Jaylin Lucas was a three-star recruit when he arrived in Bloomington back in 2022 having chosen Indiana over offers from Florida Atlantic, Maryland, Memphis, Vanderbilt and others.
His draw was his speed, he’d run a wind-aided 10.64 in the 100-meter as a junior in high school then a wind-legal 11.19 after that. According to Tom Allen, he ran a 4.33 40-yard dash this spring per The Daily Hoosier.
That time would’ve been tied for fourth-best at the 2023 NFL combine where the all-time record is held by former Washington wide receiver John Ross III, who managed a 4.22.
If the numbers don’t tell you enough, the on-field play did. He saw limited usage as a true freshman during the 2022 season, but when he did...
As a freshman, Lucas scored Indiana’s first kickoff return touchdown since Tevin Coleman (!!) in 2012 (!!!!) and was the first Hoosier with three scoring plays of 70 or more yards since Coleman in 2014.
He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in 2022, more than any other kick returner in all of FBS. For this, he was named a First Team All-American as a returner by CBS Sports, Pro Football Focus, Walter Camp and USA Today.
He’s the most dynamic player Indiana has had in years and should take a leap with increased usage in 2023. How he’s ultimately used should prove interesting.
Lucas was arguably at his most dangerous when Indiana had a mobile quarterback in the backfield with him. It was Dexter Williams II’s running ability that allowed Indiana to beat Michigan State and put up a fight against Purdue prior to his injury. When the far less mobile Connor Bazelak was in at quarterback, Lucas was limited.
Offensive coordinator Walt Bell was able to get more creative with his playcalling without being limited to a dropback pocket-passer, which allowed Lucas’ raw talent to emerge even more.
Tom Allen said he wanted to move forward with mobility at quarterback. With Bazelak and Tuttle leaving in the transfer portal and Williams II out with an injury for the forseeable future, the job is likely down to two guys: Tayven Jackson and Brendan Sorsby.
Both are redshirt freshmen with some running ability, but it remains to be seen how well each can run at the college level given their lack of experience. Regardless, Lucas has been getting in more work as a receiver this offseason after catching just 16 passes for 82 yards in 2022 compared with 49 rushing attempts for 271 yards.
The worries with Lucas at receiver include aforementioned inexperience at quarterback and an offensive line undergoing a coaching change that may afford him less time to get downfield.
Should Lucas take that leap he could very well become the focal point of the offense with a lack of true high-level talent at quarterback. It comes with risk since nobody else on the roster can replace his speed should he suffer an injury, but Indiana is the kind of program that needs to take those kinds of swings.
He won’t be the one running between the tackles, that’s what Josh Henderson is for and does better than just about anyone in the running backs room.
I’d expect him to be used more for outside runs and the kinds of creative plays that Bell called against Michigan State and Purdue that made use of a quarterback’s rushing threat should Indiana have and use that in 2023.
Another kick return touchdown or two couldn’t hurt either.