Lamar Jackson will never be more of an X-Factor than he is now, before his first NFL game.
For months, the Ravens have said they intend to use their explosive rookie quarterback in some capacity on game days even as he sits behind Joe Flacco on the depth chart. Normally averse to tipping their hand about X-and-O's, they showed off a couple of possibilities to the media and fans during open practices at the Under Armour Performance Center, running plays with Flacco and Jackson on the field together.
But as of now, there's no game film on him, no past tendencies for opponents to scour as a preparation aid. Sean McDermott, head coach of the Buffalo Bills, who play the Ravens in Sunday's season opener at M&T Bank Stadium, told the Baltimore media his defensive unit is spending a "considerable amount of time" preparing for Jackson. What choice is there? But in reality, all the Bills can do at this point is guess how he'll be used.
Is it possible Jackson will be flanked wide, like a receiver, and get the ball on reverses with the option to run or pass? Might he set up in the backfield, near Flacco, and take pitches? Will he step under center himself and take snaps in the red zone after Flacco directs the offense there? Will we see all of the above? Or none of the above (but something else)?
The range of possibilities isn't quite limitless, but close, and Baltimore fans are sky-high excited to see how the situation plays out. Watching the Ravens' offense has been a bit of a chore in recent years, and the organization has endeavored to change that this year, bringing in an array of new receiving targets via free agency and the draft. There's a lot of focus on the passing game, which surely needs to become more productive. But Jackson's involvement is still the most talked-about potential change.
Sunday's game should provide some clarity in the form of a track record, albeit a brief one, just one game. Yes, it's possible the Ravens won't use Jackson at all and these months of speculation were just one big head fake. But I seriously doubt Jackson gets left out of the game plan. The smart money is on him being given the chance to contribute, one way or another.
My guess is how he's used Sunday might depend to a degree on how much the Ravens need him. If the offense is rolling under Flacco, he might not see the field much; the team would be happy to save the element of surprise he brings for another day. But if the offense is struggling to break through against Buffalo's tough defense, the coaches might put the ball in Jackson's hands more to see if he can provide a spark.
Either way, going forward, the Ravens' opponents will at least have some idea of how Baltimore is using him. At the very least, there'll be film to break down.
Of course, the Ravens could easily use him one way in Week 1 and a completely different way in Week 2, guaranteeing that they keep their future opponents guessing. Sounds like a pretty good idea, honestly. You heard it here first.
But regardless, my point is there'll never be less certainty than there is now, which shapes up as an advantage for the Ravens Sunday. It should surprise no one that Head Coach John Harbaugh happily answered a question earlier this week about Jackson's potential effectiveness as a red-zone weapon. The more intrigue, the better.
Shoot, I'm kind of joking, but if you were to ask whether the Ravens had drawn up a play with Flacco, Jackson and Robert Griffin III all on the field together, you might get a positive response. In a league where the slightest edge can spell the difference between winning and losing, your cause is always helped by any suggestion that makes your opponent think harder about what's coming.
In that regard, the Ravens' drafting of Jackson is already paying off, even before he takes his first NFL hit.