The Most Valuable Player award isn’t always given to the player who leads the league in any particular notable statistical category such as passing yards/touchdowns, rushing yards, total touchdowns, sacks, or interceptions. It can sometimes be a narrative-driven award where the player with the best story to go along with impressive numbers brings home the hardware.
Through the first four games of the 2021 season, no player has done more with less to help his team overcome adversity than Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. He has put the franchise on his back and propelled them to a strong 3-1 start.
Jackson has been able to do so while dispelling every negative narrative about him that calls his ability and competency into question, especially as a thrower of the football. After handing the previously undefeated Denver Broncos their first loss of the season on Sunday in a game where he continued to showcase his improved passing prowess, he deserves to be in the conversation for top individual honor...again.
Lamar doesn’t have the gaudy stats through four games but he has to be in any MVP convo you’re having at this point https://t.co/sAJcKI9Uf8— Daniel Oyefusi (@DanielOyefusi) October 3, 2021
In 2019, he became the youngest player ever to win league MVP in just his second season, first as the full-time starter, and just the second player to ever be voted the recipient unanimously. That year he led the league with 36 touchdown passes, guided the Ravens to franchise-best 14-2 regular-season record, and shattered the single-season rushing for a quarterback with a career-high 1,206 yards.
Jackson is currently on pace to not only set new career highs as a passer but also rewrite franchise and NFL record books yet again with 1,077 yards through the air and 279 on the ground through the first four games of the season.
Lamar Jackson is the first QB in #NFL history to throw for 1,000 yards and rush for 250 yards in the first 4 games of a season.— Jeff Kerr (@JeffKerrCBS) October 4, 2021
Jackson is on pace for 4,577 passing yards and 1,186 rushing yards. #Ravens #RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/tGiznyEma1
What’s been especially impressive and awe-inspiring is not just the fact that Jackson is putting up better passing numbers, it is the ways in which he is doing it and the areas of the field he is attacking. He is pushing the ball down the field at a rate that is both incredibly high and efficient, and he is completing more passes outside the numbers, a once-perceived weakness and lamented flaw in his game.
Lamar Jackson's 49-yard TD pass to Marquise Brown traveled 60.8 yards in the air, Jackson's longest completion of his career, and 2nd-longest by any QB this season.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 3, 2021
Jackson is the only qualified QB to average over 10 air yards/att this season (12.5).#BALvsDEN | #RavensFlock pic.twitter.com/0n1pZb33yH
Jackson has been one of the most prolific winners and dynamic dual threats at the quarterback position that game has ever season. Coming into the season there was talk about him getting “figured out.” That teams who are able to crowd the middle of the field, where he was at his best throwing while slowing down the Ravens rushing attack had success beating them in the postseason.
Many believed that Jackson and the Ravens were incapable of mounting comeback wins with their style of offense. Another popular belief was that if they didn’t have a lead and were forced to throw their way back into contention after falling behind by more than one score, their odds of winning would be slim to none.
“Make him win through the air.”— Dustin Cox (@_dustincox) October 4, 2021
“Make him throw outside the numbers.” pic.twitter.com/wtgCOEjsuC
Yet in their two wins heading into Sunday, Jackson led a game-winning drive at the end of both games. One of which included a second-half comeback over the vaunted Kansas City Chiefs that he referred to as their ‘kryptonite’ last year after a third straight loss to Patrick Mahomes and Co.
Despite losing his top three running backs before the season, Jackson has still managed to carry the vast majority of the load for the Ravens’ offense on his sturdy shoulders. The Ravens have the most players on injured reserve and according to overthecap.com, they have the second-most cap space on injured reserve as well.
Two more major factors working against Jackson this year are inconsistent play from his offensive line and egregious late hits by opposing defenders.
It’s already bad enough that he is missing his All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley and his makeshift starting five blockers struggle to keep him upright throughout games. Officials in every game the team has played this year have decided to keep their flags in their pockets. Jackson sounded off on it after Sunday’s win.
“I got hit so I’m thinking there’s a flag,” Jackson said about the hit he took well after he threw the ball on the touchdown Brown. “I didn’t even care about the ball in the air at that time because I got hit as soon as I threw the ball so I’m looking for the flag.”
This is just ridiculous. There has to be some sort of complaint or report that needs to brought to the NFL’s attention. If this was another QB their would have been flags thrown. @Lj_era8 doesn’t need to be taking free hits all game. pic.twitter.com/f4kObdhQMb— Ty (@C6Tyler_) October 4, 2021
Unlike current MVP front runners Kyler Murray and Dak Prescott of the Arizona Cardinals and Dallas Cowboys respectively, Jackson doesn’t have a healthy embarrassment of riches at the skill positions. Nor does he have consistently competent play from his offensive tackles.
This year Jackson is proving that he can be just as prolific of a passer as he is electric as a runner, which constantly puts opposing defenders in a bind every time he drops back to pass. The threat of the tuck and is run always present and has led to him taking more shots down the field because defenses are still loading the box in an attempt to limit the running game, often leaving his receivers one-on-one down the field.
Von Miller: "Lamar just presents so many different problems passing the ball and rushing the ball. Do you rush up the field and try to get the sack and he scrambles, or do you try to contain him and give him a little more time for the deep ball? He presented a lot of problems."— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) October 4, 2021
After everything he’s already been through and continues to overcome, his new narrative is far more compelling than a third-year quarterback finally living up to his No. 1 overall draft status or a prominent quarterback in the biggest market.
Jackson truly is the most valuable player on his team and his case for winning his second league MVP grows stronger each week, especially when he proves he can still win games when the run game isn’t clicking and the Ravens have to lean on their aerial attack.
He'd have even better passing numbers and an improved touchdown to interception ratio if it weren't for a handful of backbreaking drops and penalties that either negated or could've been a score over the past two weeks. Against the Broncos, he had a 30 yard touchdown to tight end Mark Andrews called back after backup tackle Andre Smith was called for facemask penalty. The week before in Detroit, wide receiver Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown had a trio of bad drops including two that would've been touchdowns and a third that would've been a big gain if not a score with the improved run after the catch ability he's show this year.