Few expected Lamar Jackson to make much of an impact in his rookie season. Heading into the regular season, Jackson was slotted in as the backup to Joe Flacco, a role most envisioned him holding for the entirety of the 2018-19 season. Circumstances changed, however, when Flacco suffered an injury and Jackson took hold of the starting job.
Now, as he enters his second season in the league, Jackson is the unquestioned starter and face of the Ravens franchise. Jackson’s development may ultimately determine the team’s ceiling, so the pressure is on him to build upon a successful first-year campaign.
Here are four goals for Lamar heading into the 2019-20 season. Be sure to join the conversation below and share your thoughts!
1) Improve his mechanics and accuracy
This should be the underlying theme of Jackson’s entire sophomore season. The narrative that he can’t throw is simply false, as we saw Lamar make plenty of NFL-caliber passes last year, some being extremely impressive. With that being said, however, it’s no secret that Jackson is far from a polished quarterback. Thrust into action midseason lacking chemistry with the starting receivers, Jackson largely exceeded expectations.
Still, there were more than a handful of throws that got away from him throughout the second half of the season. Arm strength isn’t the issue, it’s more so lack of a tight spiral, ball placement, and footwork. Jackson has been working on these aspects of his game all summer, but his development is going to be a long process. How much Jackson improves as a passer could ultimately determine the team’s ceiling, so fine-tuning his mechanics and accuracy should be priority #1 throughout the season.
2) Take better care of the football
Another important theme for Jackson to adhere to next season? Ball security, ball security, and more ball security. Despite starting just eight games last season, Jackson led the league in fumbles with 15. Context is important here as not all of these fumbles were necessarily his fault, but it’s certainly a concerning number regardless. Some of Jackson’s fumbles came while he was acting as a ball-carrier past the line of scrimmage, but even more occurred in the pocket.
Whether it was struggling to hold onto a snapped ball, poor execution on read option plays or simply letting the ball slip out of his hands, Jackson fumbled one too many times last season. Thankfully, this is an area of the game that can certainly be corrected. Jackson needs to significantly sure up his ball security next year to avoid wasting possessions and putting the defense back onto the field too often.
3) > 60.0 completion % , 25+ total touchdowns, 3,000+ passing yards
From an individual statistics standpoint, Jackson has a great chance to build upon his numbers from last season as he projects to start all 16 games rather than just play half the year. While it ultimately comes down to Jackson’s ability to make plays, there are a number of factors working in his favor. The offense around him has been teetered towards his strengths and aimed to place him in a position to succeed. Greg Roman’s system has supported mobile quarterbacks in the past (Colin Kaepernick, Tyrod Taylor) and the likes of Mark Ingram and Marquise Brown should make life easier for Jackson, too.
Circling back to accuracy, Jackson completed 58.2% of his passes last season. Terrible? No, but relatively below-average. Expecting Jackson to leap into the 65-70% range among the elite quarterbacks in the league is unrealistic, but improving at least a few percentage points is a reasonable goal. Proficiency in play action and pushing the ball down the field more should result in more yards and touchdowns, too. More pass attempts and more starts set the stage for Jackson to more than double his passing yards from last season (1,201) and combined passing/rushing scores (11).
4) Redeem himself on the playoff stage
Last season, Jackson became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to start a playoff game, an impressive feat. Unfortunately, his first playoff start didn’t exactly go how Jackson and others had hoped. For three quarters, Jackson and the Ravens offense were stifled by the Chargers defense, and Jackson had less than 50 passing yards entering the final quarter of play as Baltimore trailed by multiple scores. A few late touchdown drives nearly salvaged an otherwise dismal performance, but Jackson struggled on the national stage overall.
It’s hard to expect any 22-year old quarterback to thrive in their first playoff game, especially in their rookie season. However, the experience in a high-pressure situation was certainly a valuable one for Jackson, and he has a chance to redeem himself in the postseason next season. Jackson is all about team success and quarterbacks are ultimately judged by winning. Leading the Ravens to another division title or wild card berth - followed by a more impressive playoff performance - should be a major goal of his in 2019-20.