INDIANAPOLIS — Susie Jackson knew her son was praying to get taller.
Tyree was 5' 9" during his freshman year of high school, obsessed with his goal of one day becoming an NFL quarterback. He would spend his day rolling through free YouTube tutorials, whipping a football at the tops of the picket fence in their Norton Shores, MI., backyard. Once those were all broken off, they hung a tire on a rope for his accuracy drills.
He would Google ways to improve his average height, hoping to grow a few inches and start receiving some attention from nearby Division I colleges. He would purposely try to sleep longer, believing the old wives tale that your body grows faster while it’s at rest. And yes, he’d ask God for assistance too.
Then one day, Tyree’s father, Fluarry, asked him to get ready for a family event and told his son to put on the dress pants they’d bought him a few weeks prior. They thought he was joking when he walked out of his room in what looked like highwaters.
“Dude, what happened to the pants we just bought you?” Fluarry asked.
“These are the pants you just bought me,” Tyree said.
“They can’t be! They look like capris!” Fluarry said.
“He had grown like that,” Fluarry said, snapping his finger. Susie added: “Thank God for American Eagle and J.C. Penny. You can get jeans that are long enough, and they always have great sales.”
Ask the Jacksons how a boy grows almost a foot overnight and their answers differ. Fluarry jokes that they had a tall mailman, that “one day I was getting my mail real regular, and all of a sudden I have a 6' 7" kid.” Susie says there are some good genes in the family—Fluarry is 6' 1" and she’s 5' 9", with a few relatives who have topped the six-foot mark over the years.
Whatever the reason, the growth spurt has produced one of the most fascinating quarterback prospects of the 2019 class. While everyone at the combine so far has been focused on the fraction of an inch sprouted by Oklahoma prospect and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, bringing him an upstanding hair above 5' 10", Jackson—a three-year starter from Buffalo, who measured in at 6' 7" on Thursday with a wingspan of almost seven feet—may start commanding attention once the quarterbacks take the field for on-field workouts this weekend.
Those in his camp boast about how Jackson is an attractive work-in-progress; a beautiful home that simply needs drywall and paint. Jackson says he’s largely self-taught and appeared at just one Elite 11 camp before his senior season in high school. He never had a private quarterback tutorial until this summer, when he directly messaged Jordan Palmer, a seven-year NFL veteran and brother of Pro Bowl quarterback Carson. While some of the coaches with pro connections who played against Buffalo this past year remain a bit skeptical that he can make the leap so quickly, Palmer thinks he may have found the next great story in the NFL—a quarterback just now learning to use all the tools he’d prayed for.
“He’s going to be the big story of the combine,” Palmer said. “He’s going to test really, really well. He’s the coolest ball of clay I’ve ever had in my hands, and I trained Josh Allen last year.”
He added: “I placed a bet. I had a bunch of people reach out to work with me (in the past, Palmer has worked with Sam Darnold, Allen, Deshaun Watson and Christian Hackenberg, among others). He was one of the ones I picked. I placed my bet, and I think some team is going to place their bet on him too. Higher than people think—a lot of teams right now are really (a word Palmer stretches out over the course of several seconds) digging on him right now. They just haven’t made their mind up yet.”
Jackson, who was named the Mid-American Conference offensive player of the year in 2018, falls into a unique place in the NFL spectrum. There are some coaches who lament the quarterbacks who were allowed to glide through their whole careers with bad habits, then arrive in the league unable to change them. There are some coaches who dislike the over-refined passers, who were created in the high-end world of quarterback preparatory camps and labs.
He is a kid who, after watching a passing tutorial one day in middle school where he was instructed to “grab the keychain out of your pocket,” realized that his follow-through was upside down and spent the next three weeks in the backyard altering his motion so his palm faced downward. This past week, with Palmer, he was working on eliminating some of the leans that naturally develop when someone grows so quickly during their formative years.
Coaches who have drafted players previously with the intention of fixing their throwing motions often do so at their own peril. Jackson is one of the few who welcomes the opportunity.
“I think the exciting thing about it is, I have so much more room to learn and improve,” Jackson said. “It’s just awesome. Coming out here to train, really work on my mechanics and stuff I’ve never been exposed to is awesome. You can see an improvement I already made since I got out here in January.
“For me, I feel like the sky is the limit.”
Despite an active refining process, there is an undeniable smoothness to Jackson’s game. At the Senior Bowl, he gunned a quick slant touchdown to West Virginia’s Gary Jennings in stride. He hit Hunter Renfrow on a fadeaway, cross-body pass as he was falling out of bounds. It aligns with what those around him say: Ignore everything else, take his best plays and stack them up against the best plays of other quarterbacks in the class. Those with an imagination may find someone worth drafting.
“I feel like everyone’s got their opinions, but my biggest focus is showing my true self to these teams,” Jackson said. “Getting on the board and showing everyone that I love ball; that I love playing the game.”
Until that moment comes, Jackson said he’s going to continue working on his footwork. When you’re taller, it’s all about getting the long limbs to hit the ground as quickly as possible so the snap throwing motion can take place. Off the field, he’ll relax and shuffle through music playlists that contain everything from Drake to Cole Swindell.
He’ll Facetime his parents as often as possible, and of course, take some time out of the day to be thankful for some answered prayers.
“I prayed to just grow a little bit,” he said, laughing. “But I always just dreamed of being that college quarterback. It’s crazy.”
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