If you’re a Ravens fan who’s even semi-active on social media, then you’ve seen the jokes and the snide remarks from Lamar Jackson’s doubters. “He can’t throw,” “He’s a running back,” and so on.
While it can get borderline infuriating, refrains like that exist for a reason, which is they’re likely rooted in some truth. Whether Ravens fans like it or not, Jackson does have a lot of room to grow as a passer, and did rely on his legs a good bit as a rookie in 2018.
Here’s where some of those haters are off base though: Lamar does need to improve as a passer and by all accounts looks to be very much focused on doing so, but that doesn’t mean he has to stop cutting it loose in the running game. In fact, the metrics back up that the team is better off if he continues to do so.
When recently asked about the volume of rush attempts for his young QB, head coach John Harbaugh wasn’t bashful about the fact that he’s expecting big things. How big? Oh, just the most attempts in league history for the position:
As we were talking to #Ravens coach John Harbaugh about QB Lamar Jackson’s capacity to run, @CoachBillick told him Cam Newton’s high was 139 rushes in a season. Harbaugh, w/out hesitating, said: Take the over.— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) July 29, 2019
This soundbite definitely (and rightfully) turned a ton of heads, and the ensuing conversation centered around whether the Ravens would be crazy to do so. Especially for a team that’s trying to help grow their young quarterback as a passer (and avoid getting him injured) the answer could very realistically tend towards “yes, it would be somewhat crazy.”
However, the analytics tell a different story. Per Dan Weingart on Twitter, a study on individual run success rate in relation to expected points added (or, EPA, which determines offensive play success as it relates to its effect on scoring) highlights that Baltimore’s attack is at its absolute deadliest when Lamar is pulling the ball down at a higher clip:
This view of Run Success Rate vs. EPA shows Lamar Jackson as a top-level rusher— Dan Weingart (@byDanWeingart) July 31, 2019
The Ravens are going to be a lot of fun to watch this year. pic.twitter.com/9fmPgpWkZg
Yes, you’re reading that right. Jackson is second only to Todd Gurley in per-average yards gained. That’s exclusive company, and puts #8 ahead of most of the league’s running backs in that category.
While it may not aid in refuting the trolls who compare Lamar with running backs, it maybe does something even better: it demonstrates that those who constantly harp on Jackson’s inflated rushing numbers are simply making a moot point. Baltimore’s offense is at its best when he’s on the move and he shouldn’t stop running just because of the improvements he’d like to make a passer.
If anything, overall offensive efficiency is something that will help him make that proverbial leap and him running the ball obviously improves that based on this study. Ultimately, it all feeds into one another and based on what we see here, John Harbaugh is right to be bullish on the expected volume of Jackson’s attempts on the ground.
Whether that makes him a running back, quarterback, wide receiver, or some position we’ve never heard of, no one can know. All we can know is that a mobile Lamar equals a better offense, so don’t be surprised to see him dashing up and down the field a little over a month from now and beyond.