Lamar Jackson Can Quarterback. Just Ask his Teammates … and the Film
Ever since Lamar Jackson started the draft process, there has been plenty of naysayers who thought he wouldn't be good enough to quarterback in the NFL. Some pundits and teams even believed he would be a better wide receiver than quarterback.
Though Jackson finished Sunday's win against the Oakland Raiders with just 178 yards on 14 of 25 passing attempts, he still showed why he's a promising quarterback.
The big news last night was a NFL Network report that Joe Flacco (hip) has not been medically cleared and that Jackson is expected to start. If so, there's a lot to be excited about with how he's performing in the passing attack.
One aspect of his passing that he showed off Sunday was his arm strength and deep-ball accuracy, which he displayed when he uncorked a roughly 45-yard pass to wide receiver John Brown.
It was a beautiful throw that hit Brown in stride, but unfortunately was called back for a holding penalty. Even though it didn't count, the throw impressed his teammates, including Brown.
"He wanted to be able to show he can throw the deep ball too," Brown told MMQB’s Robert Klemko. "We talk about that a lot, and other teams talk about it. I think he wanted to prove his point, and he proved it. And he's going to keep proving it."
Added cornerback Jimmy Smith, "To put that throw on a guy that runs like that [Brown] ... that's really good."
The throw was certainly impressive, but there were other parts of his performance that were encouraging too.
Another big throw Jackson made was when he connected with rookie tight end Mark Andrews for a 74-yard completion. While his ability to hit Andrews in stride was impressive, WNST’s Luke Jones was more impressed with what happened right before the throw.
"My favorite part of the 74-yard strike to Mark Andrews wasn't the perfect throw, but it was Jackson dipping his shoulders to really sell the play-fake, which kept Raiders cornerback Rashaan Melvin's eyes in the backfield a moment too long as Andrews blew right past him," Jones wrote.
Now it obviously wasn't all perfect for Jackson, as he threw two interceptions. The first one caught the eye of NBC Sports’ Peter King, who wrote "I kid you not: Lamar Jackson threw into quadruple coverage to get picked by 35-year-old Oakland safety Reggie Nelson. Don't be surprised if a play like that factors into John Harbaugh's decision in who to play when Joe Flacco is healthy."
Still, this is a rookie making his second start: mistakes are going to happen. The hope is that Jackson will learn from those mistakes and grow as a quarterback.
SB Nation's Seth Galina certainly believes Jackson has impressed thus far after diving into some of his game film from Sunday. Galina tweeted out a series of videos highlighting some of the nuances in Jackson's passing game that he has already refined, which shows just how advanced Jackson is for a rookie.
Sunday's Game Will Feature Friend vs. Friend
Imagine being a high schooler showing up at a park to play some pickup football with a bunch of your friends, only to find out you were playing against teenage versions of Jackson and Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley.
How do you think you and your crew would do against those two?
That was an unfortunate reality for many teenagers in Coconut Creek, Fla. from 2012-2014, and as ESPN’s Vaughn McClure put it, "The result typically involved Jackson completing passes to Ridley all over the field."
"We was cheating," Jackson said with a laugh. "Calvin was the fastest thing we had out there. I was like, 'I'm going to Calvin every time.'"
For the record, Ridley ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Jackson didn't run the 40 at the Combine, but reportedly did it in 4.34 seconds at his pro day at Louisville. Imagine a group of normal high schoolers trying to keep up with that much speed?
If Jackson is named the Ravens' starter this Sunday, he won't have the option of throwing to Ridley. That doesn't mean it still won't be an exciting moment for Jackson, though.
"That will be cool, man," Jackson said. "Just some young kids. We were just playing in the park, and now we're in the league playing against each other."
Jackson and Ridley met in the 10th grade when Jackson would stay at his cousin's house in Coconut Creek during weekends. The two immediately got along, and even discussed the idea of having Jackson move to Ridley's school district so they could be on the same team in high school.
Playing together in high school never happened, but it didn't stop both Jackson and Ridley from being among each other's biggest fans.
"That's my boy, man," Ridley said of Jackson. "I definitely want to see him play. I know what he's capable of doing. I know he's a great, great player. All the love for my guy."
After both had successful collegiate careers, each were drafted in the first round, with Ridley going 26th and Jackson going 32nd. The two have enjoyed bright beginnings to their NFL careers, with Jackson owning a 2-0 record as a starter, and Ridley leading the Falcons with eight touchdown receptions despite having veteran wide receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu to compete with.
Though going in the first round is obviously an exciting moment, Ridley had a similar reaction to Jackson's, and expected to be drafted earlier than he was. According to McClure, "Ridley thought he should have been drafted higher and even figured he might go 19th to the Dallas Cowboys."
The Ravens were one of those teams to pass on Ridley, and ultimately selected tight end Hayden Hurst with the No. 25 pick, one spot before Ridley.
As for this Sunday, Jackson has a small bit of advice for the defense: respect his speed.
"His acceleration, you can't catch him," Jackson said. "I haven't seen anyone catch him from behind, like running him down. His explosiveness that he brings to the game is ridiculous. One man can't lock him down. I've never heard of it; not with Calvin."
The same could be said for Jackson, and if he starts this Sunday, you know Ridley will have similar advice for his Falcons teammates.
Gus Edwards Emergence Lessens the Need for Le'Veon Bell
A couple weeks ago, LFW wrote about how the Ravens are being talked about as a potential destination for Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who is set to become a free agent in March after sitting out the 2018 season. There is no doubt how talented of a player that Bell is; he is a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection, after all.
Despite this, The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec doesn't think the Ravens should pursue Bell once he hits free agency. Why? Running back Gus Edwards.
"Nobody is comparing Edwards to Bell. Nobody is even anointing Edwards, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Rutgers, the team's starter next season," Zrebiec wrote. "He still has plenty to prove, but the point is that you can find productive running backs anywhere."
During a Q&A with subscribers to The Athletic, Zrebiec pointed to running backs like Pittsburgh's James Conner, Kansas City's Kareem Hunt and Arizona's David Johnson as players who weren't highly touted but have become successful in the NFL. As Zrebiec put it, "the list goes on."
Another factor in this equation is Jackson, who unquestionably would form an extremely dynamic backfield with Bell. However, Zrebiec thinks Jackson's presence makes it even more likely that a running back will be able to succeed in Baltimore.
"Jackson is going to make any running back better. Quality offensive line play and good schemes will as well," Zrebiec wrote. "Bell is a terrific back, but paying him $14-$15 million a year or whatever it will take, that doesn't seem to be a wise investment."
- After a more pass-happy approach in the first half of Sunday's game, the Ravens put the contest away with a dominant running attack after halftime, and Jones has a hunch the offensive line loved it. "No moment better epitomized the second-half philosophical shift than [left tackle] Ronnie Stanley gesturing to the sideline for more runs after a nine-yard rush on the third play of the second half," Jones wrote. "The left tackle easily had one of the best run-blocking games of his career on Sunday."
- Former Ravens quarterback Josh Woodrum was selected eighth in the first round of the inaugural Alliance of American Football draft by the Salt Lake Stallions. The eight-team league is set to debut this upcoming February.