Lamar Jackson is the NFL's reigning Most Valuable Player, yet he has made just 24 career starts including the playoffs.
He has become very good very quickly, without a ton of NFL experience to fall back on. As Jackson deals with the challenge of honing his game during the COVID-19 pandemic, he is focusing on the mental aspects of playing quarterback in his quest to become even more dynamic.
"If anything, I just want my mind to grow even more, just learning the ins and outs of the game even more – Tom Brady stuff." Jackson said during a video conference. "That's all I want to do right now, focus more."
Brady has played 20 seasons, including 41 playoff games, and it's hard to measure how much that experience helps him stay a step ahead of the defenses that are trying to stop him. Just two years into his career, Jackson is trying to fast forward his development, and he's well on his way.
He improved dramatically between his rookie season and last year, and it was not just because he became a more accurate passer. Jackson recognized coverages quicker. He made faster decisions. He was more in sync with his targets. He had a better grasp of the Ravens' playbook, allowing the coaching staff to put more on his plate.
Jackson plans to build on that growth this offseason, but he admitted that the restrictions caused by the pandemic have slowed that process. Due to social distancing, Jackson hasn't worked with his personal quarterback coach, Joshua Harris, nor has he been able to hold regular throwing sessions with Ravens receivers. He did throw some to good friend and fellow Floridian Marquise "Hollywood" Brown.
But being sidelined is not what Jackson had in mind as he enters Year 3, and whenever he gets the green light, he plans on holding offseason sessions with teammates, both on the field and watching film.
"Me and my teammates had already talked before we left Baltimore in January, we wanted to get together and watch film together," Jackson said. "I feel like we need to hit a lot more deep passes that we didn't last year. The quarantine is slowing everything down right now. I can't get with my guys, to be working on timing our routes. That's a big part of it."
Jackson had more rushing attempts (176) than any quarterback last season on his way to setting the single season rushing record (1,206 yards) by a quarterback. Meanwhile, Jackson threw a league-high 36 touchdowns and completed 66.1 percent of his passes, the same completion percentage that Russell Wilson had last season and a higher percentage than top quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes (65.9), Aaron Rodgers (62.0) and Brady (60.8).
As his career moves forward, Jackson envisions himself running less often, utilizing the weapons around him and relying more on his arm. If Jackson must run frequently for the Ravens to win, he's more than willing. But he doesn't think it will be necessary.
"I doubt if I'm going to be carrying the ball a lot going on in the future," Jackson said. "We've got dynamic running backs. We're going to have even more receivers. We've got Hollywood, Mark Andrews, Nick (Boyle), Willie Snead, Miles (Boykin). We're going to be pretty good. I don't think I'll be running a lot."
Until he can return to all normal offseason activities, Jackson is making sure he stays in shape with running and Pilates, and he feels no complacency after his MVP season. Jackson is tired of hearing about his 0-2 playoff record and he is even more driven to help the Ravens win a Super Bowl, using that quest to fuel him.
"I let it haunt me," Jackson said, "but it makes me a better player."