Lamar Jackson is expected to make a significant leap as a quarterback during his third year in the NFL.
That means he should be better reading a defense, throwing the ball downfield, and perhaps being more prudent running the football to avoid injuries.
Those would be reasonable expectations in a normal year.
But these are tumultuous times.
Players did not have a typical offseason because of the social distancing guidelines associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. NFL teams were not able to practice or even congregate at their respective headquarters until July.
Jackson did his best to overcome those challenges by working out with his personal quarterback coach and the Ravens wide receivers in Florida.
As a result, Jackson expects to make further strides this season, regardless of all of the outside distractions.
“You always need to make yourself better, because the teams you’re playing against, they are trying to stop you and make you look like you’re not that guy [or] what people may portray you as,” Jackson said. “So, my job is to learn more; get my mental state-of-mind right [and] where it’s supposed to be at and get the mental part down-pat. We’re going to go from there. [We’ll] see how the season goes.”
Last season, Jackson threw for 3,127 yards and an NFL-high 36 touchdowns, which was also a franchise record. Jackson finished with 1,206 yards rushing — sixth-best in the league and the most by a quarterback in NFL single-season history.
He is often compared to Patrick Mahomes, who led the Chiefs to the Super Bowl in his third year. Last season, Mahomes threw for 4,301 with 26 touchdowns and five interceptions. Mahomes is less mobile than Jackson and ran 43 times for 218 yards with a pair of scores.
Still, Mahomes has set a new bar for NFL quarterbacks.
“You saw the jump Mahomes had from his second to the third year, the way he was comfortable with his team, the way he’s comfortable in himself, being a leader, being a playmaker,” Ravens running back Mark Ingram said “I see that same jump for Lamar. Man, he’s special. He has all the tools, all of the intangibles to be great to be the MVP again.”
Perhaps Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson would be a better comparison to Jackson because they have similar styles of play. In his third year, Watson threw for 3,852 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also ran for 413 yards with 82 carries and seven touchdowns.
Jackson got the better of Watson last season in the Ravens 41-7 victory at M&T Bank Stadium. The players saw obvious similarities between the two players.
“They have similar attributes,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “I think Deshaun Watson is a heck of a player, heck of a quarterback. He can extend the play very well and I think he’s very smart. But overall, I think they’re a little bit different. Lamar Jackson brings a whole different element to running the ball than any quarterback ever.”
Jackson has a clear goal for this upcoming season: winning the Super Bowl. So, if his stats are not equal to last year’s performance and the team wins a title, Jackson won’t lose a minute’s sleep.
The Ravens fans will gladly take that trade.