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Is Lamar Jackson an Elite Quarterback?
Throughout the short career of Lamar Jackson, we've seen him completely dominate the National Football League. He's won all but five games to this point in his career and won the Most Valuable Player award in 2019. While his base stats and overall wins show he may be an elite talent, there are some questions that have persisted throughout his career about his arm talent. This article will cover Lamar's career, from college to present, and take a look at the things he does great and the things he needs to work on. It will break down his rushing ability, arm talent, and the help he gets from coaching and teammates. Hopefully, by the end of this article, the question of whether Lamar is an elite QB of the future or a flash in the pan will be answered. The statistics and records in this article will be updated as games happen in the NFL.
Who is Lamar Jackson?
Lamar Jackson is a 23-year-old NFL quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens. He was selected 32nd overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. He played college football for the University of Louisville, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 2016. Jackson began his NFL career as a backup behind QB Joe Flacco but eventually took over the starting role on November 18, 2018, after Flacco was sidelined with an injury. Jackson remained the starter from that point on and went on to lead the Ravens to the playoffs, winning six of seven games.
Lamar Jackson grew up in Pompano Beach, Florida where he played in a Pop Warner football league. He eventually played for Boynton Beach High School where he excelled, eventually earning a 4-star recruit grade from rivals.com. He was offered scholarships by dozens of schools but eventually committed to the University of Lousiville after coach Bobby Petrino assured him that he would only be playing quarterback for the team.
What Year did Lamar Jackson Win the Heisman Trophy?
Lamar Jackson's college career was absolutely electric! In 2016, he won the Heisman trophy after his sophomore season, and he was nominated the following year, losing to Baker Mayfield.
His freshman year, in 2015, showed promise, with him starting eight games and finishing the season with 1,840 yards passing, 12 passing touchdowns, adding another 960 yards rushing, with 11 rushing touchdowns. He set a Music City Bowl record with 226 rushing yards. It was clear that he was a bonafide superstar in the making!
Jackson's sophomore year, in 2016, was when his career really began to turn. After winning his first two games against Charlotte and Syracuse, Jackson had to face the #2 ranked Florida State Seminoles. He obliterated their defense, scoring five total touchdowns. Jackson threw for 216 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception, but his true skill was on the ground, rushing for 146 yards and 4 touchdowns! Jackson and the Cardinals beat the Seminoles 63–20, pushing them to be ranked #3 overall in the nation, the highest Louisville had been ranked since 2006.
The win over the Seminoles shot Jackson up the Heisman ladder. He continued his offensive success against the #5 ranked Clemson Tigers, racking up 457 total yards and 3 touchdowns. When the season ended, Jackson won the Heisman over other amazing contenders, and future NFL players, like Deshaun Watson, Jabrill Peppers, and Baker Mayfield. After his 2017 junior year ended, he declared for the NFL draft after finishing his final college season with 3,660 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 1601 rushing yards, and 18 rushing touchdowns.
Lamar Jackson's Draft Controversy
Lamar Jackson's draft combine did not go the way he planned. Many NFL scouts believed that, because of Jackson's tendency to run, that he would not make a legitimate NFL quarterback. Jackson also made the seemingly questionable decision to allow his mother to be his agent. When the combine came, many scouts asked Jackson to try out with the wide receivers. Jackson refused.
Because Jackson didn't run the 40-yard-dash, it's unclear how fast he actually is. His former coach Bobby Petrino once tweeted that Lamar ran a 4.34 40-yard-dash, which Jackson has since said he ran with turf toe. Because of the lack of drills and spotty accuracy during the combine, the NFL gave him an official grade of 5.91. This grade fell under their "Chance to Become an NFL Starter" rating.
When the draft came, Jackson sat and watched as 31 other players were taken before him, including four quarterbacks. Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen were all selected before Jackson. When pick 32 came around, the Baltimore Ravens used a pick they acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles to select Jackson with the final selection of the first round.
