Following back-to-back victories over the Seahawks and Patriots, the Ravens (6-2) are picking up steam as they enter their most important stretch of the season. Led by an improving defense, strong coaching staff and high-powered rushing attack, Baltimore is playing at an extremely high level.
The man at the center of their success? You guessed it, Lamar Jackson.
In just his second season in NFL and first year as the Ravens full-time starting quarterback, Jackson is at the forefront of the MVP discussion through Week 10. It’s surprising but also not surprising at the same time. When a team wins, their quarterback tends to receive much of the credit more often than not. Only if said quarterback is playing well, though . . .
And that’s exactly what Jackson is doing - playing well. Whether or not he’s a legitimate MVP candidate is up for discussion and is a matter of opinion. At this point in the season, any award talk is merely speculation and opinion. It’s honestly quite silly to have this discussion with so many games remaining, but here we are.
Let’s break it down.
The case AGAINST Lamar Jackson being the MVP so far
There’s no denying Jackson’s improvement from Year 1 to Year 2. No matter which way you look at it, he’s simply a better quarterback and overall player in every aspect of the game. With that being said, however, this isn’t to say that he’s a polished passer - especially compared to some other players at the position. He ranks just 21st in the league in passing yards with 1,813, narrowly trailing Joe Flacco and Baker Mayfield. Jackson is tied for 17th in passing touchdowns (12) and 13th in passer rating. In summary, he’s very much middle-of-the-pack in several important passing categories.
Since his Week 1 explosion against the Dolphins, Jackson’s numbers have just been okay. He’s posted only seven passing touchdowns to five interceptions from Weeks 2-9, a span in which he’s failed to throw a touchdown in three games and has only eclipsed more than one passing touchdown against the Browns in Week 4 - a game which the Ravens lost by 15 points at home. In addition to the Dolphins, three of the Ravens victories have come against teams with a .500 record or worse: Cardinals, Steelers and Bengals. In all three of these games, the Ravens won by only single digits.
Jackson has also thrown for 163 passing yards or less in three out of the past four games. This all comes while getting sacked just 18 times on the season, which is less than 15 other starting quarterbacks. Jackson’s offensive line features two premier players at their position in Ronnie Stanley and Marshal Yanda, an emerging sophomore in Orlando Brown Jr., and two improved interior players: Matt Skura and Bradley Bozeman. In addition, he has a strong 1-2 punch behind him with Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, as well as a dynamic trio of tight ends - Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst.
On top of that, the Ravens entire offensive system has been built, designed and catered towards Jackson’s strengths. Jackson also has a top-tier head coach in John Harbaugh and a creative offense coordinator in Greg Roman, who specializes with mobile quarterbacks like Jackson. The same cannot necessarily be said about other players in the MVP conversation.
The case FOR Lamar Jackson as MVP so far
Is Jackson the most refined thrower of the football in the world? No, but where he stands compared to other quarterbacks in terms of statistical passing categories is not indicative of his value. Jackson makes everything tick for the Ravens offense, which paces all teams in rushing yards by a wide margin and ranks No. 2 in the league in total yards per game. Baltimore also leads the league in points per game with 31.4. Simply put, the team’s offense is at or near the top of the NFL in several major categories. Without Jackson’s abilities and skill set, that would not be the case.
Jackson’s improvement a passer has been significant. His technique and consistency compared to last year is night and day, as is his ball placement and accuracy. Jackson trails only five other quarterbacks in QBR (69.9) and is completing 64.3% of his passes, a number that would surely be higher if not for a bevy of dropped passes from his pass-catchers against the Seahawks. In that same game, though, Jackson willed the Ravens to a victory with a dynamic rushing attack, as he’s done almost all season.
Jackson leads the ENTIRE league in yards per carry (6.4), is 10th in rushing yards with 647 and also had five rushing touchdowns to his name. He is well on pace to break Michael Vick’s record for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season, which would be an impressive feat. Jackson has played well enough to take care of business against inferior opponents and was the key catalyst in recent victories against shoe-in playoff opponents in the Seahawks and Patriots, the latter of which boasted the league’s No. 1 defense in the league entering their Week 9 matchup. Whereas his draft class counterparts have struggled (Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen), Jackson has taken a leap.
