Giving Thanks for Lamar Jackson
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Baltimore football fans certainly have plenty to be thankful for, and at the top of the list is the fact that Lamar Jackson is a Raven.
On a personal note, when my 10-year-old daughter was asked in school earlier this week what she was thankful for, her first response was "Lamar Jackson." Considering what the dynamic quarterback has accomplished thus far, I suppose I can't be too upset that "my family" came in second to No. 8.
Even opposing players who have the unenviable task of trying to stop Jackson are appreciative of what he is doing.
Case in point: When All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman was asked if he and the San Francisco defense are using the hype surrounding Jackson as extra motivation for Sunday's showdown between the 49ers (10-1) and Ravens (9-2) at M&T Bank Stadium, he Sherman took the opportunity to acknowledge the impact Jackson is making in a larger sense.
"We don't care about that. It is what it is. The kid deserves it," Sherman said. "He's playing good football. It's good for black quarterbacks."
San Francisco tight end George Kittle also had high praise for Jackson.
"Watching Lamar Jackson is pretty special," Kittle said on "The Dan Patrick Show." "There's not really anyone that does what he does, just their offense in general. I was watching the game with [49ers linebacker] Fred Warner and asking him, 'Hey man, what are your thoughts?' And he was like, 'You know what, I'm gonna wait until Wednesday when our game plan is set up.' So that was pretty funny."
Kittle isn't the only player who appreciates what he's watching. In an interview with MMQB's Breer, Rams outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. talked about Jackson in a way not often heard.
"Oh, I'm definitely a fan, because we come from the same background, the same football culture, same area there in Florida. I saw a lot of guys like Lamar Jackson growing up – guys that never got the opportunity, whether it's that they didn't make it out to college, or they did make it to college and get their positions changed," Fowler said.
"So just being able to watch him, seeing him when he went to Louisville and [seeing how] his coaches gave him the opportunity, gave him a shot, the same thing that's happening in Baltimore. His skill set, it's so cool to watch, it's so cool to see and it definitely means more for a person like me that understands where he comes from."
'Lamar Jackson Is the Best Player in the NFL'
After Jackson's historic "Monday Night Football" debut -- in which he threw five touchdown passes and ran for 95 yards in the Ravens' 45-6 rout of the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams -- he once again was the talk of the football world this week.
Here's a sample of what the national media is saying about Jackson, who just won AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for the fourth time:
Sports Illustrated's Connor Orr: "We're running out of ways to describe and things to say about the quarterback who is grinding nearly every defense he faces into a fine powder. … But I think the most obvious compliment the league will pay to Jackson — beyond giving him the MVP award, which he is running away with — is how it will quietly try and emulate what Baltimore is doing. … The really, really bad teams will try and actually find another Lamar Jackson. The fact that this is impossible might be the biggest compliment of all."
ESPN's Mike Greenberg: "Jackson has been ridiculous. He's averaging nearly 80 yards rushing on more than 7 yards a carry. The last time that happened was 1934. And at the same time, he leads the league in touchdown passes from inside the pocket. So at the age of 22, he is right now both the most effective runner and most effective passer in the sport. And it gets better. His offense scores on 56 percent of their drives. That is the most efficient offense in the NFL in the last 80 years. … What we are seeing, right now Lamar Jackson is playing the best of any quarterback in the NFL, and it isn't particularly close."
NFL.com's Ali Bhanpuri: "Lamar Jackson is the best player in the NFL. Not just because we ranked him No. 1 on [the quarterbacks index], but because every shred of evidence -- the tape, the stats, his teammates, his opponents -- has proven it to be true. At a time when football fans are celebrating the league's 100th season, debating the roster of the NFL 100 All-Time Team, lauding Patrick Mahomes' incredible arm talent, fawning over Russell Wilson's breathtaking downfield passing, and cherishing the GOAT coach and GOAT QB as they continue to rewrite the history books, it's Lamar Jackson who's become the NFL's best story. He is that mesmerizing, that electrifying, that inexplicably unique. Moreover, he's that fun."
"Move the Sticks" podcast's Bucky Brooks: "There's something about him and the way that he has gone about his business and worked at his craft that has earned him the respect of his teammates, and I think that is invaluable when we talk about the quarterback and how he fits into the team."
