Lamar Jackson's dynamic improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 is obvious. The "Lamar Leap" has catapulted the Ravens (5-2) into first place in the AFC North and Jackson is more involved than ever in MVP conversation after his scintillating performance in Seattle.
Describing Jackson's style can be as difficult as trying to defend him. Asked to pinpoint where Jackson has improved most, Ravens Quarterbacks Coach James Urban wouldn't pick just one area.
"I would say just everything," Urban said. "He's improved in just about every area that you can quantify."
Here are three areas where Jackson has taken his game to another level.
Jackson has put in the work to become a more consistent passer. His throwing motion has become more repetitive, whether it's on the practice field or in the heat of battle.
Urban made the analogy between Jackson's throwing motion and a professional golfer's swing. As Jackson's throwing motion becomes second nature, the more accurate he becomes.
Jackson and his long-time passing coach Joshua Harris worked this offseason on keeping Jackson’s front shoulder closed and driving off his back foot as he throws. Urban never lets Jackson take his mechanics for granted and passing drills are a daily practice ritual.
"I tell him, 'Professional golfers go to the range every day for a reason. Professional baseball players go to the batting cage every day for a reason,''' Urban said. "So, we're going to work on mechanics every day for a reason."
Among Jackson's best throws this season was a 41-yard completion to Marquise Brown in Week 2 that helped seal a victory over the Arizona Cardinals. The ball was perfectly placed over Brown's shoulder even though he was tightly covered and near the sideline.
Jackson has added throws like that to his game while maintaining the ability to improvise at a high level. His 50-yard completion to Miles Boykin against Seattle was a play that few quarterbacks can make. After rolling to his right, Jackson spotted Boykin downfield. Without stopping to set his feet, Jackson threw the ball more than 50 yards in the air with a flick of his wrist and Boykin tracked it down.
Urban isn't tinkering with Jackson's ability to make plays like that.
"When something happens or he has to create, go create and do it the way you've always done it," Urban said.
Being Aggressive Without Being Reckless
Jackson fumbled 12 times in just seven starts last season. This year, he has fumbled only four times and the Ravens have not lost any of those fumbles. He has only been intercepted five times in 215 passing attempts, an average of once every 43 throws.
Jackson has improved his ball security without losing the daring to make big plays. His 28-yard scramble for a first down against Seattle on third-and-10 was vintage Jackson. He escaped the pocket by using his speed to outrun three Seahawks defenders. He could have ducked out of bounds earlier in the run, but he cut back into the middle of the field and gained even more yards, looking to take the ball to the house until he slipped.
Much has been made about Jackson putting his health at risk by running more than any other NFL quarterback. But Jackson has avoided taking many big hits. There will always be a risk of injury, but he's not being reckless. He's being effective.
"I'm pleased that he's been able to avoid the big hits, of course," Urban said. "Listen, he has a unique ability. Within that, we talk about getting all you can get, and then get down or get out. And you see him routinely trying to get outside, and we're trying to do those sorts of things to avoid some of those hits. But for the most part, I would say that it's him sticking to our gameplan and how we talk about things."
How the entire team was inspired by Jackson's desire to go for it on fourth down in Seattle played out like a movie scene.
The moment reflected Head Coach John Harbaugh's confidence in Jackson, and the quarterback's confidence in himself and his ability to seize a big moment.
Great players do impressive things, but in a team sport the ability to inspire others with your actions is important. Jackson clearly has that ability. Even accomplished, laser-focused veterans like guard Marshal Yanda and safety Earl Thomas show their exuberance when Jackson makes a big play. When Jackson is driving the bus, everyone is on board.
Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs won the MVP award last year in his second NFL season, in his first year as a starter. Could Jackson follow in those same footsteps?
Perhaps, but Jackson desires to do more. As Jackson said recently, he's not worried winning the MVP. He wants to win a Super Bowl.
Jackson's leap as a quarterback gives him a better chance to realize that dream, not only this season but in coming seasons. After all, he's only 22 years old and he's not going to stop working.
"He's been good," Urban said. "There's always room for improvement. There's always room for consistency, and that's where we're striving. He may be here in 15 years, and we'll still be striving for consistency and perfection. But he's working diligently at it."