It was some time ago, in the fall I believe, when I got an email with a subject line that read: “Why are you so hard on Lamar?”
It was in reference to a couple of “anti-Lamar” articles I wrote last year—one about how I didn’t think second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson, even with the help, vision and direction of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, would revolutionize NFL offenses; the other about how I thought Jackson would eventually get lit up thanks to his sideline fake that seemed unfair to defenders (I still think I’m right about that).
As he prepared for his second season, I honestly didn’t think Jackson had what it took to be a really good quarterback; that was mainly due to his reputation for being a “if my first read isn’t open, I’m going to run it” kind of quarterback. I was also skeptical due to his throwing arm that left a lot to be desired in the accuracy department.
Both of those perceived liabilities seemed to be on display last January, when the Chargers totally neutralized Jackson while defeating Baltimore in the wildcard round of the 2018/2019 playoffs.
I also thought it was laughable that Harbaugh, Mr. Special Teams, had any offensive vision whatsoever.
But here I am, a fan of a team that didn’t make the playoffs, while the one I despise the most, the Ravens, is the top seed in the AFC, a squad that took on just about every viable contender in football in 2019 and came out mostly unscathed.
Baltimore is set to host the Titans this Saturday night in the divisional round, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if the Ravens beat Tennessee and kept on winning all the way through Miami and Super Bowl LIV.
At this point, it would be foolish of me to say the reason for the Ravens success is because of anything other than Jackson’s abilities. Not only is Jackson a great player, he’s currently the favorite to be voted NFL MVP.
How could he not? He answered just about every question imaginable in 2019.
Yes, he ran for 1,206 yards on 176 attempts (breaking his own single-season record for quarterbacks) and seven touchdowns. Those numbers, while mind-boggling, weren’t all too surprising. After all, running was considered his greatest strength—at least in his rookie season.
As for the passing stuff, something I was quite skeptical of in my summer-time article? How about 3,127 yards, 36 touchdowns and six interceptions? How about a completion rate of 66 percent and a yards per attempt average of 7.8 (or over a yard greater than Tom Brady)?
If Jackson doesn’t win the MVP, they should stop having the award.
Back to my email. It was from a man named Peter. He was a good guy and didn’t seem hostile at all. In fact, he emailed me on more than one occasion and was quite friendly and, instead of wanting to see me “eat crow,” he appeared to want me to enjoy Jackson’s abilities as much as he did (believe it or not, I’m pretty sure Peter was a Giants fan).
I basically told Peter that I couldn’t really appreciate Jackson’s abilities—my Steelers DNA makes that damn-near impossible—but I could admit that what he was doing was amazing.
The fact that Jackson was picked so low in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft was one of the things Peter objected to the most.
In the end, a lofty draft status may have killed Jackson. I mean, can you imagine if he wound up with one of those traditional bottom-feeders that like to take good things and mess them up? What if he would have been drafted in the top five by the Redskins, Jets or Bengals? Yeah, he may have received a much better rookie contract, but that’s likely about it. Even if Jackson wound up with a pretty good organization, it may have been one that tried to ignore his strengths and turn him into a more “traditional” quarterback.
Instead, Jackson landed with an organization that had (and this is going to hurt me to say) a good owner, a great front office and a really good head coach. Harbaugh understood that drafting a player like Jackson made no sense unless he was intent on building the offense around his talents—just like any good coach would do with any talented quarterback.
Obviously, the results speak for themselves.
In addition to being an ultra-talented quarterback, Jackson has done nothing but win in Baltimore, winning 19 of 22 career starts since taking over for Joe Flacco midway through the 2018 campaign.
Is the jury still out on Jackson as it pertains to his ability to win in the postseason? Sure. Might he have to eventually tone down the running thing in order to have a career that goes the distance? Probably.
But regardless of what happens in the future—including the current playoffs—the Ravens found themselves a gem of a quarterback in Lamar Jackson.
So, Peter, my friend, with that in mind (and the only reason I’m admitting this is because you didn’t call me “ugly”—something that happens far too often when people email me), I was wrong about Lamar Jackson.