NFL combine stirred up controversial talk of racial bias

In recent days, a confusing NFL story has played out.

It involves one of the exciting players in this year’s draft class, quarterback Lamar Jackson.

NFL Network reported NFL teams requested that Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, work out as a receiver at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Considering Jackson threw 69 touchdown passes in 38 games with Louisville, such a request could’ve been off-putting. Jackson had made it clear in media interviews he’s intent on making his NFL bones as a quarterback. Putting extra onus on his throwing session, the speedster opted out of running the 40-yard dash at the combine.

Considering as well the league has some history of not giving African-Americans a fair shake at quarterback — Warren Moon, for example, had to go to Canada in the late 1970s to launch his career although he was a top-drawer QB for the University of Washington — the request smacked of racial bias to some people.

Some of these folks teed off on the NFL, only for Jackson to say that within hours of the report that, if the request to work at receiver was made, it wasn’t made to him.

“No teams have asked me to play wide receiver,” he said Friday. “I don’t even know where it came from. I’m strictly a quarterback.”

This may have been just a case of semantics. Perhaps requests were made, but indirectly.

However, the storyline was extended Sunday, when Robert Klemko of MMQB.com posted comments from Baker Mayfield, a quarterback in the same draft class, about Jackson. “They asked if he’d work at receiver, and he asked if (Wyoming quarterback) Josh Allen would be working at tight end. I love that,” Mayfield said.

I don’t know which account to believe.

And, would it be smart to ask Allen — who’s white — to work at tight end?

Former NFL exec Joe Banner says no.

“No one knowing football would see skills needed in Allen to play TE,” Banner said, via Twitter. “Not true for Lamar at WR. He may be a better QB but is athletic enough that he could also have skills to be WR.”

Also, Banner criticized folks who, after ripping the NFL, failed to offer a revised opinion after Jackson said NFL teams didn’t ask him to work at receiver.

“When we make things about race when it’s not, or in this case it turns out never even happened, we risk losing credibility when we discuss all the things out there that are really about race,” said Banner, who was with the Eagles in 1999 when they drafted Donovan McNabb, an African-American, to play quarterback.

Jackson, I think, ought to hire an NFL agent, as Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio suggested. The agent could work the media and draft-process game behind the scenes, helping to clarify any issues that need clarifying.

Jackson appeared in Coronado last June, to work with teen quarterbacks. He showed good arm strength. In a chat, he impressed me as being a big fan of Louisville’s head coach, Bobby Petrino, a former NFL coach. Though I think he can become an NFL starter, I have concern about his accuracy and durability. His frame was more narrow than ideal. Jackson, appearing to have gained pounds in recent months, was listed at 6-foot-2 1/4 and 216 pounds at the combine. He warrants an exhaustive attempt to develop into NFL quarterback. It bodes well that the NFL, borrowing from the college game, has improved at using a quarterback’s mobility. Yet I think his potential at receiver provides an attractive fallback option.

Tom.Krasovic@SDUnionTribune.com; Twitter: SDUTKrasovic

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