Lamar Jackson: Looking ahead by looking back

At the beginning of the NFL playoffs, the Ravens were the consensus favorite to win their third Super Bowl. They were dominant on both sides of the ball during the regular season, tying an NFL record with 12 players elected to the Pro Bowl. None were more important to the team’s success than quarterback Lamar Jackson. However, things did not come to fruition, as the Ravens fell to the upstart Tennessee Titans 28-12 over the weekend. Despite the loss and unusually poor performance by the quarterback, Lamar Jackson remains the odds-on favorite to win league MVP. He had an incredible season as a dual-threat quarterback, setting multiple quarterback rushing records and leading the Ravens to a 14-2 record and the top seed in the AFC.

Jackson’s season was extremely impressive statistically. While he was about average in passing yards during the regular season (22nd in the league with 3,127), he led the NFL in passing touchdowns with 36 and had the ninth best completion percentage. It is also worth mentioning that Jackson put up these numbers on only 265 passing attempts, placing him just 27th in the league. Where Jackson really shone, however, was his rushing: he rushed for an NFL QB record 1,206 yards and 7 touchdowns, while also breaking his own record in rush attempts from last season. Jackson’s 1,206 yards were more than twice as many as second place Kyler Murray, who finished the season with 544 rushing yards. One can gain a better sense of just how special Jackson’s season has been by comparing his numbers to the historical rushing record. The former record for rushing yards by a quarterback was 1,039—set by Michael Vick in 2006. The gap between Jackson’s record-setting season and Vick’s former record is larger than the gap between the second and fifth place (902) spots on the same list. In addition, the new record marks a 16% increase over Vick’s original record.

Jackson is only in his second year in the NFL and is very likely headed for a bright future. As a young dual-threat quarterback, what might that future look like? Given that Jackson has such a unique profile and has already broken the single season rushing yards record, attempting to use past statistics to project his growth seems unlikely to be effective. What can work however is to look at the longevity of other dual-threat quarterbacks. Most dual-threat quarterbacks seem to have a peak performance window of 4-5 years, after which their rushing ability declines, and they need to rely more on their passing game. However, the sample size for these is minuscule in comparison to traditional pocket quarterbacks.

Often, rushing is considered to be the most punishing part of a dual-threat quarterback’s career. This article on Yahoo! Sports, however, found that a quarterback is hurt while scrambling approximately once every 91.7 plays. By comparison, a quarterback being sacked was hurt once every 92.5 plays, and a quarterback struck while releasing a pass was hurt once in every 67.1 plays. These numbers demonstrate that rushing may not be nearly as dangerous for quarterbacks as has been conventionally thought. This means that Jackson’s record-setting number of rushing attempts could actually serve to prolong his career and rushing ability. In addition, Jackson’s passing numbers for this season were incredible, both on their own and compared to his first season. Jackson is still young, so it is not unreasonable to think that his passing game will continue to improve with time. Even if Jackson’s legs start to decline sooner than hoped, he still clearly has the potential to be one of the most impressive and exciting players in the league. It is important to remember that, in spite of being an MVP frontrunner and NFL touchdown leader, this was Jackson’s first full season as a starter. With the level of ability that he has demonstrated both in his passing and rushing game, it is safe to say that Jackson’s future is looking bright.

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