Editor's note: NFL.com analysts and former NFL scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of the Move The Sticks Podcast share some of their scouting notes for Week 3 of the college football season, including:
But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Brooks' take on whether Lamar Jackson has improved this season, and what the QB must do to alter the opinion of those skeptical of his chances for NFL success.
Lamar Jackson is one of the most spectacular playmakers in college football history, but scouts are still wondering if his electrifying game translates to the NFL. While Jackson has amassed more than 1,000 yards and eight scores in Louisville's first two games this season, I had a colleague in the football media recently tell me that the reigning Heisman Trophy winner "can't play quarterback in the NFL."
While I've grown accustomed to hearing dismissive comments about a dual-threat quarterback's chances of succeeding as a pro, I was taken aback by the remarks, particularly after watching Jackson shred North Carolina last week in a magnificent performance that showcased his dizzying combination of athleticism, arm talent and playmaking ability.
The 6-foot-3, 211-pound (school measurements) junior is an unstoppable force at the position with the capacity to take over the game as a runner or thrower. Jackson is a "wow" athlete with a rare set of tools that could make him a game changer at the position.
From his explosive athleticism and running skills, which make him a threat to shred defenses on scripted or impromptu runs, to his exceptional arm talent, which allows him to attack every area of the field, the Cardinals star is a headache for defensive coordinators on the collegiate level.
Although he has plenty of work to do to become a star as a pro -- I chronicled his flaws in the offseason -- Jackson has made strides in key areas of his game this season.
After struggling with his accuracy during his first two seasons, Jackson's completion rate is 64.7 percent through 2 games -- up from 56.2 in 2016 and 54.4 in 2015, respectively. Most impressively, he has shown better anticipation, timing and ball placement on an assortment of throws between the hashes at the short and intermediate level. On short crossing routes and digs vs. UNC, in particular, Jackson led receivers into open areas between defenders with precise throws delivered well before the pass-catchers ventured into the voids.
With Jackson combining his improved anticipatory-passing skills with a rock-solid quick-game approach (catch, rock and throw) on throws of less than 10 yards, the Cardinals' QB1 is far more decisive and efficient than he's been in previous years.
With that said, he must continue to work on his accuracy, particularly on throws outside the numbers. Against North Carolina, he repeatedly sailed the ball over the head of his intended receiver on a handful of deep comebacks and outs. Jackson's misses were so egregious that I wonder if he can play in an offense that features out-breaking routes or target routes that finish between the bottom of the numbers and the sidelines.
Now, Jackson can certainly improve on those throws by refining his footwork at the top of his drops, but he will need to diligently work on his throwing platform to become the consistent passer that coaches and scouts desire in a QB1.
As a runner, Jackson is just as elusive and explosive as ever, but he's showing more "pop" at the end of his runs. He runs through arm tackles on the perimeter and only goes down when he takes a solid shot from a defender in space. While some coaches and scouts would prefer to see Jackson scoot out of bounds or slide to avoid unnecessary hits, he's a "ball player" with a rugged demeanor when he has the ball in his hands on the perimeter.
As for what scouts want to see from Jackson going forward, it's all about his playmaking skills as a passer, particularly from the pocket. Teams want to make sure he can win in a traditional manner, by picking apart defenses with precise throws to every area of the field. Although Jackson's athleticism is an added benefit, he must continue to show consistency as a passer. If he can show progress in this area in a marquee game that features NFL-caliber pass rushers and defensive backs (see Clemson on Saturday and Florida State on Oct. 21), Jackson can change the narrative that's clouded his name despite his exceptional talent and game. -- Bucky Brooks
THE NEXT JAMAAL CHARLES?
USC is coming off of a big win over Stanford and the Trojans will have center stage once again this weekend when they host Texas. The Longhorns rebounded after a disappointing opening loss to Maryland by pitching a shutout against San Jose State, and they have enough talent to challenge the Trojans.
However, slowing down Sam Darnold is easier said than done, and USC also has an elite rushing attack led by junior Ronald Jones II.
Jones is one of my favorite players to watch in college football. He's always been an explosive runner, capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. He's added a new element to his game this fall -- power. Jones added 10 pounds to his frame in the offseason and he has been breaking a ton of tackles in the first two games. His first carry of the season was a violent effort, running right through a Western Michigan defender. He's also worked to improve as a pass-catcher.
In looking for a comparison for Jones, one name comes to mind: Jamaal Charles. So, if you're a Texas fan watching the game on Saturday, keep an eye on No. 25 for the Trojans. See if he reminds you of the player that helped the Longhorns upset USC to capture the national championship more than a decade ago. -- Daniel Jeremiah
QB's RISE COULD SPEED UP ON SATURDAY
Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald is a quarterback we highlighted prior to the start of the season, as there was buzz about him in my conversations with NFL scouts. I wrote that he could be the breakout star of the SEC, if not the entire country, this season. He has a huge opportunity to make a statement this weekend. Mississippi State will host LSU on Saturday, and the Tigers have one of the most dominant defenses in college football. Arden Key, LSU's uber-talented pass rusher, will make his debut in this contest.
I've studied Fitzgerald a little bit this fall and I've been impressed with his size, athleticism and arm strength. I would like to see him improve his touch and accuracy on underneath and intermediate throws. I'm interested to see how he performs both this Saturday and the rest of the fall. -- Daniel Jeremiah
I like to highlight an under-the-radar prospect each week in this space. This week's player -- New Mexico State wide receiver Jaleel Scott. I called Scott's game against New Mexico last week and I was very impressed by him. He has rare size (listed at 6-6, 215) and ball skills. His Odell Beckham-like grab against Arizona State in Week 1 made all of the highlight shows. He made a couple other contested grabs in that game as well. Watching him live, I appreciated his ability to set up defenders and use his big body to wall them off down the field. He belongs in the Reese's Senior Bowl and I believe he could end up being a middle-round pick. -- Daniel Jeremiah