The fifth-year quarterback has proven that he can succeed in any environment.
New England Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick was asked by reporters about Baltimore Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson during a press conference Wednesday. Specifically, Belichick was asked if Jackson has answered the “pre-draft “concerns” that pundits clouded over him prior to the 2018 NFL Draft. Belichick started his response, “Without a doubt.”
Bill Belichick on if Lamar Jackson has answered all the pre-draft concerns people had with him:
“Without a doubt. He’s the type of players that’s an MVP candidate. … Wait until we see what his contract is, that will answer them.”
— Ari Meirov (@AriMeirov) September 21, 2022
The stigmas around Jackson coming out of The University of Lousiville are well documented. Nonetheless, as with every athlete that has ever crossed from amateurism into the professional arena, there were areas that Jackson needed development. Jackson would allow his feet to get too narrow in the pocket, which caused him to overcompensate with his upper body, for instance.
More importantly, there were questions about Jackson’s ability to run a “full” offense. Jackson’s first time entering an NFL season as a full time starting quarterback resulted in him earning the NFL’s second unanimous MVP, leading the league in passing touchdowns, rushing for over 1,000 yards and propelling the Ravens to 12 straight wins earning the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Baltimore’s rushing offense, which mainly operated out of pistol and shotgun alignments, set the NFL record for most rushing yards in a single season. The Ravens won games by three or more scores seven times.
Then they got absolutely trounced in the Divisional Round at home against the Tennessee Titans. The Titans loaded the box, their safeties crept merely seven and eight yards from the line of scrimmage and the Ravens couldn’t convert first downs or short yardage situations with any consistency. This spurned questions about whether their offense was “a gimmick” and whether or not Baltimore could win games when they trailed late. Many questioned whether Baltimore could succeed in true passing situations when the threat of their option run game was minimized.
However, the sample size was simply too small at that point to have any sort of “takes.” In 2019 there were only three games where Baltimore trailed in the second half by at least 10 points. Those instances occured in Week 3 against the Browns, Week 4 against the Chiefs, then not again until the Divisional Round matchup against the Titans. In those situations, Jackson was 46/77 for 547 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Jackson, a 22-year old quarterback at the time, has done nothing but improve in those situations despite still relatively small sample size. Trailing by at least seven points in the second half, here are Jackson’s numbers by season since:
- 2020— 19/28 for 158 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
- 2021— 59/82 for 724 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception.
In 2021, with injuries mounting, Jackson led four fourth quarter comebacks and four game winning drives, tied for third in the NFL, despite playing in only 12 games (he was also knocked out of one against Cleveland.) Jackson has answered the question whether he can play from behind or not.
However, the Ravens failed to really expand their offensive arsenal. They still operated out of the “gimmicky” pistol and shotgun, using a heavy dosage of play action, RPO’s and option runs. Lamar Jackson ran the ball 99 times excluding kneels, sneaks and broken plays. Of those, 57 were by design (58%), with the rest coming on scrambles. It was well documented that offensive coordinator Greg Roman intended to expand the Ravens offensive attack in 2021 to include more under center, pro style offensive concepts. However, Jackson missed the first 10 days of training camp due to COVID-19, Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman and Sammy Watkins all missed significant time due to injuries, running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards ultimately had their season’s end before they started, while Ronnie Stanley ended up missing most of camp and all but one game. The Ravens had to play catch up instead of installing a deeper offense.
Jackson, who showed the most mechanical improvement he had displayed in his young career, came out in 2021 attacking all areas of the field with poise and posture from the pocket. Another major criticism of Jackson throughout his young career was that he couldn’t attack outside the numbers. Jackson responded in 2021 by posting personal bests outside the numbers:
- 2019— 108/167 (64.7%), 1,072 yards, 6.4 yards per attempt 78.9% “catchable”
- 2020— 80/134 (59.7%), 836 yards, 6.2 yards per attempt, 81.3% “catchable”
- 2021— 101/151 (66.9%), 1,219 yards, 8.1 yards per attempt, 83.7% “catchable” (12 games)
Jackson took significant strides putting the ball outside the numbers, which opened up Baltimore’s passing game. Not only did Jackson push the ball outside more frequently, he was more accurate and pushed the ball further downfield. Yet again, Jackson checked a box that pundits doubted his ability to do.
