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Lamar Jackson: The Good

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Taking one final look at Jackson’s rookie campaign, starting with “The Good”

Baltimore Ravens Portraits Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Lamar Jackson has been discussed and debated upon as one of the NFL’s main attractions throughout the 2019 offseason. When was the last time a Raven, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, sparked this much discussion?

Go type Jackson’s name into google, and you will see a smorgasbord of articles published over the last few months.

There are dozens of other articles.

The main narratives pertaining to the 22-year-old signal caller appear as follows:

  1. Is Jackson accurate enough? Will his accuracy improve? Will he become “consistent enough” to succeed at this level?
  2. Can he remain healthy? Running quarterbacks tend to get injured.
  3. Was last year a fluke? With “the tape out” on him, is he another Tim Tebow?
  4. The Chargers figured him out. Simply play with four down lineman, and seven defensive backs and watch Jackson crumble.

There are more conversations, but these topics are touched every time Jackson’s name is brought up.

With training camp around the corner, let’s take one final look at what Jackson’s film told us in 2018. Beginning with what he does well.

The Good: movement within the pocket/keeping his eyes downfield

Jackson has several positive traits that are undeniable. Some of which could use a little fine tuning, while others are fully developed.

One of the most under-appreciated traits Jackson possesses is his ability to move within the pocket and reset himself to throw. He can move, set to throw, move again, then set and fire off a bullet.

Here, Jackson keeps his eyes downfield, which is another strong suit of the Louisville product. He has a nice rhythm in his movement, not getting too far ahead of himself. At times, Jackson’s ability to outrun defenders causes him to get ahead of himself. He moves too quickly to throw accurately downfield. For instance, on some bootlegs or rollouts, Jackson hits his spot too early, throwing the time of the play off.

When he keeps a nice rhythm, it allows him to throw accurate darts, like here to Snead on a crucial third down in overtime. . . on the road. . . in his fourth start.

Again, Jackson keeps his eyes downfield. He has a great feel for outside pressure and is more than comfortable climbing the pocket. Interior pressure (from poor C/LG play) is a different story. Interior pressure means passers aren’t able to climb the pocket and keep their throwing base under them to deliver a strike. This is why I advocated for drafting a high caliber IOL like Erik McCoy, Garrett Bradbury or Cody Ford early in the draft. The Ravens clearly have confidence in Matt Skura and the other Ravens youngsters, which is a story for a different article.

Against the Chiefs and Chargers (both games on the road against top caliber AFC competition) Jackson kept his eyes downfield. On this play, you see Jackson look right, set, pump, then feel the pressure. He slides with the pressure, instead of against it. Keeping his eyes downfield, but is unable to find an open receiver. He doesn’t panic and rolls to his right, still scanning. He makes the business decision to flip the ball off to Kenneth Dixon, after engaging the covering linebacker. This opened up the field for Dixon, allowing him to rumble 21 yards for a first down.

Jackson should continue to make that business decision. Let the RB deliver the blows.

Jackson’s tendency to get ahead of the play on rollouts, bootlegs etc. can go into “the bad” category.

However, when he gathers himself, it allows him to find a nice sturdy throwing base, then use his momentum to fire the ball with good torque.

This wasn’t a perfect throw, Chris Moore needed to high point this ball, though the ball probably should’ve been placed on the one yard line for pass interference.

Jackson’s movement skills are obvious. Not only is he a gifted athlete in space, he has outstanding spatial awareness. That part of his rushing ability translates into his pocket presence, as the film shows.

When Jackson remains calm, trusts his instincts and plays with rhythm both inside and outside the pocket, his mechanics are much more sound. He incorporates his lower body into his throws, gathering strength from his hips and base, and drives off of his back foot and through his front foot.

LJ is an elite level athlete both in and out of the pocket. However, the narrative that Jackson is a run first quarterback is simply false.

Jackson was asked to run a lot in 2018. He scrambled on around 9% of his drop-backs. He was fourth in the NFL in scrambling frequency, but there are other passers that take off just as frequently and aren’t labeled with such negative connotations. Jackson scrambled around 21 times in over 200 drop-backs, or right around once out of every ten.