Lamar Jackson College Statistics
|Year||GP||GS||Pass Comp||Pass Att||Comp %||Pass Yards||Pass TD||Pass INT||Rush Att||Rush Yards||Rush TDs|
Lamar Jackson's NFL Career
In 2018, Lamar sat behind quarterback Joe Flacco until an injury forced him into the starting lineup in week ten against the Cincinnati Bengals. At that point in the season, Lamar had only been used in gadget plays, having only thrown the ball 12 times and rushing 28 times with 2 total touchdowns. It was unclear if his accuracy had improved, but soon the league found out about his rushing ability.
Jackson led the Ravens to a 6–1 record over his seven starts his rookie year, only losing in a close game to the offensive juggernaut Kansas City Chiefs. In those games, Jackson was efficient throwing the ball, but still lacked the accuracy of an NFL caliber quarterback. He finished those games with a 58.2% completion percentage. He threw for 1,114 yards, only breaking 200 yards in a game once. He was also sacked 15 times.
The real threat Jackson posed was with his legs. Over the same seven games, Jackson rushed for 556 yards and 4 touchdowns on 119 attempts. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry. That isn't to say he didn't have things to work out with his rushing game though. Jackson fumbled ten times in those seven games, losing four of them. His play wasn't outstanding, but the occasionally broken play would turn mayhem into magic, with long runs that could break the opponent's spirit. This coupled with an elite defense, was able to help the Ravens reach the playoffs.
Lamar Jackson in the 2018 Playoffs
Lamar Jackson ended his rookie season with his first playoff game, losing to the San Diego Chargers 23–17. The two defenses came into the game with plans that came to fruition. Neither team allowed a touchdown until the fourth quarter, with the Chargers making four field goals and the Ravens making one. The Chargers were able to bottle up Lamar's rushing ability, only allowing him to run 9 times during the game.
Lamar's performance was criticized heavily. On the first play of the game, Lamar fumbled the ball, recovering it himself. By halftime, Lamar was 2–8 passing with only 17 yards and an interception. His passer rating was 0.0. By the fourth quarter, the Ravens trailed the Chargers 23–3 before they finally scored their first touchdown. With 6:33 left in the game, the Ravens brought the score to 23–10, but it was all but over. The Ravens brought the game within one score with 1:59 left and had a final shot to win the game on a final drive. Unfortunately for Jackson, he fumbled the ball and sealed the team's fate with 20 seconds left in the game. He finished the game with one interception and three fumbles.
Lamar Jackson's 2019 Season
After Jackson's spotty accuracy in 2018, and his abysmal performance in the playoffs, there were many questions swirling about his ability to lead the franchise long-term. In the offseason, coach John Harbaugh decided to get rid of the offense designed for Flacco and build a new scheme to match the rushing talents of Jackson instead. The team was going to be built around the old school philosophy of running the ball and playing great defense. Instead of relying on Lamar's arm-talent, the team would focus on having multiple rushing formations that included read-option plays and run/pass options. This was meant to cause confusion for opposing defenses, forcing them to make split-second decisions that gave the Ravens enough time to find wide-open rushing lanes. The plan worked to perfection.
Lamar Jackson's 2019 Season
In the first game of the year, the Ravens faced a paltry Miami Dolphins team. Instead of rushing the ball, Lamar Jackson went wild through the air. Jackson went 17–20 on passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns. He didn't turn the ball over once and finished the game with a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Still, the media questioned Jackson's skill, knowing the Dolphins were projected to be one of the worst teams in football and were looking to tank the season for a new QB.
The Ravens' Questionable Schedule
Jackson went on to continue his success both running and throwing the football. Through Week 6, Jackson completed 65% of his passes for 1,507 yards and 11 touchdowns with only 5 interceptions. He also rushed for 460 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 6.6 yards per carry over that span. Lamar and the Ravens were 4–2 on the season and appeared to be rolling offensively. Still, the media questioned the team because the defense was allowing 23 points per game, as well as 350 yards of offense. On top of that, the teams they had faced all sat near the bottom of the NFL in rank, averaging in the bottom 20%. It wasn't until Week 7 that the Ravens began to play against highly ranked teams. In the same week, the defense became more aggressive and rounded out with the addition of cornerback Marcus Peters via trade with the Los Angeles Rams.