NFL Network's Kurt Warner: "Without question, he has exceeded expectations when he's having to decipher defenses. … He's doing some really, really good things [and] still has room to grow. I think that's the crazy part or the exciting part is that it is just Year 2. He's having an incredible year, but still has room to grow in the pass game, and he has those numbers with room to grow. It could be scary in the future."
USA Today's Steven Ruiz: "Jackson has been good at everything, which is why he's the leading candidate for MVP, but there is one split where the 22-year-old star is truly in a league of his own. That's in empty formations, with no running backs in the backfield and five receiving options lined up out wide. After ringing up four touchdowns from empty formations against the Rams on Monday night, Jackson is now averaging a ridiculous 0.73 expected points added per attempt from empty for the season, per Sports Info Solutions. That leads the league by a WIDE margin: Patrick Mahomes is second at 0.49. No other quarterback has been that much better than their peers in any statistical split. The threat Jackson poses in empty is truly unique, which makes sense; he's a truly unique player and his skill set is particularly dangerous in those empty formations."
The MMQB NFL Podcast's" Albert Breer: "What Lamar Jackson is doing is off the charts. … It's the perfect marriage of a special athlete who has dedicated himself to improving -- his improvement in his accuracy has been staggering. You normally don't get a lot better in that area; he's gotten a lot better in that area. He has coaches who have sold out to bringing out the very best in him in [head coach] John Harbaugh and [offensive coordinator] Greg Roman. … I don't want to overreact here, because I know we've said this about guys in the past ...but maybe this is one of those that he's so special where he causes people to change the way that they evaluate and look at the position a little bit."
Mark Ingram II Is One of Ravens' Best Free-Agent Signings Ever
While Jackson certainly deserves all the attention he's receiving, running back Mark Ingram II's part in the Ravens' success cannot be overlooked.
Ebony Bird's Richard Bradshaw wrote that Ingram -- who signed with Baltimore in the offseason after eight years with the New Orleans Saints -- is one of the Ravens' best free-agent acquisitions ever because of what he has brought to the team on and off the field.
"The way that Mark Ingram has so seamlessly fit into the Ravens team as a whole is remarkable," Bradshaw wrote. "Ingram is a true leader in the locker room with some major swagger to his leadership style. Ingram also plays like a Raven, running hard on every play and getting gritty, tough yards.
"The production has been there as well, with 12 touchdowns on the season and nearly 1,000 scrimmage yards in 11 games. Most of his damage has come as a runner, making a perfect complement to Lamar Jackson's electric running style with his no-nonsense, downhill style of running."
NFL.com analyst Maurice Jones-Drew had Ingram at No. 26 on his preseason ranking of all 32 RB1s, but now has Ingram at No. 6.
"For starters, let me note that I was spot on in my analysis but was off on Ingram's ranking," Jones-Drew wrote. "Back in June, I said that I expected John Harbaugh to use a committee of backs and that the Ravens' rushing attack would feature quarterback Lamar Jackson. Well, the Ravens boast the best rushing offense in the league, have four players with more than 35 carries and are led by Jackson (124 attempts, 876 rush yards, six TDs) and Ingram (151 carries, 778 rush yards, 9 TDs). This offense is far more explosive than I initially thought, with Jackson and Ingram benefiting from each other."
Jones-Drew referred to Ingram as "a quarterback's best friend."
"I'm so impressed by the way that Ingram always seems to pick up positive yardage, even if it requires finding the narrowest of creases and churning his legs forward," Jones-Drew wrote. "In fact, he has just five negative plays in his last 77 carries. While Lamar Jackson is rightfully receiving a lot of praise for transforming the Ravens' offense into a juggernaut this year, don't sleep on Ingram's profound impact on the unit."
Did Earl Thomas III Guarantee Ravens Will Play in the Super Bowl?
You've probably seen the headlines that say Earl Thomas III "guaranteed" the Ravens will be playing in the Super Bowl, but that's not exactly what he said. The G-word was never used.
When Thomas was asked by a reporter about talk that Sunday's game against the 49ers could be a Super Bowl preview, the All-Pro safety replied: "You think the 49ers are going to the Super Bowl? It could be, let's see. We'll just go out there and try to play the best football we can possibly do. And when the Super Bowl comes, whoever we play, they're going to be in trouble."
It wasn't quite Joe Namath literally guaranteeing the New York Jets would beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, but nevertheless Thomas' comments led to sexy headlines.