Sidelines with John Clay

Louisville’s Lamar Jackson not getting much 2017 respect

Lexington Herald-Leader publisher Rufus Friday, right, congratulates Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson for winning the Herald-Leader’s Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year award for 2016.
Lexington Herald-Leader publisher Rufus Friday, right, congratulates Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson for winning the Herald-Leader’s Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year award for 2016. Lexington Herald-Leader

You’d think being crowned the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner in your sophomore season, while producing a ridiculous amount of out-of-this-world highlights, would be enough to earn Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson some love heading into 2017.

Not so fast, my pigskin-crazed friends. ESPN has come out with its list of the top 50 college football players for the upcoming campaign and the Cardinals quarterback is not at the top of the list. He’s not even No. 2. In fact, he didn’t even make the top five. The junior from Florida is No. 6 on the list.

To make matters worse, two quarterbacks were listed ahead of Jackson. Southern Cal quarterback Sam Darnold is No. 2 in the rankings. Oklahoma signal-caller Baker Mayfield is third on the list.

A pair of running backs are at No. 4 and No. 5. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley took the fourth spot. LSU’s Derrius Guice landed at No. 5.

So who was No. 1? That distinction was givem to Florida State defensive back Derwin James. “Perhaps the most versatile player in college football,” writes the World Wide Leader. “Expectations for James are skyrocketing after an offseason spent rehabbing his knee and learning nearly every position on defense. Expect him to line up at his usual safety spot, while also playing cornerback, linebacker and some defensive end.”

As for Jackson, ESPN wrote, “The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has put on 10 pounds and spent the entire offseason working on a new repertoire that he believes will make him better: snaps from under center, making checks and calls at the line, and maintaining a pocket presence.”

It is true that Jackson’s game slipped at the end of last season. Houston held the dynamic quarterback to just 33 yards on 25 carries in the Cougars’ 36-10 rout of the Cardinals on Nov. 17. Jackson completed just 20 of 43 passes for 211 yards and one score in that game.

Then there was Jackson’s costly fumble in U of L’s 41-38 loss to visiting Kentucky in the regular-season finale. He rushed for 171 yards and 25 carries while completing 16 of 25 passes for 281 yards that afternoon, but he threw three interceptions. And with the score tied at 38, Jackson fumbled away the football at the UK nine-yard line with 1:45 remaining. The Cats promptly marched 60 yards in seven plays for Austin MacGinnis’ game-winning 47-yard field goal.

LSU then bottled up Jackson in the Citrus Bowl on the way to a 29-9 win. The quarterback managed just 33 rushing yards on 26 carries and completed a mere 10 of 27 passes for just 153 yards without a score.

So maybe the rankings are correct. Even for a Heisman Trophy winner, it’s what have you done for me lately?

Some links of interest:

▪ Jennifer Smith of the Herald-Leader writes on A.J. Rose, UK’s redshirt freshman running back, who thinks he learned from sitting out last year. Not that it was easy, as Rose’s father will attest.

▪ De’Aaron Fox says Kentucky’s freshmen basketball class should be ready to take some yelling, reports Chris Leach of the Herald-Leader. Now the rookie point guard for the Sacramento Kings, Fox was back in town on Monday for John Calipari’s Pro Camp.

▪ Dominique Hawkins worked out for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, but basketball is the top priority for the former Cat, reports Leach. Hawkins played for the Sacramento Kings’ Summer League team but hasn't received an invitation to training camp.

▪ It was Derek Willis’ fiancee who got the call from the NBA, reports Leach. It was the Detroit Pistons on the line, looking for Willis, the former UK forward, who will be in camp with the team this fall.

▪ Then there’s my column on UK offensive package of coordinator Eddie Gran and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw. Unlike last year, when they had to install a new offense, the duo is refining and expanding the scheme this camp.

▪ You might have missed Mark Story’s column on UK defensive back Darius West, who is trying to write a comeback story for 2017.

▪ Ben Roberts has a truckload of UK recruiting news and links at his Next Cats site.

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