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2018 NFL draft rumor: So the Patriots are super interested in Louisville QB Lamar Jackson

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This is fantastic.

Louisville v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The New England Patriots interest in Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is real. If the quarterback falls into the second half of the opening round, the Patriots should become a legitimate option to add the electric college star, according to reports from many around the league.

Bill Belichick and the Patriots hosted Jackson in Foxborough a few weeks ago and sent director of player personnel Nick Caserio to watch Jackson at his pro day. And now Sports Illustrated’s Jenny Vrentas reports that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels ran Jackson through a private workout in South Florida.

“The Patriots interest [in Jackson] is legit,” NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport tweeted in agreement with Vrentas.

The big three decision makers in New England have scouted Jackson, the likeliest of the first round quarterbacks to fall down the draft board into the Patriots range, and all signs point towards Jackson as a potential heir to Tom Brady.

Evan Lazar wrote about how Jackson would be a great fit for the Patriots offense because Louisville ran a lot of concepts similar to New England. While Jackson does have some accuracy concerns, he compensates by being an incredible threat with his legs.

Yards are yards and if Jackson is able to gain 6.3 yards per rushing attempt in the NFL, just like he did in college, then that would certainly make up for some of his accuracy issues.

Jackson averaged 8.3 yards per passing attempt in college, which trails the likes of Sam Darnold (8.5), Mike White (8.4), and Kyle Lauletta (8.8). But Jackson’s mobility meant that his yards per touch were at the top of the class.

One of the best quarterback metrics in the NFL is adjusted yards per attempt, which assigns a “positive yardage” value to a touchdown and “negative yards” to an interception to create a simplified quarterback rating system. I’ve expanded this to include rushing totals, including rushing touchdowns and fumbles, to paint a broader picture of the quarterback position called adjusted yards per touch (AYPT).

Over the past three NFL seasons, the quarterback that leads the league in AYPT is the Patriots’ own Tom Brady at 7.8, followed by Saints QB Drew Brees (7.3) and Falcons QB Matt Ryan (7.3). Washington QB Alex Smith (7.1) and Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (7.0) round out the top five.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ravens QB Joe Flacco (5.2), behind journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (5.6) and Giants QB Eli Manning (5.6). The rankings align pretty well with reality.

When I apply this model to the 2018 NFL Draft quarterback prospects, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield is a clear winner with an AYPT of 9.6 (Mayfield seems to win most evaluations), followed by Toledo’s Logan Woodside (8.2) and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph (8.2). USF’s Quinton Flowers (7.8) and Memphis’ Riley Ferguson (7.7) round out the top five.

But Jackson comes in sixth with an AYPT of 7.6, ahead of Darnold (7.1, 11th), Josh Rosen (6.6, 14th), and Josh Allen (6.0, 18th). In other words, Jackson creates more positive yards on the average play than most other quarterbacks in the draft.

Historically, players in spread offenses like Marcus Mariota (9.4 AYPT) and Sam Bradford (9.2) have dominated this metric, while names like Baylor’s Bryce Petty (8.8) and Seth Russell (8.6) join Mayfield, Mariota, and Bradford in the top five dating back a decade of drafts, so this isn’t a perfect equation to show which players will definitely succeed in the NFL- but other top scorers include Cam Newton (8.5) and Andrew Luck (8.5) inside the top ten and this can help sort through some of the weeds.

There are some exceptions. Matt Ryan (5.5 AYPT), Matthew Stafford (6.1 AYPT), and Jay Cutler (5.4 AYPT) did not post a high score in college, but the first two ranked in the top ten for AYPT in the NFL over the past three seasons (Cutler ranked 21st out of 24 qualified passers over the past three years). But they remain the only franchise quarterbacks with a score below 6.5 AYPT in college drafted over the past decade- depending on your opinion of Ryan Tannehill (5.9) and Jacoby Brissett (5.8).

Those that scored between 6.5-7.5 AYPT include Tyrod Taylor, Andy Dalton, Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Deshaun Watson, Derek Carr, and Blake Bortles. It also includes JaMarcus Russell, Mark Sanchez, and Brady Quinn. This category makes up roughly 20% of the sample population, so the odds of success are still not great.

There have been just 17 quarterbacks to score over 8.0 AYPT, including this year’s Mayfield, Rudolph, and Woodside, with Colin Kaepernick and Case Keenum coming in a hair below the mark. The players considered early-round prospects in this category are Mariota, Bradford, Newton, Luck, Matt Leinart, A.J. McCarron, Johnny Manziel, Vince Young, and Tim Tebow (no one expected much of Petty, Russell, Vernon Adams, or Terrence Broadway).

Not all of those players succeeded, of course, for a variety of reasons. Injuries and off-the-field issues derailed a few, but those early picks have a pretty strong track record compared to any other grouping of AYPT. This bodes well for Mayfield and Rudolph (Woodside could fall into the same late-round category as Petty).

Meanwhile, Jackson’s AYPT of 7.6 puts him in the same category of Mitch Tribusky, Jameis Winston, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, and Robert Griffin III. If he can remain healthy and the Patriots are able to capitalize on his skill set, Jackson could develop into a mid-to-upper tier starter and that would be good enough for the Patriots coaching staff to continue to field a winning team.