Ravens Lamar Jackson got left out of the top five of ESPN’s quarterback rankings
As great as it has been to hear all of the praise being heaped on Superbowl 54 and 2018 regular season MVP Patrick Mahomes of the reigning champions Kansas City Chiefs for signing the richest contract in sports history earlier this week, it’s been absolutely mind-boggling to hear all of the disrespect and hypercriticism being thrown in the direction of Baltimore Ravens quarterback and reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson in the media.
Jackson has been on record stating that he doesn’t like the comparisons between the two young stars and faces of the sport of football but their virtually unavoidable especially when there is not much else to talk about during this dead time before training camp starts and given the parallels that their two young careers are on after just a few years in the league.
The worldwide leader in sports, known commonly as ESPN has been a hotbed of hot takes for Jackson hate this week. On Monday, renowned journalist and loudmouth TV personality Stephen A. Smith got it kicked off by comparing Jackson to former first-round bust and NFL washout turned minor league baseball hopeful, Tim Tebow, on his popular sports debate show ‘First Take’.
If that wasn’t bad enough, two days later ESPN released their rankings of the top 10 quarterbacks heading into 2020 based on the opinions of several league executives that were collected by their pool of staff writers.
One would be led to believe that the player became just the second-ever unanimously voted league MVP by the Associated Press (AP) would’ve been a shoo-in for a spot in the top five if not the top two with Mahomes being the only real opposition…right?
Jackson was not only left out of the top two or three, he didn’t even make the top five altogether, coming in just outside at No.6. The list of quarterbacks not named Mahomes ranked ahead of him were, in chronological order, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, and Drew Brees.
The fact that two quarterbacks that he bested in head to head matchup during his MVP campaign last year in Watson and Wilson were ranked ahead of him is perplexing. But Jackson being ranked behind a player in Brees (age 41) who has begun to show significant signs of age in attrition in arm strength in the twilight of his career and a player in Rodgers (age 36) who has nowhere near as many weapons at his disposal this year and couldn’t find a way to put up a halfway decent fight against the San Francisco 49ers in two matchups last season whereas as Jackson was able to edge them out in a rain-drenched tightly contested game last year is beyond comprehension.
At 22-years old Jackson churned out one of the most electrifying and mystifying single seasons in the history of the league. He improved exponentially as a passer from year one to year two to the tune of a league-leading 36 passing touchdowns, including a league-high 25 from inside the pocket and as a runner, he only just shattered the single-season rushing record at the quarterback position and finished sixth in the league in rushing overall with 1,206 yards.
He accomplished all of that despite not even playing 15 full games since he sat out Week 17 because the Ravens had already locked up the division crown and home-field advantage and there were several times throughout the year where he was pulled from games at the beginning or midway throw the fourth quarter because they already had the game in hand thanks to his tremendous efforts that built an insurmountable lead.
Numbers don’t lie and the proof is in the pudding as they say and the numbers that Jackson put up through the air and on the ground last season are should’ve been enough proof to place him atop or no lower than two on any list compiled of the best players at the position especially when it comes to predicting and project for this upcoming season.
His highest rankings among the panelist were No.2 and his lowest a dumbfounding No.12 which is extremely head-scratching for a quarterback that has more than six times as many career wins in the regular season as he has losses (19-3) and posted a 6-1 touchdown to interception ratio ad completed 66.1 (up from 58.2 in 2018) percent of his passes last season.
“Some passing purists have a tough time putting Jackson too high, despite his No. 2 ranking in QBR (77.5) inside the pocket, and throwing 11 touchdowns under pressure,” ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler wrote. “They believe, despite playmaking perhaps never seen before and improving accuracy, that the Ravens’ offense built around his skillset masks a passer who is good but not great.”
Since when is it a knock on someone’s greatness that their front office and coaching staff was wise and forward-thinking enough to build a system around them that utilizes the full extent of their unique skillset instead of trying to make them conform into something they’re not, stunting their growth and masking their full potential in the process. Instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, the Ravens unveiled a revolutionary run-based attack in 2019 that broke records and allowed Jackson to unleash his generational talent for the whole world to see.
“He is who he is,” One AFC executive said of Jackson. “Always a threat, but as more teams figure out Baltimore’s offense, they won’t be as caught off guard. He’ll eventually make plays with his arm, but he’s not a guy you’d have a lot of confidence in doing it consistently.”
While the Ravens caught most of the league off guard with their offense last season, they will not just rest on their laurels in 2020 even after a COVID-19 condensed offseason and figuring out a way to stop or even slow them down is easier said than done and some executives conceded just that.
“The figure-Baltimore-out argument is cute,” said an NFC executive. “Until Jackson runs through your gap assignment.”
“Defenses thought they were ready for him last year and he bludgeoned them,” an AFC executive said. “He’s doing things at a crazy elite level that no one has seen. They do such a good job with him, and he still wakes up a better athlete than 99% of the league.”
Thankfully not everybody up in Bristol, Connecticut where ESPN headquarters resides is drinking from the same chalice ‘Haterade’ as some of his colleagues. ESPN Analyst Rob Ninkovich said that he would take Jackson over the field, including Mahomes if he were starting an NFL franchise in an appearance on ‘Get Up!’ when host Mike Greenberg asked if anyone would not say the Kansas City Chiefs star is the best young quarterback to start a franchise with.
“I’m not going with Pat Mahomes,” Ninkovich said. “I’m going with my guy Lamar. Listen to this now: [At] 22 years old last year, [he] led the NFL in touchdown passes and led the NFL in yards per carry as a quarterback.”
The two-time Superbowl champion with the New England Patriots knows what it takes to be apart of a dynasty and win multiple championships and he believes that Jackson has a higher ceiling than even Mahomes.
“I think Lamar’s upside is absolutely huge,” Ninkovich said. “He’s going to continue to grow in the NFL. He’s going to learn. He’s going to understand when to avoid all those big hits that he took last year. We learned [two] things last year: No. 1, he’s a big playmaker; No. 2, he’s durable.”
Other analysts and so-called experts have been skeptical about Jackson’s ability to become a polished or even competent consistent thrower of the football dates back his collegiate days at the University of Louisville. His doubters and detractors refuse to accept and face the reality he is just as dangerous as a thrower of the football as he is a runner. All he has done is repeated proved them all wrong time and time again by improving from one year to the next.
He won the Heisman Trophy as a 19-year old sophomore, improved as a passer in his junior season yet still critics suggested that he make a position switch at the next level. He was the fifth quarterback and last pick taken in the first round in the 2018 NFL draft and in just his second season he already looks to be the cream of the crop and was named the cover athlete of the popular sports video game Madden by EA Sports.
It seems no matter what he does to disprove the preconceived notions that people have about him, time and time again, people will find aspects of his game to over-analyze and criticize. I’m starting to believe that even if he does lead the Ravens to a Superbowl and brings home the hardware this season, they will still find something else to nitpick him over and cast shadows of doubt over his ability to keep it up, believing that the league will eventually catch up and figure out a way to neutralize what he does best.
But that’s the crazy funny thing about it. Jackson is heading into his third season at the spry young age of 23-years old and is just scratching the surface of what he can be. In 2019 we only got a glimpse of what he can ultimately become. He’s far from a finished product and the more he grows as a player and gains more experience will make the possibilities for the Ravens on offense and as a team almost limitless.
He walks around with a mountain-sized chip on his shoulder because he is both fueled by his critics and his determined to be great. All this negative talk, unsolicited skepticism, and shrouds of doubt about him are not falling on deaf ears. They’re just fanning the flames that are already burning white-hot inside of him to prove them all dead wrong and build a legendary legacy for himself and his team.