Lamar Jackson is coming off a phenomenal season.
Lamar Jackson needs improvement.
Both of these things can be true when the subject of debate is a QB heading into his third season who is younger than the guy who was just drafted number one overall. I am not against people criticizing Lamar, I am against holding him to a higher standard than everyone else. As a young QB who was expected (by so-called draft experts) to do nothing as a QB at the pro level, I’d say Lamar has exceeded expectations.
The treatment of Jackson upsets me. I don’t pay too much attention to guys like Clay Travis retweeting videos of Lamar’s skills competition and using it as an excuse to say that Lamar’s career is not long for this world. Personally I hope that Travis’ career is not long for this world but that’s just me.
A common “concern” about Lamar is his ability to stay healthy in the long term. We as Ravens fans know that he takes hits, but rarely are they massive hits in the open field. I was impressed with how Lamar took care of himself and the football in year two, and if he continues this pace, I see no reason to fear serious injury (I am knocking on my wooden desk as I type this out).
So that brings me to my point about double standards. On the one hand, we have a unanimous MVP QB going into his second year as a starter who hasn’t missed a start since his first year of college.
On the other….well, let’s look at a different QB…
Carson Wentz is a guy that frustrates many – Eagles fans, fantasy football players, and me. Did he perform at an MVP level in 2017? Yes, he did. Has he performed at that level since then? No, he has not. Wentz has been given a ton of slack since that Super Bowl season – more than even Nick Foles, who actually won the big game, then lost his job in Jacksonville this past year. Wentz had a top five O-Line and TE room just like Lamar did in 2019, and he ended up with five fewer wins.
Wentz’s underachieving and lack of playoff success do not get enough attention. Lamar’s poor playoff showing (so far) is brought up whenever his regular season is mentioned, while Wentz is on his second contract and still hasn’t won a playoff game.
Eagles fans won’t admit it, but Wentz is a question mark. He’s played 16 games only twice in his career while Lamar has yet to miss a start. He’s much less mobile in the pocket and he takes bigger hits than Lamar. He looks less comfortable in the pocket than Lamar did and yet we’re supposed to think that Lamar is going to be “figured out” and Wentz will improve?
Lamar and Wentz both had their MVP-caliber seasons. I do not fault Wentz for his ACL injury; it was just bad luck. However, even if you attribute Wentz’s regression in year three to that injury, you must also acknowledge that Lamar did not finish his MVP year with an injury of any sort.
“They’ll Figure Him Out”
All quarterbacks deal with defenses adapting to them as their careers progress. As Lamar isn’t as good a thrower as a Pat Mahomes or Russell Wilson, we can expect to hear that “coaches will figure him out.”
Have we ever heard this as much as we have with Lamar about any other QB? I never heard this about Joe Flacco. I never heard this about Ben Roethlisberger. I never heard this about Aaron Rodgers.
If you want a more recent example, I never heard this about Baker Mayfield.
Speaking of Baker, what has he done to make any reasonable football mind believe that he will improve? Twenty-one picks in year two, which is more than double of what Lamar has in his career and if you look at the tape it easily could’ve been more. Fans have given Baker leeway because Freddie Kitchens was awful. While I agree with that take, let’s go back to early 2019 in Baltimore and compare.
Marty Mornhinweg was finally fired and Greg Roman, the man that was partially responsible for Colin Kaepernick’s early success, was the replacement with John Harbaugh staying on as head coach. The Browns were projected to win the division or snag a Wild Card, and the Ravens were projected for another nine-win campaign (no, Chibs was not the only one who was expecting that).
Baker was getting buzz as a dark horse MVP candidate and Lamar was going to be exposed after the Chargers owned him the previous January.
Funny how that turned out.
I just don’t understand how you can watch QBs like Baker and Wentz make mistake after mistake and swear they are due for improvement. One just threw 21 picks in a season, the other lost to the Dolphins and has still not won a playoff game going into year five. I have heard nothing about defenses figuring either of these guys out.
Jackson has been called one-dimensional. In the eyes of sports media and fans who do not follow the Ravens, is Jackson any more one-dimensional than Joe Flacco was in his later years in Baltimore?
Flacco was and is a pure pocket passing QB. Lamar has shown he can throw from the pocket, on the run and when both of those fail, tuck and run. Joe could only do one of those things. Did we ever hear that Flacco was “figured out” by defenses? No. We had been told that Joe was trash, but we never heard that he had been “figured out”.
Why is the wording different? It’s different because black and dual-threat QBs are viewed differently than prototypical white and pocket passing QBs. Why is Jackson at more of a risk of being figured out than Baker or Wentz? Why is it a foregone conclusion that Lamar is going to get hurt at some point when he has given us no reason to believe that?
We have seen running QBs fail in the pros – like Tim Tebow, so of course race isn’t the only issue here – but we’ve also seen pocket passing QBs fail in the pros…to name two of the highly-drafted variety: JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf. I ask you, how many running QBs were as bad as JaMarcus Russell?
While I do believe the stigma Jackson faces is in large part due to the feelings about running QBs, I would be foolish to say that race isn’t a factor. It absolutely is. That said, there’s no sense in rehashing the age-old debate here; we aren’t breaking any new ground.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that 31 NFL GMs are all racist; that would be ridiculous. However, and this is a bit sticky so bear with me here, I think that Lamar falling as far as he did on draft night, especially knowing what we know now about teams wanting him to be a wide receiver, is an utter failure of those 31 GMs.
Did Lamar have accuracy problems? Of course he did. At the same time, Josh Allen had similar issues with accuracy, and Sam Darnold was an interception machine in his last year at USC. We can play the “how did this guy screw up” game all day. There wasn’t a single QB in the 2018 draft class that didn’t have some kind of question mark.
I question how Lamar can have the same problems as Allen but with better mobility and in a better conference and yet be drafted 25 spots later. Why take a leap on Allen but not Lamar?
At the end of the day, the phase we’re in right now was inevitable. Teams like the Redskins and Ravens drafting QBs like Haskins and Lamar high, are steps forward. They looked at the talent and the work ethics and drafted their guys.
The highest paid player in the league is Russell Wilson. The player who will likely overcome him for that title will be Dak Prescott, who will then be overcome by Patrick Mahomes. Lamar Jackson will be knocking on that door in a few years as well.
Would these players have even gotten a sniff twenty years ago? The double standard issue is still very much a problem, but it’s improving, in fits and starts, as younger and more forward-thinking executives take the helm for NFL teams. The league is certainly moving forward in this regard.
However, it isn’t just the GMs and owners that need to change their thinking. Sports media and fans need to see players for their talents and character. The skepticism surrounding quarterbacks who don’t fit the traditional mold must end. To ignore them is a disservice to the game of football and to the young men playing it.