With more confidence and an offense constructed around him, Jackson won’t need to carry the load nearly as much. Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards and company will be the battering rams, and they’re more built for it. Adding weight should help Jackson’s cause when he does need to lower the shoulder, but Jackson does a great job of protecting himself by running out of bounds. His high school coach used to call him ‘Gumby’ because he can twist every which way but doesn’t break.

The Good: taking the low hanging fruit

My old ball coach used to say, “don’t make this game harder than it needs to be. If there’s an easy play, take it.”

This concept might seem elementary, but with so many variables, moving parts and 70,000 eyeballs watching, sometimes finding the “easy” option is lost in translation.

Making the easy plays sounds. . . well. . . easy. For a young quarterback, it often isn’t. There’s a level of confidence and trust that the passer needs within the play, the route, his pre-snap read and most importantly, themselves. Trust what you see. Hesitation is the first step in failure at the highest level of football.

In the play above, Jackson knows that he’s going to fake the ball to Gus Edwards. The Ravens had been gashing the Browns on the ground all day. That quick fake handoff leaves the underneath defenders flat footed, trying to process what’s happening. Hurst is left uncovered, simply slants inside, then rumbles 30-plus yards after the catch.

Right now you may be thinking, “Great. Lamar Jackson threw a wide open slant underneath. Whopdee-doo.” I get it. Now think about Tom Brady. Tom Brady makes the easy throw time and time again. That’s why many Ravens fans, among other fans, hate Tom Brady. He just makes it look so simple.

That’s what playing quarterback is all about, though.

  • Fine tuning mechanics to get the ball where it needs to go
  • Studying film to understand what the defense is showing
  • Identifying where the receivers will come open and understanding the offense
  • Trusting all of the other work put in, and making the throw

If quarterbacks can do those things, then they are much more likely to succeed as an NFL passer by taking the low hanging fruit.

On this play, the Raiders show man coverage on the outside, with no deep safety help overtop of John Brown. If you show me John Brown one on one running a fly route, I will show you the low hanging fruit. That’s why it took #8 no time to let this ball fly.

Jackson trusted what he saw and let his instincts take over. See one on one, throw ball. Easy.

The Raiders showed a recipe for disaster when facing a QB who is so deadly with his legs. That recipe is man coverage. Playing a lot of man against Jackson (especially without premier cover defenders) will allow Jackson to hurt you with his legs. Running zone, where defenders can keep their eyes on Jackson, forces him to rely on his arm more-so.

The last thing opponents want is Marquise Brown, Mark Andrews, Willie Snead and company to run past their defenders 30 yards downfield while their backs are turned. Trusting a front-seven to run around with Lamar Jackson on a consistent basis spells trouble.

The Good: finding soft spots, throwing between linebackers and safeties

As mentioned previously, trying to stop Lamar Jackson with man coverage is like going white water rafting without a paddle. He’s too fast, too aware and too slippery for big men to contain consistently. In other words, Lamar faces a ton of zone coverage.

Jackson’s comfort zone is over the middle, between and/or over the linebacker’s heads in their hook-to-curl zones. He attacked this area of the field with great success in 2018. Robert Griffin III utilized this in his rookie season with RPO action over the middle of the field. Jackson, wasn’t exclusively successful on RPO action when throwing between the hashes, though.

Jackson’s best throws come with the least amount of thought. When he makes errant throws that skip a few yards short of his intended target, it appears as if he is overthinking his mechanics. I can almost see cartoon bubbles of him thinking, “Okay, you need to watch your arm slot, get the ball out quickly, fire through your hips, and have a wide base. Make sure you don’t forget the wide base.”

His best throws are where he is zeroed in on his target, steps into them and lets the ball fly. It just looks natural. His follow through with his arm matches his follow through with his feet. For every gorgeous ball he let rip, there were some really odd throws from funky angles.

These building blocks are a rock solid foundation to build upon. Where Jackson lacks has the potential to destroy the foundation which his game is predicated. Luckily, Jackson has had an entire offseason to cement his positives. On the flip side, his weaknesses must be analyzed, deconstructed, then built back up.

This is part one of the series. Be on the lookout for part two, “The Bad” in the coming days!