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Lamar Jackson is the Konami Code Poster Child and a Screaming Best Ball Value

Last year, Lamar Jackson broke the record for rushing attempts in a season by a quarterback.

He started seven games.

After Joe Flacco went down with a hip injury, Jackson averaged the seventh-most fantasy points per game among quarterbacks. He also averaged the ninth-most rushing attempts per game, 10th-most rushing yards per game, and 12th-most rushing fantasy points per game in the entire NFL over those seven weeks.1 He was getting low-end RB1 rushing volume in addition to his work as a passer!

 
Player Rushing Attempts per Game (Weeks 11-17) Player Rushing Yards per Game (Weeks 11-17)
Ezekiel Elliott 22.7 C.J. Anderson 149.5
C.J. Anderson2 21.5 Saquon Barkley 103.0
Chris Carson 19.4 Ezekiel Elliott 100.5
Saquon Barkley 18.6 Derrick Henry 100.1
Leonard Fournette 17.8 Chris Carson 93.4
Gus Edwards 17.4 Gus Edwards 93.4
Joe Mixon 17.3 Kerryon Johnson3 87.0
Sony Michel 17.2 Joe Mixon 85.4
Lamar Jackson 17.0 Sony Michel 79.7
Marlon Mack 16.7 Lamar Jackson 79.4

Run, Lamar, Run

I used the RotoViz Screener to measure how valuable the average quarterback rushing attempt is compared to a quarterback passing attempt. Over the last 19 seasons, the average QB rushing attempt was worth 0.61 fantasy points. The average QB passing attempt was worth just 0.39 points. That’s right: Rushing is almost 1.6 times as valuable as passing for quarterbacks.

Logically, you might think that a quarterback would get less efficient as he runs the ball more. For example, the defense knows Cam Newton is a threat to run any time he drops back, so they would be better prepared to stop it than if, say, Tom Brady takes off. Basically, if Brady runs, you would think it’s because there is literally no one in front of him. Or it’s because the Patriots need him to sneak it into the end zone from one yard out.

In reality, the opposite is true.

The 371 quarterbacks who have had at least 30 rushing attempts in a season since 2000 averaged 0.65 points per attempt. Quarterbacks who ran at least 50 times averaged 0.76 points per attempt. And the 20 quarterbacks who ran at least 100 times averaged a whopping 0.92 points per attempt, making their rushing attempts 2.4 times as valuable as the average pass. 19 of those 20 finished QB17 or better in fantasy, 13 finished in the top six, and 10 finished in the top three. Of the 34 quarterbacks to start 12 or more games and average at least 5.5 rushing attempts per game since 2000, 30 have finished as a QB1 in fantasy. On average, they ranked 28th in the league in passer rating. And that’s the beauty of Jackson as a fantasy asset: He can be a bad passer and still be very relevant in fantasy.

Jackson isn’t going to run as much this year – the Ravens’ owner made that clear – but he doesn’t need to in order to set quarterback rushing records. As a starter, he averaged 17 attempts per game. If you cut that number in half, that’s still a 136-carry pace over 16 games, which would be the fourth-most rushing attempts of any quarterback in NFL history.

The best Lamar Jackson stat might actually be a Tim Tebow stat. Before Jackson, the last quarterback to average more than 10 rushing attempts per start was Tebow in 2011. That year, Tebow started 11 games and completed 46.5% of his passes for 1,729 yards, 12 touchdowns, and six interceptions. The Broncos had the fewest passing attempts in the league at the end of the year, and Tebow was below average in pretty much every passing efficiency metric imaginable.

He finished as the QB8 in fantasy on a per-start basis. Because running quarterbacks are a fantasy football cheat code. Tebow ran 122 times for 660 yards and six touchdowns in 2011 (for those of you keeping track at home, that’s 0.84 points per rushing attempt, below average among quarterbacks with at least 100 rushing attempts).

Even though he only started 11 games, Tebow finished the season as the QB17 overall. Lamar Jackson’s current ADP in best ball leagues is QB17.

Pass, Lamar, Pass?

Let’s be honest: You’re drafting Lamar Jackson because he can run. That doesn’t mean he won’t surprise you with his passing ability.

Last year, Jackson was thrown into the fire midseason with Michael Crabtree and John Brown as his top two receivers, two rookies at tight end, and Gus Edwards at running back. Obviously, he wasn’t very successful as a passer. Although the Ravens’ receiving corps still isn’t anything to write home about – they added Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Mark Ingram, and Justice Hill but lost Crabtree and Brown – Jackson should have better luck throwing the ball this year. Last year, his 3.5% touchdown rate – a notoriously unpredictable stat on a year-over-year basis – ranked 28th out of 38 quarterbacks with at least 160 passing attempts. According to the RotoViz Screener, 4.2% of all passes have gone for touchdowns since 2000. During that time, there have been 217 instances of a quarterback having a below average touchdown rate on at least 160 attempts. Over 64% of them improved in that area in the following season, and the average increase was 24.3%.

In addition, only 51% of the Ravens’ touchdowns last year came through the air. That’s the 11th-lowest rate over the last four seasons. Between 2015 and 2017, there were 26 teams that scored less than 60% of their touchdowns through the air. Their average passing touchdown percentage was 53%. In the following year, they averaged 63% passing touchdowns. Over that same time span, there were 16 teams with a passing touchdown percentage under 55% (average: 50%). Their average also jumped to 63% in the following season. Jackson struggled as a passer in his rookie campaign, but his touchdown rate should regress toward the mean in 2019.

Furthermore, Baltimore passed just 36% of the time once Jackson assumed starting duties. Over the last three seasons, only one team has passed on fewer than 50% of their plays (even Jackson’s historic rushing volume didn’t push the 2018 Ravens over the 50% mark over the course of the entire season). It’s possible the Ravens will continue to be an outlier in this category; after all, no quarterback has ever seen even comparable rushing volume to what Jackson got after becoming the starter. Still, it’s unlikely the Ravens will be as run-heavy as they were during the second half of last season, and that means good things for Jackson’s passing numbers (albeit at the expense of his rushing numbers, but you’re not drafting him with the expectation that he carries the ball 17 times per game).

Jackson is entering his second NFL season after playing as a 21-year-old rookie — putting him in historically the most favorable cohort for QB breakouts. And his best ball ADP makes him the perfect selection in a league-winning draft strategy. Don’t overthink this one.

Image Credit: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Lamar Jackson.

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  1. This does not include fumbles because Pro-Football-Reference does not clarify which fumbles were lost. If fumbles were included, Jackson would likely be a few spots lower because he fumbled 10 times in seven games.  (back)
  2. Two games played.  (back)
  3. One game played.  (back)

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