Clemson defense has been on an absolutely torrid pace this season. They come into Saturday’s match-up fresh off the heels of a dominant performance against the Auburn Tigers, sacking quarterback Jarrett Stidham 11 times.
Clemson’s defense is ranked second in the nation in terms of total defense and has a bevy of talent. They’re going to present a tough challenge for the reigning Hesiman Trophy winner. But it’s going to take a tremendous effort from the defense to slow down Lamar Jackson. Wilkins, Ferrell, and the rest of the crew are going to have to be on their toes the entire game. Jackson is the very definition of a dual-threat quarterback, just as dangerous with his arms as he is his legs. This is going to be a fun match-up, and could go down as the best one of the year.