Since even before coming into the NFL in 2018, there has been no football player more polarizing than Lamar Jackson. He has been the subject of countless debates and arguments on social media and sports programming. First it was whether Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, should switch to wide receiver. After being drafted 32nd overall in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens as a quarterback, Jackson only became a bigger lightning rod for debates.
Following a crushing playoff defeat to the Chargers in his rookie season, people began to question if Jackson had what it takes to be an NFL QB and if defenses had already figured out how to contain him. Lamar Jackson responded to these claims of his demise by becoming the second player in NFL history to be unanimously selected as the league’s MVP. Jackson led the NFL with 36 passing touchdowns and shattered Michael Vick’s seemingly unbreakable single season QB rushing record. One would think this would be enough to silence his haters, but the criticism has only swelled louder since 2019. Talk shows continued to question Jackson’s dual-threat play style, claiming that he could not lead the Ravens to important wins simply by scrambling.
Jackson delivered one of his best responses to his critics in Week 2’s matchup with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Heading into the game Jackson was 0-3 against the Chiefs during his career. Jackson himself even referenced the Chiefs as “The Ravens Kryptonite”. Jackson tallied 107 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground, including the game winner, in a 36-35 victory. However, this does not tell the full story of the game.
The Week 2 showdown started off looking like deja vu to the Ravens and their fans. Jackson threw a pick six to Tyrann Mathieu while targeting WR Sammy Watkins, who fell down right as the ball was thrown. Jackson would go on to throw another interception in the 1st half, but after that he was practically unstoppable. Following his second interception, Jackson went 15-19 passing the ball for 215 yards and a TD. Growth as a passer is not solely represented by throwing more touchdown passes, so I’ve picked out my favorite play from Jackson which helps show his rise as a passer.
The play comes from early in the 3rd quarter and is a simple RPO (Run-Pass Option) that results in a big gain to Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. This play is not particularly exceptional or special, but it helps to show Jackson’s growth as a QB from the perspective of him reading the defense, making the right decision, and taking the easy completions when the defense gives them to him. Jackson himself admits he tries too hard to look for the big play on occasion, so being able to start a drive with a simple slant that travels maybe five yards in the air but results in a 25+ yard completion is the perfect way to help. Easy chunk completions like this prevent Jackson from feeling the need to put the team on his shoulders and force something when nothing is there.
The pre-snap setup of the RPO to Brown who is the second wide receiver from the top of the screen
In Week 3's matchup against the Detroit Lions, Lamar continued to showcase his improvement as a passer. His development shined through most when it was time for him to lead the Ravens on a game winning drive while trailing 17-16 late in the 4th quarter. Having been let down by his receivers throughout the game with multiple dropped touchdown passes, Jackson was in position to lose the first game of his NFL career where his team was favored by at least 8 points.
However, Lamar and the Baltimore offense had different ideas The Ravens were in a 4th and 19 situation with the game on the line when Jackson was able to connect on a 36 yard completion to Sammy Watkins, putting the team in field goal range. Jackson sat back in the pocket waiting for Watkins to complete his deep crossing route and delivered a perfectly placed pass over the outstretched hands of the defender. The Ravens would go on to win on a record-breaking 66 yard field goal by K Justin Tucker. Without Jackson’s heroics, Tucker would have never even had the chance to win the game for the Ravens.
As of the time this article was written, Lamar Jackson leads the NFL in average distance per target (12.3), yards per completion with (14.4), and yards per carry (7.2). It is pretty incredible that the player completing on average the furthest passes is also the same player who is on average rushing for the most amount of yards every time he touches the ball.
When the odds are stacked against him, that is when Lamar Jackson’s talent truly shines through. When he is on the field you really don’t know what will happen next. Will Jackson add a new defender to his already extensively long highlight reel? Will he scramble around the backfield while avoiding a sack and deliver a perfect pass to his receiver? Will he check down to the open running back 5 yards downfield for an easy completion? No one can predict what will happen during a game in the NFL, but one thing I am certain about is that when Lamar Jackson is on the field, he is ready to make the impossible a reality.