He’s done so with a rather lackluster receiving core around him, especially considering rookie WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has essentially missed 2.5 games this season. While the Ravens offensive line has been solid this season, Jackson often makes them look better than may actually be in terms of pass protection. There’s been numerous times this year where Jackson escapes multiple sacks and picks up first downs on the ground. He may very well be the most athletic offensive player in the league when considering his combination of speed and elusiveness in the open field.
Jackson vs. the field
Right now, the prime candidates for MVP other than Jackson include Russell Wilson, DeShaun Watson and Christian McCaffrey. Let’s start with the former.
Russell Wilson has been on a tear this entire season, throwing 22 touchdowns to just one interception. His lone turnover came against the Ravens in Week 7 and proved costly, as CB Marcus Peters returned the interception for a 67-yard touchdown. Other than that, Wilson has played mistake-free football and has been incredibly efficient. The veteran signal-caller leads the league in passing touchdowns, passer rating and ranks third in passing yards with 2,505. He’s been the driving force behind the Seahawks 7-2 start and has helped Seattle compensate for inconsistent play from the offensive line and defense.
Compared to Jackson, one could argue that Wilson has better offensive weapons around him. The Ravens certainly have the more formidable offensive line, but the receiving core of Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf and Jaron Brown has been far more productive than the likes of Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin and Willie Snead IV. Chris Carson and Mark Ingram are similar running backs, but Carson has more scrimmage yards on the year. Wilson is more accurate and a more potent deep-ball thrower than Jackson, while the latter has been significantly more active and productive as a rusher.
Christian McCaffrey is the only running back garnering MVP buzz, and it’s not hard to see why that is. McCaffrey has taken his game to another level in his third career season and has been nothing short of electric this season. The Stanford product is 13 yards short of leading the NFL in rushing this season, as he’s totaled 881 yards on the ground with a YPC clip of 5.3. McCaffery is averaging 110.1 rushing yards per game while also making an impact as a receiver, which is truly where is value stems from - versatility.
McCaffrey has caught 42 receptions this season (52 targets) for 363 yards and a receiving touchdown. He’s been the focal point and head man for a Panthers offense that lost Devin Funchess in the offseason and has seen Kyle Allen take over as the starting quarterback for the injured Cam Newton. Carolina has lost just one game with Allen under center and while he’s been an effective game manager, McCaffrey has been carrying this offense. It’s hard to compare McCaffrey and Jackson since they play different positions, but it’s evident that both players are extremely versatile: Jackson as a thrower and runner, McCaffrey as a runner and receiving threat out of the backfield.
Deshaun Watson and the Texans will travel to Baltimore in Week 11, so we’ll finally get to see him and Jackson square off for the first time. Watson has once again carried Houston and seems to make several remarkable plays each game that leave you saying “wow”. The third-year quarterback has taken his game to another level this season. He ranks sixth in the NFL in passing yards with 2,432, fourth in completion percentage at 70.2% and third in terms of passing touchdowns with 18 - and just five interceptions. Make no mistake about it, Watson is incredible and deserves the buzz he’s getting for this award.
The Texans have trotted out some poor offensive line units in recent years and while their group this season appears to be better than usual, Watson has still been sacked 25 times, which is more than all but five other quarterbacks. On top of that, Watson lost his starting running back, Lamar Miller, to a season-ending injury and his WR2 Will Fuller has been in-and-out of the lineup per usual. Watson’s numbers are better than Jackson’s in almost every passing category, but Jackson’s team does have the better record.
Other potential candidates include: Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, etc.
If the season ended today, Lamar Jackson would more likely than not fall short of winning the MVP trophy - and that’s perfectly fine. This honor would likely go to Russell Wilson and rightfully so. However, that doesn’t mean Jackson isn’t deserving in his own right.
Jackson has been as good as the Ravens could have hoped for entering this season. He’s exceed most people’s expectations and is leading this team to success, which is all that matters to him and is all that should matter to fans.
With eight games left on the docket, including several against playoff contenders and playoff locks, Jackson has a chance to strengthen his MVP resume. The fact that he’s even in the discussion in just his second season is exhilarating.