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Late for Work: Brian Baldinger: 'In a Sport Full of Stars, Lamar Jackson Is the Biggest Star'

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) gets a pass away as he is pressured by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Devin Lloyd (33) in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) gets a pass away as he is pressured by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Devin Lloyd (33) in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Brian Baldinger: 'In a Sport Full of Stars, Lamar Jackson Is the Biggest Star'

While pundits continue the Lamar Jackson-Brocky Purdy MVP debate, NFL Network's Brian Baldinger said there's no doubt who is the biggest star in the NFL.

"Pro football is the best entertainment in an entertainment industry, and the biggest star amongst a lot of stars is Lamar Jackson," Baldinger said. "He's the league's biggest star and has been. Nobody really can do what Lamar does."

Baldinger made the statement while breaking down Jackson's spectacular 26-yard pass to tight end Isaiah Likely that set up a touchdown late in the third quarter during Sunday night's win in Jacksonville. After dropping back, Jackson ducked charging defensive tackle Dawuane Smoot, and then with Smoot coming for him again, unleashed the ball 40 yards to Likely before taking a big hit from Smoot.

"He can escape, he can extend, he can take these kind of hits, and deliver a perfect throw," Baldinger said.

Jackson's performance versus the Jaguars again showed why statistics alone don't do him justice. He went 14-for-24 for 171 yards with one touchdown and one interception, but seeing is believing.

Dan Orlovsky made that point to Shannon Sharpe during a discussion about who the MVP front-runner is on ESPN's "First Take."

Sharpe made the case for 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy by reciting his statistics (242 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions) in the 49ers' win over the Cardinals Sunday) and asked how Jackson's numbers against the Jaguars could possibly compare.

"Watch the games," Orlovsky replied. "Watch the games and watch how Lamar plays. How many plays did Lamar make out of nothing [Sunday] night?"

Pro Football Focus’ Gordon McGuinness expressed a similar sentiment, referring to Jackson as Houdini.

"Lackson earned an 85.4 PFF grade against the Jaguars, his third-best mark of the season. He didn't get to that grade by torching Jacksonville through the air, though," McGuinness wrote. "His 171 passing yards were his second fewest in 2023. Instead, he made things happen when plays broke down.

"Jackson had five plays where he passed the ball or crossed the line of scrimmage 6.5 seconds or more after the ball had been snapped. He attempted three passes, completing all three for 47 yards, including a big play to tight end Isaiah Likely late in the third quarter. He also scrambled twice, picking up a first down on one and turning a second-and-10 into a third-and-1 on the other. His three completions on those plays weren't just the most in the NFL this week, they were more than the rest of the league combined. His ability to extend plays was key to the Ravens' offensive success."

Kyle Hamilton Is Key to Neutralizing 49ers' Talented Playmakers

Other than Jackson, perhaps the most important player on the field for the Ravens in Christmas night's showdown against San Francisco is safety Kyle Hamilton.

The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker said Hamilton will be the key to the Ravens' maintaining a handle on the 49ers' all-star cast of playmakers.

"Now, it's on to the 49ers, the greatest tactical test Hamilton and his defensive mates will face during the regular season and one they might encounter again if they achieve their goal of playing in the Super Bowl," Walker wrote. "San Francisco has one of the best outside receivers in the league in Brandon Aiyuk, the top yard-after-catch threat in Deebo Samuel, the No. 1 tight end in George Kittle, and oh, the league's most versatile, productive running back in Christian McCaffrey. Not to mention an accurate, mistake-averse distributor in quarterback Brock Purdy.

"If the Ravens are to hold these varied nemeses in check, Hamilton, with his gift for morphing from snap to snap, will almost surely be a major reason. He's big enough to cover the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Kittle, quick enough to shadow McCaffrey sideline to sideline and aggressive enough to drop Samuel before he can turn a mundane catch into a home run."

The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer noted in his in-depth feature on Hamilton that he has been everything the Ravens hoped he would be and more after they drafted him No. 14 overall in 2022.

"In a season of revelations for the Ravens' elite defense, Hamilton's meteoric ascent has been the most consequential — and perhaps the least surprising," Shaffer wrote. "The former first-round pick is, quite literally, built differently, upending the modern prototype for NFL safeties with a generational blend of talents: a physique that inspires comparisons to NBA lottery picks, a dedication to film study that rubs off on family members, a versatility that lends itself to 'unicorn' comparisons, and an 'uber intelligence' that optimizes his every move.

"This was the hope when the Ravens made Hamilton one of the highest-drafted safeties in recent history last year. Afterward, he'd called his surprising fall to No. 14 overall a 'blessing.' Only now is the rest of the NFL realizing what was truly possible with Hamilton: everything."

Four Ravens Offensive Players Among Analyst's Pro Bowl Picks analyst David Carr made his Pro Bowl selections for offensive players, and four Ravens made it:

QB1 Jackson

"Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense have evolved under coordinator Todd Monken. Depending on what the situation calls for, the recently paid quarterback can sling it 50 times in a given contest or help the rush attack carry the game plan. Leading his team to 11 wins with three games remaining, Jackson is just 22 yards short of his previous season high for pass yards (3,127), and he leads both the Ravens and NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards with 741. He is an MVP candidate and has Baltimore among the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, thanks to his ability to elevate the offense in every way."

RB3 Gus Edwards

"Gus Edwards leads the Ravens' top-ranked rushing attack in carries (163) and rushing touchdowns (11). If they are near the goal line, No. 35 is likely getting the rock."

FB Patrick Ricard

"Patrick Ricard has played the most offensive snaps of any AFC fullback (373). While that puts him on track to finish with the fewest in a season since 2020, the four-time Pro Bowler has played a huge role in helping the Ravens become the top-ranked rushing unit."

OT2 Morgan Moses

"Though Morgan Moses has struggled a bit of late, he has primarily been a consistent presence in Baltimore's front in 2023, helping pave the way for an offense that ranks first in rushing and fifth in overall yards."

Center Tyler Linderbaum didn't make Carr's list, but he deserves consideration. Had tight end Mark Andrews not suffered what is likely a season-ending injury on Week 11, he also had a strong case for inclusion.

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