It's time for Lamar Jackson to move on | Tim Sullivan

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U of L's Bobby Petrino says that Lamar Jackson needs to make an informed decision about turning pro or returning for his senior season. Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier-Journal/USA TODAY Network

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Louisville‘s Lamar Jackson scrambles to avoid a sack in the second half of the TaxSlayer Bowl against Mississippi State. Dec. 30, 2017(Photo: By Pat McDonogh / CJ)Buy Photo

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Lamar Jackson has a decision to make: When?

When does he confirm that he’s finished playing football at the University of Louisville? When does he break that bad news to his coaches, his teammates, his fans and his prospective employers in the National Football League?

He should soon acknowledge what is widely assumed: that the theoretical benefits of another season as an unsalaried apprentice pale in comparison to bona-fide millions in the bank; that the injury risks assumed by a running quarterback far exceed the potential rewards available through delayed gratification; and that the flaws in his game may be more easily fixed in a full-time professional setting than as a student engaged in an extracurricular activity.  

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By throwing four interceptions in U of L’s 31-27 TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Mississippi State Saturday, and then declining to make a definitive statement about his plans, Jackson fostered the faint hope that he might choose to stay in school for his senior year and renew his furious assault on the record books.

Yet to watch him leave the field in a jersey streaked with grass stains, having suffered six sacks and having narrowly eluded several more, was to think it‘s time he was paid for his trouble. Having thrown for 3,660 yards and run for 1,601, Jackson finished the season averaging 404 yards of total offense and having bettered the brilliant numbers that won him the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore.

If his last performance was subpar – three of the four interceptions were ill-advised and/or off-target, the other one was deflected – Jackson’s season-long efforts were an encore performance worthy of Sinatra at the Sands.

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Buy Photo Louisville‘s Lamar Jackson evades two Mississippi State tacklers to score during first half action in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh/CJ U of L’s Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates after leaping into the endzone as he scores against Mississippi State during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courier JournalBuy Photo Louisville‘s Jaylen Smith scores against Mississippi State late in the first half of the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh/CJ U of L’s Lamar Jackson (8) leaps for the endzone as he scores against Mississippi State during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courier JournalBuy Photo Louisville‘s Kemari Averett scores his team‘s first touchdown of the game against Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017.  Pat McDonogh/CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Lamar Jackson evades two Mississippi State tacklers to score during first half action in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh/CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Jaylen Smith scores against Mississippi State late in the first half of the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh/CJ U of L’s Jaylen Smith (9) breaks away from a defender as put the Cards in the red zone ahead of a Lamar Jackson touchdown against Mississippi State during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courier Journal U of L’s Lamar Jackson (8) gets some protection as he completes a pass against Mississippi State during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courier Journal Mississippi State’s interim head coach Greg Knox greets his players coming off the field against U of L during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courier Journal U of L’s Lamar Jackson (8) greets fans following their loss against Mississippi State during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courier Journal U of L’s Lamar Jackson (8) slips a tackle against Mississippi State during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courier Journal Mississippi State’s Aeris Williams (22) scores against U of L during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courier Journal Mississippi State’s Aeris Williams (22) scores against U of L during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courier Journal U of L’s Kemari Averett (11) avoids a tackle against Mississippi State during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courier Journal Mississippi State QB Keytaon Thompson (10) scores the game winning touchdown against U of L during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville CourieBuy Photo Louisville‘s Lamar Jackson scrambles to avoid a sack in the second half of the TaxSlayer Bowl against Mississippi State. Dec. 30, 2017  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Lamar Jackson is upended while on a run in the second half of the TaxSlayer Bowl against Mississippi State. Dec. 30, 2017  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Lamar Jackson broke free of this tackle to avoid a sack in the second half of the TaxSlayer Bowl against Mississippi State. Dec. 30, 2017  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Mississippi State defensive back Mark McLaurin returns an interception against Louisville in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017.  Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo A pass to Louisville‘s Jaylen Smith is broken up by Mississippi State‘s Cameron Dantzler during second half action in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville players walk off the field after losing to Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Lamar Jackson breaks a tackle during second half action against Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Lamar Jackson is surrounded by Mississippi State defenders during second half action against Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Lamar Jackson is upended while making a long gain against Mississippi State. Dec. 30, 2017  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville coach Bobby Petrino grimaces late in the game when his team‘s hope for a victory grew dim. Dec. 30, 2017  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo The ball bounces off the chest of Louisville‘s Charles Standberry in the end zone during second half action in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Mississippi State‘s Keytaon Thompson pushes his way past Louisville defenders to score during first half action in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Lamar Jackson is pulled down by his jersey by a Mississippi State player during first half action in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Lamar Jackson is pulled down by his jersey by a Mississippi State player during first half action in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Trumaine Washington recovers a Mississippi State fumble during the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo A TaxSlayer Bowl official warns Mississippi State players over excessive celebration following a touchdown. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Lamar Jackson celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Mississippi State. Jackson ran for 158 yards and threw for 171, but threw four interceptions in the team‘s loss. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Charles Standberry watches the ball bounce off his chest on a sure touchdown during second half action in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Dec. 30, 2017  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Mississippi State players celebrate after a a touchdown against Louisville. Dec. 30, 2017  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo A Louisville fan watches the TaxSlayer Bowl slip away while wearing a vintage football helmet. Dec. 30, 2017  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Lamar Jackson sails a pass past a Mississippi State rusher. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh / CJBuy Photo Louisville‘s Jon Greenard sacks Mississippi State quarterback Keytaon Thompson. Dec. 30, 2017.  By Pat McDonogh / CJ Mississippi State QB Keytaon Thompson (10) celebrates a touchdown against U of L during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courie U of L’s Lamar Jackson (8) was brought down by Mississippi State’s Kobe Jones (52) during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courie Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler (13) broke up a pass intended for U of L’s Jaylen Smith (9) during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courie Mississippi State’s Deddrick Thomas (18) had a pass thrown a little long against U of L during the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville. Dec. 30, 2017  Sam Upshaw Jr./Louisville Courie

