When Lamar Jackson first appeared on the scene for the Ravens, even before he took over for an injured Joe Flacco, his head coach was frequent and vehement in his defense of Lamar’s passing ability:
“Lamar can throw the football” was John Harbaugh’s oft-repeated mantra that summer and early Fall, as he was pelted with questions by media members who doubted Lamar’s aerial game (mostly because everyone who only saw his college highlights were so mesmerized by his running).
Jump the scene forward to a few years later, and finally we’re getting some sense from the media of what’s really happening on the NFL grand stage when Lamar Jackson drops back to pass.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell contends that “concerns about Jackson as a downfield passer in terms of his skills are generally overblown.”
“The former Heisman Trophy winner has a strong arm and can anticipate routes coming open. He actually ran a more traditional, complex deep passing attack during his time at Louisville than the one he has been using with the Ravens,” Barnwell wrote. “He misses deep throws here and there, but not at a more noticeable rate than other quarterbacks. He posted a 90.0 QBR on those throws last season, which ranked 20th in the league, four spots behind [Josh] Allen. He was 12th in QBR on those passes in 2019. I don’t think he’s a problem on deep passes.”
Barnwell also said that labeling Jackson’s 2020 season as a disappointment is a misnomer.
“Was Jackson’s 2020 season a disappointment? Depends on your baseline,” Barnwell wrote. “If you were expecting him to remain as wildly efficient as he was during his MVP season in 2019, it might have been. Given that the Louisville product posted one of the highest touchdown rates (9%) as a passer in league history in 2019, it was always unrealistic to expect Jackson to keep up his prior level of play. Just about everybody who wins MVP declines, at least a little bit, the following season.”
As to whether the Ravens should sign Jackson to a contract extension that will make him one of the highest-paid players in the league, Barnwell said the answer is obvious.
“Even if you’re skeptical of his ceiling as a downfield passer, you can’t form a reasonable argument against getting that deal done,” Barnwell wrote. “Jackson was league MVP two years ago and ranked seventh in QBR last season. He has the best winning percentage for any quarterback in modern league history through three seasons.
“He’s one of the smartest quarterbacks I’ve ever seen in terms of avoiding big hits, both in the open field and near the sideline. Is there some risk that Jackson loses some value as a runner and doesn’t develop further as a passer? Sure. We also know his upside is truly special.”