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Lamar Jackson: QB or Not QB? That Is The Question (and whether it is sustainable)

Ever since Lamar Jackson entered the draft process there were voices telling him, and the world, that he was not an NFL Quarterback (Booger McFarland and Bill Polian I am looking at you here). He was asked to try out by one team (reportedly the Chargers) as a Wide Receiver, an offer he politely declined. This had commentators across the board focusing on his speed above all else.

This was not a surprise considering the stats that he put up at Louisville, over 4,000 rushing yards and 50 rushing touchdowns over 3 years to go alongside the 9,000 yards he threw for, for a further 69 touchdowns. His rushing average was 6.3 yards. He won the Heisman off the back of his Junior season (3,660 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 1,601 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns) and from that point onwards the world was watching.

We have heard from everyone, analysts and armchair critics alike, that he is more likely to get injured the more he runs and that his style of play is not sustainable long term in the NFL. “The league will work him out” is bandied around every lazy ‘analysis’ that is made of him and we hear constantly that he is a poor passer.

As a Ravens fan I was going to fall into one of two camps, either I fall totally and head over heels in love with him and the excitement he brings or I pine for the ‘glory’ days of Joe Flacco. My colours have been nailed to the mast since day one, I think he is fantastic.

Ok, So Yes, He Can Run

In gaining 1,206 rushing yards Lamar Jackson provided ammunition to those who are convinced that he is nothing more than a glorified running back, breaking Michael Vick’s single season rushing record that many thought would never be broken highlighted the freakish athletic ability that he possesses. That he finished with more rushing yards than an entire team (the Dolphins only achieved 1,156 between all of them) will without doubt be a trivia answer in a any NFL quiz you take in 15 years time.

That he is such an effective runner does not however mean that he cannot also play the Quarterback position to a very high level.

So He Runs, His QB Style Is Not Sustainable

This I hear everywhere, every single day and I am sick and tired of hearing it. There is no evidence that supports this claim. In fact quite the opposite. A study conducted by Sarah Ellison1 shows categorically that Quarterbacks who ran the most (as a percentage of plays in a game) were not injured the most, in fact Quarterbacks who ran the most were injured lower than the NFL average for the position buy nearly a full percentage point.

The claim that because a Quarterback runs more he is exposing himself to more damaging hits would probably hold water if they were running directly into contact. The truth is that if you watch Jackson or Kyler Murray or any other Quarterback who runs often, you will see that their runs are aimed to the sideline, unless they have open grass in front of them (and then you will likely notice that they are celebrating in the endzone). By doing this they avoid the full force of many tackles as they instead feel the glances of would be tacklers getting a hand on them rather than their whole body.

The idea that a pocket passer is a safer individual doesn’t hold water from the pocket perspective either. How many times have we seen Quarterbacks suffer ACL injuries due to an O-lineman rolling up their leg, I give you Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco that immediately spring to mind and there are many more. Don’t tell me Joe Theisman and Alex Smith would not rather have been running at the time their Left Tackles missed the all important block and we saw two horrific injuries occur.

I urge all of you, whether you believe that a running Quarterback is more susceptible to injury than pocket Quarterbacks to read the referenced report and educate yourself so that we can put a stop to this lazy analysis.

Gunslinger, need I say more!

2019 and the regression in 2020?

Through the 2019 regular season Lamar had a completion percentage of 66.1, he threw for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns (a league high) whilst only throwing six interceptions. He rushed for 1,206 yards, an NFL record for a quarterback that is not going to be broken anytime soon (ask Kyler Murray how easy it is to keep up the level required over a full season) and ran for a further seven scores.

Following the season that he had it is only fair to expect some element of statistical regression, he threw for a touchdown on 9% of his throws last year (the league average is closer to 6%) and he played behind an offensive line that was one of the most uninterrupted in the league.

Before the season even started he was disadvantaged, losing Marshall Yanda was huge. That the spot was then to be filled by a rookie who had no pre-season meant that what had once been a strength of the Ravens was now a bonafide weakness.

The difference a guy holding his block on the O-line for an extra second makes is enormous, it provides the extra second for a Quarterback to make a decision, to make another read, to get out of trouble if it is coming. That has not been a luxury that Jackson has had this year and it has shown. It also affects the running game, a big part of what the Ravens do which in turn impacts the play action game that Jackson leans on so heavily. It is unfair to judge him on the basis of elements outside of his control, there are plenty of Quarterbacks in the league who would struggle at times with the wet paper towel O-line the Ravens have provided at times this season.

He Can’t Throw Form The Pocket

Wrong. Ok so this year his numbers have taken a dip but the major reasons for this are not on Jackson. He is playing behind a MUCH weaker O-line (although they are starting to show signs of life, Ben Powers we thank you) and his receivers have obviously not received the memo that separation is the name of the game in this league.

