Lamar Jackson remembers growing up watching the “Legion of Boom” defense with Earl Thomas III (now his teammate), Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman.
“That defense was crazy,” Jackson said. “Crazy. That’s why they won the Super Bowl.”
A guy named Russell Wilson had a little something to do with that Super Bowl XLVIII victory too. Wilson was in his second NFL season, and helped greatly by a strong running game driven by Marshawn Lynch and that suffocating defense.
Now Jackson is in his second year, and he’s looking for the same kind of success, doing it in a somewhat similar way.
When Jackson and Wilson take the field Sunday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, it will be a meeting of two MVP candidates. ESPN recently listed both in their top five, with Wilson at No. 1 and Jackson No. 5.
It will also be a glimpse at how dual-threat quarterbacks can have tons of individual and team success in the NFL, even over the long-term.
"I think [Wilson is] the only guy that I've seen do it pretty effortlessly, like Lamar does,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said this week. “We always say we don't want to play Lamar, so I guess we're kind of playing a polished-up, couple-years-down-the-line Lamar. We better get ready, because he definitely can do it all."
A quarterback that “does it all” is becoming more popular these days. Jackson certainly embodied that last Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals when he became the first player in NFL history to throw for at least 200 yards and run for 150 in the same game.
Jackson said he doesn’t care about proving to the NFL world that quarterbacks who run can do well. He’s just interested in winning, he said. But he’s not blind to the fact that there is an increase of signal callers who run – and run a lot.
“It’s a new era, and they need us right now. [The game] is not the same as years before,” Jackson said.
“I love everything about [Wilson’s] game. He’s a great quarterback. He makes guys miss. He breaks the pocket, and there will be guys chasing him everywhere. He knows what to do with the ball – dish it out, go to a checkdown. He makes plays. He’s a playmaker, and that’s what you need in a guy and at the quarterback position."
Wilson, the Panthers’ Cam Newton and former 49er Colin Kaepernick were the three quarterbacks who ushered in this new wave. There were a lot of doubts about Wilson back in the day. Was he too small at 5-foot-11? Was he running too much to stay healthy?
Wilson has proven the doubters wrong without a shadow of a doubt, and Jackson is starting to do the same.
Wilson has never missed a start over his eight NFL seasons despite being one of the game’s most frequent runners at quarterback. In 2014, he rushed a career-high 118 times for 849 yards and led the Seahawks back to the Super Bowl for a second straight season.
Wilson is playing at another level this year. He has tossed 14 touchdowns, zero interceptions and has the NFL's best quarterback rating (124.7) by a wide margin ahead of Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes (111.9). Jackson is at 96.7.
Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale compared Wilson to NBA superstar Steph Curry because he can beat you in so many ways. Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll said this is the best Russell has ever played in his eight-year career.
“I just think he’s in the most command of the game and on the highest level of communication with the coaching staff and his players, and it just shows. He’s just functionally a little bit better at a lot of things,” Carroll said. “Quarterbacks grow throughout their career, and I don’t think they ever stop growing until they’re done, because there’s so much to this position and this game.”
The Ravens are hoping for that kind of growth from their own signal-caller, and there’s good reason to believe Jackson can accomplish it.
Critics will say Jackson can’t throw like Wilson, but check the stats.
Wilson threw for 3,357 yards in his second NFL season and has topped 4,000 yards twice. Jackson is on pace for 4,018 in his second year. Wilson’s career completion percentage is 64.7. Jackson is completing 65.1 percent of his passes this season.
When it comes to running, nobody has done it like Jackson. Even Carroll admits he’s in a class of his own there. Asked what he sees from Jackson when he breaks the pocket, Carroll said “he’s as good a runner in that situation as there is.”
“He’s run with great confidence, and so, shoot, it’s a major problem,” Carroll said. “Scrambling quarterbacks are always problematic, and he’s the epitome of that.”
It says something about Jackson that he’s already in the MVP conversation and it’s only his second season. He’s just 22 years old and will be making his 15th career start Sunday, including his one in the playoffs last season.
But don’t hold your breath for Jackson to soak up the hype coming his way.
“I’m trying to win games. I don’t really care about MVP,” Jackson said. “Our race is to the Super Bowl, not an individual award. I’m trying to get that Super Bowl.”