Why Lamar Jackson still has plenty of room to grow despite a potential MVP season for the Ravens

"People won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel." That, one of many famous quotes from the venerable Maya Angelou, epitomizes the experience that is watching Lamar Jackson play quarterback. 

But for as true as I believe that Angelou quote to be and its perfect application to Jackson, the palpable buzz he generates, the sheer excitement produced when the football is in his hands can't be factored into an evaluation of his -- or any player's -- actual performance.

And as someone tasked with specifically watching Jackson on every play this season with the Ravens, I believe what Angelou said is fueling his immense MVP hype more so than what he's done as an individual over the course of every game to date.  

Having said that, I'm not insinuating Jackson's reputation is a house of cards built solely of retweet-worthy, highlight plays. He's been good. Right now, he's my highest-graded first/second year quarterback, with a rock-solid "B" grade on the year. But I've found that re-watching a game a day or two later for evaluation purposes strips away the phenomenon Angelou explained to provide the best possible opportunity to distill how well someone -- in this case, Jackson -- played in a given contest. 

He's the only signal caller with two game grades of A+. But Jackson also has a C- on his report card (Week 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs). Below is his passing chart for that game. For context, there were two drops by Baltimore pass catchers and two of the longest completions were absolute prayers tossed by Jackson that his receivers miraculously reeled in. 

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NFL Next Gen Stats

Mostly short passes, a few behind the line of scrimmage, and plenty of misses deep. If even a few of those hit, Baltimore probably leaves Kansas City with win. 

And here's Jackson's passing chart for the C+ I gave him in Week 3 in the Ravens' overtime win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Baltimore wideouts did not drop a pass in that game. Two of his picks were of the tipped variety, but one was a forced throw into traffic.

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NFL Next Gen Stats

Jackson's "breakout" game in the win over the New England Patriots a few weeks ago only got a C. Wait, what? Yeah, it was the classic but somewhat rare contest in which a quarterback isn't a huge factor in his team's impressive, convincing win over a quality opponent. 

Here's his passing chart from that game. One drop from a receiver. 

ljax-pass-chart-vs-ne-edit.jpg
NFL Next Gen Stats

I didn't watch that full game live. And I was expecting a Fourth of July fireworks display from Jackson when I saw the score in the morning. While small flashes were there, both as a passer and runner, he completed plenty of easy, short passes to wide open receivers -- that really neither boost nor drop a quarterback's grade -- and only made one or two difficult, on-target throws in the game. As a runner, he had gains of 6, 9, 11, and 18 yards. Jackson also had four scampers that went for negative-1 yard, one for no gain, another for one yard, and a pair of two-yarders. 

In fact, exactly 40% of Jackson's runs this season have gone either for negative yardage or anywhere up to two yards, which seems like par for the course for running quarterbacks. Kyler Murray is at 37.3%. Josh Allen currently sits at 40.5%. Deshaun Watson, 41.8%.

Jackson was my No. 2 quarterback in the famed 2018 draft class of quarterbacks. It would behoove me to be the conductor of the hype train as it hums down the tracks. But based on all 330 drop backs he's taken this year, that wouldn't be providing you, the reader, a genuine assessment of how well he's played. 

And again, he's my highest-graded first/second year quarterback right now -- the average grade for all the passers in this group is currently at the low end of the C+ range. And although I can't say with absolute certainty without having watched every signal caller in the entire league, I'd be surprised if there were many quarterbacks above Jackson's B grade at the moment. And that thought is probably an indication of how playing quarterback has actually gotten easier in today's screen/quick pass/yards after the catch driven NFL

Also, Jackson's arrow is undoubtedly pointing upward -- just like it was throughout his career at Louisville.

But let's not simply assume Jackson has been essentially flawless because his Ravens are 8-2 and his highlights are spectacular. His offensive coordinator Greg Roman deserves an enormous amount of credit for everything Baltimore is doing offensively too.

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