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Both Excelling in NFL, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield Set to Compete Again


Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield first bonded at the 2016 Heisman Trophy presentation. After Jackson won, Mayfield came back to Jackson's room to offer his congrats.

The following year, Mayfield took home the stiff-arming trophy, with Jackson coming in third.

For the past two years, Jackson and Mayfield competed for the title of the best player in college football. Now, for the first time with both as starting quarterbacks, they'll face each other in the NFL.

Sunday's Week 17 game at M&T Bank Stadium will be a landmark first now with Mayfield and Jackson firmly entrenched as their teams' future. Just think about how many times they'll battle one another in the years to come. Not surprisingly, however, Jackson downplayed the notion of competing "against" each other.

"He's just playing a part for his team. He's just do his thing, and I just do mine – that's all," Jackson said. "We all want to win at the end of the day though. So definitely, you can say that."

One thing is for sure: both quarterbacks have found instant success in the NFL.

Jackson has a 5-1 record since taking over for Joe Flacco as the Ravens' starter. He's coming off his best performance yet, throwing for 204 yards and a touchdown in a 22-10 win against a stingy, fast Los Angeles Chargers defense.

There have been hiccups along the way. Jackson has fumbled in every start this season (eight total). He threw three interceptions in his first two starts. But there's no doubt that Jackson has done quite well as starter.

His running threat has completely revitalized Baltimore's rushing attack and allowed the Ravens to dominate time of possession. He leads all NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards (605). He's throwing with more accuracy and making big plays with his arm, and is among the league's young quarterback leaders in passing from inside the pocket.

"He's done a very good job," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He's a very even-keeled guy, very competitive, focuses on what's important, which is football. He keeps it simple, keeps it about the football. I do feel like he's kind of a 'gym rat' that way."

Mayfield has also done extremely well, and has seemingly pulled Cleveland out of its annual quarterback carousel. The No. 1-overall pick took over as the Browns' starter in Week 4, and beat the Ravens, 12-9, in his first career home start a week later.

He's completing nearly 65 percent of his passes, and his 95.1 quarterback rating ranks 18th in the NFL – right behind New England's Tom Brady and just ahead of Dallas' Dak Prescott. Just like Jackson and the Ravens, Mayfield and the Browns have won five of their last six games.

"I think they're built around Baker Mayfield," Harbaugh said. "He keeps things alive in the pocket, makes some throws on the run."

It's not typical to have two rookie quarterbacks go against each other, both having so much immediate success. But Harbaugh and Ravens players weren't surprised by it.

Part of it, they said, is ever-evolving NFL offenses. Today's NFL offense looks a lot more like college offenses, so rookie quarterbacks are set up to have more instant success.

"I think when they're coming out of college, they don't even know the difference," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "They just come right in and play and act the same way when they left college."

Coaches have also done a good job of tailoring their offenses to fit their rookie signal-callers. The Ravens have become a run-pass option offense with Jackson at the helm. The Browns are a run-and-gun team that loves to take shots down the field and use Mayfield's mobility and penchant for extending plays.

"[Jackson] is kind of unique in the way he plays the game, which is a positive. You have to try to find unique ways to utilize guys like this," Harbaugh said. "I think the coaching staff in Cleveland has done a great job with Baker in doing the same thing."

Ravens rookie tight end Mark Andrews played with Mayfield in college at Oklahoma and now with Jackson in the pros. He compared the two quarterbacks Wednesday, saying they each have their own playing style, but that they're very similar at the core.

"I would say as far as their play, they're both incredibly good at extending plays, making a special play when there's nothing," Andrews said.

"In terms of personality, guys like that have a certain thing about them – the 'It Factor.' They're someone that you want to be around. There's something about them that makes people gravitate towards them. They both have that."

Andrews said Mayfield is intent on ripping the Ravens' hearts out in Week 17. He's that kind of competitor.

"No doubt. He's a killer," Andrews said. "He's fully intent on ruining our season."

So is Jackson a "killer" too?

"Yeah, it's a little bit different type of killer," Andrews said. "Lamar hates to lose. You're down, you can rely on him, he's going to do everything he can to win – whether it's running the ball for fourth-and-inches or whatnot. He's a guy that's going to make the play."

The Ravens offense has taken the field three times when facing a deficit in the past two weeks. Jackson has led a scoring drive to retake the lead all three times, including a perfect pass on a 68-yard touchdown to Andrews in Los Angeles.

In a rookie quarterback class that has done well so far, also including the New York Jets' Sam Darnold, Buffalo Bills' Josh Allen and Arizona Cardinals' Josh Rosen, Mayfield has the highest grade from Pro Football Focus.

But Sunday's game will be an opportunity for Jackson and Mayfield to show who is the better quarterback right now. The two will meet on Dec. 30, exactly one year since Jackson took the field for the TaxSlayer Bowl against Mississippi State.

Asked if he's a better player now than he was then, Jackson said, "Absolutely."

"I wish some of the traits I have now, I had then," Jackson said. "I probably wouldn't have thrown four interceptions in that bowl game."

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