Few quarterback prospects in recent memory have been as divisive as Lamar Jackson. His fans were convinced his mind-boggling production at Louisville would translate into NFL success, and his doubters suggested his mechanics and accuracy were too flawed to succeed. Bill Polian was convinced he needed to convert to wide receiver to improve his NFL prospects (although he doesn’t seem to have a great grasp on things these days). Jackson, to his credit, remained undeterred and refused to participate in any NFL combine events other than the QB drills.
He was selected #32 overall by the Baltimore Ravens, a savvy move by retiring GM Ozzie Newsome, ensuring the team has a 5th-year option should Jackson develop into their franchise QB. So why was such a polarising player drafted in the first round?
As noted above, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner’s college production was absurd, throwing up video game numbers week in and week out in college:
His rushing production was beyond elite. Over his 2016 and 2017 seasons, Jackson rushed for more yards (3,172) than any other college player not named Rashaad Penny. That’s right, he rushed for more yards than Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb and any other running back! His 39 rushing touchdowns were also the 2nd most behind only FAU’s Devin Singletary.
Impressively, Jackson still posted solid passing yardage totals in his sophomore and junior seasons, throwing for over 7,000 yards and 57 touchdowns. In short, Jackson was a production monster, and even though his passing game requires improvements, he showed progression over his college career.
His completion percentage, whilst still below 60%, showed improvements year to year, and impressively increased by 3.1% in 2017 without significantly lowering his yards per attempt. According to PFF, his adjusted completion percentage in 2017 was 71.7%. PFF’s adjusted completion percentage credits passers for on-target throws that are dropped by receivers, but also removes passes that are thrown away (i.e. not targeting any receiver), batted at the line of scrimmage, spiked, and passes thrown when the quarterback was hit during the throwing motion.
So how did Lamar fare in his first season of professional football?
Taking over for an injured Joe Flacco in Week 11, Jackson was effective if not efficient. He finished the week at the QB13 with just 150 yards passing and 1 interception, but 119 yards rushing on 27 attempts.
Lamar Jackson had 27 rushing attempts today. No quarterback has had 25 or more rushing attempts since at least 1999. Unique weapon.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 18, 2018
That sort of rushing usage gives him a unique fantasy floor, which insulates against his lack of upside with his passing ability. Whilst 27 attempts is an outlier, Jackson averaged 15.5 attempts per game for the rest of the regular season:
Despite his modest passing statistics, Jackson was the QB7 from Weeks 11 to 17 and averaged 18.6 ppg. This strong finish was a result of consistent production too, rather than a couple of monster outings:
Lamar Jackson as the #RavensFlock starter finished no worse than QB16 in weekly scoring, no worse than 15.7 fantasy points, 4/6 weeks as a QB1, and under 70 rushing yards just once in six games.
— Mark Leipold (@LeipoldNFL) January 22, 2019
Despite all of the criticism of Lamar’s passing ability, his 66.7% adjusted completion percentage was better than #7 overall pick Josh Allen (who ranks dead last among qualified QBs at 62.1%). Because Allen has prototypical NFL QB size and a cannon of an arm, people seem fine overlooking what are historically bad passing statistics:
Josh Allen had multiple NFL-caliber players surrounding him in 2016 and he ranked 101st out of 133 qualifiers in adjusted completion percentage#NFLDraft
— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) April 15, 2018
Jackson has actually been a more accurate passer than Allen during both their college years and in their rookie season. It will be interesting to see how these two athletic QBs develop over the coming years.
2019 Outlook and Beyond
Importantly for Jackson’s fantasy outlook, Baltimore won with him under center, and it is clear that Lamar is going to be given every opportunity to succeed. Despite a dismal outing for the first three-quarters of the Ravens’ wild-card playoff game against the Chargers (passing for just 25 yards), Harbaugh resisted benching him in favor of Flacco, even with boos raining down from the home crowd. Jackson showed improvement in the 4th quarter, throwing for 169 yards and 2 TDs. Solid numbers, even if it was garbage time.
Lamar Jackson is not the finished product. Far from it. However, he is one of the youngest QBs in the league (22) and will head into the offseason as the established starter in Baltimore. He will have the time to continue to work on his mechanics, study film, and gain a greater understanding of the Baltimore offensive scheme.
Jackson will also have the luxury of working with his pass catchers in the offseason. He began the season as the 3rd-string QB. It’s unlikely he ever threw more than a handful of passes to any of the starting WRs or TEs.
Limiting turnovers will be one of the keys to his progression moving forward. Whilst his interceptions were low, Jackson fumbled the ball far too often. I imagine this will be a point of emphasis for the coaching staff – to protect the football when scrambling.
People have concerns about the longevity of a running QB and rightly so. The cautionary tale of RGIII shows that they can burn out all too quickly. However, Jackson is not only incredibly elusive and manages to avoid a lot of contact, he also keeps his eyes downfield when he moves out of the pocket. These traits should ensure he is able to continue to play in the NFL for years to come (he also has RGIII with him in a Baltimore as a daily reminder to stay safe).
There are only a handful of QBs in the league who can score fantasy points with their legs like Jackson. He’s in a special club, and well worth the price to acquire him in your dynasty teams. He is currently being drafted as the QB9 per Addison Hayes’ ADP site. That price is by no means a bargain, but he only needs to show a slight improvement in the passing game to post top 5 fantasy numbers on a weekly basis.
So what do you think of Lamar Jackson? Is he a fantasy flash in the pan? Or is he the future of the franchise? Let me know on Twitter @FF_DownUnder.