Last Man Out The Tunnel: Lamar Jackson

Last Man Out The Tunnel is a weekly spotlight on a member of the Ravens pushed to the forefront either due to a recent spectacular performance or an upcoming opportunity to step into the light.  We will introduce you to the player, what they’ve done, why they are important now, and what we can expect in the future

 

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Player: Lamar Jackson

Position: Quarterback (Some pundits have claimed he is a Wide Receiver or Running Back, but his Week 1 performance quieted them well!)

College: University of Louisville

NFL Experience: 1 year

How Did They Join the Ravens?: Round 1, Pick 31 of the 2018 NFL Draft

 

Career Highlights:   Lamar played football with Boynton Beach High School, located just outside Miami, FL.  He finished his high school career with 31 passing touchdowns, 22 rushing touchdowns, and a 4 star recruit rating.

Lamar committed to the University of Louisville Cardinals and played 3 years at Louisville.  As a true Freshman, he started 8 games, throwing for over 1800 yards, 12 TDs, 8 INTs, and rushing for 960 yards and 11 TDs.  He was named MVP of the Music City Bowl in 2015, with 227 passing yards and 226 rushing yards in the Bowl game.  His Sophomore year, Lamar entered as the starter at QB, and in his first game, he scored 8 TDs in the first half.  He finished the year with 30 passing TDs, 21 rushing TDs, 3,543 passing yards, 1,571 rushing yards.  Lamar was named the Walter Camp Award and the Maxwell Award as the best all-around player in college football.  This lead him to win the Heisman Trophy on December 10, 2016 over other finalists Deshaun Watson, Baker Mayfield, Jabrill Peppers, and Dede Westbrook.  In his Junior year, Lamar passed for 3,660 yards, 27 passing TDs, and 10 INTs.  He also rushed for 1,601 yards and 18 TDs.  He was once again named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, but his time he came in 3rd place in voting behind 2017 Heisman Winner Baker Mayfield and runner up Bryce Love.

Lamar decided to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft after his Junior season.  Despite his gaudy Sophomore and Junior season numbers, there were many analysts who questioned if Lamar’s style of play would translate to the NFL, where quarterbacks are expected to stand in the pocket and rarely take off on designed runs.  In the draft, Lamar saw 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield get drafted 1st overall to the Cleveland Browns, then saw 3 more quarterbacks drafted in the top 15 in Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen.  As the 1st round wore down, it seemed Jackson would not be selected in the 1st round.  But, the Ravens decided to make a late trade to get the final pick in the 1st round and used it to select Lamar Jackson.

He entered his rookie season as a backup to Joe Flacco, but the Ravens tried to find packages on the field to allow him the chance to run or to act as a decoy to allow other trick plays on offense.  That plan took a turn when at the midseason bye week, Joe Flacco developed an injured hip, and Lamar Jackson was named as the starter while he was unable to play.  Taking over a team with a 4-5 record, Lamar reeled off 3 straight victories, followed by a tough loss in overtime against a tough Kansas City Chiefs team.  He was able to follow that loss up with 3 more straight victories, being named the starter over a healthy Flacco during that stretch.  The Ravens won the AFC North, but lost to the Los Angeles Chargers in the Wild Card round.

 

Why The Spotlight?: I almost don’t need to write this section, right?  Ok, so I can please the Powers That Be at PRS, I’ll spell it out.  Lamar Jackson entered 2019 as the unquestioned starter and new face for the Ravens franchise (on offense, at least) after Joe Flacco was traded away.  While his starts in 2018 gave a lot of hope and hype to his future, many pundits focused more on his lone playoff game, which started with a QB rating of 0.0 in the first half against the Chargers before Lamar helped the Ravens play catch up in the 2nd half, ultimately losing their Wild Card round game.  The questions around Lamar and the Ravens offense swirled, from things like how many times a game will he take off and run, to how different will Greg Roman have the offense tailored to Lamar, to even will he be able to throw deep?  Lamar entered 2019 with a small chip on his shoulder, hungry and eager to quiet the doubters.

And quiet he most certainly did.  Lamar tied a Ravens franchise record throwing 5 TDs in a single game.  He also did it while completing his first 9 passes in a row.  He finished the day with a perfect QBR of 158.3.  He directed an offense that set a franchise record both for most points in the 1st half of a game, as well as most points in a single game.  He did all this, while only running 3 times for 6 yards.  Suddenly, pundits are going from questioning whether Lamar can handle the QB throwing duties, to now discussing him as a serious MVP candidate this year.  For his record setting day, Lamar was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for Week 1.

It’s only one game, but the manner in which Lamar came out and exploded into the 2019 season certainly made this offense appear in a while new and exciting light.

 

PRS Outlook: The Dolphins are a tanking team, though most of the moves they made towards tanking were on the offensive side.  We all enjoy Lamar’s Week 1 performance, while also tempering that most games, if not all, will not be as easy for him as this one.  The Dolphins on tape seemed to pull their deep safety and dared Lamar to throw it deep.  Other defenses will likely not disrespect his throwing ability like that, which certainly will make it more challenging.

That said, Lamar has shown leagues of improvement in his poise and throws from last year to this year.  He’s still out there to put on a show, and if the OL can block well for him through the rest of the year, he could well put up a franchise record season at QB.

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