Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is a divisive player. On one hand, many love him for fantasy football because of his ability to run. A quarterback’s ability to run gives him, and those who roster running quarterbacks, the upper hand in fantasy football. It is effectively a cheat code in terms of fantasy, and thus the term Konami code, as coined by Rich Hribar (@LordReebs), was born.
On the other hand, many think Jackson is a limited passer. To be fair, Jackson did show some limitations at times in 2018. However, in this article, I will discuss why Jackson is not just a Konami code. Why he is a good passer. And ultimately, why Lamar Jackson will be a top-12 quarterback in 2019.
Alright, let’s get this out of the way. Jackson is a fantastic runner. He is arguably the best running FBS quarterback ever. Yes, Keenan Reynolds, formerly of Navy, has the most rush yards as a quarterback all-time in the FBS. There may be several others ahead of Jackson as well. But Reynolds was not nearly as efficient running the ball, with 4.7 yards per carry to Jackson’s 6.3. Jackson was also a much better quarterback, with over 5,000 more yards passing than Reynolds. In fact, Jackson is the first, and only, quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in NCAA history.
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) November 12, 2017
Of course, Jackson’s rushing ability continued into the NFL. To many NFL fans’ and fantasy football players’ chagrins, the Ravens used Jackson as a “trick-play” connoisseur in the first half of the season. Through the Ravens first nine games, Jackson only threw the ball nine times and ran 28 times while playing 73 snaps.
When Jackson became the starting quarterback in week 11, Jackson still ran the ball a ton, again to many’s chagrins, carrying the ball double digit times in every game as a starter, including 26(!) times in his first NFL start. In those seven starts, Jackson accumulated 556 yards rushing, an over 79 yards per game average. Jackson also added four rushing touchdowns in that time span. Projecting that over a full season (yes, I know this is not a good practice with regression among other things), Jackson was on pace for 1,264 yards in 16 games. This would have broken Michael Vick‘s record of 1,039 in 2006 by over 200 yards. He also would have ended up with nine rushing touchdowns on top. Regardless, Jackson still produced the ninth-most rushing yards in a season since 2000.
Jackson’s passing, or lack thereof, is generally what separates the believers from the non-believers. First, as I stated above, Jackson managed to surpass 3,000 yards passing in back-to-back seasons at Louisville. Overall, he threw for 9,043 yards in his college career. Many of his detractors, however, will point to his completion percentage, especially relative to the other top quarterbacks in the 2018 draft class. Jackson’s completion percentage in college was 57%. However, Jackson also suffered from an inordinate number of drops by his pass-catchers. In his 2017 season, Jackson was hurt the most by drops among the top quarterbacks in the 2018 class. If you adjust for drops, Jackson’s completion percentage is 67.7%, which puts him right in the middle of the pack.
So the latest I heard in terms of making things up to make the narrative work is: Josh Allen's receivers dropped a lot of balls.
Here's the draft class ranked by drop rate: pic.twitter.com/fqe1fXK3Ls
— Neil Hornsby (@PFF_Neil) January 23, 2018
Potential 2018 First Round QBs Completion Percentage (in 2017), Adjusted For Dropped Passes:
Mayfield – 77.6%
Rudolph – 71.3%
Rosen – 70.3%
Jackson – 67.7%
Darnold – 67%
Allen – 61.1%
CFB Average: 65.5%
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) February 7, 2018
There also exists plenty of tape that demonstrates many instances of Jackson as a great passer. He has shown the ability to be a good quarterback in the pocket, read through his progressions, and keep his eyes downfield when moving outside of the pocket. Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio breaks down several of these instances.
So how does Jackson’s passing ability, or lack thereof to some, translate to the NFL? The Ravens did not ask Jackson to throw a ton in his rookie season. He only threw the ball 158 times in his seven starts for an average of just over 22 attempts per game. With that in mind, Jackson only surpassed 200 yards passing in one game in 2018. However, Jackson still finished second among the five first-round quarterbacks from the 2018 class in completion percentage, yards per attempt, adjusted yards per attempt, passer rating, etc. Jackson also showed some flashes of his potential as a passer, as shown below.
Granted, Jackson finished in the bottom-12 the 38 quarterbacks that threw over 150 passes in most of the listed stats. The point still stands that Jackson was far from the worst passer of the five quarterbacks and yet seems to be the most doubted when it comes to his passing post-2018.
Lamar Jackson. Michael Crabtree. SIX.
— NFL (@NFL) January 6, 2019
Two plays from Lamar Jackson that impressed me. While not classically a "pinpoint" vertical throw. The decision and placement is an excellent example of GOOD aggression given the early read of the WR/DB leverage and creating a win-win situation for offense. pic.twitter.com/xsjCl3tL9u
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) August 11, 2018
Three steps and out in rhythm. Easy blitz read, easy execution.