That iteration of Lamar Jackson showed that he was a complete passer within a spread/power pistol offense who was capable of making all throws within those offenses. The only remaining question was if Jackson could succeed in a pro-style offense and operate from under center, something he had never done in his NFL career, or really his collegiate career. Dating back to Jackson’s Heisman Trophy winning season through 2021, here are Jackson’s under center numbers:
- 2016— 18 drop backs, 15 attempts.
- 2017— 16 drop backs, 14 attempts.
- 2018— zero drop backs.
- 2019— 19 drop backs, 16 attempts.
- 2020— 5 drop backs, 5 attempts.
- 2021— 12 drop backs, 10 attempts.
In total, Jackson has run 70 pass plays from under center. Over the Ravens first two games of the 2022 regular season, Jackson has dropped back from under center nine times, completing 8/8 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. That’s nearly 13% of Jackson’s total work in the under center pass game, most of which was at the goal line, in the previous six years of collegiate and professional football. Jackson has been pneumatic from under center, using 7-step, 5-step and 3-step footwork as well as bootlegs with precision.
From Lamar Jackson’s sophomore year at Louisville through the 2021 NFL season, he’s thrown a total of 70 passes from under center. 17 of those occurred at the one yard line.
Jackson is 8/8 this year from under center. He’s showing he can operate as a passer in any system. pic.twitter.com/B8e8cBpPM1
— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) September 22, 2022
At this point, Jackson is capable of running any offense. He’s proving that he can play in any system. Not only is Jackson playing from under center with relative frequency for the first time, he’s clearly taken on more pre-snap command and is equipped with more answers mentally than he’s ever been before. He’s produced a whopping 62% of the Ravens rushing yards. Jackson is showing that he doesn’t even need a run game around him. He’s operating on a level that has truly never been seen before in the NFL. While Josh Allen is an incredible dual threat quarterback who may surpass Jackson in sheer arm talent, Allen isn’t taking QB run concepts 79 yards amidst his passing success.
We’ve truly never seen a quarterback operating at the physical level that Jackson is while bringing mental acuity to the position. It’s no wonder that Jackson chose to “bet on himself” this season. As impressive as Jackson has been — he won only the second unanimous MVP in modern league history, he’s showing that he can not only operate, but thrive, in any style of offense and regardless of the talent around him. While Mark Andrews is not only one of the best tight ends, but top receiving threats in the NFL, and Rashod Bateman has looked every part of a “true wide receiver 1” through two games, there are teams with more talent that ask less of their quarterbacks and who don’t ask as much of them.
Jackson is currently playing without flaw. He will make mistakes on a snap to snap basis, as he is ultimately mortal, such as a near pick-six Xavien Howard jumped last Sunday. However, with Jackson’s ability to elevate the run game around him always in his back pocket, while functioning as a passer in spread, pistol and under center alignments, the greatest athlete to ever play quarterback has no true weaknesses. He has answers to the tests defenses present pre-snap. While it’s early in the season, if Jackson continues the torrid pace he’s established through two games, we may be in for the greatest season a quarterback has ever put forth. The Ravens are still without Ronnie Stanley, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Modest contributions from that group will only raise the capacity that Jackson can function and unlock even more explosive potential.
Jackson has put all draft concerns to bed. Whatever system you want to run, he can run. Jackson is the system. With his newfound prowess under center, in addition to what he’s shown in spread and power pistol sets, Jackson has collected the proverbial final infinity stone. Much like Thanos, Jackson is inevitable.
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