Ravens Best 2019 Wins
From Week 7 on, the Ravens became a juggernaut in the NFL. The team went on an eight-game winning streak, beating their opponents by an average margin of 21.3 points. Through those weeks the Ravens defeated top-ranked opponents such as:
- 5–1 Seattle Seahawks (30–16)
- 8–0 New England Patriots (37–20)
- 6–3 Houston Texans (41–7)
- 10–1 San Fransisco 49ers (20–17)
- 9–3 Buffalo Bills (24–17)
Between Week 7 and Week 15, Jackson was well on his way to earning his first Most Valuable Player award. He turned it on in those weeks, throwing for 22 touchdowns and only 1 interception, with a completion percentage of 67.4%. His greatest strength came with his continued rushing, running for 643 yards and 5 touchdowns for an average of 7.1 yards per carry. By week 15, Jackson led the league in passing touchdowns and had broken Michael Vick's record for rushing yards in a season with 1,103. There was no longer any doubt in Jackson's skill as a football player. The only question remaining was how to stop Jackson and the Ravens.
Lamar Jackson in the 2019 Playoffs
Lamar Jackson went into the playoffs leading the number one ranked offense with the sixth seed Tennessee Titans ahead of him. Before the game began, the Ravens were projected to win by 10 points, but the game quickly showed that wouldn't be the case. Jackson had to throw the ball 49 times in the game after falling behind early. His rushing ability was bottled up, with the Titans forcing him to run laterally and keeping him from getting upfield. This caused many long third-down conversions that required Jackson to throw. He was inaccurate, throwing balls high and behind receivers. He threw two interceptions and lost a fumble that led to a Titans score. When the game ended, Jackson had accumulated over 500 all-purpose yards but only had one touchdown and three turnovers. The majority of his yardage came in the second half of the game when it was already out of hand.
Lamar Jackson in the 2019 Pro Bowl
The Pro Bowl is far from a great measure of talent, but still, Jackson underperformed once again in the aspect of throwing during the Accuracy Challenge of the 2019 Pro Bowl. In the game, players have a large set of targets at different distances. The closer the target, the lower the point total and vice versa. Some targets moved as well. In the game, Jackson was only able to score two total points, both of which came from hitting the one-point target closest to him. He completely missed most of his deep targets, failing to even graze the outer rim that didn't count for points. To add insult to injury, wide receiver Jarvis Landry was able to score six points in the same competition minutes later. Jackson had the worst score of the day not only by quarterbacks, but also other positions as well.
Lamar Jackson or the Ravens' Defense?
The question of the Ravens' success comes down to who should get more credit, Jackson or the Ravens' defense? After the acquisition of Peters, the Ravens' defense had become elite. From Week 7 on, the Ravens defense held their opponents to an average score of 14.6 points per game, nearly nine less than the first six weeks of play. They also held their opponents to only 287.3 yards per game, more than 62 less than their first six games. The defense also scored five defensive touchdowns in that timeframe, after having none in their first six games. They averaged nearly two turnovers a game, with 15 in 8 games, compared to having 7 turnovers in 6 games prior.
Can the Raven's Current Offensive Plan Continue?
While Jackson and the defense complement each other, it's hard to determine if the plan for their success can continue long-term. Of the top five QBs for rushing attempts in a career (Cam Newton, Mike Vick, Randall Cunningham, John Elway, and Steve Young) they average 3.2 missed games due to injury per season as starters. Lamar Jackson has yet to miss a game due to injury, but history shows that if he continues to run at the pace he is, injuries will follow soon.
Jackson currently averages 161.5 attempts per season. If you take the five QB's top seasons in rushing attempts above, their average is 104.4 attempts per season, 57 less than Lamar's average. To believe he can maintain his rushing excellence for his entire career without a serious, or many minor, injuries would be ridiculous. Therefore we have to look at the traditional means of success from the QB position, throwing the ball.
Can Lamar Jackson Throw the Ball?
Jackson's arm talent has shown flashes of brilliance, as well as flashes of terrible play. He's one of two NFL passers in history to have multiple games in a season with a perfect passer rating. His accuracy appears to be improving, with a career average of 63.7%. With Jackson leading the league in touchdowns in 2019, you may be questioning why I would even bring up the argument, but I believe Jackson still has many issues when it comes to his arm.
