Ravens QB Lamar Jackson says the game is ‘slowing down’ for him in year 3
Most players in the NFL make the biggest jumps of their career from their first season to their second because they are often bombarded by the speed of the game and the length of a full regular season after playing no more than 12 or 13 games in college if they qualify for the postseason or a bowl game in a given year.
Last season Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson didn’t just make a gigantic jump he made a quantum leap in his progression as an overall player and thrower of the football. He became just the second player to ever be unanimously voted the Most Valuable Player in the league after producing an electrifying regular season unlike any the league has ever seen.
In 2019, Jackson was the epitome of the ultimate dual-threat quarterback by becoming the first player at the position to throw for 3,000 plus yards and rush for 1,000 plus yards in the same season. His 36 passing touchdowns led the league and his 1,206 rushing yards in just 15 games was not only sixth most in the league among all players last season, it shattered the single-season record for a quarterback that was previously owned by his childhood idol Michael Vick.
While most players don’t make as big of a jump from year two to year three as they did from their rookie season to their second, that doesn’t necessarily apply to the quarterback position. They play the most important position in all of sports and it is also the hardest to learn to play efficiently at the pro level and even harder to completely master at a high level in the NFL.
The game slows down for the majority players after their inaugural seasons but for quarterbacks, it is still a bit faster paced in year two because they still haven’t seen or feel comfortable with everything just yet. They haven’t accrued enough experience against a various array of defenses and coverages to play as free as they can.
Reigning Superbowl MVP Patrick Mahomes for the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs said that the proverbial light bulb didn’t go off for him until midway through his third season where he began to be able to diagnose and read defensive alignments and coverages at an elite level.
Jackson and Mahomes have been tied at the hip all offseason because the Ravens’ franchise quarterback looks to be on the same career trajectory as the Chiefs’ star. They both had historic seasons and guided their teams to the top seed in the AFC playoffs in their second years in the league and first as full-time starters, winning league MVP in the process.
It’s hard to imagine Jackson having a second straight record-breaking season and some statistical regression is expected for him in 2020, but he believes that his light bulb moment has come earlier than Mahomes got his last season when the Chiefs began to hit their stride on their run to the Superbowl.
Jackson told reporters Wednesday in a virtual press conference that the game is “slowing down” for him already in year three and his performance in the season opener reflected just that. Against the Brown in Week One, he showed that the work he put in during the offseason and in training camp to become a more polished and precise passer as well as an all-around better quarterback paid off big time.
He went 20-of-25 for 275 and three touchdowns, finished with a nearly perfect passer rating of 152.1, and he added 45 yards rushing on seven carries. Jackson had some nice juke moves when he took off to run against the Browns defense but he did his best work and showed the most growth by carving up their secondary and leading the Ravens up and down the field at will through the air for the most part.
Jackson was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the sixth time in his young career for his three-touchdown performance against the Cleveland which marked the ninth time he has thrown three or more scores in a game dating back to the start of last season, the most of any quarterback over that span.
He said that he has embraced more film study this year in order to try to anticipate how opposing teams might try to defend him coming off his breakout MVP winning campaign. Jackson also credits his time spent going up against the Ravens top-notch defense in practice as an accelerant of his growth because Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale sends several diverse looks his way in practice that forces him to and helps him get comfortable throwing into tighter windows read more complex coverages.
“A lot of film study, going against our defense, all the exotic things they do, different blitzes and stuff like that has helped me out a lot,” Jackson said. “I tell those guys I need stuff like that during practice, camp. When I go against other opponents, it’s a lot easier for me on the field.”
While Jackson may not break his own records or even win back to back league MVP honors in his pivotal third season, he clearly looks like a better player than he was last season. Heading into the opener last week, veteran running back Mark Ingram said that he is ‘light years’ ahead of where he was around this time last year.
He appears poised to become the kind of complete quarterback that can overcome any adversity and win a championship which he has repeatedly said ad nauseum is his only and ultimate goal. Only time will tell if Jackson will become the third straight quarterback to win league MVP and win the Superbowl in the following season but he’s off to a tremendous start.