Lamar Jackson is already the most dynamic runner at quarterback in NFL history (sorry Michael Vick).
Now Jackson could be bigger, and even faster, than before.
Jackson said he was around 205-208 pounds last season. This offseason, he committed himself to bulking up during his training in South Florida.
When Jackson reported for mandatory in mid-June, Jackson said was up to 220 pounds. At the Ravens' stadium practice near the start of training camp, Jackson said he was around 230.
Will the added weight change Jackson as a runner this season?
"I'm interested to see. When I see him kick it into fifth gear here, his engine is bigger this year," Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said. "So, he might be a little bit faster. We'll just see how it goes, but it's looking pretty good."
In 2019, Jackson posted the single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,206 yards. Head Coach John Harbaugh said Jackson was a little heavier that year, somewhere between 212 and 215 pounds.
In the 2020 COVID-19 season, Jackson's weight dropped some. He missed time midway through the season when he caught the virus and finished with 1,005 rushing yards.
Last year, Jackson was forced to sit out the start of training camp because of COVID once again. He was on pace to top 1,000 yards, but his yards per game dropped slightly from 67 to 64 yards per game. Jackson was on pace for 1,086 rushing yards in the 17-game season before suffering his ankle injury in Cleveland.
"With the COVID and all the different crazy things that happened the last two years, he probably ended up slimming down – he just did – for whatever reason," said Harbaugh, who approves of the way Jackson has added extra muscle, but not fat, this offseason.
"I like him. I like the way he looks. I like what he's done with himself. And yes, it hasn't slowed him down at all."
Jackson trained this offseason with Emonee Spence, a former Louisville wide receiver who Jackson spent three season with. Spence didn't make a big impact on the field in college (he caught seven passes for 61 yards), but his role in Jackson's physical transformation this offseason could pay huge dividends.
"I just wanted to look the part. I just wanted to look a little sturdy back there, look a little big," Jackson said. "I felt like it worked. I'm still fast, I'm still moving around how I was before; I just added a little more weight."
The other part of the equation is Jackson's fitness to absorb hits. He had 147 carries (in just seven starts) as a rookie in 208. Jackson had 176 carries in 2019, 159 in 2020 and was on pace for 188 last season.
Of course, many of those aren't called runs. Last year, Jackson was often left scrambling behind an injury-hampered offensive line that also yielded a career-high 38 sacks on Jackson despite playing in 12 games. But there's no doubt that, even as Jackson continues to progress as a passer, running will always be a staple of his game.
Jackson's running has always, and will continue to, lead to questions about his sustainability. That debate is raging once again, at least in the media, with Jackson and the Ravens negotiating a contract extension.
Jackson missed the stretch run of last season because of an ankle injury when a Cleveland Browns defender dove onto his ankle just after he let go of a pass – not on a designed run or scramble. Thus, Jackson stiff-armed a question about his sustainability.
"Do you know how the injury happened? Trying to pass in the pocket," Jackson said. "I feel like that's a no-brainer. I've been good [with] how I've been playing. But when I tried to shed and stay in the pocket, I got hurt for the first time. So, yes, I think it speaks for itself."
The Ravens also are not concerned about Jackson's running. They always coach him not to take unecessary hits, and get out of bounds or down when it makes sense. But they aren't going to coach him out of what makes him one of a kind.
"The thing about Lamar is that he is probably one of the best athletes at the position in the history of known mankind. So, to not tap into that would be somewhat silly, would it not?" Roman said.
"So, then you start to figure out, 'OK, so where are the parameters here? The ceiling and the floor?' He does such a great job in space of protecting himself, not getting hit, that he uses his God-given ability as a really ridiculously good weapon at times. He just has to be judicious. … Honestly, the worst hits are the ones you don't see when your eyes are downfield and you're in the pocket, and you can't brace yourself or adjust to. So, he's a magician when it comes to contorting his body to avoid hits and whatnot though."
For the most part, the only big hits Jackson has taken over his career are ones he didn't see coming. Thus, the Ravens invested in beefing up their offensive line this offseason. Harbaugh said Jackson "has a knack" for not taking big hits as a runner.
"He's done it his whole life; I think he's just good at it, and he doesn't really get hit that much and that hard," Harbaugh said. "Now, of course, it's football, and I think he's going to have to manage and play the long game that way, certainly. But he's done a good job of that thus far, and I kind of trust him with that."