Last year Jackson threw for 25 TD’s from the pocket, the highest amount in the league. When you consider that he was throwing only 25 pass attempts, on average, per game this is even more impressive. In comparison, the second placed was Drew Brees with 24 but he was throwing on average 34 times a game (what should be noted here is that Brees only played 11 games, I admit it is highly likely he would have led this stat had he played 16 games). If, therefore, we move to the next highest who played 16 games we have Jameis WInston who threw 23, he did this on a per game average of 39 attempts per game ( a sure fire reason that he threw 4,000* interceptions).

Yes this years numbers have not been as good but with the enforced shakeup of the team around him due to injuries and Covid it is not surprising. What Lamar Jackson has shown is he is more than capable when he stays in the pocket.

*this figure may not be exactly correct

Lamar Jackson doing his best imitation of Catch Me If You Can

Can He Put The Team On His Back And Win (And Can This Be Without Just Running All Over The Place)?

Admittedly writing this now has been made easier following the Superman performance that we saw from Lamar Jackson against the Browns at the start of the week. Watching him coming back onto the field following Trace McSorley’s knee injury and then on the next play rolling out to the right before launching a perfect pass to Marquise Brown for the go ahead score felt like I was watching *insert your favourite American Football series or film*. In this game it felt as if Jackson provided a full stop to those who claim he could not put the team on his back when needed. In the final two minutes of the game he went 5/6 for 83 yards and a TD. Looks like someone shouldered quite a lot there and came out swinging, came from behind, check, do it without running check, get the win, check. Game, Set, Match.

It is unfair to say that prior to this game he had not performed in big occasions. I would point to games against Seattle, New England, Houston, the Rams, the 49ers and the Bills almost week to week last year as all games that would have counted as big games in analysis that was not weighted against Jackson. In those games Jackson stood tall and led his team, he threw for 947 yards and 14 touchdowns with only 1 interception (coming in the last of the games against the Bills) going 7-0 in those games on his way to the 14-2 season we all enjoyed. That sounds like a QB to me.  

Is he the finished product?

Of course not! This guy is in his second full season, he is 23 years old (younger I might add than Joe Burrow) and is still arguably learning the league. Remember Aaron Rodgers sat on a bench for 3 years before he came in for Favre. In that scenario Lamar Jackson would still have another half a season of riding the bench before even getting a shot at a start. In the life if a Quarterback he is just getting going.

Yes it is true that he is not Mahomes, but no one is. The sky is the limit for Lamar Jackson and I think we will see a mix going forwards of the last season and a half of his play. There will be more passing, but these will be quick shorter passes with the odd long bomb thrown in. He is never going to be an outside the numbers guy exclusively leading receivers to corners and outside fades day in day out. To see the passing game that works for him I would advise you to go and watch the second half of this years game against the Colts.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – DECEMBER 12: Quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates after a touchdown in the first quarter of the game against the New York Jets at M&T Bank Stadium on December 12, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Conclusion

I promise not all of my articles will end with a conclusion but this one lends itself to one. I should also point out that I could have made this a 10,000 word article quite easily but lets be honest it doesn’t have to be for my point to be made.

Lamar Jackson is without doubt a Quarterback rather than a Running Back who throws the ball and if I am being honest I think anyone who truly follows the NFL and understands it can see that. This league doesn’t allow for pretenders, just ask Broncos WR Kendall Hinton how that goes!! Yes Jackson has flaws and parts of his game to work on but then who doesn’t? If you want to write him off as a flash in the pan who should have changed positions then be my guest but you are doing Jackson and yourself a disservice, do some proper research go and look at the numbers and don’t just sit in your chair watching one or two games where Jackson is not playing at a Mahomes level and decide that you know the guy from that!

What Jackson is doing is showing that not all Quarterbacks have to play the game the same way. He will never be a 300 yard day in day out passer, he doesn’t need to be. With the gift that is his speed and elusiveness he can play the game a different way. There is a reason he is one of only four Quarterbacks to get to 27 wins in his first 34 career regular season starts.

Yes he is yet to win a playoff game but ask Peyton Manning how quickly that can turn around.

An Afterthought – Is He Pippen To An As Yet Unidentified Jordan?

This is something that was brought up in the Undrafted chat a few days ago and I admit it is not something I had thought about much.

There are very few Jordan’s at Quarterback in the league, those guys who can carry a team week in, week out. I’d argue that currently Mahomes leads the way in this category, after that you could say Rodgers, Wilson and then the list starts to dry up. Jackson falls into the same category as Kyler Murray and Deshaun Watson for me, He has the ability but there is help needed. This is not a weakness and does not make him any less of a QB, lets be honest a WR1 would make a huge difference for the Ravens, we can all agree with that.

Finally to those Ravens fans who long for a return to Joe Flacco and his turgid post Super Bowl offense, please go and take along hard look in the mirror and ask yourself if you really mean that.

  1. https://www.filmstudybaltimore.com/new-study-quarterbacks-that-run-most-are-not-injured-most/

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