If you watch his games, you'll notice a trend of him finding wide-open receivers after a long period of time in the pocket or scrambling around. However, when his receivers are tightly covered, Jackson's accuracy seems to falter. In fact, in games where Jackson has had to rely on his arm talent to win, he often comes up short, similarly to the playoff game against the Chargers and Titans. Jackson has a large amount of questionable stats that show this.
- Leads the league in pass attempts on Run/Pass/Option plays. (68)
- 2nd in the league in play-action pass attempts. (145)
- 3rd pocket time, the time between the snap of the ball and release or pressure. (2.6 seconds)
- 30th in times hurried (28)
- 18th in times sacked (23)
- 23rd in bad passes (63)
- 32nd in pass attempts as a team.
- 12th lowest attempted throws where a defender is within 1 yard of the receiver. (15%)
- 4th in yards per scramble attempt (11.1)
The stats above may not seem to say much separately, with things like high marks on on-target passes and few bad passes compared to the league, but together they show a bigger picture.
Lamar Jackson has ample time in the pocket to throw the ball. When he does need to scramble, which isn't often as he's 30th in the league in hurries, he's able to use his legs to obtain great yardage. While he's 4th in yards gained by scrambles, he leads the top three scramblers combined by 16 attempts. That shows that he has a ton of time to allow players to get open, while also having the ability to scramble and let receivers break away to get open. Despite having the least amount of throwing attempts in the NFL, Jackson sits 18th in bad pass percentage with 17.6% of his throws being off-target. This, coupled with him having the 12th lowest amount of closely defended passes, shows that when players are well-defended, Jackson misses.
Jackson's ability to extend plays and run the ball is absolutely unparalleled, but when a game rests on his arm talent he typically has his worst games. In Jackson's five career losses, his passing numbers were terrible. In those games, he averaged 55.2% completion percentage on 37.8 attempts. He had an average of 244 yards and 1.6 touchdowns to 1 interception. His passer rating falls to 81.8, down from his career average of 103.3.
When the offense is able to control the clock and run the ball, allowing for the team to run deceptive and multi-faceted plays like play-action and RPOs, which they lead the league in, then it allows for receivers to get wide-open and for Lamar to make easier throws. However, when the game is nearly out of hand and Lamar has to throw to win, with his rushing talents set aside, he isn't able to throw the ball at an elite level.
Lamar Jackson Stats
|Lamar Jackson||Attempts||Completions||Completion %||Passing Yards||Passing Touchdowns||Interceptions||Passer Rating||Sacks||Win %|
More Than 25 Pass Attempts
Less Than 25 Pass Attempts
How Does Lamar Jackson Perform When He Has to Throw?
When Lamar has to throw the ball more than 25 times many of his stats suffer. His completion percentage drops nearly 5%, his touchdowns drop nearly .5 per game, he goes from throwing nearly zero interceptions to one per game, his passer rating falls substantially, and he doubles the number of sacks he takes. Most notably, he only lost one game in which he threw less than 25 games for a record of 13–1, winning nearly 93% of his games. However, his record when he throws 25 or more passes is 5–4, dropping almost 40%. It's clear that when the game relies on Jackson's arm, his skills diminish strongly. He is dependent on a strong running game and defense to keep games within reach so he can utilize his legs and avoid throwing too often.
Is Lamar a Future GOAT or Overrated?
Lamar Jackson is an electric player unlike any we've seen before. When he is on the field, he's elusive and fast, making highlight reels weekly. While it is clear that he has a chance to become the greatest dual-threat QB of all time, it's unclear if he can keep his pace. Jackson is currently running more than any other scrambling QB in history and history shows that players who rush are likely to be injured. Jackson also takes advantage of a great running system that allows for him to make easy throws, but his advanced stats show that he struggles when his rushing ability is taken away or his receivers can't get open. Until the league figures out a way to consistently make those two things happen though, he'll probably continue his dominance. So far his all-around talents, coupled with a great scheme and amazing defense have led to him being one of the most successful young QBs in the NFL. Whether he's capable of continuing his success may rely on his health or improvement in the passing game in the future, but until then we'll continue to be impressed by the amazing way he plays football.
© 2019 Jesse Unk