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Lamar Jackson’s timing and rhythm should terrify the NFL

Jackson has continued to improve in every way possible.

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

“You can’t teach accuracy.”

This cliché has reverberated throughout quarterback evaluation for quite some time. While the phrase sounds logical, it’s not. Lamar Jackson is living proof.

In 2019, Jackson showed visible mechanical improvement beyond what many evaluators thought possible. His base, particularly his feet, were too narrow at Louisville. Jackson’s front foot would be too tight to his base, forcing him to overcompensate and attempt to calibrate on the fly. This led to inconsistencies in accuracy. While Jackson’s a naturally gifted thrower, he was limiting himself. Jackson made major strides in 2019. He gained consistent footwork and a blatantly more balanced base. He focused on moving his shoulders, eyes and feet in unison, which led to a level of consistency that Jackson hadn’t reached before. While Jackson made major strides, there was still work to be done. In 2020 he appears in rhythm with the offense, like a maestro navigating his way through a symphony. With his mechanics in a good place, the emphasis on this offseason was clearly the mental aspect. Timing, rhythm and deciding whether to drop a feather or throw a fastball. Those can all be controlled mentally, as Jackson has always been gifted enough to do any of those at any time. Deciding when was imperative towards Jackson becoming an inevitably dominant quarterback.

While Jackson is undoubtedly a rare and gifted athlete, his greatest tangible aspect is his ability to process information at a disturbingly rapid pace. That mental alacrity applies to the plays Jackson makes as both a runner and passer. This was present at Louisville, which allowed Jackson to make specialty plays look normal despite shortcomings in terms of mechanical soundness and consistency. Jackson’s ability to combine those things, in a true dual-threat sense, was on full display against the Cleveland Browns. Jackson’s ability to not only survive but erase pressure was made evident against a talented Cleveland defensive line.

Not only avoiding quick pressure, but to reset and make plays down the field is devastating to a pass rush. Jackson’s combination of deft mental processing and elite acceleration force pass rushers to slow down their pass rush. In fact, according to Next Gen Stats, opposing pass rushes took 0.94 seconds to cross the line of scrimmage when facing the Ravens. That figure was the only one in the 0.9 range or slower.

Translation: if you get off the ball too quickly, Jackson will make you pay. Even if a blocker isn’t there to pick up a blitz, Jackson will make you pay.

This greatly benefits the Ravens’ offensive line. If, let’s say, two of the quick pressures under two seconds resulted in QB hits, the Ravens offensive efficiency likely would’ve been substantially less. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, the Ravens offense allowed 14 pressures on only 30 drop-backs (46%). While Jackson was responsible for two of the pressures, merely watching highlights and looking at box scores won’t do Jackson’s performance justice. To be pressured on nearly half of all drop-backs and to perform the way Jackson did is truly spectacular.

Again, this ties back to Jackson’s aptitude in processing information swiftly. This is why Jackson has been able to be “taught accuracy” — eat your heart out Bill Polian.

After watching Jackson make leaps and bounds in terms of widening his base and developing consistent, sound mechanics in 2019, Jackson has gone a step further in 2020. With his second full offseason taking first team reps under the direction of Greg Roman, James Urban and company, the former Louisville Cardinal appears to be more comfortable with the rhythm and timing of the passing game. The throws below demonstrate Jackson’s ability to process information and time his throw before help can arrive.

Throwing in rhythm is the result of confidence. Confidence is the result of practice. This throw wasn’t the most difficult. Jackson could’ve waited a beat and put the ball near the boundary. That could’ve forced Snead to wait on the ball and allow a defender to recover and make a play. The fact that the ball was thrown when it was thrown is what makes it special. Jackson waited a beat or two too long on quite a few throws in 2019.

Going beyond that to 2018, the difference is borderline comical.

The progression Jackson has achieved is possible only through rigorous practice, both mentally and physically. His dedication to grinding tape and applying his film study on the field are no coincidence relative to his success. Jackson recently spoke about how the game was slowing down for him, which makes sense considering Jackson is entering his third NFL season.

Both Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson have spoken about how much the game slowed down for them in their third year. Jackson feels destined to a similar path. The irony is that Wilson, Mahomes and Jackson are among the hottest starts to NFL careers in recent memory. Two MVP awards and two Lombardi Trophies were the result of Jackson, Mahomes and Wilson’s respective first two years as starters. Wilson and Mahomes each earned their ring in their second season as their team’s starting quarterback.

With Jackson in his second full season as the starter, hopefully he’s able to follow suit. If he’s able to continue throwing in rhythm, he becomes virtually impractical to defend. With his combination of athletic talent and pocket fortitude, Jackson has developed the footwork and base necessary to reset himself after his primary read and deliver strikes accurately.

Jackson, who is coming off one of his strongest performances to date, produced an outstanding completion percentage over expectation, according to Next Gen Stats. Jackson’s expected completion percentage against Cleveland was 64.2%. Jackson completed 80% of his passes, displaying his improved accuracy and rhythm within the offense. That figure (15.8% over expectation) was the second highest of the week, trailing only Gardner Minshew (16.%).

The Ravens are now traveling to Houston to play the Texans. Against the Texans last year, Jackson posted a stat line of 17/24, four passing touchdowns and 10 carries for 79 rushing yards, including this ridiculous run:

Houston, who struggled to contain Jackson in any way, has their work cut out for them.

With the Texans failing to make any major personnel additions, they appear to be outgunned from the get-go. Jackson’s progression and learned accuracy are a nightmare scenario for opposing defensive coordinators. If Jackson continues to spread the field laterally with his arm, defenses are left hoping Jackson makes unforced errors.

Next Gen Stats passing location spray chart
Next Gen Stats

It’s time to put the adage, “you can’t teach accuracy” to bed. Jackson has worked relentlessly to become more consistent and deliver throws within the rhythm of the Ravens offense. The Ravens led the league in scoring in 2019, the only team to score 500 points (531). Jackson led the NFL in touchdown passes and touchdown pass percentage.

With more confidence and another year under his belt, Jackson will strike fear into the heart of defensive coordinators for the foreseeable future.