Lamar Jackson Pro Day takeaways: Steelers rumors rev up for NFL Draft

Lamar Jackson put up a strong performance at his Pro Day on Thursday. SN's Vinnie Iyer delivers the most important takeaways, including which NFL teams are showing legitimate interest in the QB.

When Lamar Jackson performed at Louisville's Pro Day on Thursday, who was there and what he did not do were more of the focus than how he threw his 59 passes. Back on the same practice field where he developed into a Heisman-winning quarterback for the Cardinals, the consensus from NFL Network analysts who covered the workout was "solid."

Jackson was a little off at the NFL Combine last month, but he was a lot more crisp dropping back and throwing in a familiar bubble. His draft stock likely has stayed the same as an athletic passer who can fit well with some offenses and coaches but isn't the right style of QB for others. He's looking more like a late first-round pick for a team that won't need to rush him into action as a rookie.

With that said, here are the five most important takeaways from Jackson's hour-long showcase.

1. Steelers stay in play for Jackson at No. 28

Don't call it a smokescreen. Pittsburgh definitely is interested in Jackson as a potential successor for Ben Roethlisberger. Not only were coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert in attendance, but so was offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner.

The Steelers don't plan to deviate too much from the success they had with Todd Haley running the offense, and Haley with Cleveland this season is going with a big-armed, mobile passer in Tyrod Taylor as the Browns' starter while they develop their rookie. Jackson (6-3, 200 pounds) doesn't quite have Roethlisberger's size (6-5, 240 pounds), but his ability to buy time with his legs to get the ball deep should appeal to Black and Gold brass.

STEELE: Jackson is a quarterback only, but not everybody understands

With Pittsburgh picking right before Jacksonville, another team that could groom Jackson in its offense for the near future, it would be shocking to see him still on the board when Minnesota picks at No. 30 overall.

Miami was the one team that did not attend Jackson's Pro Day. The Dolphins will have no trouble, however, getting a good look at the South Florida native.

2. Jackson not running is no surprise

For those who hoped Jackson would put on his virtual track suit and run the 40-yard dash after he didn't do so at the Combine, they'll have to settle on just watching more film of him blazing past defenders over the past two college football seasons. One can't blame Jackson for not wanting to provide more fodder to the "he could be a wide receiver" crowd.

Jackson confirmed the reasoning for his decision in his post-workout interview with NFL Network's Mike Mayock.

"I feel game speed will tell it all," Jackson said. "You gotta catch me first. I’ve proved that.”

That also confirms Jackson has no shortage of the necessary confidence and swagger all teams should be looking for in a QB they intend to make the face of their franchise.


3. There's a new disparaging Jackson narrative

Jackson has had to play Whack-a-Mole with persistent scouting and media critics. The latest hot takes have come from the fact that Jackson doesn't have an agent and is represented mostly by his mother. Before Jackson worked out Thursday, Mayock said this is affecting the QB's ability to set up personal meetings and visits with teams.

Rest assured, the teams interested in drafting Jackson will make time to find out more about his special talents. The teams that are out on him won't do their due diligence, anyway. Of course, the notion also could have been put out there by more than a few Jackson suitors in an effort to make him last longer on the board for their drafting purposes.

Jackson's flying solo through the draft process is unusual, and it some ways it probably does hurt, because he doesn't have an extra advocate teams trust going to bat for him. But in the end, it won't make or break his draft stock. Jackson still will be drafted based on the comfort level teams have with his dynamic but hard-to-compartmentalize skill set.

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4. Jackson will benefit from NFL-caliber receivers

Jackson's workout also provided a reminder that he did not play with the best offensive supporting cast in college, especially those who caught passes from him. Jackson threw some lasers, but some drops by former teammates didn't help him look as good as should have.

It would be fun to see Jackson paired early with an elite veteran wideout, a la Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins immediately working well together last season.

5. Jackson will be easier for a defensive-minded team to draft

NFL college personnel directors say this a lot: It's easier for a mobile QB of Jackson's ilk to land with a head coach who's not hands-on offensively.

The Steelers with Tomlin would qualify, and so would the Bills with Sean McDermott, Tomlin's former college defensive teammate at William & Mary. Like McDermott, the Cardinals' Steve Wilks was the Panthers' defensive coordinator and saw what Cam Newton was able to provide Carolina.

MORE: NFL Mock Draft 2018: Bills, Jaguars land right QBs; 49ers start own 'LOB'

The leading exceptions so far are the Jaguars with Doug Marrone and the Saints with Sean Payton. Marrone and Payton, however, like the Texans' Bill O'Brien, are more willing to go outside the box and tailor their offenses to their QBs' specific skill sets.

The positive of the polarizing views on Jackson: They should help him land with the right team and maximize his potential in the NFL.