With the 32nd pick in the 2018 NFL draft, the Baltimore Ravens traded up and selected Lamar Jackson. Jackson had almost given up on the evening, but after trading back from their original first-round pick two separate times, the Ravens got their man, the former Louisville quarterback and two-time ACC player of the year.
In an elite QB class, we saw four signal-callers go in the top 10 for the first time since 1949. It seemed Jackson would quickly be the next man up, but as the night went on and draft picks were made the question became just how much Jackson would fall. Though Jackson was 22-11 as a starter for the Cardinals and owned or shared 42 school records at Louisville, there was much speculation leading up to the draft whether Jackson had what it takes to be an NFL passer. His size and strong running game are viewed as both a positive and a negative in how they’ll translate to the NFL.1
We’ll get to more of that in a minute. But first, we take a comprehensive look at your new QB, Lamar Jackson.
LAMAR JACKSON, LOUISVILLE, 6-2, 216
|Lamar Jackson||8.7||N/A||N/A||216||6’2||N/A||9 1/2||21|
Lamar Jackson has already felt the trials and tribulations that come with being a high-profile athlete. As a Louisville sophomore, he won the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and was a unanimous All-American. But that claim to fame also came with significant backlash. The reason much of the above table is incomplete is because Jackson refused to participate in the NFL Combine. Mina Kimes and Domonique Foxworth said it best: “If a player can run, the world distrusts his ability to pass.”
With his run game almost working against him, Jackson made a statement by refusing to run in the Combine. There there was the separate critique by former GM and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian who suggested in February that the QB should switch to wide receiver. While Jackson shut down any speculation of such at the Combine, he has shown and said very little since playing in his final bowl game for Louisville.
But before we dive into Jackson’s pros and cons, let’s take a look at the numbers.
While the numbers don’t lie, they do tell only one side of the story. Jackson’s supporters would attribute his underwhelming 59.1 percent completion percentage to the lack of offensive talent. Having lost three starting receivers in 2017, the next men up dropped 12 percent of catchable passes. He was also such a prolific runner that he gained more rush yards (4132) and TDs (50) than Saquon Barkley (3843, 43).
And then there are his critics who would mention that his 59.1 percent completion percentage was his best rating in his three seasons and his turnover rate is particularly concerning. That, in his 2017 matchup with Clemson, he completed just 50 percent of passes, missing open receivers, overthrowing balls and showing evident discomfort both in and out of the pocket. Adding fuel to the fire, in the days leading up to the NFL draft it was reported than an NFL OC said Jackson “will not be able to play (quarterback) in this league – mark my words. When he throws, he hopes.”
The Ravens are a great landing spot for Jackson, though it might take a year or two to see the level of value he’ll bring to the organization. With Joe Flacco still firmly under center, Jackson will likely have a year to learn under him unless Flacco’s production continues to regress. Either way, we should at least see a few Jackson cameos in a wildcat formation.
Jackson’s playing style has often been compared to that of Michael Vick given their similarities in explosive speed and arm strength. And similar to Vick, Jackson will not fit in the box of a pass-oriented offense. In order to succeed in the NFL, he needs to be a part of a team that will commit to building the offense around him.
Fortunately for Jackson, Baltimore’s offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg understands how to do exactly that. Mornhinweg was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator for Vick’s first five seasons in Philly, helping Vick to bounce back at the ripe age of 30 to lead the league in rushing yards and TDs while achieving career-high passer ratings and completion percentages.
Ultimately, it’s going to come down to whether the Ravens are willing to develop a team around Jackson rather than fitting him into their existing system. The perfect case study for that is last year with Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans. When Watson took the reins, the team turned around its cookie-cutter offense and used play action on nearly a third of their attempts. If Harbaugh can incorporate the same creativity as Bill O’Brien did, and he certainly has the leeway to do so, the Baltimore franchise (and fantasy owners) should be in great shape for the foreseeable future.
- There was similar concern about that last year with Deshaun Watson … which didn’t age well. (back)