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How many hits does Lamar Jackson really take?

Less than you think.

Divisional Round - Tennessee Titans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

From the time Lamar Jackson exploded on the national football scene as a Louisville Cardinal in 2017, everyone’s had an opinion on his play style. A common one?

“The next Michael Vick.”

Among those, commonly regurgitated phrases are along the lines of, “he can't sustain that play style.”

“He takes too many hits.”

Let’s examine the latter. How many hits does Lamar Jackson really take? Well, you can look at Jackson’s rushing attempts. However, the answer isn’t that simple.

Watching the 23 year-old signal caller for a game will provide insight into how unique of a player Jackson truly is. Part of what makes him so unique on the football field is his spatial awareness combined with his ability to process information at a stunning rate. Simply, Jackson is usually aware of all 11 defenders at all times, particularly on designed runs. This skill allows him to ask one question when he tucks the ball and begins to accelerate:

“Can I score?”

Marty Morhenwig was the Ravens’ Offensive Coordinator during Jackson’s rookie season. When asked about Jackson potentially taking too many hits, Morhenwig explained that he told Jackson if he felt he could score, go for it. If not, get down, get out of bounds. How often does Jackson get down or get out of bounds? I went back and re-watched every regular season rushing attempt from Jackson’s 323 NFL carries. Here’s what I found —

• Total carries: 323 (295 since taking over as starter in Week 10 of 2018)

• Run out of bounds or given himself up: 126

• Kneel downs: 33

This means that Jackson has run out of bounds or given himself up on 39% of his 323 rushing attempts. His 33 kneel downs account for 10% of his total attempts. Adding the two figures together means that 49% of Jackson’s 323 career rushing attempts have resulted without a “hit.”

51% have resulted in a hit. This means Jackson has taken around 150 hits as a result of rushing the ball throughout his 22 career starts.

Analyzing Jackson’s rushing attempts is an incomplete picture because it ignores two major sets of hits Jackson sustains. Sacks and QB hits—

Jackson has been sacked 39 times and hit 75 times since he took the reigns of the Ravens offense in 2018. That brings the grand total up to 264 hits as a runner and passer over 22 starts in the regular season. A rate of 12.0 hits per game.

Extrapolating that to a 16 game season, Jackson is hit roughly 192 times per season.

For context, Russell Wilson took 48 sacks and 111 QB hits in 2019. Without even looking at Wilson’s rushing attempts, he took 159 hits as a passer. DeShaun Watson? 44 sacks and 86 hits, totaling 130 as a passer.

In 22 career starts, Jackson has been sacked and hit less than Watson or Wilson were in 2019 alone. This is important because, as previously stated, all hits are not created equally. In fact, according to John Verros, Injury Coordinator for Sports Info Solutions, QB hits result a significantly higher rate of injury than Q B runs.

Dating back to 2017, QB hits or “knockdowns” result in an injury nearly three times as often as a QB run.

Sarah Ellison of Film Study Baltimore examined the link between QB run frequency and injury, finding no correlation. So while Jackson takes far and away more hits than his passing peers as a runner, the sparsity of hits he takes as a passer counterbalance those taken as a runner.

Still, as Joe Flacco, Alex Smith, Joe Thiesmann, Tom Brady and many other passers know, one hit in the pocket can take away a season or career. Jackson’s backup, Robert Griffin III, is also a living testament to the necessity of which a quarterback must protect themselves when they tuck and run. It’s all part of the game. Deshaun Watson has had surgery to repair an ACL in each leg, yet still races to the end zone when he believes he has a chance to score.

Jackson’s efficiency as a runner is quantified in comparison with running backs quite easily. Removing the kneels, Jackson (as a starter) has run 262 times for 1,796 yards, 6.85 yards a pop. Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliott all topped 290 carries in 2019 alone. None broke 1600 yards.

Jackson is the most efficient and effective runner in the NFL. His EPA/rush consistently tops all qualifying ball carriers. Additionally, 867 of Jackson’s 1,206 yards in 2019 came BEFORE contact. His 4.9 yards before contact per attempt led the NFL by 1.4 yards (Raheem Mostert averaged 3.5 YBC/carry.) The difference between Jackson and 2nd place is the same distance between Mostert (second) and Nick Chubb (23rd).

While this article fails to investigate the toll that hits take on a players body and inherently the length of their career, ability to sustain productivity, etc., I come to three conclusions:

  1. Lamar Jackson takes less hits than you think .
  2. The 12 hits per game is still too high a figure for a franchise QB. The Ravens need to steer their offense in a direction that consistently reduces the amount of hits Jackson takes, while maintaining the threat of his speed to the outside. Their transition into a more balanced offense will be interesting to watch over the next few years if Jackson continues to play himself into a $200 million contract. If that’s the case, less hits would be part of the investment.
  3. Jackson is a unique player, whose spectacular playmaking through the air and on the ground should be embraced by fans and not experienced in fear of what could happen. After all, all hits aren’t created equal.