Lamar Jackson pic.twitter.com/qJ3CTjQHxM
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 19, 2018
Really nice read on the move by Lamar Jackson. Could have run for the first, but kept eyes in the end zone. pic.twitter.com/6tcMx32E68
— Eric Galko (@EricGalko) August 21, 2018
While he was not good, it seems that Jackson was not nearly as bad as many thought. There is also hope moving forward. After their playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, the Ravens promoted assistant head coach and tight ends coach Greg Roman to offensive coordinator. Quarterbacks under Roman have finished as QB17 or better in five of his six seasons (in 2012, his quarterbacks combined would have finished as the QB8) as an offensive coordinator with the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers. While this may not seem that impressive, let’s give it a little context. The starting quarterbacks Roman was dealing with were Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, and Tyrod Taylor. All three had some of the best fantasy finishes of their career to the given date. Alex Smith obviously improved with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The key similarity between all three of these quarterbacks, particularly Taylor and Kaepernick, is that they are good running quarterbacks. Under Roman, however, they also became competent at throwing the ball. As a starter under Roman, Smith either threw for over 3,000 yards in his first season and was on pace to throw over 3,000 yards in his second season if not for injuries. Kaepernick threw for 3,000 in both seasons as a full-time starter under Roman, his best two seasons as a passer, and was on pace to throw for over 3,000 after taking over for Smith in 2012. In the single full season under Roman, Taylor threw for over 3,000 yards in the best passing season of his career. Roman was let go two weeks into his second season with the Bills. Suffice it to say, Roman knows his way around running quarterbacks.
Let’s be realistic though. We all know that none of the three quarterbacks that Roman has worked with in the past nor Jackson are going to light the world on fire when it comes to throwing the ball. All they really need is to be competent throwing the ball as they add another dimension to the offense with their legs. As long as Jackson can take a step forward as a passer under Roman, which there is no doubt in my mind he can, coming off of his rookie season, with a full offseason as the starter, and given his success in college, Jackson will be an extremely valuable not only to the Ravens but to fantasy football players. If Jackson is able to throw for over 3,000 yards and added near 1,000 yards on the ground, he will finish inside the fantasy top-10 at the quarterback position.
Now, all of this is not to say that Jackson has shown some deficiencies and needs to improve in some areas. The area Jackson needs to improve the most is turning the ball over. He fumbled the ball 12(!) times, 10 of which came as a starter, losing four, adding three interceptions on top. That simply will not cut it. Part of the issue is when he decides to tuck the ball to run or avoid pressure, he does not pull it in tight to his body.
Lamar Jackson is going to get himself killed playing like this.
What are you doing, man!?
Even aside from the fumble/no fumble this is horrible. pic.twitter.com/Bn9TgvH8PY
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) August 21, 2018
Falcons’ Vic Beasley recovers Lamar Jackson fumble forced by Grady Jarrett and returns it for a score pic.twitter.com/xRdU0bkskq
— Jason Roose (@Jrooster49) December 2, 2018
Jackson also had issues reading defenses at times. There were also times that he struggled with his decision making. Of course, that is also expected from a rookie quarterback, especially after being thrown into the fire in the middle of the season.
Lamar Jackson's first INT of the Raiders game is a decision he could have done a better job of disguising so 25 doesn't slide into the passing lane. #Ravens
A QB like P. Manning would have looked to his right very briefly to begin the drop, look left to hold LB, then return rt pic.twitter.com/k5PpEWdA8T
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) November 26, 2018
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) February 4, 2019
We all know about Lamar Jackson’s ability to run. Despite only starting seven games, Jackson produced one of the best rushing seasons for a quarterback since 2000. He will continue to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league running the ball if not the best.
Despite perception, Lamar Jackson has shown that he can be a good passer. While he did not have a prolific rookie season passing the ball, Jackson was far from the worst passer in the league. In fact, he was the second best among the rookie quarterbacks in several categories, including completion percentage. While he did struggle at times as a passer and he had some major issues holding onto the ball, these things are fixable. Jackson has flashed amazing potential, and I believe new offensive coordinator Greg Roman will allow him to harness that potential in 2019.
Thank you for reading. You can read some of my other work and thoughts on Twitter @FFStompy. Follow FFStatistics on Twitter @FFStatistics_. Please check out everything that FFStatistics has to offer. New statistics and data are being added constantly. Read more articles from the FFStatistics writing staff here. Listen to the FFStatistics family of podcasts here.