It seems that every week, despite seemingly playing at their peak performance, the Ravens are getting better and better. After a 45-6 destruction of the LA Rams at the Coliseum, it feels impossible for the team to improve, even in the slightest. The Ravens are soaring at the moment, and quite frankly, as an columnist, that can actually make it harder to find topics to write on.
But as I think about this team from top to bottom, one thing I keep coming back to – and it seems everyone keeps coming back to – is Lamar Jackson’s progression at the quarterback position. It’s been astronomical, to say the least. While many marvel at his development and are excited for what it means right now and for the future, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way this project could have gone.
When I first heard rumors that Baltimore may be a destination for Jackson, I was confused and thought there was no way this boring, defense-minded organization would take such a leap. I also had concerns about his ability to stick in the NFL, not because of his ability as a thrower – which I thought would be good enough – but because of the risk of injury. I was one of the many who thought his style could get him into trouble.
Now, before you lacerate me for having that fear, allow me to explain the nuances of my take.
I mentioned a second ago that I thought he possessed the arm talent to be at least a serviceable (if not better) quarterback in the league. And believe me, after personally watching him tear apart Boston College’s defense during my freshman year at BC (there’s video evidence of me in the stands, mouth ajar, to prove this), I knew he had the incredible running ability to be dynamic and explosive enough to strike fear in defenses. Altogether, as a pure talent, I was sure that Jackson had a chance to be really successful.
So, to explain my past stance on him as a prospect, while I wasn’t sure of his likelihood of staying healthy, I thought there was still a scenario where he does suffer an injury (and loses explosiveness as a runner) yet remains successful as a QB.
For me, Jackson needed to somehow improve enough as a passer that his ability to out-run and out-juke any NFL defender wouldn’t be his only path to success. Really, running needed to become a supplemental skillset, and before he did suffer that threatening injury, he needed to be good enough in the pocket to overcome it.
What we’re seeing this year, on a game-by-game basis, is that he absolutely is at that point. My goodness, I am PRAYING that Jackson – probably already my favorite Raven of all-time – never suffers a torn ACL or any injury of the sort. If he doesn’t, I truly believe he may go down as one of the best players of all time. However, if he does, I have all the confidence in the world that despite a potential drop in ability to take off at any given moment, Jackson will still have the arm talent and football IQ to torture NFL defenses down the road.
This man is just 22 years old, in his first season starting, and has reeled off seven straight wins against almost solely playoff-caliber teams. He’s shown consistent accuracy, a knack for taking care of the ball, the ability to look off defenders, and tremendous leadership ability. Putting all of that into a blender, that means he’s shown the ability to win from the pocket and from the pocket alone.
At the same time, because you can’t talk about Jackson without discussing his insane rushing prowess, he’s also shown the ability to avoid big hits and – for the most part – get out of bounds whenever possible. To that point, my fear of him suffering a success-threatening injury has drastically decreased.
Still, if – not when, I should note – Jackson does go down with such an injury, he will absolutely come back as an elite quarterback in the NFL. Regardless of whether he maintains his ability to torch defenses on the ground, Jackson will continue to torch them through the air, because he’s doing that already.
The Ravens are in an unbelievably amazing place at the QB position not just now, but for the next decade.