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Too often, though Jackson’s supporting cast was off-key. They dropped too many passes, missed too many blocks, committed too many penalties.

To lose nine games over two years with a quarterback of Jackson’s capabilities feels like a waste of talent that is close to criminal. The truth may be more complicated than that, and Jackson’s raw tools still outstrip his refinement, but it’s hard to build a compelling case that he has much to gain or to prove by staying put.

“I‘d love to see him come back, there‘s no question about that,” U of L head coach Bobby Petrino said Saturday. “I think what Lamar needs to do is sit down with his parents, really try to understand what would better develop (him).

There‘s been guys that come back for another year, play in the same system, and do great. I think a guy like Carson Palmer, who came back, because he‘s in the same system, he really separates and excels …

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“He really needs to understand where his draft status is, what the finances are that go with that. Him and his mom, we‘ll get people around him to help him make the decision. But they just need to make an educated business decision.”

Opinions of Jackson’s NFL prospects remain sharply divided. Though numerous analysts have questioned the consistency of his throwing mechanics and the longevity of pro quarterbacks who rely so much on their feet, no less an authority than Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders appears to be infatuated.

“Jackson is the best college QB,” Sanders tweeted Saturday. “His upside is tremendous. These other guys they‘re ranking can‘t compare 2 this kid.”

Even during Saturday’s defeat, Jackson made moves sharp enough to cut diamonds and left tacklers lunging toward spots he had already left. To watch an opponent attempt to tackle him in the open field is to be moved, first to laughter, then to pity. To follow the flight of his final pass, an on-the-move Hail Mary that traveled more than 60 yards in the air before it was swatted away by Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram, was to wonder when we’ll ever see his like again.

“Everything he’s done for this program is ridiculous,” said U of L receiver Jaylen Smith, who invoked the nickname of the turn-of-the-century St. Louis Rams by referring to Jackson as “The greatest show on turf.”

Count Lamar Jackson as a dissenting vote on that score.

“Ain’t nobody special,” he said, incorrectly.

Tim Sullivan:; tsullivan; . Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal/tims.

 

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