On the surface, leaving a Division I school and moving to a Division I-AA school doesn't seem like a move that would garner more attention from NFL scouts, but new Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson did it anyway after the 2001 season at Arkansas.
Jackson wasn't happy about the playing time he was projected to get behind former quarterback Matt Jones, so with a bowl game left to be played following the 2001 season, he decided to leave the team and transfer to Alabama State.
"It was tough because I got comfortable out there and I had a lot of friends. The coaching style was a good coaching style. They went another way with Matt Jones and I felt like that's what they wanted to do," Jackson said. "That was a decision from them, so I just went with the better decision and I transferred."
While Jackson didn't criticize the coaching staff at Arkansas, he said he was told one thing while being recruited there and then it looked like the situation changed with his playing time once he got there.
Despite leaving with a game to be played, he said his teammates supported his decision to find more playing time. In fact, according to Jackson, some of teammates considered the same action but eventually decided to stay with Arkansas.
It was a risky move for his professional aspirations.
"Yes, it was looking at it now, but I wanted to play right away. I went down (a division) so I can play right away," he said. "If I went back to Division I, I would sit out a year and I felt like I already missed a year. It was a risk, but everything worked out."
Indeed it did. Jackson ended up with 8,035 yards with 68 touchdowns and 30 interceptions on 554 of 1,003 passing. And he was a member of The NFL Draft Report's Super Sleeper Team.
While most draft publications had Jackson valued as a mid- or late-round pick, the Vikings saw much more potential in him.
They traded away their two third-round picks to nab him because, according to vice president of player personnel Fran Foley, they had information that other teams were searching for a quarterback, and two of those teams would have picked before the Vikings if they didn't trade up to the last pick of the second round.
"When you see what you want at the quarterback position, you need to go get it," head coach Brad Childress said. "That is exactly what I see with Tarvaris Jackson, a guy who is a piece of clay and has all the skills that I just mentioned in terms of, number one, what does he look like throwing the football. I am buying that throwing motion. I'm not expecting to change it or move it around.
"It is like buying cars, if you don't like that one, you go to the next one. He has a great throwing motion. He is athletic."
Apparently the Vikings weren't alone in seeing potential where others might have waited. The NFL's official bio on Jackson starts out: "One of the most unheralded athletes in college football, pro teams are enamored by the impressive velocity and perimeter passing ability that Tarvaris displays. While he is certainly not a finished product yet, many agree that Jackson has as much upside as any quarterback in the 2006 NFL Draft class."
Childress admitted that Jackson will be a developmental project and declined to put a timeline on when he thought Jackson would be ready for the pro game. That means Jackson will have to wait in the wings, something he wasn't willing to do at Arkansas.
"It's a lot different from college to the pros. It will take time. There is a lot more stuff to learn; I am willing to learn," he said. "One of my coaches (Reggie Barlow) played with Brad Johnson at Tampa Bay and he told me a lot about Brad Johnson. I can learn a lot from him, so I'm ready to come here and learn as much as possible."
Scouting reports and the Vikings' accounts of Jackson indicate he has the physical skills. Now it will be up to him to learn the mental part of the game, an area he says needs the most improvement in the overall shaping of his development.
"It is a big learning curve from college to the NFL for anybody, so probably just the learning aspect of it. The physical part, I always find that the easy part. It's coming here to learn," Jackson said.
Childress had success developing Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia and says that Jackson has the right mental makeup as well.
"He has all those things that we are looking for and he is wired right. That is important for a quarterback," Childress said. "I think he is a flat-line guy. I think he is a sponge. … He's got the skills. What can he do with coaching?"
Transfer Didn't Hurt Jackson's Status
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