Jackson Stratton (QB, 6’4” 205, La Jolla HS, CA)
With the first wave of post-visit weekend commitments out of the way, this week I’m circling back to our out-of-the-blue QB commit, Jackson Stratton. It’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts on Stratton, but I think he’ll be a good one for the program.
The biggest reason why I needed time to breakdown Stratton was the same reason why we all reacted to his commitment with a collective “huh?” and why he could be such a great steal for John Donovan. Stratton was simply off the radar. Most will point to COVID and its pause on the typical recruiting camp circuit that publicizes pretty much every SoCal QB to ever take a snap, but my eyes point more to the fact that Stratton simply wasn’t all that good until this past Spring. As a sophomore starter, Stratton posted a relatively average 2,303 yard, 22 TD/16 INT season on a 10-5 team. Not a particularly awe-inspiring stat line. During his COVID-abbreviated junior season, Stratton posted a 1,269 yard, 22 TD/2 INT season, which in a vacuum isn’t anything to write home about. However, like everything else that happened in 2020-2021, his performance has to be put into perspective as he only played 5 games during his junior year. Truth be told, he still isn’t that great on tape, but there are nuggets to be found that make me think he could be a developmental gem.
When I watch Stratton’s ‘21 tape, what immediately stands out to me is his mechanics. He has a quick snap throwing motion, and he can make off platform throws like a short stop. However, the same 3⁄4 motion that has let him grow comfortable making those off platform throws also leaves his release point low and makes him a mechanically inefficient “arm thrower”. His low arm angle limits his ability to step into throws and convert lower body power into zip on passes, which is one reason why you see so many touch/timing passes relative to seam heaters highlighted on his hudl. The same mechanical issue forces Stratton to change his launch angle when he has to drive intermediate and deep passes, which makes it that much harder to develop accuracy and consistency on the deep ball. For the golfers reading this, in my time around QB coaches, I’ve heard this be compared to an all upper-body golf swing paired with mismatched clubs. If you have to change your swing between your irons and your woods, then you’ll never hit the fairway, and even if you could figure out the different swings, if you don’t get your legs into your swing, you’ll never drive for distance.
Having only committed to playing QB in his freshman year, it is understandable why he’s still struggling with maintaining consistent mechanics. Fortunately for Stratton, it looks like he’s already made significant strides in his mechanics and on-field performance between his sophomore and junior years, so I have the sense that as he continues to transition from being an athlete that is playing QB to being an athletic QB, he’ll continue to improve exponentially. Based on his very methodical approach to his drop back footwork (if a little clunky/stiff), and his poise and awareness in the pocket navigating pressure, there’s both a focus on fundamentals and foundational QB instincts for Donovan to work with. It’ll be on Donovan to rep the rest of his mechanics. QBs like Brett Favre and Patrick Mahomes were known for their off-script/off-platform playmaking ability, but to use another sports analogy, it was their change up, not their fastball. Sound mechanics when in the pocket are the only way to maximize non-hall of fame talent.
Outside of his mechanics and its effects on his passing, Stratton is a very solid overall talent. His pure arm talent is slightly above average with room to be solidly above average once he corrects the aforementioned mechanics. His two passes on consecutive plays starting at the 1:50 mark of his junior hudl tape (posted below) are probably 80-90% of how good his throwing could be if he gets his mechanics straightened out. He’s shown comfort throwing to all parts of the field with timing and accuracy, and he isn’t overly reliant on his arm to save the day. He takes calculated risks when making decisions, and he’s athletic enough to run for a first down when the defense sells out for the pass. He was also utilized on a number of designed run plays, and he could scramble for yardage. I wouldn’t call Stratton a dual-threat caliber of athlete, but a dual-threat at the HS-level is a “pocket-mobile” type of athlete at the collegiate level. This mobility is a trait that Donovan’s specifically mentioned that he looks for, and it’s something that hasn’t always been something that we’ve emphasized for our QBs during the Petersen-Lake era.
In my opinion, Stratton’s player comp is former UW QB-turned-UCLA-WR Colson Yankoff. This was a pretty easy comparison for me to make for several reasons. First, their physical and athletic profiles were very similar (6-4, 205 lbs). Yankoff had better natural mechanics so his arm popped off the screen more, and he probably had a step on Stratton as a runner, but the talent gap is a lot closer in my view than the 758 spot difference in 247’s composite rankings (#91 in the 2018 class vs. # 849 in the 2022 class). Then there’s also the fact that both QBs were brought in as developmental prospects. Yankoff had Browning, Eason, Haener, and Sirmon all either ahead of him or in his class, and Stratton will have Morris and Huard to compete against for at least 2 years. In some ways, Stratton being less heralded than Yankoff is a good thing in that the expectations for early playing time are very low and he can dedicate multiple years to developing. In the near term, Stratton should provide us with solid depth and get us off the QB carousel, and long-term he could be a serviceable starter for us in years 3 or 4.