Following a season in which a 22-year-old quarterback ravaged the NFL landscape on his way to just the second-ever unanimous MVP award, you would assume that player would receive his deserved respect and recognition, right? Wrong. As recently demonstrated by ESPN.com, there are still those who cannot admit that Lamar Jackson is a top-five QB in a league where multiple front offices wanted him to play a different position.
In the article by ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler, Fowler states that the opinions of more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts, and players were compiled to create a top 10 players list at every position.
We're just gonna leave this here.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) July 8, 2020
Have at it. pic.twitter.com/Spt3NO4Cdb
Shockingly, the reigning unanimous MVP was excluded from the top five at his position with Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, and Drew Brees all coming ahead of him. It’s certainly fair and expected for both Mahomes and Wilson to rank higher than Jackson. The problem lies with the three behind that and in front of Jackson at six. Let’s take a look at some of the evidence that supports Jackson not only belonging in the top five but in the top three of NFL QBs.
Before I get into the stats, let’s tackle a point that people often like to use to knock what Jackson has accomplished in less than two full seasons as a starter; that being that the team was built specifically around him. First of all, building around your young QB should be the the goal of every franchise. Jackson is not the first QB ever to land in a favorable situation. Did Mahomes not take over for a team coming off of three consecutive trips to the playoffs with records of 11-5, 12-4, and 10-6? The same team that veteran QB Alex Smith nearly won MVP with while a rookie Mahomes sat on the bench in 2017. Why is it only a knock on Jackson to have a good foundation built around him? While QB wins can be a misleading stat, there is a reason that the Ravens have only lost three games in the regular season since Jackson took over the team with a 4-5 record in 2018.
Let’s also not pretend that Jackson’s supporting cast was full of superstars last season. Yes, the offensive line consisted of three Pro-Bowlers, and running back Mark Ingram proved to be a valuable free-agent acquisition with over 1,265 total yards to go with 15 touchdowns. However, Jackson’s threat as a runner most definitely helped both the line and the running backs production. Edge rushers are often hesitant to rush Jackson the same way they would a traditional QB, which makes life easier for the big guys upfront. The chance of Jackson keeping the ball and running it himself when handing to a running back can create holes in the defense and freeze edge defenders, preventing them from reaching the backfield for a run stop. These examples are the definition of a QB elevating the players around him. Look no further than Gus Edwards destroying defenses with runs right up the middle week in and week out in 2018 as an undrafted rookie once Jackson over for the injured Joe Flacco.
Jackson also led the NFL in touchdown passes (36) with a less than stellar group of pass catchers to throw to. Tight end Mark Andrews is the star of the group and Jackson’s favorite target by far. Outside of him, Jackson’s weapons consisted of veteran Willie Snead IV, two rookie receivers—one of which dealt with nagging injuries and a screw in his foot all year—Seth Roberts, and tight ends Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst. Jackson certainly didn’t have the likes of a Tyreek Hill, Tyler Lockett, Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, or Michael Thomas at receiver like the five QBs listed ahead of him.
Many people also use the argument that it’s only been one good season when refusing to rank Jackson among the very top at the position. Mahomes was anointed as a top-two QB in the league after his MVP season by the masses, however. Why the difference? Is it the predetermined notion of Jackson being an inadequate passer? A notion that Jackson utterly dismantled in 2019.
Now, onto the stats, starting with something simple: touchdown passes from the pocket.
“He’s not a true pocket passer” is one of my favorite uninformed lines thrown at Jackson. Leading the entire league in touchdown passes from the pocket isn’t something that a non-pocket passer would ever be able to accomplish. Jackson demonstrated the ability to avoid pressure and navigate the pocket, keep his eyes downfield, go through his progressions, and find the open man continually in 2019.
As pointed out by Sarah Ellison, formerly of baltimoreravens.com, touchdown passes from the pocket isn’t the only category that Jackson finished first in last season.
You can’t lead the NFL in TD passes as a one-trick pony. @Lj_era8 excelled no matter the situation.— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) May 22, 2020
• 36 TDs: 1st
• 25 TDs from pocket: 1st
• 24 TDs vs blitz: 1st
• 24 TDs red zone: 2nd
• 20 TDs on road: 1st
• 12 TDs 20+ yds: 3rd
• 4 gms w 4+TDs: 1st
• 3 gms w 5 TDs: 1st
Blitzing Jackson is just asking to get burned, as indicated by his league-best 24 touchdowns against the blitz. His 12 scores from 20+ yards—third in the NFL—shows that he didn’t only rack up touchdowns in the red zone, although he was incredibly proficient there with 24 touchdowns, second-best in the NFL. Proficient is the best word to describe Jackson’s 2019 campaign. While he may not have thrown as much as other elite QBs or eclipsed 4,000 yards passing, he made the absolute most out of his opportunities in the passing game. Jackson can destroy you with his arm—four games with at least four touchdowns and three with at least five—or with his legs (1,206 rushing yards; breaking the single-season QB rushing record.)
Next, Jackson’s QBR rankings, once again compiled by Ellison below.
Compiling Lamar Jackson’s QBR rankings, per @MattBowen41— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) May 18, 2020
• QBR Total: No. 1 (81.8)
• QBR in Red Zone: No. 1 (94.2)
• QBR vs. Man Cov.: No. 1 (91.0)
• QBR vs. Zone Cov.: No. 4 (74.7)
• QBR vs. blitz (5+): No. 2 (92.4)pic.twitter.com/T7TcQjzn7W
The only area above in which Jackson could greatly improve is against zone coverage, but even then, his QBR of 74.7 was fourth out of all QBs. His efficiency in the red zone and against man coverage and blitzes was about as good as it gets in his sophomore season. Once Jackson learns to read zone coverage better, good luck stopping him.
Last but not least, let’s discuss Jackson’s accuracy, something which has been criticized and questioned to death since his days in college at Louisville.
Lamar Jackson was the only qualified quarterback to finish with a non-negative EPA/attempt on tight window passes last season.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) July 10, 2020
The top 5 most efficient quarterbacks when targeting receivers with less than 1 yard of separation:
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As you can see above, Jackson was deadly accurate in 2019, going above and beyond what most ever thought he was capable of doing.
I’ll finish with a quote from Fowler in his ESPN article.
“The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2020. This is not a five-year projection or an achievement award. Who’s the best today? Pretty simple.”
By this logic, Jackson should unquestionably be in the top five, certainly ahead of Rodgers and Brees.