Simply put, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is divisive. When’s the last time critics suggested an NFL MVP should switch positions? When’s the last time fans claimed an MVP is a one-hit wonder profiting off a gimmick? When’s the last time an MVP generated this level of polarization over whether or not he’s any good?
Perhaps divisiveness is inevitable when you give an uber-talented athlete unprecedented skills. Jackson sees the field with the prowess of a rusher, makes defenders miss like an All-Pro Returner and burns defenders with the speed of a deep threat wide receiver. He routinely records absurd stat lines, notching over 1,200 rushing yards last season along with over 3,100 yards thrown and 43 total touchdowns. His Baltimore Ravens ravaged much of the league in the 2019-2020 season, going 14-2 and earning the number one seed in the AFC. And while all of this indicates Jackson is heading toward numerous Super Bowl appearances and a bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there are still non-believers.
Jackson’s undeniable talent is contrasted by two postseason appearances and zero wins, few fourth-quarter comebacks and an alleged inability to throw along the likes of the NFL’s top passers. His critics would toss aside his MVP trophy and ask if he’ll ever be wearing a Super Bowl ring instead. NFL analysts condemn his lack of postseason success and doubt his ability to throw his way out of a deficit. Jackson, naysayers believe, is the product of a system designed to mask his flaws and of a team poised to make a playoff run with or without his leadership. While I’m not against some skepticism about a 23-year-old aiming to revolutionize the most important position in football, I think Jackson is about as good as any other quarterback in the league, and – barring injury – he’ll continue to enjoy that status throughout his career.
Jackson may not have developed the accuracy and touch of some of his talented peers, but his throwing woes have been greatly exaggerated. He opened week one of his first full season as a starter in 2019 with a perfect passer rating with a 59-10 rout over the Miami Dolphins, which he repeated later in week 10. He led the league in passing touchdowns while only throwing six interceptions, finished eighth in completion percentage and third in quarterback rating. Prior to being drafted, reporters, fans and NFL executives alike suggested he may find more success as a running back or wide receiver. Running backs and receivers don’t lead the league in passing touchdowns. Jackson is also yet to embark on any fourth quarter comebacks, during which he can’t resort to an attack in tandem with Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram. He’s also only been a starter for barely over a season, and he just so happens to put his team in situations where a comeback isn’t necessary. Just as doubters believe he has to replicate his incredible performance last season to be considered truly elite, I believe he needs to be put in more pressured situations before I’m willing to say he can’t lead game-winning drives.
This heated debate is only exacerbated by the fact that Jackson has more swagger than any player since defensive back Deion Sanders in an organization with a phenomenal winning culture. Jackson blasts away top-ranked teams while taunting them, slams critics in the press with clever retorts while remaining poised and accepts expectations only by making them loftier. After a 59-10 stomping over the Dolphins in last year’s season opener where Jackson threw for five touchdowns, in a postgame press conference, he remarked, “Not bad for a running back.” When a radio announcer claimed Jackson’s skin color allowed him to hide the football more easily, Jackson donned a white, long sleeve shirt in his next game and led his team to a 24-17 victory. Whether for better or for worse, Jackson is anything but traditional.
The Ravens now stand at 2-0 so far this season. In a week one 38-6 rout of the Cleveland Browns, Jackson posted a nearly perfect 152.3 passer rating, and he followed up the performance with a 33-16 victory over the Houston Texans this past Sunday. While many are hesitant to anoint him as one of the NFL’s most dominant quarterbacks, it’s inevitable. Lamar Jackson is going to be a problem for a long time.
Saar Shah is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. The Fifth Quarter appears online every other week.