Lamar Jackson Is Among Players Who Will Define 2020s
Not long ago, pundits questioned whether Lamar Jackson was a legitimate NFL starting quarterback. After Jackson had success, the conversation turned to whether it was sustainable.
Now, after a record-breaking regular season in which he redefined the quarterback position, Jackson is being lauded as a generational talent who is just getting started.
Jackson, who has led the Ravens to a franchise-best 14-2 record and its first-ever No. 1 seed, has captured the sports world's attention with the video game-esque moves that helped him shatter the single-season rushing record for a quarterback. But it's the fact that he threw a league-best 36 touchdown passes that points to him having staying power.
"Lamar Jackson's strong end to his rookie campaign didn't hint at what was to come," BR's Chris Roling wrote. "The Baltimore Ravens quarterback wasn't just a great rusher this year, though shattering records held by Michael Vick on his way to 1,200-plus yards and seven touchdowns on the ground is incredible.
"No, Jackson's biggest leap came as a passer. Over the course of 15 games, he completed 66.1 percent of his passes with 36 touchdowns against six interceptions. A touchdown percentage of 9.0 is, in a word, absurd."
While it's not realistic to expect Jackson to break the rushing record every year, he won't need to, thanks to his arm.
"Not only is he already a threat to win a Super Bowl … his leaps as a passer also suggest he'll level out at a pace sure to keep him among the very best for the next decade," Roling wrote.
The next decade in the NFL begins with the coming postseason, where expectations are high for Jackson and the Ravens. Jackson was ranked by ESPN analytics expert Seth Walder as the No. 1 quarterback among those in the playoffs, a field that includes future Hall of Famers Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, in addition to standouts such as Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
"Jackson's incredible improvement is the story of the season," Walder wrote. "The Ravens built their roster and scheme around his strengths -- and the plan worked to perfection. A heavy passing attack is almost always superior to a ground-focused offense, but Baltimore is the exception to that rule thanks in large part to Jackson. The result is a league-best Total QBR of 81.7 and a likely and deserved MVP award."
In identifying Jackson's strength, Walder wrote: "Can we say almost everything? Even if we looked only at passes and sacks, Jackson ranks second in QBR. A year ago he showed vulnerability against the blitz and against dime coverage, but he now excels in both categories."
Not surprisingly, Jackson also was No. 1 on Kurt Warner's Top 5 Quarterbacks of 2019 list for NFL Network.
"He's just been incredible with creating wins, creating big plays not only with his arm but with his legs," Warner said. "He's in full control. It's been so much fun to watch him kind of change what we believe the quarterback position can do at the NFL level."
Ravens Ranked One of Top Franchises of Past Decade
With the 2010s officially over, NFL.com's Marc Sessler ranked the decade's 10 best teams based on regular-season and postseason accomplishments. The Ravens came in at No. 4, with the potential to be even higher a month from now.
"The Ravens shoot up this list if coach John Harbaugh raises another Lombardi come February," Sessler wrote. "Few teams are run with more confidence and consistency, with Baltimore seamlessly shifting from Ozzie Newsome to Eric DeCosta in the front office and boldly transitioning from an aging Joe Flacco to a league-altering supernova in Lamar Jackson -- a shooting star the rest of the NFL completely whiffed on."
The Ravens went 98-62 (.613) in the decade, with a 7-4 mark (.636) in the playoffs, a Super Bowl title and four AFC North crowns. The only teams ranked ahead of them were the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were No. 5. The Ravens' arch rivals won more regular-season games (102-57-1, .641) and as many division titles as Baltimore, but went 5-6 (.455) in the playoffs and lost in their lone Super Bowl appearance.
"For all the success, though, Pittsburgh has experienced plenty of first-world problems in January, falling to the Packers in Super Bowl XLV and turning to dust against New England roughly 47 times when it mattered most," Sessler wrote.
The highlight of the past decade for the Ravens undoubtedly was their victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII in February 2013, but that moment wouldn't have been possible without The Mile High Miracle.
Joe Flacco's game-tying, 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with 41 seconds left sent the Ravens' AFC divisional-round game against the Denver Broncos into overtime, where Baltimore ultimately prevailed, 38-35.
The Flacco-to-Jones pass was one of Peter Schrager's top 5 plays of the 2010s. The Mile High Miracle and the Ravens' win in the Super Bowl also were cited by NFL.com as two of the best moments of the decade
"This is one of the biggest plays in any franchise's history," Schrager said on Good Morning Football.
More Awards for Ravens
The Ravens are focused on just one award, and that's the Lombardi Trophy. But there's nothing they can do to stem the slew of accolades that are rightfully being heaped upon them.
Pro Football Focus and Sports Illustrated both handed out their regular-season superlatives, and the Super Bowl favorites dominated the selections.
Both outlets chose Jackson as league MVP, Harbaugh as Head Coach of the Year, and DeCosta as Executive of the Year. Also, Justin Tucker was named Special Teams Player of the Year by Pro Football Talk.
Here are excerpts from PFT about the Ravens' award winners:
Mike Florio on Jackson: "Lamar Jackson is the MVP without question. There's not even a close No. 2 at this point. … Beyond the stats were the moments. Plays that ripped the soul out of an opponent, with Jackson making a big run or a stellar throw just as the foe was on the ropes. He played like a man among boys at Louisville, and he re-created that vibe in his second NFL season."
Florio on Harbaugh: "Especially on the offensive side of the ball, Harbaugh confirmed that the best coaches don't have a system to which they are bound but a determination to craft a playbook that suits his players. … Harbaugh also has helped transform attitudes regarding rolling the dice on fourth down, making what was once unconventional far more commonplace, with a Madden-style attitude creeping into NFL football as coaches ignore potential fan and media criticism flowing from a failed fourth-down attempt. As a result, fans and media have become less likely to criticize a failed fourth-down attempt."
Florio on DeCosta: "Rarely does the Coach of the Year and the Executive of the Year come from the [same] team. But it's a rare season in Baltimore. … DeCosta, who arrived in Baltimore with the Ravens in 1996, has gone from having a hand in the franchise's consistent success to presiding over the football operation. His first year has resulted in the best regular season in franchise history."
Darin Gantt on Tucker: "If [the Ravens] get in a close game in the playoffs, they know they can turn to a guy who has been making big plays for years. … Tucker's a career 90.8 percent on field goals, making him the most accurate field goal kicker in league history. He's also proven to be trustworthy in the biggest moments, including last-second game-winners against the Steelers and 49ers this season."
Sports Illustrated determined their award winners through voting by its nine-member panel. Jackson received all the first-place votes for MVP to finish well ahead of runner-up Wilson.
Ravens safety Earl Thomas came in sixth in Comeback Player of the Year voting, and cornerback Marlon Humphrey placed 10th in Defensive Player of the Year voting.
Several Ravens also were named to NFL.com's All-Pro teams. One team was selected by NFL.com writer Chris Wesseling using the "eyeball test," while the other was chosen by Next Gen Stats' Nick Shook.
Jackson, offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Marshal Yanda were named to both teams, while Tucker and Humphrey made Wesseling's squad.