Louisville gets ready for a 2016 season in which the Cardinals have a great idea who will be the star and face of the offense. Sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson emerged as the starter during his true freshman season last year and enters camp this year as the guy expected to lead the Cards.
Jackson looked like a star in the making after taking over the offense last season, finishing the year with more than 1,800 passing yards and 12 touchdowns through the air while also rushing for more than 100 yards in five games.
At no time was his dual-threat ability more on display than in the Cardinals’ Music City Bowl victory against Texas A&M, where he threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for 226 yards and two scores.
So Jackson is viewed by many to not only be the ACC’s breakout player this year, he might also be the heir apparent to Clemson’s DeShaun Watson as the league’s next huge star quarterback. But for Jackson and the Louisville offense to truly excel he’s going to need some help. Fortunately for the Cards he will work with what could be one of the ACC’s best wide receiver units.
That group is led by senior Jamari Staples. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Staples brings a nice mix of size and speed to the position and has potential to be an All-ACC pick by the time the year is over. Staples made 37 catches for 638 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Fellow senior James Quick, a former five-star recruit could also be an important factor.
Quick was right there with Staples in terms of production last season, making 39 grabs for 624 yards and five touchdowns.
If there is a knock on Jackson after one see season, it might be a relatively low completion percentage at 54.7 percent. Even in the breakout game against Texas A&M, Jackson completed just 12 of 26 passes and four times last year he had games in which he completed less than 50 percent of his attempts.
But perhaps those numbers can improve as his timing and familiarity with his receivers gets better, and also if he gets more help in the running game.
Senior Brandon Radcliff, who finished second on the team in rushing last year behind Jackson, could be called upon to carry the ball even more and take some of the burden off the quarterback. Radcliffe rushed 139 times for 634 yards and seven touchdowns in 2015. That was a bit of a step back from his promising sophomore season, which saw him rush for 737 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Production in that range would serve the Cards well as they strive to let some of those more veteran players take on a bigger role while the nation’s eyes are on the young quarterback. If nothing else it appears Louisville has plenty of talent on offense surrounding Jackson, which means game planning for the Cardinals won’t be simple.
Jackson, named a captain as just as sophomore, certainly deserves the attention that’s coming his way, but if he and Louisville have as successful a season as hoped — the senior skill position players are also going to play a huge role.